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I love it when cool old guitars roll in, and not many are as cool or old as this one. When James brought it in, he was not sure how committed he was to the project, but he suspected there was a really cool guitar in there somewhere, and every great journey begins with a vision. It was unplayable with terribly high action and tiny frets, and also had some severe acoustic rattling. I think it may have been burned, just for added mojo you know. We decided to dive in to see if it could be saved. Let the games begin…
The first thing I did was disassemble it completely for inspection. In my role as a professional luthier, this is the most important part of the job. This is not the time to worry about money, hurt feelings or my opinion of the instrument or owner. The only task is to accurately assess and then communicate the information to the owner so they can make an informed choice about the path forward.
I found poor quality fingerboard “repairs,” as the tongue had been removed and shimmed due to a strange sag in the top, leaving a jagged gap where the 14th fret slot had been. There were various cracks and de-laminations, but the neck and neck/body joint were sound, as were the tail-block, tuners, nut and all the metal hardware. Unfortunately the cone was absolutely trashed, and was the cause of the rattling. There’s more to that story coming up. I found that the cause of the sagging top was a loose soundboard support under the tongue. The prior repairman had apparently not bothered to look inside, and had chosen to cut the tongue loose and just put shims under it. Some people just shouldn’t be allowed to play with tools…
[singlepic id=1376 w=320 h=240 float=left]I re-glued the loose soundboard support, which solidified and leveled the top, re-glued the tongue and ordered a replacement National cone. When the cone came in it would barely fit in the well. The well was ovalized and the bearing surface at the bottom was wildly out of true. It turns out that was compounding the cone rattle I mentioned earlier. To correct these issues I made an MDF template the diameter of the cone and attached it to the top with double-stick tape. Then, using my trusty Festool OF 1400 router and a 3/4″ top bearing bit, I trued the circumference of the well. As I began to skim the bearing surface, I found a couple of low spots that I filled with veneer. This allowed me to true the bottom while taking as little wood as possible. After the truing, the cone dropped right in and seated perfectly.
I strung it up and did a rough action adjustment, finding the action still high and the fingerboard and fretwork needing help, but it sounded great! James came in to check it out and really liked the tone. He took the risk to get it this far and was happy, so we proceeded with the rest of the job… Stay tuned.