Stay in Tune vol# 69
By Luthier Patrick Podpadec
I took a small break from the shop last week to do a drywall job . After doing it it reminded me again of why I decided to get into the building and fixing guitars.
It seems that I have been repairing guitars in the Cleveland area for almost twenty yrs now . With the wide variety of repairs that I have seen come and go in my shop, I have gained enough experience to to know that some repairs are better off left alone. Or maybe I should say that the time,effort and money to fix them does not equal the reward. I'm not saying they cannot be repaired . I'm just not sure that it is worth it. I always leave that decision up to the customer. It may not be an expensive instrument and the person acquired the guitar for little or nothing and they don't mind spending (what seems to be) an extraordinary amount of money to fix it. Sometimes it's hard to justify spending a couple hundred dollars to fix something up that you can replace for nearly the same amount of money.
Last week I had a nice Hohner Dreadnaught guitar with a solid spruce top come in for a repair. I was told that it had a small crack in the top and could I fix it. When I looked at it I saw the crack that went from the bridge to the end block where the strap is connected. I looked a little more and noticed that the bridge was also loose .It had started to separate about a 1/16 of an inch from the top. I then looked little further and found that the top was split on both sides of the fingerboard extension and that the neck had been shoved almost 3/8 of an inch into the soundhole of the guitar. OUCH! My only guess is that the guitar was dropped on it's head .This was the first time I had come across this type of injury. It actually knocked the neck block loose and cracked the main heavy brace under the fingerboard to have shoved the neck that far into the body. At first I was a little befuddled on how I was going to go about this repair. Somehow I needed to push the neck block back into position so that the soundhole lined back up again. I decided to use a all thread rod in the end of an expansion bolt ( the type you use when tightening a cable for a dog run or a clothes line). By turning it counter clockwise it actually spreads the rod instead of tightening it. I was able to get it back into position petty good with this method. I then had to figure out the right combinations of blocks and threaded rod so that I would have room to use a clamp on the main brace once I was able to reposition the neck block in the proper place. I then had to figure out how I was going to add some support to the neck block and be able to glue one side of the support onto the side of the neck block and the the adjacent side to the top at the same time to make it stable once the string tension was up to pitch. So I cut the handle off of one of my clamps and devised a method that I thought would work . After a couple of dry runs to make sure I had all of my procedures down to a “T” , I was ready to go. This all took about 3-4 hours to figure out to feel confident enough to carry on. I still haven't even pulled out the glue bottle yet. I thought maybe I ought to call the owner and explain how difficult it would be to repair and that the cost would be about 200.00 to possibly 250.00. Remember I still had to remove the bridge ,clean the old glue off, straighten the bridge ( because they always warp a little when they come loose over time). Then I had to repair that crack that developed from the impact from the bridge to the bottom of the guitar. Then add some finish to the top to hide the sliver of wood that I would use to fill the wide crack. (and cleat it from the inside) So I call the customer and she says that it is too much money and not to do the work.
Well, Thank you very much! I'm glad I didn't put in any more time to trying to figure out how not to get paid for it. I guess that is the way the cookie crumbles. You win some and you lose some. Some times the bug hits the windshield and sometimes the windshield hits the bug. (I don't know what that means, but you get the idea). I can't blame the customer because the guitar was probably only $300.00 brand new. On the flip side of the coin I have had customers come into my shop and tell me they are willing to pay whatever it costs to fix their guitar properly. Sometimes the extent of the damage is more than (I feel) the guitar is worth. I guess it all comes out in the wash.
I'm always happy when customers understand the skill, patience, and tooling that it takes to perform certain repairs. It often takes me more time to do a job than I can actually charge for the job. When this happens, I just rationalize what it would cost me to have to go to school to have someone teach me how to figure out the problem. The other problem is trying to find the school that can teach you things that even they have not come across yet.
I have had people say to me, ” There is more than one way to skin a cat” Please note that I like cats, of course I like dogs better, but....... don't send me any hate mail for that remark. I did not start that phrase. It's the only one I could think of on such short notice.
I think I like the saying “There is a right way and a wrong way to do something”. In my case, and I hope I speak for all other guitar builders/repairmen. There is the right way and then there is only the right way! I have a hard time trying to do something the wrong way or cutting corners because I have found that it usually will come back to bite you in the A......! Nobody said that guitar repairing was going to be easy. It makes it all worth it when you love doing what you do!
See you all next time, and please “Stay in Tune!
Patrick from Wood-n-Strings/ Liam Guitars