Volume # 73 Instrument Safety

Written by Patrick Podpadec on . Posted in Northcoast Voice

Stay in Tune vol# 73

By Luthier Patrick Podpadec
The heat has been brutal this year. Not that I'm complaining. I kinda of like the heat. The humidity that comes with it is what is hard on the wooden instruments that I have sworn to protect. Wood is naturally a porous material. It absorbs water (in the form of humidity) and release's it (in the form of dry weather, less than 40 % humidity). This process happens on a daily basis. Wood is constantly moving . Some days more than others. Usually the more drastic the weather the more drastic the movement. So it is very important to to try to consider this fact when you have to expose your wooden toys (tools) to Mother Nature and all of her glory. We all have to play music outside on occasion, especially through the summer months, so when we do it is wise to be thinking of what your guitar is thinking when you leave it in a hot black case or in the direct sun for any more than 10 minutes. There is no “sunblock” that you can rub all over it to protect it from the harmful rays.
This time of the year I seem to see more problems such as bridges coming loose or a radical change in action height . Acoustic guitars swell up with the excessive humidity and the action raises with it. This is for the most part a natural occurrence and in most cases is nothing other than a little inconvenient. The small amount that the guitars move is hardly noticeable under normal conditions. But in extreme heat or humidity ( as some of the weather we have been experiencing in this area this summer) it can cause more significant problems.
If you find yourself playing your guitars out in the “summer fun”, and you are going to take a break, please try to keep your instruments in it's proper case and in the shade whenever it's possible. It doesn't take long for certain conditions to cause serious harm. Direct heat is probably the worst offender. It can cause glues to become soft and shift on some glued braces or even completely let loose and cause terrible things to happen. You never know what is going to happen when you have all of this really thin wood glued into a “box” or “body and attach about 2-3 hundred lbs. string pressure onto it and let it warm up in the hot sun. Your guess is as good as mine. I only want everyone to be careful and to keep an extra eye out for the damages that heat & humidity can cause if you don't pay very close attention to it. I'm sure that you wouldn't want your child exposed to that type of heat for too long. Since many of us think of our instruments as “our babies” we should protect them accordingly.
The shop has been busy as usual . The past few weeks have been the usual “setups” and occasional bridge repair. The other day I was putting together a guitar that someone else had built. It was brought to me to put the finish on it because apparently the builder didn't have the proper spray equipment to apply a lacquer finish on it. Anyway, after I had buffed out the beautiful 50's Gibson tobacco brown sunburst finish that I had put on it, and was reassembling the guitar I came across a major problem. When the instrument first came to me it was strung up and playing, but I didn’t play it much and decided to just remove the strings and everything else to start to prep it for finish. I figured I would adjust everything at the end when I assembled it. The first thing that I noticed was that the bridge was a little thinner than normal and when I put the bolt on neck back on I had to add a small wedge shim to the heel so that the neck angle would be correct. I also noticed that the neck joined the body about an 1/8th inch past the 14th fret which led me to believe that I would have a intonation problem when I glued the bridge onto the body using the original bridge pinholes as a guide to the alignment. I'm lucky that I have these special brass bridge pins that allow me to string up a guitar to check for alignment and proper saddle placement without having to glue it on first. After doing that I found that I was right in that I needed to place the saddle farther back on the bridge so that it would intonate properly as you played up the neck. This would cause the saddle to be way to close to the placement of the original bridge pin holes. My only recourse was to build a new bridge with a new saddle slot and bridge pin holes to match. Keep in mind that I had to still use the same size bridge because the way the it was glued on originally so that I could cover up any small damaged areas that didn't get finish put on it.
So after building a brand new bridge ( from my special stash of Brazilian rosewood ), I proceeded to place the bridge in it's proper location . Being very careful to align it properly and set it so the saddle would be compensated correctly according to the scale length set by the frets on the fingerboard.( assuming that they were done properly) After getting it where I wanted it I realized I had to drill out a new set of bridge pin holes in the top,. This meant that I would have to fill the original holes, That was no big deal, but when I drilled the new holes I inspected the inside and realized that the new holes were outside of the bridge plate area. So now that means I have to also some how extend the bridge pad large enough to accommodate my new holes so that the balls of the strings have a solid “pad” to mount to when the pins are in. What a pain in the @#%&$%^! Oh well it's all in a day's work (or two, maybe three) and when I 'm finished I will be proud that I was able to make this guitar play and sound as good as it ever will. So till next time …. please try to “stay in tune” !
Thanks Again !
Patrick from Wood-n-Strings/ Liam Guitars