Stay in Tune vol # 27
By luthier Patrick Podpadec
My favorite time of year is Spring! May is when all the winter blues seem to melt away. It gets covered up by the new flowers and the smell of grass being mowed and people cooking out on the grill. It's a wonderful time.
I’ve had a lot of my time being eaten up by “yard duty” but besides that a lot of interesting thing has been happening. I recently met a man that has a couple of saw mills and was kind enough to help me with some large stumps I had to remove from my yard. As it turns out some of the lumber that we got out of the logs wasn't half bad. It also turns out that this guy builds instruments. What's the odds in that? He has turned me on to a cool website (which I am now a member of) called Handmade Music Clubhouse. It's a very cool site that has a lot of folk art style builders that build all kinds of wacky stuff. Very cool! Things ranging from cigar box instruments to guitars, ukeleles, and any other musical contraption you can think of. It's quite amazing to see all of the other things that people are designing and making in their spare time. I'm sure that some of them even make a living from it. I always find that when I check out all the different things out there it seems to get my creative juices flowing.
I’ve seen another boost in activity from musicians wanting to get there instruments tuned up for summer . That is a good thing. I always love it when a new customer walks in the shop and opens up the case without telling me first what's inside. You never know whether it will be a complete piece of crap or a 57 Strat, or a prewar Martin or even a 70,s Gurian . For those of you who have never heard of a “Gurian” it was a guitar that was built by a extraordinary luthier named Michael Gurian. He studied under Sean Larrivee from Canada in the 60's and went out on his own to build some great sounding guitars. His shop tragically burnt down I believe in the mid 80's and he had lost most everything. But not to be discouraged, he went on to create Luthier Merchantile, which is where I and many other luthiers go to purchase some of the finest woods and guitar supplies in the business. It is a huge and very successful company with a wealth of information that is available to anyone thinking about purchasing exotic woods or anything to do with guitars, basses, violins, etc. Anyway, getting back to the Gurian guitar, it is kind of a rare bird and you don't see a lot of them . In fact that is only the second one I've had a chance to see in my shop. It has the bridge starting to lift from the body. And needs to be removed and reglued back into position. This is a fairly common problem that happens to almost any guitar regardless of it's quality. I have seen every different manufactures guitars have had the occasional bridge warp or just come loose from years of constant string tension trying to pull off the bridge. It can and does happen to any guitar. Lucky, it is usually not a very difficult repair. You must take caution in removing the bridge from the guitar as not to damage any surrounding area of the top. I do this with a very thin steel blade. The kind that you might find for spreading frosting on a cake. In fact I have several sizes of these type of knives to choose from. Most of the time there is a entry place usually in the back of the bridge that you can start to carefully slip the thin blade under the bridge to slowly pry it off. It is sometimes necessary to apply some heat to the glue joint to help release the glue. This can be tricky. You want to monitor the heat very closely so that no damage is done to the finish. It's quite easy to bubble the finish if you’re not paying close attention. It is also important to try to work the blade in different directions because it is easy to get it caught under the fine grain of the soft top and to rip off a large amount of spruce with the bridge. This can be fixed as long as you don't rip any wood outside the footprint of the bridge. Be Careful! You must first remove any wood and glue that is still stuck to the bottom of the bridge . Any large pieces of the top can be carefully removed with some steam and reglued back down under the bridge. Sometimes the reason that the bridge is lifting, can be due to the fact that it has warped and needs to be flattened or even replaced.You have to use a certain amount of discretion here because you can't remove too much of the thickness of the “ears” of the bridge . This can be detrimental to the solid structure of the bridge. By removing to much of the wood all that will happen is that more than likely it will be back to be repaired again very soon due to it warping again. You need a certain amount of “beef” on the bridge, but not too much because that can also change the tone by being too thick. There is some skill involved with having to replace a bridge that is warped beyond being able to flatten it out. There are some important factors to take into consideration. If the instrument is not of high quality and the customer is not concerned that the bridge is the exact replica of the original , you can get away with more than if it was a “vintage” Martin or Gurian or any other high quality piece. Remember that we are trying to keep up the integrity of the original guitar by reproducing the piece to be repaired to it's exact measurements so that the repair will be undetectable. That is my goal and I hope that it is also the goal of any other instrument repair person. In the next issue I will explain ( in detail) the remaining procedures to this “ semi difficult” repair. I have to keep you coming back to read my articles somehow, Right? Well good luck with all that you do and we will see you next time!
Patrick from Wood-n-Strings