Stay in Tune vol#32
By Luthier Patrick Podpadec
Boy does time fly! Kids are back to school and signs of fall are right around the corner. Although I have to admit that September has to be one of my favorite months. The days are usually in the 70’s and the nights are generally cool enough to sleep comfortably. The humidity seems to lighten up a bit too, which is good for the stringed instrument world. Well enough about our weather.
In the last article I was talking about resetting necks on acoustic guitars and I don’t want to leave my faithful readers hanging in the middle of a project. I left off with drilling a small hole in the 15th fret and removing the tongue of the fingerboard from the top. It’s now time for the scary stuff. This is where you must have a few specialized tools and jigs to be able to insure that the job does not get out of hand. I use a small espresso /cappuccino machine that I have modified slightly to direct a pressurized stream of steam into the small hole that we have drilled into the 15th fret. I have attached a 5ft hose (make sure that the hose is pressure and heat rated like a radiator hose or something like it) at the business end I have a glorified air needle,( Stewart Macdonald carries a product that is designed specifically for this job) like you would use to pump up your basketball. You may also use an old horse syringe or anything that will fit into the 3/32 hole and be able to push steam through it. It’s important to make sure that your connections at the steamer and the tip are very secure. I have had them blow off under pressure before and it is like pure pandemonium. I have attached a block of wood around the tip of the hose because it can get extremely hot. I guess you could wear gloves, but they seem a bit clumsy to me.
I stabilize the neck into a vise or a jig which will hold the guitar by it’s neck only and leave the body free. I tilt the guitar towards the headstock so that any water/steam will tend to drip out of the bottom of the heel on the neck rather than dripping back into the neck block or into the inside of the guitar where it can cause more potential damage to the instrument. I one time had the sides of the guitar let loose from the neck block and it sprung wide open . Believe me , you DO NOT want this to happen to you!
Once the machine is hot enough to produce a steady stream of pressurized steam you carefully place the needle into the hole and let it work in there for about 2 minutes. Make sure you are monitoring it the whole time. This is not the time to walk away and go answer the phone or something. You might find that the steam will cloud up the finish around the neck or top similar to the water ring that you would get from setting a glass of water on a nicely finished wood table. Do not attempt to wipe it off at this time. You can damage the finish badly if you touch it while it is soft and hot from the steam. There is another way to deal with this problem after the finish has cooled and rehardened itself. You simply wipe a damp rag with denatured alcohol with a very light feather type motion and the cloud just magically disappears. Be careful, because too much alcohol will attack the lacquer finish and can cause more damage. The way that it works is that the alcohol evaporates so quickly that it draws the water (steam cloud) out with it. You must be careful not to “douse” the area with alcohol. Just lightly wipe it.
Patrick from Wood-Strings