Stay in Tune
By Luthier Patrick Podpadec
With March finally approaching I can feel that “old man winter” is going to be laying down for bed soon and it will be time for all the spring flowers to be popping up there beautiful colors and song birds back to their singing and all that is good with the world will be back to normal again. I love Spring! I know I might be jumping the gun just a little bit , but I can’t seem to wait after having such a long cold winter. The only good that comes from the long winters is that it gives me time to think and plan my moves for the up coming seasons. All of my gardening, my house and shop renovations and all the things that I can’t do while there is a foot of snow and 20 degrees outside. As you know my list is a little longer than it usually is. At least I don’t have a lack of things to do.
I have gotten lucky once again this past month with a steady supply of small repair jobs ,along with a few neck sets and refrets to carry me through another issue or two of interesting topics to discuss. I had a “Larrivee” come into my shop last week for a setup and basic overall inspection . For those of you who are not familiar with the Larrivee brand name , .it is a high end guitar company run by one of the industries earliest luthier named Shean Larrivee. He is a well known luthier from Canada who has spawned a number of other great luthiers from his shop during the late 60’s and early 70’s such as Michael Gurian, Grit Laskin , and Linda Manzer to name a few. He currently has a factory in California and also in Canada I believe.. His guitars are highly prized and are of the highest quality . The guitar that came into my shop had been purchased used by the owner and on arrival to my shop I had noticed that someone had refinished the top of the guitar. The finish was rough and had not been sanded down or buffed out. No big deal I didn’t think much of it at first. I went about my business of leveling and crowning the frets and after I was done I decided to look inside the guitar. The owner had told me that he had glued a brace and to look at it to see if it was o.k. I looked at his repair and it looked just fine to me, but as I panned over to look at the rest of the bracing I was taken back by the absolutely terrible work that the previous repairman passed off as a repair! Apparently the guitar had a pretty devastating blow to the top underneath the pickguard area. The top had been cracked but more damage had been to the bracing than anything. Both main X-braces had been broken and split away from the top and a few other small “finger” braces had also fallen off. .That in itself was not so bad until I got a look at how the repair had been done. The first thing that was wrong was that the type of glue the repair person used. It looked to be that “gorilla glue” (expanding urethane foam) type.
Please note that this type of glue should never even be near a musical instrument let alone touch it. The second mistake that was made is that there was no clamps used in the glueing process. The third thing was that there was no attempt at all made to try to remove any of the excess glue, (which there was plenty of that) It looked like the person just coated the broken braces as liberally as possible and tried to put them (at least the two main braces) somewhere in the vicinity of where they were supposed to go. The one brace that was not clamped was separated from the top about a ¼” with dried glue holding it away from the top. I have to tell you I was quite surprised because I played the guitar a little bit before I took off the strings. I heard no rattle or buzzes and actually thought that it sounded pretty good. After spending over three hours removing the braces and cleaning the excess glue off and correctly glueing and clamping them into their proper places. I strung it back up and it played beautifully. My point that I am trying to make here is that when you are purchasing a used guitar from a music store or from a private owner it is important that you look at the whole guitar. Do not discard the sale because of a few outside blemishes that really doesn’t affect the sound . Take the time to look inside the instrument. This is where the “business” end of the guitar is anyway. Most sellers will not be offended if you bring along a small flash light and a small pocket mirror to inspect the braces and the overall quality of the construction inside the instrument. After seeing a few of the insides of guitars you will start to get a good feel for the things that that you want to look for. Things like the smoothness of the braces, the different bracing patterns, whether or not the braces have been “scalloped” (a process where certain areas of the brace are removed so that the top can vibrate more freely at certain frequencies) or excess amounts of glue and even other previously bad repair jobs. This type of inspection should be done on all guitars, regardless of name, quality or price range. As with any purchase the buyer should beware of any defects because it puts the bargaining power in your hands. So now it’s time to go out and buy yourself that instrument you have been looking at and make sure that you “stay in tune”!
Patrick from Wood-n-Strings