04 April 2007

Adventures in Lutherie

It's been very long since I've posted something. Things have been busy, busy-ness has gotten in the way of life. But I am reasonably back on track. Today's topic. a little adventure I have undertaken. As some may know, I play guitar. Not like most, when I say I play, picture a 3 year old boy with a toy bulldozer in a sandbox. I play, most of the time I play well with others, but yes I play.

After playing my guitar for the past 15 years, and using medium gauge strings the whole time, my guitar finally started to show some fatigue. The bridge started to crack, one crack through the peg holes, another from the ends of the saddle. I decided to make the repair myself, not only would bringing the guitar to a repair man be very expensive (around $250), but doing it myself gives me chance to learn something new.

So after doing some research, buying a book, and doing some more research, I went out and found an appropriate piece of wood: a nice piece of black walnut at a local lumber supply. I then carefully pried the old saddle off the guitar, and used it as a template for the new one. I carved the new one, and matched the location of the peg holes and saddle from the old one. Here's a comparison:

Comparing old to new

You'll notice the cracks in the old one, and the very nicely visible grain in the new bridge. The next job is preparing to glue the new bridge down.

Setup in preparation

I prepared the clamps, some clamping cauls, and did a dry run twice to make sure I got the proceedure right.

Marking the position of the bridge

This also gave me the chance to mark our where the final position will be. I used two of the old pegs to hold it while I marked out the position with tape.

Everything all clamped up

Once everything checked out, it came time to apply the glue and clamp everything up. Moving quickly and just like I rehearsed, I got everything clamped up. I double checked the position and everything was set. I then went to bed.

The end results

And this is after I took the clamps off the next morning. Sometime after I went to bed, and before the glue had set, something slipped. You can notice a small gap between the tape and the bridge. I removed the bridge when I came home for lunch, and I get to start all over with the glue and clamp up procedure after I clean up the old glue residue. But for now, I need some sleep. As well, when you look at the pic of the bridge clamped up, you'll notice that some of the cauls are crooked. I need to shape them a bit better so that they spead the clamping pressure more evenly, negating any movement tendencies. Then the clamps will sit straight and hold fast.

The glue that I am using is a form of hide glue, which is reversable. This fact has proven useful already. Once I have properly completed the gluing and restrung the guitar, then I need to install the saddle (a new saddle to replace the old one, which wasn't that good anyway), file the notches for the strings, then set the height of the saddle which will be too high right now. Once everything is set, is should be ready to play. You maybe asking what is that light doing in the guitar? I've got a mirror inside so that I follow my progress and make sure that the clamps are in the right place.

Have I learned anything here? Sure, I may actually have the skills it would take to build a guitar from scratch someday. But for now, this will do. The adventure continues...

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