Current Projects

New England weather is unforgiving with regard to stringed instruments. This year was particularly hard on my pal Larry's gorgeous New York Martin.

The top cracks on this beautiful little parlor guitar could have occurred 50 or more years ago. They have been spliced and refinished as have the back and sides. However this year everything opened up and is "breathing" (not in a good way).

Faced with so much cracking, I opted to combine the restoration with a sneak end block slip to make this guitar truly robust, sound and playable. So that back is coming off to reveal access to the cracks in the back as well as access to the top.

First it has been necessary to create a secure way to hold the body with the back removed and keep the instruments general form from "wandering" over the next month.

The body snugs into a 3/4 jig with the fingerboard and bridge routed out in bottom. I thought I might line the edges with cork as well, but the birch ply is pretty soft and the instrument cushions out the air nicely, so the body can be removed and put back easily.

I made this little pig of a blade from spring steel and ebony. It's ugly but when it gets honed, it is wonderfully responsive to feeling where the "give" is in a joint or seam, and can pry, wedge or cut.

After the binding on the back has been removed, the process turns to spreading the Brazilian back from the mahogany kerfing and blocks. The old hide glue is forgiving and brittle (yay!). The blocks are always an issue and its easy to make more problems seperating the blocks from the 1/16th of an inch rosewood. Slow and persistent works well this time.

The back is seperated from the guitar and its time to start with those cracks. There are two long symetrical cracks running the length of the back indicating the weakest structure in the original bookmatched piece. There is also a series of cracks that have made their way down the center on the bass side. The little walnut diamonds were put in from the soundhole.

Now that we have a chance to really get at these ancient cracks I want to insure that they remain stable and structural for a long time. My strategy is to completely cover each edge with super thinh cross grained Brazilian strips so the weaker parts of the back cannot open up.

All of the back braces are loose and need to be reset as well.

I'd made a 1/2 MDF contour of the back in order to squeeze the cracks as close as possible while the strips were being applied. After about a week the back is pulled together. All of the old glue was scraped off and the inside of the back received a shellac polish. Time to start dealing with the top.

Now it was time to begin a similar process with top. Braces were all loose. There was a funky walnut bridge pad that was only partially on. And there were bunches of open cracks some of which had previoulsy been slpiced from the outside.

The pad was only connected in the middle.

More detail of the top.

The braces had come unglued in multiple places. None need to be completely removed. The square piece at the end was the beginning of making super thin cross grained stock for the cracks. Kerfing and blocks cleaned up as well.

While the braces were reglued, a new Brazilian rosewood pad was fashioned with the edges tucked in under the X braces as was the original Martin pad (long gone....)

More braces. You can see the little inlaid pads put in to reinforce wear from the bridge pins.

The "big three" cracks run from the block to the sound hole. I've started to make cross-grained spruce pieces, about .010 to .015 inches thick, to reinforce the cracks from behind.

And it is time to start fitting and reinforcing all of the cracks.

After approximately 150 years this guitar has naturally "folded". Having the back off offers the unique opportunity to "slip the block" just a little. The neck has been reset (probably multiple times). I don't really want to touch it right now. So, when the back is realigned with the sides, I "flex" the neck back about 3/32" in order to shorten the back and thereby significantly lowering the action. The excess gets trimmed off before the new binding gets glued.

...and the new brazillian pad is fitted glued. The top is pretty much done.

After the back is aligned and reset with the sides, its time to make new "old" binding made of a light honduran rosewood and maple.

Gluing is done in stages...working in to the outside.

The back will need a good bit of polishing to tighten up the "open heart" surgery.

After many rubbings the back has come together.

And there it is. Playable and ready for another 100 years of music.