Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Life of a Guitar Repair Wizard

I know some people think I'm like this Guitar Repairman Wizard or something, but this week, I had a bad day in the shop and, my blog needing an update, I’m going to tell you all about it.
A while ago, I got in a '67 Martin D-28 that just needed a neck reset and some frets. Easy job.  I did the frets and did the reset.  When I strung it up to check the action to set the saddle height, the front of the stock bridge snapped clean off. In 15 years, 150 guitars/year, I've NEVER had that happen. So I informed the owner and offered to make him a new bridge for free. I don't like making bridges- it's one of my least favorite things, especially when I have to make an _exact_ replica of something in order for it to work. I just hate blowing it and wasting a bridge blank. Irks me to death. Anyway....
After spending most of the previous day meticulously measuring and fitting the new bridge(*) to fit precisely in the stock footprint, and drilling the pin holes in a nice precise clean line so that they’d line exactly with the stock pin holes, today I was routing the saddle slot, which I always do last so that I put it exactly where I want it for good intonation.  Something felt funny. The router was making strange noises and I could feel it struggling. “Well, it’s a hard piece of ebony”, I thought. Then I took another look and noticed the router bit wobbling, so I quickly stopped the router and got it out of the way. Turns out the bit had worked its way loose from the router collet and dug deeply, widely, and sloppily into the bridge, ruining it. I've NEVER had that happen.
I decided to try to fill and re-cut the slot just to see how good I could make it look. Hours later, it looked great, so I strung the guitar up, but guess what? The bridge was .020" too low. The  stock bridge was really tall and I never got to test my reset 'cause the stock bridge broke as I was putting a test saddle in it. For guitars to work correctly, the neck angle has to agree with the combined height of the bridge and saddle. My new, repaired, bridge was too short, making the new saddle too tall and.... it just wasn't gonna work. So, 2 days worth of work went down the drain.  If you’re paying attention, you’ll note that, being too short, this bridge was really doomed from the start. The wayward router bit just finished the job.
I just hate going to bed with unfinished work, so after throwing tools and crying and tearing my shirt, I pulled the meticulously made repaired bridge and started on another one.  After spending all evening on it, I got a new bridge made and fit before quitting for the day so hopefully I've managed to take 1 step forward after 2 steps back. The next day I successfully cut a nice saddle slot in Bridge #2 and the guitar is currently strung up, awaiting final adjustment. I’m not claiming “success” just yet, though.  Not until a week has passed. 

This little mark is all that remains of the jagged slot

The original bridge, cracked

L-R: The new new bridge, the wobbly slot bridge, the original.

Bridge and saddle together determine string height-
they have to match the neck angle.

I watched a couple of these and felt better about my "bad day".

(*)In case you don't have a clue what I'm talking about, this is another bridge (that I made). The wood part is the "bridge", the bone part in the middle is the "saddle", and the black things are "pins".

A Good Day
Another Good Day

To make this right, you gotta get the curves in the wings just right- clean and sharp with a C shape. The overall height of the bridge and saddle have to match the neck angle of the guitar perfectly. The holes for the pins have to be the perfect distance from the saddle and perfectly spaced and in line. In the case of today's guitar, the new bridge needs to fit precisely into the old footprint on the top- that means that all curves and widths have to be exactly right. If they're not, I re-do it.
These bridges look good. I got lucky those days.  I’ll take lucky. It's what Wizards are made  up of. Luck. Luck and ebony dust.
Oh yeah.... the book is done! I took a couple of boxes to the North American Falconer's Association meet in Kansas and sold a bunch of 'em.

Unloading off the truck

Loading into the Ranger

1st box opened!

In case you go looking for it:

Falconry Equipment book