Old classic arch-tops are always coming into the shop here needing repair. Many of them have high action. Their bridges have been filed all the way down and yet they still have high action. This is a sure sign that the neck of the guitar is tilting and the guitar is in need of a neck-reset. But once in a while I get an old archtop that has super LOW action and the bridge is jacked all the way UP; the exact opposite situation. I find myself thinking “wow, no neck reset needed and we got tons of room to lower the action just in case the neck does decide to tilt!”
However, I’ve learned to look again when I see that happening. What that usually
means is a brace is either cracking or coming loose from the top. This is a very hard fix since the braces are almost impossible to get to. Most repair people would opt to take the back off the guitar, exposing the entire interior of the guitar. I don’t like this option very much. It tends to be a gruesome and expensive job which always ends in a major re-fin. I try to think outside the box and since I’ve never really had any formal guitar repair training, I’ve been able to create lots of new ways of getting at old problems.
The latest patient I just worked on was an old 50’s Gibson ES-125 with low, low action and a bridge set as high as it could go. With my dental mirror I found what looked to be a crack in the brace on the bass side near the bridge. I decided I might be able to reach the crack with one of my U-clamps that I use for acoustic bridge resets. Even though these clamps are super long, it still wasn’t long enough to reach the crack through the F-hole. I was able to extend the clamp by taping an open ended wrench to the underside of the clamp and this work perfectly to put the pressure exactly where I need it.
My next problem was getting a better view of the crack and what my clamp was actually doing. The dental mirror is a useful tool but was not giving the optimal view needed to give me the confidence to start gluing. I decided to slip the edge of my super-slim iPhone 5 into the F-hole. The iPhone 5 has the camera lens and flash mounted right on the upper left hand corner so I didn’t have to drop it in too deep into the F-hole. I was able to get a perfect shots of the crack (see pic 1).
In this picture you can see a long dark line running perpendicular across the brace. This is a “perforation” line that Gibson cut into the brace to help it bend and fit to the top. This
perforation point probably made installation easier but it proved to be a weak point for the brace. The crack extends past on either side of the perforation. I set the clamp in place with no glue to be sure the crack was closing up and the iPhone got another great shot (pic 2). The pictures are so detailed, its almost like being inside the guitar! At this point I was confident I could glue this brace back together…I just need to get the glue into the crack!
I decided that the tool for the job was a glue syringe with a tube mounted to the end…something I did not possess, however. I ended up buying something on eBay that shipped direct from China for a relatively low price. When it showed up it had the words “FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY” written on it. I guess it was some sort of medical device!
Whatever it was made for, it did the trick getting the glue into the crack. I cut the tube down to about 12″ and taped it to a piece of fret wire so I could direct the end of the tube to the area where the crack was. At this point, I just loaded the whole area up with wood glue and let it drip down into the crack. I took another pic to be sure I was hitting the right area (pic 3). Since there was no way of knowing if the glue was actually going into the crack I had to take a leap of faith. I waited a few minutes and then tightened the clamp. I cleaned of the excess glue with the end of the tube.
All I could do at this point was wait 24hrs and hope I did it right. I came in the next day, took off the clamp and took another pic (pic 4). The crack was almost invisible. I strung it up and it played like a dream. The customer was very pleased since the repair cost a fraction of what it would have cost if the back had to come off. Thank you little iPhone!