There are some common repair jobs that come into my shop. One of them is a broken truss rod. There are several reasons why a truss rod might break, but I think, over the years, I have found that the most common reason is because the instrument was defectively made. The truss rod is supposed to lay in a gap in the neck and be able to freely move when you tighten it. When the fret board in put on, often too much glue is used, and it ends up getting all over the truss rod and gluing it to the wood so that it just absolutely and positively cannot respond when a person is trying to tighten it. Of course, the idea is, if it won't respond, then tighten it more. Finally, the threaded end with the nut on it snaps off. So here is what I do to cure that problem.
I first have to remove the fret board. That's a primitive but tedious task. I have to heat the fret board enough to make the glue let go. But if I'm not careful, I'll overheat and distort or crack the fret board. So it's a very demanding job. In the instance of this guitar that is pictured, not only did I have to heat the fret board to take it off, but I had to heat the truss rod to make the glue let go of it.
Once I got the offensive broken rod out, it was a simple matter of putting a new rod in and then regluing the fret board. And when I put the new truss rod in, I like to work the truss rod back and forth. There is usually at least a quarter to half an inch of movement, long wise, on the truss rod. So I like to keep moving it back and forth just in case any glue got on it. Once the glue has set, then I can quit working it back and forth.
After the glue has cured, I sand along the edges a little bit where the neck and fret board meet, and just brush on a little bit of finish. And for a job like that, I am presently charging $150.
Royce brought this Seagull to me in need of a new top. From what he tells me, he had his guitar lying on the floor and someone stepped on it. If a top just has a crack, I can repair that. Seagull tops are built with straight-grained Western Red Cedar and this top was shattered beyond repair. Most of the instruments I build have Western Red Cedar tops, so since I have a big selection in stock, I was able to go back with the original kind of wood. And as I document this repair, I am going to do something I have never done before. I never want to sound like a salesman, and I don’t want to give the impression that what I do is better than what somebody else does. Folks have often asked me how my guitars compare with certain other brands. My answer has always been that my instruments don’t compare with others. Mine look, sound, and play exactly like an Elloree Guitar. This is a first for me – so here I go.
First of all, I don’t build with any instrument plywood. My instruments are built completely from straight-grained woods. Although a Seagull has a straight-grained top, the sides and back are instrument plywood. Everything on a guitar is a trade off. A person can never get everything they want. To get one thing, then something has to be given in exchange. Straight-grained wood always sounds better than instrument plywood, but without a doubt straight-grained wood is more fragile. Even though a plywood instrument doesn’t sound as good, it sure is tough. So even though I don’t use plywood, that may not be the best thing. Folks who have a bad habit of dropping their guitar, or may be taking it camping with them, would be a lot more satisfied with one that is instrument plywood.
All of my instruments have a neck that bolts on the way the neck of an electric guitar bolts on. The whole neck assembly can be removed by taking 4 screws loose. Now a Seagull has a bolt on neck, but it is not bolted on as mine are. A Seagull neck is bolted on the way a Martin is, using hanger bolts. The neck has a heel on it, and the hanger bolts screw into the heel: and then slide into 2 holes in the head block. Then a person reaches through the sound hole and screws the nuts onto the other end of the hanger bolts. In addition, the fret board is glued to the top. So I had to heat the fret board and take it loose from the neck and the top. After that, I was able to take the nuts loose and separate the neck from the body.
Since I was replacing this top, I didn’t feel the need to be nice to the existing top while I was taking it off. I just needed to take out the bridge saddle pickup and salvage the bridge itself. After that I routered and sawed and sanded until I had gotten rid of the offensive top. Also, when the top was ruined some of the kerfing broke loose from the top edges. I was able to salvage and reuse that kerfing. The kerfing is the notched lining around the top and back edges of the sides. It gives the top and back a wide gluing surface.
I selected a good piece of Western Red Cedar for the top, cut it to shape and braced it. I noticed a couple of things on the original top that I do differently. The bracing was slab sawn. All of the bracing I use is quarter sawn. This terminology of slab and quarter sawn wood is something that might not be familiar to anyone except for the folks who operate a sawmill. I do own a sawmill and harvest as much of my guitar wood as possible. And the short story about it is this: quarter sawn wood is infinitely stronger than slab sawn. Although, I have to admit that I don’t know if one of my guitars would have survived being stepped on. Especially since they told me that the man who stepped on it looked like he weighed about 250 lbs. Also, a guitar is braced to be either left- handed or right-handed. There is one bracing called the “bass brace”. The bass brace in this guitar was put in as though the guitar was being built for a left-handed person, but indeed, this was a right-handed guitar. In addition, as a part of the bracing, a guitar has something called a bridge plate. The bridge plate is a piece of hard wood glued to the inside of the top directly under the bridge. When you feed the string through the hole in the bridge, chase it with the bridge pin, and then pull up on that string to seat it, the brass ball doesn’t actually seat against the soft wood of the top. That sort of thing would destroy a top, and I mean in a quick like hurry. The bridge plate in this Seagull was at least twice as big as one needed to be. That was one huge piece of wood that severely hindered the resonance of the top. So, between putting the bass brace in for a right-handed instrument and making a bridge plate that is of a reasonable size, there is no wonder that the owner noticed how much better his guitar sounded.
After I built the top, I glued it to the sides and back with the use of spool and cam clamps. After the glue dried, I re-glued the binding around the top, reshaped the bottom of the bridge to accommodate the new top, taped off everything except for the top, and finally got the body down to the paint house and sprayed the finish. After the finish had cured for about a week, I make final assembly and got it back to its owner.
Chris brought me this old Martin D28 – and in pretty sad shape. Here’s the story he told me. He obviously lives next to a lake, or bayou, or something. He said his neighbors had a guitar laying out on their boat dock. It had been there for about a year. So he approached them and asked what kind of guitar it was. They told him it was a Martin, but it was no good because they had dropped it in the water. They said they pulled it out immediately after it fell in, but in their minds it was ruined because it had gotten wet. Actually, in my mind, it was not ruined because you can use a hair dryer on the low setting and dry out a guitar right after it gets wet, and odds are it will be just fine. But after a year of rain and sun and hot and cold – well, it was pretty much ruined. But I always say, “Jesus resurrects the dead bodies, and I resurrect the dead guitars”. So I told him I would do that job.
It was pretty easy to take apart. It was just falling apart anyway. Every thing that had been glued together was coming unglued. It only took me a few minutes to take the top and back off, and the bracing was all coming loose. The fret board came right off of the neck, and it only took a little convincing to get the neck to let go from the sides. Once I had it back down to its smallest parts, I needed to extract the moisture from it. I have a moisture meter and the moisture content in that wood was very high. I have an active dehydrator, and after about a week or so I had it down to about a 5% moisture content. Then I was ready to start rebuilding.
I reglued the bracing in the top and back and all of it was useable except for the bridge plate. I had to build a new bridge plate. Since I build dreadnought guitars, I have a form for bending the sides. The sides for this Martin were still bent – well, sorta’. I coaxed the sides into the form and made them return to their proper shape. Most of the kerfing in the sides was even still reuseable. I only had to replace a little of it. At this point, I started altering the original design of this guitar. I always put a finish on the inside of my guitars, as well as the outside. Once I get that wood down to a good stable 5% moisture content, I would really like for it to stay that way. I think the Alvarez Yari is the only production guitar with a finish on the inside. A good many of us hand builders put a finish on the inside. The only downside to an inside finish is the time that it takes to apply it. I genuinely don’t understand how a guitar can remain in stable shape without that inside finish. So many come into my shop needing repairs that could have been avoided if a finish had been applied to the inside.
With all the bracing and kerfing reglued, and the inside finish applied, I started gluing the back, sides and top back together. Also, I repaired the truss rod, which was severely rusted, and then glued the neck and fret board back together. With the neck and fret board glued together, and the body complete, I proceeded to remove the finish and apply the new. A finish takes a full 90 days to cure. I don’t have space enough in my shop to store instruments for 90 days. I allow a week of curing, and then the instrument can be handled without damaging the finish. I glued the neck assembly back to the body and reglued the bridge. This bridge is not standard to Martin anymore. I like the way Gibson glues and bolts down their bridges, so that’s what I did. Also, I put a strap button on the heel of the neck, and that is not standard to Martin either.
Finally, I restrung it; worked out the action; and got it back to Chris. He says he’ll never let the original owners know that it was salvaged, because he’s pretty sure they would want it back. Even though it is now in a condition to where it probably could survive being left on a boat dock, I know Chris is giving it a safer home.
Chris, Thank you for letting me be the one to do your repair work. May my work outlive the both of us. Rick
Hi Rick, Chris had inquired with me about the Gibson repair through the G&L forum where we hang. He told me all about you and that I should check you out. I have been doing furniture & antiques repair and refinishing 37 years which lead me to doing guitars. I have made 2 basses and 1 tele style. I don't look for doing these. Just a challenge. I saw where Gibson wanted $1350 for what I wanted $350-$450 to restore repair & refinish his Gibby. To be told you did the job for $85 was unreal. I saw the after pics and you did a wonderful job. I like your style. Like I said I was humbled. Pleasure to speak with you. John Bieri
Hi Rick! I got the guitar and I am very, very happy with what you did. I am glad I decided to use you instead of Gibson (I might as well have bought a new guitar at what they would have charged me). I will take good care of that old guitar...it has a lot of character and a great sound. Take care and God Bless! Chris <><.
Yesterday, the mailman left a postcard saying I had a package to pick up. When the post office opened at 8:30, I was there to claim it. I was so excited, I opened the box up in the Post Office parking lot and played Soldier's Joy on the Banjo Mandolin. The Suzuki was slightly out of tune so I put it back in its case and drove them home. As soon as I got home, I tuned the Suzuki and played it, too.
I wish I didn't have to work, but I finally put them both down and drove in. They both sound and play wonderful. The Suzuki has never had such low action. The Banjo Mandolin has never had a voice at all. They sound fine and they play really well. Tonight, our praise team practices and I don't know what instrument to bring!! We'll be playing- Great and Mighty and How Majestic is Your Name as Praise choruses and His Eye is on the Sparrow and All That Thrills My Soul is Jesus as our hymns. I think the best instrument for praise choruses will be the Banjo-Mandolin and for the hymns is the Suzuki. I'll have all day to fret about it.
Thank you for your tremendous work!
Ms. Kerner sent this electric mandolin to me, and I brought it to completion. The builder understood wood, but made critical errors that rendered this instrument unplayable. It has a long neck and a fret board for a short string length. The result was that the bridge would be directly behind where the pickup would go, and would leave no room for strumming or picking. I removed and did away with the fret board and made a new fret board for a long string length – a 14½“ string length.
The headstock was cut too thin, and would not have held up under the stress of 8 strings and a long string length. I capped the back of the headstock with a piece of mahogany about ¼” thick. After the glue dried I branded the back of the headstock with a cross. This is my “Rescue” sign. If some instrument has been saved from disuse or destruction, I often brand the back of the headstock with a cross.
This mandolin was built with no controls. The pickup (which had been removed by the builder) was wired directly to the jack. I routered a control cavity in the back and equipped this instrument with tone and volume. Because I had removed the old fret board and built a new one, and because I had overlaid the back of the headstock, I sanded the neck and headstock, taped off the body, and refinished the neck and head.
The neck and body of this mandolin are made from a single piece of cherry. There is no backward set on the neck, and the strings are going to be very close to the top of the body. The builder had tried to use a standard mandolin bridge and tailpiece. Even with the bridge at its lowest adjustment, the strings were sky high. I think it was at this point that the project was abandoned. I made a small aluminum bridge and positioned it on two threaded posts that I screwed into the body. Directly behind the bridge, I installed 8 machine head screws to hold the loop end of the strings. I installed a new jack and a stacked coil EMG pickup. This instrument was essentially just wood when it arrived. It did have machine heads, but they were so worn that wouldn’t hardly turn. I installed new machine heads, a strap button, and strings, and considered this mission to be accomplished.
Just had to drop you a note. I know you hear it all the time but I am blown away with the sound improvement of that bluegrass guitar. I've been playing it for hours in amazement. It has had several days to adjust to the climate out here and is really blasting out. I can't wait for 3 months to go by to hear the sound improvement.the back of that guitar is unbelievable in the beauty that was hidden under all of that stain and scuff marks. I'm tempted to have the sides and the neck done the same way. The finish is chipping off the sides and neck a little so maybe we can do that later. i know it doesn't have anything to do with the sound but it seems right to restore it all the way.It sure is a player's guitar. Thanks so much for your excellent restoration and your improvements in the bracing.
I am excited to hear what we need to do to restore that koa guitar. It broke my heart to get it back in such poor shape, The beach weather really played havoc on it. It really needs a finish on the inside. Koa as you know has a crisp sound in between rosewood and mohogany. It is very consistant and has pretty grain. well take care
I chose one of the worst possible examples so I could prove the point that I can repair. A man's house burned down and the guitar was in the house. They initially threw it out in the clean-up, but later decided to see if it could be salvaged. It's a Gibson J45 and the man used to play it on the Louisiana Hayride when he was a young man. You can see how it turned out.
This is not actually a repair. It's more what you would call a conversion. A gentleman sent me a 3/4 size Strat look-alike and wanted it converted to a five string mandolin. I built the neck, fretboard, and installed a control for the tone. We stayed with the same pickup. Since we were going from six strings to five, it was neccesary to build a new bridge for it also. After modifying the body just a bit to accomodate a narrower neck, I had just a bit of refinishing to do. This gentleman sent me a picture of his newly converted five string mandolin sitting next to a standard sized mandolin, just for comparison sake, concerning size. I get some conversion jobs sometimes and I also get jobs where folks thought there was no hope for their instrument. I replace lots of necks on stringed instruments. My work is good, the intonation is accurate, and the price is better than you'll find anywhere else unless your brother-in-law does it for free.
The Lord is the One who ressurects body and spirit. I'm the one who ressurects a dead guitar. Sears and Roebuck made a lot of small guitars with a murial on the face of it. They were built pretty good, but mostly made for children, and they intended that we would throw them away when they came apart. They had no idea we would love them so much. This particular guitar was a Gene Autry model, and it was called "The Round Up". It has a picture of Gene Autry on his horse, and he's trying to rope a stray calf. As you see, this instrument was in generally poor condition when it got to me, and I was thankful to be invited to the presentation where the gentleman who owned it was getting it back. He didn't know that it had been repaired. A friend of his got me to do it for him.
Over the years I've gotten quite a few instruments into my shop that were needing to be brought to completion. Someone had started building them and got to the point that they had gone as far as they could. I do enjoy seeing someone's attempt at an instrument, even if it's the only one they ever intend to build. This bass was designed by and built for the person who owns it. The person who built it brought it close to completion and it was sent to me for the last of what it needed.
The most common repair that comes into my shop is one in which the guitar was built with what is called ladder bracing. Since it's not a good thing to speak poorly of other builders, I'm not going to mention who has built with ladder bracing. Truth is, there have been lots of companies in the past and some who still build that way. Looking at the inside of this guitar, you can see the ladder bracing that is original to it. One downside to this kind of bracing is that it does nothing to protect the top from crumpling under the string tension. To give a guitar stability so that it will stand string tension over a long period of time, it needs to have either X-bracing or transverse bracing. I try not to take too much away from the original design of a guitar, but I have no problem with adding to the design. So I will reglue whatever bracing is still there. Sometimes when I get a guitar, there are pieces of bracing that are just gone altogether. They fell out years ago, somebody fished them out through the sound hole, and just threw them away. I like to keep all of the original bracing in if possible, and then I will add to the ladder bracing so that this instrument so that this top will never get crushed again. After I have added the transverse bracing, I put a finish on the inside. The lack of a finish on the inside of an instrument is what causes straight grained wood to split. That instrument absorbs moisture through the sound hole, and during dry times, moisture leaches out through the sound hole. Now since I have something good to say, I don't mind telling who I learned it from. Alvarez Yaris have a finish on the inside of the instrument as well as the outside. So when I'm done with all of the repairs, I put a finish on the inside to insure that the glue will never let go. All glue will decay in time unless there is a finish over it. With a good finish, the glue is good indefinitely. So when I'm done with a person's instrument, I have reglued everything inside of the body and applied a finish and then put the back back on. For this kind of repair, I am presently charging $175.
There's a gentleman in Virginia that I get to do a lot of work for. He's gotten me to build, repair, upgrade all kinds of things for him. He's the one on the far left. I know what you're thinking when you see this picture of him. You're wanting to say, "Isn't that Jerry? I thought he was dead!" Vincent just looks a lot like him. The bass he is holding is of his own design. The man who built it brought it as close to completion as he could, and Vincent sent it to me and got me to complete it and put the finish on it.
Flat top guitars are often noted for getting a belly. Of course, come to think of it, I’m starting to head in that direction myself. Different things will cause a top to belly up behind the bridge and belly down between the bridge and the sound hole. Sometimes bracing will come loose. Sometimes the string tension will just be more than the wood can stand. A good many guitars have come into my shop in such condition and needing to have the top flattened back out. Here, below, is a problem with bellying.
This guitar came to me from a new found friend in north Alabama by the name of Henry Coker. He was in between a knot and a hard place when he found my website. We communicated via email. His first concern was that Guild, which is now owned by Fender, was not willing to take any responsibility for the condition the guitar was in, even though he was the original purchaser and never had any strings on it heavier than lights. He had played bluegrass on a Takamine 12 string for 18 years and never had this problem, but upon it being stolen, he replaced it with this Guild. Same climate, same music, same musician, but the Guild fell apart. With Guild wanting 7 to 11 hundred dollars to replace the top, he asked me what I thought I could do with it to save him from losing his whole investment. From the looks of the bow on the top, he had concerns as to where he should even invest another dime in it. I told him that I would gladly look at the guitar and he shipped it to me the same week. The day after receiving the guitar, I communicated with Henry via email and suggested to him the idea of putting the brass stabilizer bars on the back. He agreed and we proceeded. Henry got the guitar back and was very pleased with the repairs. In Henry's own words -
"The guitar sounds great, in my opinion. No volume lost by the braces and I am very comfortable saying that I will never have the problem again of the top bowing up on my 12 string. Rick Felkel is a class act and he did A-1 work on this guitar and kept me from having to sink a fortune into a guitar that I already had a lot of money in. If you look at the before and after pictures of this guitar, I think they will s peak for themselves about what kind of work Rick can do."
Well, I probably wouldn't have written all this much, but Henry insisted that I put his comments on this page. So now I will get more into the problem with Henry's guitar and what I did to fix it.
Once wood has been contorted for a length of time, it gets what we call a memory. Even after the string tension is taken off, the wood will not go back to its original shape. The stress just causes the wood to fatigue. This is my common way of correcting such a problem. When the bridge has started coming loose, as it was in the case of this guitar, I go ahead and take the bridge the rest of the way off, clean the glue off the top and the bottom of the bridge, and also scrub the bottom of the bridge down with denatured alcohol to remove some of the natural oil so the new glue will stick and never let go. To pull the top back flat, I attach rods to a tail piece I make and then attach them to the bridge. The rods on this guitar are brass, because this particular guitar had gold hardware. When an instrument has chrome hardware, I will use aluminum rods. The whole job of re-gluing the bridge and making and installing the rods and tailpiece is a total of $75.