Brisbane Guitar Restoration, what’s involved?

June 10, 2014

Brisbane Guitar Restoration – the full story

Brisbane Guitar RestorationRestoring vintage and rare instruments is the driving passion behind us here at the Guitar Repairers. Seeing a beautiful old guitar from say the 1890’s restored to a playable condition is what makes all our hard work really pay off.

Why do we do it?

Well, from a luthiery point of view we restore old guitars because:

  • Older timber is much more resonant. Over time wood dries out and the dryer it is, the harder it is, causing it to resonate sound rather than absorb it. (even modern kiln dried timber is not completely dried out)
  • The less moisture there is in wood the less it will move over time. Through seasonal changes new wood still warps and moves. An older guitar has done all its moving and warping so we’re left with very sturdy timber.
  • The timbers used in older guitars are of very high quality. Brazilian rosewood- the best quality rosewood- for example was once used almost exclusively in old guitars. Now a protected species, it is no longer allowed to be cut down and sold. Some Honduras Mahogany and types of spruce are becoming sparse and their lower grade equivalents are being used instead.
  • They all have stories. Dings, dents, scratches and marks, these are all tell tale signs that a guitar has led an interesting life. Knowing that an old 1900’s parlour guitar from the US of A was once some young musicians bread and butter makes for a much more interesting history than some man named Django CMCing them from a factory in Moosejaw, Canada.

What do we do exactly?

The most common restoration job is as follows:

  • On old pre 1940’s guitars, of which we see many, have ladder bracing. Ladder bracing was suitable if you were to string your guitar with gut strings. But with modern day steel strings the ladder bracing cannot support the high tension.
    So we remove the back, remove the bracing from the soundboard and replace them using the modern x-bracing pattern. We use spruce obtained from century old German pianos so the braces themselves are quite resonant and won’t move over time either.
  • The bridgeplates of the old guitars are either worn out or wouldn’t be able to support the ball of the steel strings. So we replace the bridgeplate with a rosewood one.
  • The next step is to replace any loose kerfing, re-glue any loose endblocks and then re-glue the back.
  • The bridge also has to be replaced more often than not. So Luke, our talented luthier makes rosewood bridges from scratch, complimenting the aesthetic style and theme of the guitar.
  • Once glued on, the bridge then has to be drilled and the saddle slot routed.
  • If the guitar doesn’t have a truss rod or even a “steel reinforced bar”, which they often don’t, we have to remove the dovetailed neck from the body, shim or shave the heel and re-glue it back on. This is called resetting the neck.\
  • If the neck doesn’t have to be reset then it usually has to be re-fretted. We remove the frets, sand a radius into the fretboard, install new frets, level and re-crown them and polish them to a shine.
  • The machine heads also will often need replacing. To do that requires doweling the old holes and re-drilling them. We then usually put on a set of vintage style machine heads that match and emphasize the original style of the guitar.
  • Then we cut back the guitar and overspray it with vintage tint nitrocellulose lacquer to add a coat of protection and really bring out the grain and tone of the old timber.
  • By this point we’re almost done. Now come the intricacies of the setup. John makes, from scratch, a nut and saddle, (made from brazilian bloodwood with a compensated nut).
  • Then set the action height, intonation, nut spacing, string tension, saddle width and overall playability to get the very best feel and sound out of the old girl.

Phew, and this is just a basic run down of what needs be done. Sometimes more work is needed like fixing and cleating splits and cracks, hole repair, making new scratchplates, replacing fretboards etc etc.


The End Result

What we have after these countless hours of sweat blood and tears is a beautifully old instrument that not only feels great to play but has a sound that is loud, resonant, clear and always a surprise at how well it comes out. A restored 19th century parlour guitar is louder and more vibrant than its modern equivalent.

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So come on in and have a play yourself and see that there is no substitute for a restored vintage guitar. Unparalleled in its resonance, quality and structure and plays as easily as any modern guitar, our restorations are completely unique in style and sound.

Brisbane Guitar Restoration. Call now on (07) 3368 1833.