This Epiphone went for a total overhaul. Cracked bridge, fret leveling, bone nut and a few cracks glued.
The guitar is used in Big Orange Studios, here in Austin. It’s a beautiful dreadnaught with 30+ year old wood and have ben used on many recordings. The tone and resonance of the guitar was decent, but the current plastic nut and saddle were not doing the guitar justice. A great upgrade for a guitar any age, is a bone nut and saddle.
So the first thing needed, was to remove the old bridge. It would have been possible to glue the old bridge back together, but the owner was not interested. He felt it better to replace it entirely. Using a metal putty knife, I heat up the blade against a clothes iron. I wedge the blade in a gap between the broken bridge and the body of the guitar to heat up the existing glue. On old guitars such as this Epiphone, it’s important to be conscious where the entire blade rests. When you’re initially trying to get the blade under the bridge, some part of it will wedge under, and the other is sticking out of the side. If the hot blade comes in contact with the lacquer, it will melt through and it will not be pretty. Sometimes, it inevitably happens. It can be touched up to match the old finish to some extent, but it’s better to take your time and do things in small increments and not create more work for yourself later!
After about 20-30 minutes of carefully melting the old glue, the bridge pops off. Sometimes it’s clean, this one decided to take a bit of the top along with it! Not to worry. All of the material is within the boundary of the replacement bridge and once sanded, won’t hinder the flush appearance to the newly glued bridge.
Next up, I need to clean up the area for the new bridge to glue. However, the old bridge holes don’t line up with the new bridge. Additionally, the placement of the saddle is farther back on the new bridge. I need to dowel the existing holes and re-drill them about a quarter to three-eighths of an inch farther back so the guitar can intonate as best as possible. Then, I take masking tape and mask off the area which the new bridge will glue. Then, using mostly a small sanding block and the occasional chisel scrap, I even the surface and remove any old finish that would otherwise get in the way of the new bridge.
Additionally, this bridge was taller than the old one. If I were to glue it as-is onto the guitar, the strings would sit much higher off the fingerboard. I sanded the bottom side as far as I possibly could. Even that wasn’t enough. So I took some material off the top side of the new bridge with a circular sander. I lightly sand the top to level out the big scratches and finish it with a few coats of lacquer.
Finally, it’s ready to be glued. I use an razor and score lines onto the bottom of the bridge and the top of the guitar where it will glue. When clamping the new bridge, the pressure of the clamps will force the glue to seep into the small crevasses and result a stronger bond.
After 24 hours, the clamps come off and I can begin the fret leveling. I cover this step by step in a few other blog posts, so you can view them there if the pictures don’t tell enough of a story for you.
Lastly, I carve a bone nut and saddle, matching the profiles of the originals. Then, string the guitar up and it’s all ready to get back and lay down some tracks on wax.
This project brought new life to an old friend. The Telecaster that was pieced together by my customer. It was loved and played for many years to the point where the frets had divots all up and down the neck. Normally, frets have enough material on them to get at least one or two fret levelings before replacing them is needed, but at the customer’s request, they needed to go.
With the guitar pieced together, the height of the neck at the heel didn’t match the neck pocket. The action was still quite high even with the bridge lowered all the way down. The customer actually placed 2 outdated credit cards as shims…
To remove the frets, I heat them one by one, with a soldering iron and working each out with a fret puller. It’s important to keep the frets warm so the teng pulls the least amount of wood grain with them.
Once the frets are out, I measure the radius of the fingerboard so I know what to bend the new fretwire into. This Tele has a particularly round radius of 7.25″ After cleaning off the new frets, I run the wire through the fret bender. Usually takes a few times of trial and error to get the correct curvature. After that, I prep the existing slots in the neck with a saw which matches the new fret wire’s teng. Not much is needed.
Next, I pre-cut the bent fret-wire and begin pressing the frets into the fingerboard with my handy arbor press. This tool is amazing. Traditionally, a neck is re-fret with a hammer, which is loud… really loud and takes at least 5 hits per fret to sit properly. Multiply that by 21 or more frets and you have angry neighbors.
Sometimes, I like to use glue when pressing in the frets. I chose not to this time and let the teng of the fret work its magic. After all the frets are pressed in, the next step is to file the edges flush with the fingerboard. As you can tell the picture with the sleeping cat, I was working late into the night… or maybe early afternoon, or… I don’t know. Cats sleep 2/3 of the day apparently.
Next up, I take a small, 3-corner file and round out the fret ends. If you’ve ever played a guitar off a factory belt that skipped this step, you’ll probably remember it for the rest of your life because those cuts are nasty! I mask off the fingerboard with tape and file each fret end, both sides
After that, the new frets need to be leveled. Although they look to be at the same height at a glance, there are always high spots. and check each string position with my handy fret rocker and make a note of which spots that will need leveling. Then, I get to work with my leveling file. I check the marked areas with my fret rocker as I go. Once everything is at an even height, I take a crowning file and re-shape each fret. This same procedure can be done with the 3-corner file, but for the sake of time, this is my method. Then, I sand out any remaining scratches with wet/dry sandpaper and finish them off with some rubbing compound. I remove the tape and apply a bit of lemon oil to condition the fingerboard.
Lastly, I discarded the credit cards and shape a piece of 1/8″ maple to the neck pocket to aid the neck height. I cut the new bone nut, (which I’ve explained my process in a few other blog entries), strung the guitar up and VIOLIA! This guitar’s got a brand new start in life.
Does your guitar need some a re-fret leveling or re-fret? Call Andrew with South Austin Guitar Repair 512-590-1225 for fast friendly fret work.
This is my kind of project. I often have customers ask me what upgrades are the best bang for their buck to make a guitar they’re owned for years, new and exciting. Can you guess what my two recommendations are?
Bone, is a much more dense material than any stock plastic nut and yields a brighter sound, longer sustain and overall, nicer feel when picking strings.
Similar to the stock nut, stock pickups are anything but glamorous. They tend to sound… mass-produced, converter-belt manufactured and slightly dull. But this isn’t the kind of thing you notice until you’ve seen and listened to a higher quality pickup. Depending on what sound you’re after out of your guitar, several factors play into what voicing you need in a pickup. This ranges from the amount of copper winding inside the pickup to the type of magnet utilized. (Alnico II, Alnico V and Ceramic are the choices).
It was decided to install a set of Gibson ’57 Classic Humbuckers. After that, a piece of Canadian moose bone was carved and filed down and placed on the headstock. Lastly, a set of D’Addario XL’s were slapped on and this Epiphone Les Paul was transformed from good, to great.