May 2017

Vintage Martin 000-18 refurbishment

This beautiful old 1930s Martin guitar had seen so many repairs to the inside that it was effectively on its last legs. The soundboard had been repaired and re-finished so many times that the thickness was down to 1.5 mm in places. Combined with the fact that the braces had insects living in them (no, seriously) and were starting to crumble, this meant the top was giving way under the pressure of the strings; the action was unplayable. A neck reset alone wasn’t going to fix this.

Removing the top revealed the extent of the problem.  The repairs to the top, were well…have a look at the pictures.

In places a kind of thick epoxy seemed to have just been poured randomly around the braces. The bridge plate was cracked in half. The inside of the back and sides was worse. In one place, some kind of tar(?) had been used to support spliced crack repairs on the lower bout. In another, a playing card seemed to have been stuck to the guitar with Weetabix.  What looked to be a piece of chewing gum mixed with cement topped off the list of creative patch ups.

Ultimately, the decision was taken to remove all the braces from the soundboard and do the best to preserve it by adding a 1.5mm thick Adirondack laminate plate to the underside. This enabled the full top to be re-thicknessed to a consistent 3mm throughout.

The ideal course of action was to refit the original braces to the supported top but even after 10 hrs of gentle coaxing to remove them from the old soundboard in-tact, they were too fragile to be returned to the guitar. So new braces were made and fitted to the new top, shaping and notching them and the new bridgeplate to the same specification as the original, re-voicing along the way to accommodate the new lamination.

All the old repairs to the inside were cleaned out, along with a large amount of the same epoxy substance. Where necessary thin mahogany laminate was used on the inside of the ribs to support the old repairs in a more efficient and cleaner fashion (yes, even more efficient than Weetabix). These were then overlaid with replacement black ribbon supports, matching as closely as possible that of the original Martin guitar.

A new mould was made for the guitar, enabling the body to be accurately supported whilst laminating the inside, re-levelling the kerfing and fitting the new top.

With the repaired soundboard back on, the binding and purfling slots were cleaned up with the router, and the original binding and purfling re-affixed to the top.

The guitar was re-finished using nitrocellulose lacquer with a slight amber toner, to replicate the guitar’s golden-aged colouring. The intention here was to create a finish which had a ‘satin’ sheen…not too glossy, but not matt. I find this is best achieved with careful use of ultrafine micromesh and steel wool on a gloss finish.

A new bridge was made to complement the corrected neck angle and fitted with the original straight through saddle. The original pickguard was refitted to the guitar and a new nut created to accommodate the re-fretted guitar.

Restringing an instrument like this after such invasive repairs will – I think – for any luthier be a nervous moment. But given I’m still writing, you’ve probably guessed that the guitar stayed in one piece. The tone was not only still great, but still ‘old’, which was the main concern with creating the laminate. A very happy customer with what should be many more years of playing from a golden age guitar.

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