Sunday, June 5, 2011

Holiday H1214 Archtop - Part I

This Old Guitar was in working condition when I found her. From the pictures the previous owner posted in his eBay ad, she appeared to be playable.

And, as promised, she was. The action was a bit high, but the neck was straight, so it was a good opportunity to switch out the stock wooden compensated bridge for one with a lower profile and individual string adjustments for intonation. The worst part was the damage to the upper bout, most likely caused by accident.

With my old ES335 in mind, I hit eBay and started the search for replacements parts and some goodies to electrify this Holiday. My vision was to make her into something electrified with minimal modification. So, I bought a pickup that could be mounted to the end of the fretboard and a set of volume and tone controls that could be attached to the replacement pickguard. That way, the modifications could even be reversed with very little effort.

The first thing to be done was to make a repair to that "extra" sound hole. My first attempt was to push out the damaged section with a curved block from the inside. I applied pressure by pulling with a wire from the outside that was attached to the block and threaded through the damaged area. The idea was that, with enough pressure, the damaged splinters would return to the shape of the curve. In practice, I quickly found out that I could not generate enough force to make the wood move. So, I moved on to widening the damage area enough to make a small rectangular wooden patch. The plan was to make a thick enough piece and glue it from the inside, and then add a piece of matching wood to cover the ugly mess.

Before the glue had dried, I was already trying to think of a better way to fix this mess. The next week, I was talking it over with a coworker that happens to be a fellow amateur musician and has done some work on his own guitars. His suggestion was to put a preamp in this spot, since it would be barely visible to anyone other than the person playing it. Genius! Except that the curvature of this guitar where the preamp would go was unlike any preamp module I had ever seen before. But, after a few months of searching at music stores and online, I finally found a candidate on eBay.

With the preamp chosen in hand, I cleared off the workbench in my shed and broke out some tools. I used my old battery powered Dremel with a drill bit to rough out the opening. The rest of the shaping was done with a drum sanding wheel attachment.

It was a tight fit with such a thin body, and I had to trim out some of the kerfing to give the battery swing enough clearance.

After getting the hole shaped, I thought it would be best to leave the final four-screw installation of the preamp into the old, brittle wood aside until I was ready to hook up the preamp and output jack.

Next, I removed the few strings that were holding the bridge in place, removed all of the hardware, and cleaned off her finish. It took a few applications of Murphy's Oil Soap, and when I got all of the grime and dirt off, she really started showing her age. Still, the faux zebra stripes do have a certain charm.

Next up was replacing the old tuners. The original 3-in-a-row opened-back pegs had ivory colored plastic buttons and no bushings. The sealed-back Grover knock-offs I found came with bushings, so I over-bored the peg holes to accommodate the larger shafts.

With the new pegs in place, I used some fishing line to locate the new tailpiece and check the height of the new bridge.

At one time, the centerline of the original bridge and tailpiece probably lined up well with the centerline of the body. But, that certainly was not happening now. You can see here that the tailpiece is about 3/8" off of the body centerline. The proper way to change the alignment of the neck meeting the body would be to do a neck reset, but it was close enough for me to leave it alone. On the other hand, the tailpiece I picked out looked so much better in the picture online than it did installed. Now, it looked too small and plain for this guitar, and the best patch I could possibly do to the original strap button hole would not be hidden in the least. I decided to leave the old strap button and tailpiece screw holes for the time being, until I decided what to do about the tailpiece.


  1. Edgar, the photos are great and your description is masterful. Excellent work. How does it feel to have completed it?

  2. Thanks for the kind words. It feels good, like all accomplishments, but it is a fleeting feeling. The Holiday guitar is still a work in progress. Now if I could just remember where I put the other parts I bought for her...