Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jay Turser JTA-Flag300 - Who Are You

How can I measure up to anyone now
After so much damage as this?

After a few emails and phone calls, I discovered very little information is available about older Jay Turser guitars.  Jay Turser did not issue serial numbers or date stamp their older models, and Jay Turser is now a division of U.S. Music Corporation.  I bought this JTA-Flag300 from an eBay vendor by the name of groovexchange, and that vendor took possession of her when his company purchased a huge lot of inventory from a northeast music retailer that had gone out of business.  As a result, the previous owner didn't know much about her either, except that her body was mounted on the wall in the retailer's repair shop at the time of the purchase.  So, it seems the only way I will learn any more about this JTA-Flag300 is to take her apart.

I started slowly, looking at the truss rod.  Fortunately, the removal of the truss rod cover plate revealed a working Allen wrench-style nut, still intact.  I loosened things up, and found it had been turned quite tight.  This may have been the cause of the damage I found at the heel end of the neck.  With the nut in the fully loosened position, I put a flat edge across the frets and confirmed she has a one-way truss rod that is still in working condition.

Not quite out of the neck repair business on this one, I turned my attention to the heel end of the neck.  What originally appeared to be a nut and a broken split shaft is simply the end of the rod in a split shaft channel with a flange that is held flat between the neck and fingerboard.  Something happened at this joint that resulted in splitting a portion of wood from the neck heel, leaving some of the truss rod end exposed.  Maybe the action was getting high, and the owner over compensated by cranking the compression on the neck with an overly aggressive truss rod adjustment instead of having the neck reset.  From the overall condition of the rest of the guitar, that is the most likely chain of events.  Getting back to business, the thin portion of spruce from the top plate came easily off of the back of the fretboard with some steam and a sharpened putty knife.  I'm thinking it will take removal of the fretboard to properly rebuild the damage to the neck heel.

The neck heel would be only half of what I have to rebuild in the joint.  The joint appears to be have been made with a whitish-colored plastic piece that was sandwiched within a dovetail formed by the neck and block.  The thickness of this piece of plastic might be what was intended by the manufacturer to adjust and reset the neck angle.  Considering how slim the body is at this joint, there is not much material to keep the joint from hinging under string tension.  I taped up the surrounding area to prepare for using some steam to clean out the joint, and quickly found it to be of no use with removing the plastic.  I'm guessing a cyanoacrylate adhesive was used, and resorted to removing some of the plastic with a small grinding attachment on my Dremel.

Between that possible weak or flawed joint design, and not having a way to replace the broken plastic part, I'm thinking the best option is to convert the dovetail into a mortise and tenon neck joint, using access bolts from  inside of the guitar through the neck block and into the neck heel, similar to the way many builders do it these days.  The trick will be making it work with such a thin body depth and shallow neck heel.

After some clean up of the neck heel and neck block, I checked the fit of the joint.  It was already close to being at the correct angle, with the top of fret plane just shy of the high point of the bridge.

Satisfied with how that was shaping up, I pulled the two parts loose again, reattached that sliver of spruce I salvaged from her neck by gluing it to her top plate, and made some minor repairs at the edges, before writing this entry and calling it a night.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Jay Turser JTA-Flag300 - An American Girl

She couldn't help thinkin'
That there was a little more to life somewhere else

It's usually easy to tell when a guitar arrives in the mail.  There's a certain set of proportions to the box, no matter what the color or style of the guitar.  When my Jay Turser JTA-Flag300 Acoustic Electric project guitar arrived, the proportions of the box looked more like I had bought a baritone saxophone.  This project is the equivalent of getting dropped off in the woods while blindfolded, and making it back to camp.  This is what you get when you buy a guitar with her neck already detached from her body, no questions asked.

To the seller's credit, the body and neck were well packed, and arrived just as pictured on eBay.  They were very clean and in good condition, but very separate and without the factory-installed piezoelectric pickup and on board preamplifier.  Her finish, bridge, fingerboard, frets and nut don't show much wear, and although her tuning pegs need some polish, they have a well-built, solid feel to them.

One pleasant surprise was finding that the cable that connects the preamp to the output jack was included, and that part of the circuit appears to be intact.  The electronics will be easy enough to replace; I have a piezoelectric pickup that might work with her bridge, and the toughest part there should be finding a preamp that will fit her long, skinny body opening.  Her neck joint damage is the real challenge, and appears to be the result of either an accident, a failed reset, or a combination of both.

First looks can be deceiving, and it's not clear to me if the truss rod is broken or some style I just haven't seen before now.  It appears to have some kind of split shaft connection at the heel end, and an adjustment nut on the heel end as well as a way to access an adjustment nut at the peg head end through a cover plate.  The neck heel also seems to be built up and has suffered a split along the grain at the end of the truss rod cavity, with the smallest portion of the neck heel still attached to the neck block.  Judging from the outside condition, her body seems to have been spared any damage.  So far, my research on the Internet has turned up nothing more than a pdf of a manufacturer's catalog that does not include this model, so I'll dig a little deeper before reaching any conclusions or taking anything apart.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Harmony H1203 Sovereign - Back in the Saddle Again

I'm back in the saddle again
Out where the strings meet the end...

It's always exciting to find a package in the mailbox.  My new saddle arrived a few weeks ago, and has been waiting patiently for me to get to preparing and installing it on this old guitar.  Totally unlike the one that was in the bridge before, this saddle is made of genuine bone and is fully compensated.  Comparing the back end of the bridge with the saddle, the length and string spacing is a pretty good match.  Although there are some slight gaps between the bridge and body, the bridge does not appear to be lifting enough to repair at this time.  When it does, I'll swap it out for a modern pin-type bridge.

After reducing the thickness of the saddle to make it fit the bridge slot, I put it aside...

... reattached her Grover tuning machines...

...put in her nice new end pin...

... and put on a set of DR Pure Blues PHR-11 pure nickel strings!

I don't usually use an 11-gauge set of strings, nor do I like a plain, unwound G-string, but I wanted to see how her neck and action would react to a heavy set, and hear how she might have sounded with the only kind of strings that were available back in her heyday.  As expected with such a tall saddle, the action was very high, between 1/8-inch and 3/16-inch at the 12th fret, and the intonation was way out.  It was a starting point.  With some trimming of the saddle height, I was able to get the 12th fret action down to just below 1/8 inch.  I usually prefer a very flat neck, little to no relief, so I put the truss rod in the "neutral" position before putting on the strings.  I was getting some fret buzz at the 3rd and fourth fret on her low E string, so I cranked the truss rod counterclockwise until I could feel the rod tighten.  I turned the rod another quarter turn, giving the neck a touch of relief.  With just one more quarter turn tweak, all of the buzz was gone, and I attached her truss rod cover plate.

Before touching up the front with some lacquer, I decided it was best to bring her inside the house to allow the strings to stretch and her wood to acclimate to a lower humidity, air conditioned environment.  And, yes, so I could play her for a bit before calling it a night.

Almost time to tidy up a bit and start getting ready for the next project, but first I'll be back in here to apply some more lacquer.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Harmony H1203 Sovereign - Neck Bone Blues

Before putting lacquer on the back and sides, I started working on the neck reset.  All of the work previous to this point was taking a toll on the angle that the neck makes with the top plate, and the top plate is very much out of plane, with some bellying at the bridge and sinking between the neck block and sound hole.

One day, this old guitar might get its top braces removed so the top plate can be flattened out.  That would be a great time to swap out her heavy ladder bracing for an X-braced configuration.  But, for now, I'm letting all that stay the way it is, and just modifying the shape of her dovetail.  I started by cutting some oak shims parallel to the grain with a coping saw.

I attached two small shims to the dovetail tenon cheeks to get started.  After the glue dried, I shaped the rough edges with a file...

... and then with some sanding tools I made from sand paper and popsicle sticks.

When all of the new lacquer on the back and sides had hardened, it was time to get back to the neck reset.  I added and shaped some smaller pine shims where the rest of the joint needed to be filled in.  With repeated dry fitting of the neck into the joint, I shaped the first two shims so that the neck centerline was in line with the centerline of the body and perpendicular to the bridge.

I kept building up the tenon, adding and shaping more small strips, to affect the angle the fretboard makes with the body and end up with the proper string action.

The last few evenings were filled with frustrations, removing too much from the shoulders, and making a few new character marks to her neck.  I realized there will be gaps, but decided to go with it, and attached the last shim to the widest part of the tenon.

Like the rest of the shims, the last one needed a little shaping.

A final check on the centerlines, everything was lining up fine.  Anticipating some rotation of the bridge from string tension, and wanting to allow for some future adjustment, I left about a 1/16" gap between the plane of the tops of the frets and the top of the bridge at the saddle slot.  It was less than I wanted, but it was all I could get, and enough to get the action down low enough by trimming down the saddle.

After the final dry fit, I added some hide glue, clamped up the joint, and called it a day.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Harmony H1203 Sovereign - Shine On You Crazy Diamond

Remember when you were young
You shone like the sun.

After a few evenings of trying to reset the neck, I mostly figured out what needed to be done.  A lot had changed with the angle of her neck joint since the last time I had the back glued on her, and it was clear it would take adding extra material to the neck part of the dovetail to get an angle that would bring her action down low enough.  I made some thin oak strips to add on to the pins of the dovetail, set her neck aside for the glue to dry, and moved on to preparing her body for some coats of clear lacquer.

I applied about a dozen coats of lacquer in the past week.  That brought back a lot of good memories of my experience with the classical guitar I built in the early 1980's.  Without the luxury of a proper dedicated workshop, I had to be much more resourceful this time.  A few old particle boards made for an impromptu spray booth, just enough to contain the overspray from getting all over the rest of my shed.

I prepared the back and sides of this old guitar by light hand sanding with some 150 grit, followed by a vigorous rubbing with some steel wool.  As a final step, I cleaned everything up with a paste of baking soda and water, applied with a toothbrush.  After allowing the paste to completely dry, I wiped off the residue with a clean, dry rag.

The first coat of lacquer appeared much darker where I had exposed raw wood on her back and sides.  Differences in texture and thickness between the areas of new and old lacquer were also noticeable.

After a few more coats, the color and texture variations became less and less noticeable on the sides, yet more noticeable in some areas on the back panel.

When I was pleased with how her sides had come out, I let them harden overnight.  Next, I taped up her sides, so I could avoid overspraying them while continuing to work on the back panel.

Although the old and new lacquer were not reacting, I sprayed on the new lacquer too thick in a few spots, too thick to properly cure in those areas.  I scratched the gunky mess away with a fingernail and some 150 grit sandpaper.  Frustrated, I ended up bringing those areas back down almost to the bare wood with sandpaper and steel wool, and built them back up with more coats of new lacquer.  Since I was spraying the entire back panel, the finish in these areas is noticeably thinner than at the rest of the panel.  To get any better results on the back panel now would involve sanding it all down level, almost to bare wood, and starting all over.  Although that's an option, I decided to stay with as much of the original finish as possible.  I can always come back and try fixing it with some brush-on lacquer, or completely refinish the back another time.

Her neck was in pretty good shape, so I tried to contain my work to where I had made repairs to the wood, at the back of her headstock and the joints between the neck and binding.

With successive coats of lacquer and sanding  in between coats with steel wool, the differences in color at the wood repairs got less noticeable.

But, my attempts to contain the finish repairs on the neck did not work well.  Some lacquer leaked beneath the tape and combined with the adhesive on the painted front of the headstock.  The resulting sludge ate away at the paint, removing some of the black as well as the first few letters in the word Harmony.  Disgusted, I pulled and rubbed away the sticky mess with a fingernail and some 150 grit sandpaper, and used some steel wool to even things out and give some bite to the old finish materials.

After a few coats of lacquer, some of the original colors in the decorative paint were showing nicely again.

When I had removed the tape from her neck, I could also feel some lines where the new lacquer met the tape. After smoothing out the bumps with steel wool, I put a few coats of lacquer on the back of the entire neck as well as at the edges and back of the headstock.  Except for a few deeper scratches in the back of the neck, the lacquer filled in the worn spots quite well, leaving a very smooth and hard surface.

I sprayed the final coat of lacquer on the neck and back, this time without any sanding to the previous coat.

I left the lacquer to cure for a full day before getting back to the neck reset.  When it's ready to be reassembled, I'll do some minor lacquer touchup to the front panel.