Thursday, June 13, 2013

Holiday H1214 Archtop – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

You know you can't hold me forever
I didn't sign up with you

The time had come, I needed to make room for another guitar.  Since my kids are still too young to move out of the house, and I was not about to add on a room, it was time to say goodbye to one of These Old Guitars.  After thinking it through for a few weeks, I decided I would list my Holiday Archtop for sale.

This was the first project guitar I had worked on in recent years, between October of 2008 through when I made some home digital recordings with her in September of 2010.

Before listing her on eBay, there were a few things that I had not yet gotten back to fixing and upgrading, as well as some other things that needed some attention.  It  was also time for a good cleaning and polishing.  I suppose someone would be willing to buy her as-is.  Instead of offering her  in her present condition, I wanted to offer her as a finished project, and something more representative of my current guitar repair and renovation capabilities.

Over the years, I had swapped out her tuners twice.  First, I had replaced the original 3+3 on a strip open-backed tuners with the individual Grover button tuners I had borrowed from another guitar.  When it came time to give those Grovers back, I had put a set of imitation Grover Imperial tuners on the Holiday.  Although they looked good, the rectilinear styling did not go well at all with her curvy tailpiece, and her relatively small headstock made tuning her with these relatively wide peg buttons a challenge.

I set out to simply replace the Imperial tuners with another set of button tuners.  But, with all of the tuners removed, I realized I was about to add a third set of screw holes into the rear of her worn headstock.

So, I filled in the extra screw holes by gluing in some oak.  I left just enough excess wood to be able to trim the repairs flat with a sharp blade and some light sanding.

Her end block area was in similar condition.  I had replaced her very utilitarian stock tailpiece and friction-type celluloid end pin with very decorative pieces of gold plated hardware.  This was the right time to fill in the extra holes in this area as well.

With a little sanding, a 5/16-inch oak dowel filled the original tapered end pin hole.

While waiting for all the glue to dry, I moved over to upgrading the output jack.  The tasks here were to swap out the chrome hardware for a gold jack, and add a matching Les Paul style mounting plate.

To attach the grounding shield to the plate, I removed the gold plating in a small area and roughened up the exposed metal with some #60 grit sandpaper.

Next came tinning the stripped wires and soldering the three connections to the assembly.

After checking the fit and electrical continuity with a patch cord, and enlarging the hole in her side, I predrilled the screw holes.  Getting back to the neck and end block area, I trimmed and sanded down the repairs...

...and installed all of the gold hardware...

I also had to reattach the nut before putting on some strings, so I took this opportunity to remove some excess glue still on the neck from last time.

When the glue had dried, I put on a coat of polish and lined up the floating bridge.  Some tape came in handy for holding the bridge in place while putting on a fresh set of strings.

Not too shabby looking for a playable 50 year old jazz box.  I brought her back into the house to let her acclimate for a few days, before setting her bridge height and intonation one more time.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Flat Top Tele - Under Pressure

It's the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming, "Let me out!"

When I first contemplated bending the sides, I thought a steam box would be the way to go.  By adding enough steam, wood becomes very pliable.  It was clear that I would not be able to make those tight bends at the neck joint with just a bending iron.  So, I built a steam box.

Filling up a box with enough steam to make wood bendable also creates a lot of heat and pressure.  Despite careful monitoring of temperature, a pressure vessel failure remains a concern.  In the event of such a failure, a wooden box can be designed to give some warning signs before its weakest point fails, while a PVC pipe is more likely to send random pieces flying.  So, instead of  using a PVC pipe, I decided to make a 4-foot long wood box from treated 2x's.

The first step was cutting the top and bottom from a 2x10 and the sides from a 2x6.  Next, I drilled a set of holes in the sides for some oak dowels.  The dowels are to support the wood to be bent, allowing the steam to make its way into the wood evenly from all sides.  I attached both side panels to the bottom panel with some wood screws, and started installing the dowels.

I drilled the holes snug enough that it took a hammer to drive the dowels through the holes, to ensure good seals.

With all of the dowels installed, it was time to attach the top with some more wood screws and trim the dowels flush.

With the four panels assembled, I could see some daylight getting through the joints.  To fill in the gaps, I added some foam weather seal.

Moving on the end panels, I made a hole in the fixed end to accept a brass fitting.  The fitting attaches to my steam source, a Wagner Power Steamer.

The other end panel is the weak point by design, attached with a pair of hinges and adjustable with a pair of hook and eye sets.  The hooks can be bent to fine-tune the seal.  Since water vapor under pressure can exceed the boiling point of water, I needed a thermometer with a range higher than 212 degrees Fahrenheit.  Fortunately for my wife, that meant buying a new meat thermometer with a top reading of 220 degrees Fahrenheit for this project.

With steam comes condensate.  To let the condensed water drip out, I drilled three drain holes at the end furthest from the steam inlet, and attached some flat pieces to the bottom panel.  The piece at the drain end is shorter than the other end, to make sure the water makes it to the drain.

Next came some testing.  I put in a 3-foot long piece of 1-1/2-inch wide by 1/4-inch thick pine furring strip, plugged in the steam machine, and waited.  I did not expect to be able to bend this piece much.  What I wanted was to get an idea of how much heat, steam and pressure would be generated in the box, how well it was sealed, and how it would be to remove the wood when opening the box.

After 45 minutes, the thermometer reading was 185.  At 55 minutes, condensate was dripping from the bottom panel screw holes and the box was getting somewhat warm.  After an hour and 10 minutes, the temperature had leveled out at 210.  I pulled the plug at an hour and 15 minutes, and waited 5 minutes before opening the door.  Upon opening the door, there was no noticeable blast of heat or pressure.  The sample piece of furring was warm and somewhat damp, but not overly wet.  The good news was that the wood was somewhat more pliable than a dry piece of furring strip.

So, at the end of the day, I declared this test a good learning experience and a partial success.  I made some notes about sealing up the screws holding the bottom and side panels together, so I could hopefully get the box to heat up quicker and reach a high temperature of 220 degrees Fahrenheit.  Next time, I'll be giving it a try with a piece of that 1/8-inch laminated oak kick board and a bending form.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Flat Top Tele - Up Around The Bend

Hitch a ride to the end of the highway
Where the neons turn to wood. 

I had some time over the long Memorial Day weekend to experiment with my electric heatgun wood bender.  Between the mild spring weather, and the possibility this thing going up in flames, the outdoors seemed like the perfect place for getting acquainted with this new gizmo.  After attaching a full-sized plot of the dimensioned Telecaster body drawing to a piece of chip board, I plugged the heat gun into an extension cord and flipped on the switch.  An 8-feet long, 4-1/2-inch wide piece of 1/8-inch thick oak laminate kickboard I came across at Home Depot made for a great practice piece while learning the abilities and limits of this tool.

After a few minutes, I found that the pipe heats up quickly and evenly, and is great at producing gentle curves.

The curves near the neck-to-body joint of the Tele were already proving to be problematic.  This was especially troubling, since the grain on the inner laminate of this piece of wood runs in the width direction.  It would take more than a couple of clamps to get the bent wood to line up with the tighter curves.

After letting a piece soak for about 15 minutes, I found I could use the hot pipe to get the wood loosened up enough to bend it around a wooden dowel.


Even after allowing the wood to dry overnight, much of the bend sprung open when I released the clamps.  It clearly would take some other technique to produce the small radius bends at the neck-to-body joint.