Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Two Mandolins - Keep the Customer Satisfied

And I'm one step ahead of the shoe shine
Two steps away from the county line
Just trying to keep my customers satisfied,

About a week ago, a coworker asked me to price some repairs and maintenance on two family heirlooms.  The one mandolin is a Kay L4, and the other is unlike anything I've ever come across before.  Both had obvious signs of age and use, but appeared to be in or very close to playable condition.  After reaching agreements on the scope of work to be done and the price, I ordered some replacement parts.

Although the Kay is in the better condition of the two, it had some issues.  Some of the rear binding near her neck joint was loose, the inside of her case was showing some wear, and her tuning pegs were deteriorating.

Although there were some scratches in her finish, she mostly needed a good, thorough cleaning and waxing.

The owner was interested in restoring this mando to playable condition, but was not yet ready to replace the buttons on the original tuners or to replace the tuners entirely with donor parts from another mando.  Instead, we agreed it made sense to replace the tuners with an inexpensive set, and to save the original tuners to be refurbished or replaced another time.

Although the screw holes and other dimensions matched up with the original set, the new set had two more screw holes per side.  To avoid altering the headstock, I decided I would leave the additional screw holes open.

The binding repair was next on the list.  It took a little CA glue with some painters tape to clamp things in place.

After stripping off all the grime and old wax with some Murphy's Oil Soap, I put on a coat of wax.

After removing the existing peg collars, I realized the new collars that came with the new pegs were slightly larger.  So, after cleaning and waxing the headstock, I cleaned the original collars and reinstalled them.

After applying some blue tape to affect the surrounding surfaces, I lightly sanded the grime and pitting off of her frets.

It was getting too cold to continue working in my shed, so I decided to leave the remainder of the binding repair for the next day.  I brought Kay inside, and put a new set of strings and her tailpiece cover back on her before calling it a night.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Harmony H1203 Sovereign - Fortune Cookie

This could easily be the start of something real
Fortune cookie won't you tell me what's good tonight

When I started repairing and rebuilding this Harmony H1203 Sovereign, I had no idea it would turn into something this big in my life.  The audience for This Old Guitar is international, I have a performance with a group coming up in December 2013, and I have established a stringed instrument repair business.  Who knew buying that guitar would be the start of something so real?

With a performance coming up, I had to choose a guitar to use.  After group rehearsals using my Harmony H1203 Sovereign, Holiday H1214 Archtop and my son's Jay Turser JTA-Flag300, I decided I'd be most comfortable with my Sovereign.  The only problem is she was a straight acoustic.  So, I decided to install the pickup and preamp I had set aside for my Flat Top Tele build.

One nice feature about this preamp is the on-board tuner.  Another handy feature is the combination phono and XLR output jacks, allowing me to plug her directly into a mixing board.

First up was installing the under-saddle piezo pickup.  I compared it with a new compensated bone saddle to the existing bone saddle and to the bridge slot..

The depth of the new saddle on top of the piezo unit was 1/2-inch tall, a full 1/4-inch taller than the existing saddle.

The piezo was also much wider than the existing bridge slot.

I started by trimming out the bridge slot depth with a few tools, including a rotary tool cut-off disc, a hobby knife and a modified hacksaw blade.

After widening the top of the slot enough for it to receive the piezo, I switched to sanding the surfaces.

Using a series of small drill bits, I drilled out a hole for the piezo wire to feed into her body.

With a combination of a small flat file and my rotary tool, I eventually widened and deepened the bridge slot enough to receive the piezo and new saddle.

I made the saddle slot deep enough so that the piezo would sit directly on the top tone wood surface, thinking this would avoid unnecessary weakening of the guitar top and saddle, and ensure the best possible sound transmission when playing her as an acoustic guitar.

After sufficiently cleaning out the saddle slot, I left the piezo inserted and moved on to trimming the new saddle.

Although the required saddle depth was the same as before installing the piezo, the widened slot would now accept a full-width saddle.  So, I trimmed the new saddle down in depth only enough to match the previous saddle.  This made it possible to get the same action after performing this upgrade without having to adjust the neck set angle or truss rod.

A few months ago, I had received a promotional set of 12-52 Martin Lifespan SP's, and thought this would be a good time to try them out.  I moved on to laying out and installing the preamp and battery/output box components.

The transverse braces and new bridge plate I installed last year appeared to be holding up well.

The installation went well with no surprises.

The combination of the short oak bridge plate and the piezo directly against the guitar top tone wood give this guitar plenty of punch and volume.  I should have no trouble being heard with the group while playing This Old Guitar.