Gibson Style O Artist part 4: Finish, Setup and Trouble Shooting

It finally looked like a guitar again.  I sealed the body with Tap marine epoxy.  I did this because the body was pretty dried out and I thought the epoxy would better integrate the surface.  It’s also what I do on my own instruments. 

After it dried a toner coat of  finish using yellow metal acid dye was applied over the entire instrument.  We had agreed to go with amber to dark cherry for the sunburst and dark cherry for the rest of the instrument.  I wanted to go quite dark on the edges and sides to try and hide some of the severe damage to those areas.  One note, I had put in the pearl dot at the center of the scroll, as per all the pictures I had seen, and when I sent the pictures of this guitar for approval on the finish color, I had forgotten about the conversation we had about omitting the dot. It was a quick fix, but also a reminder to write everything down.

After scraping the bindings I sprayed 6 coats of KTM-9 (before anyone howls, I’m severely allergic to lacquer and don’t have that much experience with varnish) sanding every two coats.  I tinted the finish with a slight amber color to tone down the new ivoroid, and to blend it in with the existing pieces. Although I’m not sure that was necessary because only the heel cap, soundhole surround and the tip of the Florentine cutaway survived.  I also saved small jars of the colors so if I went through the burst I would have a match to the previous colors.  It probably would have been smart to document the ratios, but if I were smart I wouldn’t be building guitars for a living.

On the Gibson HG I repaired I didn’t finish sand the final coat of finish, just buffed it out to a gloss leaving all the imperfections.  It is an 85 year old guitar and it was decided that it should look a little lived in.

The tailpiece had been broken and Jim had that fixed but the plating had been compromised, so he found a place to get it re-plated.  The holes for the bridge pins were way oversized by wear, so I used some celluloid pickguard material to line the holes of the celluloid tailpiece, and cement them with acetone. The hardware was installed next, followed by a level crown and polish of the frets and cutting the nut slots. It was interesting to me to see that in most of the pictures of Artist O’s the three in line machines were installed upside down, the knobs being below the posts.  Since the back of the peghead was now free of any holes I thought it best to put the Waverly’s with the name up as on a modern guitar.  I was concerned that they might not hold up as well upside down since they weren’t designed to be used that way.

I only had light gauge strings on hand and even though I thought they’d be a little weak in tone, I was anxious to hear how the guitar sounded.   After bringing the guitar to pitch I was thrilled with the sound.  It was much more alive than I had thought it might be, very rich, even with light gauge strings.  Unfortunately, it became obvious I was not finished with the job. After only five minutes the top on the treble side had started to cave in.  A depression was forming around the foot of the bridge and I immediately detuned the guitar before I had a catastrophic failure.  Apparently, my predecessor had been a little too overzealous in his working of the top and it was way too thin.   I didn’t think to check the top’s thickness before I installed it on the body.  This is another mistake I will not make again.  I thought the best way to handle this was to make a “bridge plate” much like a flat top.  I used a piece of cross grain Indian rosewood at .09” and formed an arch approximating the arch on the Gibson with a heating iron.  Then I used the topography created by the new braces to give me an approximate bridge plate size and cut and fit the rosewood so that I had a friction fit between the braces.  I figured that with a tight fit to the braces that the top under the bridge wouldn’t deform as much if it had support.  Once that was done it was a simple matter to make cauls and glue the plate in.  I was lucky that the Artist O has an oval sound hole that I could fit my hand in.  If this had been an L-4 the “f” holes would have been a much harder job. 

After letting the glue overnight it was time to string it up again and hope for the best.  The good news was that after a couple of hours there was no more deformation and even better news was that the bridge plate didn’t affect the tone at all.  It held tune and was actually louder than it had been without the plate.  Only time will tell if it was a complete success. 

Would I do it again?  Probably not at this price.  Was I sorry I took the job on?  Absolutely  not.  It was a challenge, but I feel that I got quite a bit out of it, and transformed a bag of kindling into a guitar again, a guitar that would be played and not just hung on a wall.  Jim Richardson may not look like Big Bill Broonzy, but he might someday be the coolest guy in the nursing home. 

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