Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Little Side Project

Back at the start of June, I posted a little piece about a friend gifting me a junk guitar.  It's a Breedlove that was made years ago and that apparently was some sort of a sales demo.  (There's a label inside that says it's an Atlas Series, and while I can find mention of that series in many places, no mention of when they were made.)  It was missing easily replaced pieces, and had a large chunk of the left side cut out of it so that potential buyers could see how it was made.  The original was an acoustic-electric with a nice electronics package that went away at some point over the years.

The idea is that it's about as broken as broken can be, so I can mess with it with complete impunity.  Pull frets to learn how to replace them?  Why not?  Crack the sound board to see if I can fix that crack?  Steam the neck off?  I probably can't break it worse than it is.   Naturally, I said, "sure I'll take it".

It has a solid Sitka spruce soundboard (top), which isn't that uncommon once you get past the very cheapest guitars; the back, though, is solid rosewood and that's something I expect to find only in fairly high end guitars.  The closest equivalent I know of on the market today seems to be the Fender Paramount PM-3 Deluxe at a K-buck.  The sides are rosewood laminate (plywood), but a guitar's sides are largely structural and don't affect sound very much. So while it has obvious problems, it's basically a good guitar, not one of those cheap, plywood guitars for beginners.  In other words, while it's a junk guitar, it's not a "junk guitar".

When I got it in June, I said:
My mental gears are turning.  I'm curious about how it sounds now.  I could get a set of tuners, nut and saddle and have it able to make sounds for under $100 - maybe half that if I use no-name parts. That's probably necessary, too.  I mean, I can't tell if I ruined a setup, or added a fret that buzzes unless I can get sounds out of it.  The foot long hole in the side will be a problem, but I can live with that.  Actually, several custom luthiers make guitars with a solid body and the sound hole moved up to the top edge, making this example an extreme version of this approach.
It turned out that the cost was way below $100.  $27.06  to be precise.  I bought a set of no-name import tuners on eBay for $8.06 - including shipping - and a pre-notched, nut and saddle made from "bone" for the other $19 (it doesn't say what the bone is from, but "bone" is a commonly used material for these parts).   I bought those parts before my medical emergency back in late June and they've been sitting.  I finally got around to installing them over the weekend.
This view shows the "oversized top edge sound hole" as well as the bone saddle... 
while this view shows the el-cheapo tuners and nut. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it did require a little adjustment when I put strings on and tried to tune it up.  Certain notes around the middle of the neck didn't play; I'd try for the 6th fret and get the 7th fret note. The neck of a guitar is supposed to be slightly lower in the middle frets than at the nut or back at the body.  I just needed to adjust the truss rod a little to get it to play easily.  The rest of the fret board seems fine; no buzzing sounds which means the frets are probably fairly flat and level.  That's a little surprising in a demo piece like this was. 

Just why they cut this one up is hard to know.  I mean, did they cut up QC rejects that were destined for the trash bin, were they pulled from regular production, or were they made especially for this purpose?  I was a bit afraid that when I put tension on the strings that the whole thing would collapse like so much cardboard; or, at least, the bridge would go flying.  Everything is fine, though.  It actually sounds pretty nice, even with that large chunk of side missing.  It points the sound up at me somewhat better than across the room, so I'm sure it sounds different from where I'm sitting than where Mrs. Graybeard is while I play.  Hey!  Not bad for $27.  


  1. This is not a comment about your current article. I often read your posts and find them interesting, although I do not have the background to really understand much of what you say, technically. Something happened at my house recently, and I would like your thoughts on it. A line of thunderstorms passed through, non of which appeared particularly close. There was no power interruption, no flickers or any appliance, the TV (Flat screen Samsung) was on with no apparent problems. However, all eight of my LED bulbs quit. 2 per light fixture, two fixtures in the kitchen, which are usually on all day, and two fixtures in the laundry room which are on 24/7. I put in new bulbs and everything worked fine. I tested the old bulbs one at a time in a table lamp. Still dead. Bulbs were Great Value A19s. Never heard of this problem. Any ideas?

    1. First off, this is down toward the bottom of the right sidebar under my profile, but anyone can feel free to email me at SiGraybeard at gmail dot com (usual substitutions of symbol for words).

      On to your question: I've never seen LED bulbs do that. I'm sitting under four LED bulbs that have been up there a couple of years and we've mostly converted over to LEDs all around the house. We're in the lightning capital of America, and get storms nearby very regularly. Just this Monday, that lightning tracking website I posted two weeks ago showed a strike only a few houses away. I'd guess you got a power line surge, too much voltage instead of too little. Too little voltage tends to cause more flickers and bothers most things more.

      Unfortunately, I don't know of a way to put a surge protection in a light fixture - I assume you're talking about the kind that's in the ceiling and you don't have access to a power cord.

      As a side note, we apparently had a part of our TV setup die from that nearby lightning strike. It's a switch that selects a couple of things on the HDMI input on the TV. When we went to turn on the TV Monday evening, the switch was passing the audio but not the video. If we took the sources and plugged them into the TV one at a time, everything worked. I didn't know those switches could fail that way.

      Some things are more sensitive to lightning surges than others.

  2. If you put a nice piece of rosewood in that cut out, it would look cool- sorta like the same idea as the big cutaway in the back of a strat. if the binding was replaced, it would look almost factory.

    I must confess I am sort of amazed it held together without the side being on!

    1. I've thought a lot about how it might be possible to fix it, but hadn't considered fitting a side piece that simply follows the existing curve. That cut is fairly smooth, but still looks like someone did it manually on a bandsaw, filing or sanding the edges a bit afterwards. If I tried to make the guitar a standard shape, that would mean extending the sound board and the bottom. It would be really rough to make those into invisible seams. Extending the top and bottom would mean adding bracing, somehow, and the project quickly becomes harder than making a guitar from scratch.

      On the other hand, if I did what you suggest, putting a side piece on which follows that curve (maybe modify or round over the curve first, to ease the bend), that makes the seam a corner. It means smoothing out the edges and putting some sort of binding along the joint there, as a "design feature". The current binding is abalone, which will be difficult to match, but it better be abalone and not something else.

      Seems like the best idea so far!

    2. Another option would be to redo that side in something totally contrasting. That might make things somewhat easier, and would be understandable.

  3. I wanted to thank you on your blog for your response. I had never heard of the LEDs being susceptible to this. I found your email address, I guess I never went down that far. Thanks again.

    1. I probably wasn't clear enough about this part, but I've never heard of it, either. It just wouldn't surprise me.

      Those LED bulbs have a little power supply in their base and my guess is that's what died. LEDs run on much lower voltage (the exact voltage depends on the type of LED) and fairly high currents. The power supplies take the 120 AC out of the socket and convert it to lower voltage DC at higher current. Like anything else, the parts that the company got to build those might not have been as good as they should be. It's possible the design wasn't robust, too.

  4. You might want to run the information on the guitar past Antique Road Show. They have some folks with a lot of tribal knowledge that doesn't show up on the internet.