Sunday, October 22, 2017

Son Of Side Project

Back in June, four months ago to the day, I gave an update on my side project, my Breedlove guitar.  At that time, I had put some kerfing strips in the side pieces in the gaping 14" hole in the side of the guitar allowing me to cap the missing side with a plexiglass piece and called it done.
Such projects are never "Done" done,  and it was mere hours before reader Raven prompted me in the comments to consider replacing that plexiglass with wood, and offered me a piece of scrap from his bin.  Son of Side Project was born.

Let me just say right out front that I don't know what I'm doing, OK?  I figure I'll make a few mistakes and eventually get there, but this is such a radical repair job that chances are pretty high that nobody has done a repair like this.  It's a training piece that I hope to learn a lot of things from.  Even more, I hope the things I learn will be useful on some future projects.  I have four or five books and I have a friend in town who is guitar technician/repairman.  He has been willing to share all the tools and techniques I can ask for.

Strangely enough, he found a useful video that contains ideas to emulate on my guitar, and I started down this road.  It took a while to get to this point, but by early August I had the side glued where my plastic side used to be and I was looking forward to trying to get that finished.  That's when I found the problem in the upper left hand corner of the side in this view.  At some point, the backing piece of wood I had in this corner broke out, falling into the body, and the wood had a little give to it. 
The rest of it felt solid, but that little piece is important because other things need to be glued to it.  My friend said, "pull it off and start over".  Gulp.

I had glued the side on with TitebondIII wood glue.  That's removable, although it takes a lot of managed heat and the proper mixture of delicate but strong touch.  The majority of luthiers prefer to use hide glues because they're removable with steam and joints are reworkable.  A little steam generator will loosen the glue and make removal easy.  I had to head back down to the friend, hat in hand, to use a heating pad he has for this sort of task. 

With the side removed, I came home, expecting to spend hours chiseling out the old kerfing strips to replace with new ones I ordered.  Thankfully, they removed easily with a combination of a very fine-toothed saw to cut open the glue-filled saw kerfs, wood chisels and a cabinet scraper.  (True story: I bumped the chisel into my finger and when I looked at it and realized it hadn't cut me down to the bone, said, "I need to sharpen these chisels").

Finally, with the back and sound board cut back to clean wood, it's time to glue in the new kerfing boards.  This is the top.  
That's when I found some damage in the guitar's body, in the lower bout.  From time to time, the guitar has fallen over, or taken a small beating on my workbench, and one time, a worse fall.  It probably happened then.  Not a big deal; if I have the glue out and clamps ready, what's a few more joints?   

I'm notoriously bad at estimating how long it will take me to do things, but it looks to me like I could have the new kerfing in place along with the replacement side by the middle of this week.  There's still a lot of work, because I have to duplicate this trim on the top edges.
The center, faux abalone shell, has the thin black border on it from the factory.  The two other black strips, the white spacers, and the two other white strips are all separate pieces of plastic. 

For this work, I'm switching to fish glue.  The main difference between fish glue and hide glue is that it has a longer shelf life, especially if you keep it in the refrigerator.   Like the hide glues, it's reworkable with steam, or even water.  This is where the products out of "primitive cultures" frankly amaze me.  Who thought, "you know, I bet if we put the left overs from the horse - hooves; ligaments, whatever - into some boiling water we could make some really handy glue"?  How much refinement was required to get today's hide glues?  Likewise fish glues.  This artists' site says fish glue is made from the swim bladders of sturgeons. Who guts a fish, looks at the swim bladder and says, "I bet I can make some glue out of that"?  I'm betting the answer is "no one".  I'm betting someone that was starving gathered up the fish entrails, heads and whatever they could and tried to boil it into a soup.  I can hear them saying, "this is the worst fish stew I've ever had! And look, the spoon is sticking to the bowl like it's been glued."  Yeah, I know; necessity is a real mother.


  1. As, I believe, is true of most of us, it sounds as if you are busier than you were before you retired :-)

  2. Another mystery solved! Ogg the dishwasher cleaned up his new invention by domesticating the dog.

  3. Reg T, you are so right about being busy in retirement.
    On the subject of fish glues, I would have to ask about the scale of their holding ability.

  4. Don't feel bad. When I made the new neck for my acoustic guitar, after all the hard stuff like cutting the dovetail and shaping the neck etc etc, I broke off the fingerboard at the 14 fret while fretting it with a press- the support block had shifted just a wee bit and crack!.
    Fortunately I laid it down and walked off before trowing it across the room- then the thought occurred- it is a standard procedure to cut the fingerboard at the 14 fret when removing a neck-how bad can a break there really be? So a very careful clamping up to pull it together and re-align the board worked well enough to close the break to the point the fret slot would hold a fret. This was an instance where water thin super glue was a huge advantage, due to it's supreme wicking ability- the joint (break) was pulled up first, examined carefully, then the glue wicked in and fret slot recut.

    1. If you're going to have that kind of oops, the 14th fret is definitely the place to do it!

      I'm using the fish glue almost exclusively on this re-do of the original. I think it really sets up well enough in the first half hour that the clamps are redundant, but I'm leaving them in place until I'm sure.

    2. Glue is a subject unto itself- the pros, cons and advantages each have and why. Our shop standby is titebond 1. They advertise titebond 3 as having a longer working time, which can be a be advantage in complicated glueups. Never tried it yet. We usually wipe a damp sponge along the surfaces anyway,before applying glue, so the wood does not immediately suck the moisture out of the glue and thicken it to the point the joint can't be pulled up.
      I don't use the polyurethane glues much, never cared for the foamy nature and the acetone cleanup, but they have one staggeringly huge advantage- and it is not being waterproof or strong- it is the fact they are slippery- and sometimes on a big deep tight fitting tenon, that can really save your ass. When things start to bind on a glueup, it can go bad in an instant.
      Hide and fish glues are pretty much a mystery to me, but the easy reversibility is a great feature in a musical instrument. Is hide glue why those old Martins smell so good?