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Beware ! You're in Kamikazie here. Not many pro luthiers around, more often brave souls experimenting in their kitchen.

(note for this page : Nick ('ReproductionBridges') is a pro luthier !)

H1442 Roy Smeck "Artiste" restoration

ReproductionBridges : This is next on the bench. Should be fun! I'll post more pictures as the restoration progresses.
This belongs to a customer, not myself. I wish it was mine! He found it in his grandmother's attic as it sits. Stay tuned! I'll have more pictures tomorrow.
Just starting into this project. It's a 1940 Harmony H1442 Roy Smeck Artiste. It's in decent shape for its age, less the obvious neck/neck block/side damage. Other than that, there are a few back cracks, replaced tuning keys, and significant fret wear. I think a fret dress will take care of the frets and leave enough left to still be very playable.
The headstock plate is beautiful. I love the art-deco, asymmetrical design of the logo. The headstock shape is cool too, as it's a slight variation of the modern Sovereign-style headstock.

You can see the fingernail grooves in the fretboard. Pretty straight neck though. Beautiful pearloid, art-deco inlays.

Here's the big damage. The neck block and heel are split, as well as the side. There are a few methods of repairing this. I want to get the neck out first and see what I'm up against before deciding for sure how to go about it.

As you can see, the dove tail split perpendicularly to the block split. This whole area is really a mess. Luckily, I have the original fretboard extension and the missing binding.

1960s Kay tuners have been installed at some point. It didn't bother the owner of the guitar, but I insisted on replacing them. I have original-style keys in my stash.

Plenty of wear and tear in the finish, but it adds to the character. I could touch it up and make it look new, but I prefer to leave it there. Each of these battle scars has a story, and it just doesn't seem right to make it look new.

Here are some pictures of the progress thus far! I was pleasantly surprised when I removed the neck that the block itself was not split like I thought. There were significant pieces broken away from it, but the block is secure against the top, back and sides, and it can be repaired without removing the back or opening it up. Check it out!
This is the crack about which I was talking. Hard to see in pictures. It's behind the route. It was easier to see when I wiggled the neck and saw either side of the dove tail moving slightly independently. Easy fix though.

The neck didn't require any steam for removal. The old glue was dry rotted out, so with a little effort, it pulled out smoothly.

Removing the old glue. This can really be done at any point before the neck reset, but I like to work with a clean pallet.

Smooth as a baby's butt. I've seen many a neck reset come back apart without proper glue and residue removal.

The bottom half of the dove tail is also loose.

Both pieces are out. The pocket is pretty clean, all things considered.

The dove tail is glued and clamped. I'll remove the clamp in 12 hours or so. I used a handscrew wood clamp so I could angle it and apply even pressure. This old, dry wood is very brittle, so I was sure to use scrap wood between the clamp and the dove tail.

As bad as this may look, this was a pleasant surprise. The block itself is secure inside the body. The pieces that are broken away can be repaired with some strategic clamping.

I'm inserting an unwound guitar string in the side crack to pull a cleat through the F-hole.

And cleat number two...

The bass side of the block is not nearly as bad as the treble side. It was actually difficult to pull open to get glue in.

Cleat going in...

I have a clamp running from the end block to the neck block. This isn't always the best method for a few reasons. One, this is an old guitar, and the sides are not strong enough to take a lot of pressure. Two, if sufficient pressure cannot be applied, the crack has been filled with glue and not repaired, making the repair much more difficult. Luckily, the crack was clean, and a medium amount of pressure brought it together quite well. I used a slightly-arched block to follow the contour of the top of the upper bout, and two squeeze clamps perpendicular to the longer clamp running from the end block to the neck block.

Next, now that the body is clamped, and the glue has cured in the heel split, I'll glue and clamp the other heel split. It was very clean and aligned quite well.

After the glue had cured, I removed the clamps, lightly wet-sanded the cracks to remove any residue that I couldn't remove in the process, and polished the area. It is looking GREAT!

I cleaned most of the old glue residue out of the pocket, and it looks like it was never broken.

François : >>>The neck didn't require any steam for removal. The old glue was dry rotted out, so with a little effort, it pulled out smoothly.
You mean, by hand, or with a tool ? Hammer, special neck rig ?
For the tight crack on the bass side, what glue do you use in there ? What about some fluid cyano, which go everywhere inside ?

ReproductionBridges : It wiggled out by hand. I have a neck removal jig, but it was loose and brittle, so I figured if I could avoid using steam or unnecessary pressure, this old axe has had enough pressure over the years ;-)
As for the glue, I almost always use hot hide glue. When the crack is structurally sound with cleats, I apply a line of cyanoacrylate to the crack. It fills any tiny valley left by the wood conforming to the dreaded "arch" that it takes on after years of settling into a crack.
Here are some pictures of last night and today's progress!
The neck heel came together beautifully. It's cosmetically an A+ and very structurally sound.

Next, on to the fretboard extension. A lot of times these guitars have "ski jumps" at the end of the board, in which case I would reshape the base a bit before reattaching. This one is arrow-straight, so it should go back together like a puzzle piece.

Here's the dry test fit. Everything aligns well, so on to glueing and clamping.

Hide glue applied, set, and clamped.

There are no cracks in the top, but it has caked-on dust and oxidization. I use two grades of automotive rubbing compound for this. It works like a charm.

Now on to the back cracks. This is a drag. When cracks sit for too long, the wood around the crack develops an arch into the crack. Luckily, this one is right above the end block, so I think the block alone is enough to flatten it out. I opened the crack a bit with a razor blade, and pushed in hide glue.

Now for the other back crack. This will require two cleats. Same procedure as the side cracks above.

I waited overnight, and removed the clamp and strings from the back. The cracks came together very well. I repeated the polishing process above, and it looks pretty good!

Now on to the neck. Here is the dry test fit. Pretty tight as it sits! The angle is great, so no need to mess with that. The current angle will have the bridge top sitting about 1/8" above the base, which I am perfectly content with. I have the original bridge, which I'll put in a bag in the case, and I'll install one of my custom bone-inlaid bridges. This guitar is actually going to be gigged and recorded with, so everything helps!

I've started to remove any paint or residual glue, so I can get good wood-to-wood contact for glueing.

I'm now building up the dovetail. I start with a pretty thick spruce shim, applied with hide glue, and I shave off the excess until the neck is a tight fit in the pocket. My technique is to get the neck tight enough in the pocket to where A) I have to use a C-clamp to get it fully in the pocket, and B) it would hold string tension without glue. This ensures that it will stay in place without shifting forward, and also is good for the tone of the guitar.

Next, I make a shim to bridge the gap between the end of the dove tail and the beginning of the pocket. The goal here is to end up with as few gaps as possible. You really can hear the difference when a neck reset has been done properly. The shim has been shaved to the exact thickness needed to bridge the gap. Hide glue is applied, and it is placed on the dove tail.

Before I apply the shim, I apply a decent amount of hide glue to the dove tail, and also some in the pocket. This helps it slide in, and will ensure a stable joint and great transference of tone.

Shim applied, and neck pressed in. It's tight as a drum.

Finally, the unnecessary neck clamp is moved on to the fretboard extension. The fit is all great, which is a good thing considering the damage that was done to this area.

Sea Champ : Great thread! Got me thinking about some new approaches...the gap shim... I need to know more. How do you fit it? chalk? come to think of it, how do you fit your tenon shims? you shave them with a razor? all the way, or do you switch to a flat file? All these questions. Geez, I feel like a kid in first grade

ReproductionBridges : The gap shim is not necessary for stability. The tenon shims would hold the neck in place by themselves. The gap shim is here for two reasons: one, it disallows the dovetail to compress over time and shift forward, and two, there is an audible tonal difference. I was a skeptic before I tried this method, now I'll never go back. The volume and high end increase tremendously, and most old archtops need all the help they can get in those areas.
As for the tenon shims, I do a rough cut with a razor, then flat file, then two light brushes with 120 grit sandpaper to help glue adhere.

Sea Champ : I'm a skeptic too. But I'm hot to try this one. I have one experience with that gap being filled... the first 1260 I bought on eBay. Come to think of it, it did sound amazing. But in the two years I waited to finish it (typical of the speed of progress around here ;) ) my memory couldn't possibly A/B it. What I'll never forget though is that the gap had been completely filled with wood....no room for the steam. I cursed that guitar fixer. But I see you make your shim narrow enough to allow for steam. You're winning me over already.
ReproductionBridges : Here are a few things that I'm doing while the neck glue is curing. The neck binding is coming up, so I put some super glue behind it and clamp it. Be careful not to glue the clamp to the neck!

Next, I'll clean and polish the headstock. The tuner bushings have corroded very badly, and look like a car battery.

I repeated the products and process used in polishing above. It came out great! Looks brand new.

As I previously stated, this is going to be a gigging guitar, so I'm going to install a pickup. I won't drill any holes or do any routing, so I'm going to mount a volume potentiometer on the pickguard. The original pickguard is too cool to modify, so I'm going to cut a new pickguard.

Guard shaped, hole drilled, and pot installed to rest directly over the F-hole.

I don't want the pickguard to look new, so I'm going to age it. The best technique I've found to aging plastic is using Kiwi shoe polish. I apply it strategically, leave it on for 2-3 minutes, then clean it off with a dry rag.

Now, I need to reattach the missing neck binding. I have the piece that fell off.

Binding fixed!

Now I'm going to clean the tailpiece.

This is the absolute best metal cleaning product that I've ever used.

I rub the metal cleaner in evenly with a paper towel. Not unlike the finish polishing method mentioned above. I then remove it with a paper towel.

El Fin! It plays and sounds incredible. Will post a video of it being played soon.

Here is a video of the happy customer on his newly restored Roy Smeck Artiste :

click to play

november/december 2012

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