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ES-175 with top caved in.

Q: I have a really tough question here.

I have an archtop ES-175 copy and both wood braces in the guitar have come unglued resulting in the top caving in and even with the bridge fully raised the action is too low and buzzes. I have no idea how to repair this and so far all i have done is to remove the braces from the inside of the guitar. I've had to cut the in 2 pieces to be able to pull them out of the pickup hole.

How would i go about repairing this? Will i have to remove the whole top? . . . . . . if so how . . . . . . heat the binding? cut it with an exacto knife? Will i have to heat or moisten the top for it to take it's arched position again?

Any help would be really apreciated


A: There was a M*A*S*H* episode in which Hawkeye and BJ were disarming a bomb. Hawkeye read the instructions as BJ did the job. Hawkeye read "unscrew the nose cone". "Cut the blue wire" (BJ cuts the blue wire). Then Hawkeye reads "But first. . . ". The bomb explodes. Luckily, it was a CIA propaganda bomb and all it did was spew leaflets all over the camp.

     I think you have a "but first. . . "going here. I would not have taken out the loose braces. I would have reglued them. If the braces were completely loose and rattling around inside the guitar, that's another story, but if they were loose at the ends and sticking in the middle you should have left them in. The normal cure for loose braces is to set up a system of jacks and/or clamps to get the top into shape. Then you get a piece of 1/4" plastic tubing, suck it full of glue and then blow the glue into the joint between the top and the brace. Then using jacks or clamps or Luthiers clamps, you close the joint. A Luthiers clamp is a small L shaped piece of wood with a guitar tuner on the top of the L and a hole in the foot. A guitar string is threaded, from the inside of the guitar up through a caul with a hole in the center, through the thing to be clamped, be it a patch or a brace, through the top, back or side, through the foot of the clamp to the tuner. When you tighten the tuner it pulls the string ball against the caul etc and closes the joint. The hole can be easily hidden If you use .009 wire and a .009 micro drill to make the hole, especially if you have some damage to drill through. Real heavy duty work, like clamping a brace to a warped top will require a heavier string but a .017 hole is still pretty small. I described threading up from the inside for clarity in terms of how the caul, patch/brace, top, and Luthier's clamp are stacked. You actually thread the string in from the top, clip off the ball and tie it behind the caul, leaving a long tail of string to grab onto when the glue is dry and the string needs to be pulled out.

     A brace can be reglued if any part of it is still stuck. I have never heard of anyone trying to fit a brace, blind, through an F hole. I think you are going to have to take it apart. Violins are designed to be taken apart. They are put together with hide glue and have exposed joints. Guitars are not designed to be taken apart. I would remove the back. It is a simpler mechanism than the top and is less likely to shread. It will take amazing skill and luck to get the binding back on and better the back edge should look less than factory fresh than the top edge.

     Work a palett knife behind the binding. It will come off easy and whole or in many little pieces depending on which god you pray to. Then slide the knife between the back and the liner strip. It would be nice to use heat or water to loosen the joint but you can't. As I remember, the back of that guitar is plywood. You would loosen the plies as well as the joint. Even if it is an older one with a solid back, heat or water would mess up the finish. The glue (Hide) is alcohol soluble, but so is your finish. Just bear down and rip it off. Then go back and repair the wood damage so that you have a good joint again.

     Make your new braces out of Sitka Spruce with the grain perpendicular to the top. A trick for final fitting the braces is to slide a piece of sand paper into the joint. Cover the paper part of the sand paper with plastic shipping tape so that it will slide nice and not scratch the inside of the top. Remember that the braces should be under some tension. When the brace just lays, unglued, in it's place each end should be maybe an 1/8" off the top. You can't steam and repress your top without wrecking the finish. I think the new braces will do all the work raising the top. Probably the old ones would have done the same.

     Use lots of spool clamps with snug pressure when you glue the back back on. Crushing pressure can deform the wood and cause other problems later. Binding shrinks when it is removed. When you put it back on there will be about 1/4" gap. There is a lot to be said for buying new binding and starting fresh. Get the binding rabbit good and clean and scrape the burr off the binding. Use Duco cement. It's nasty and hard to keep off the finish but it holds better than anything. For finish touch up, use colored inks to match up bare wood, soak the area with lacquer thinner and then put on nitrocellulose lacquer. A professional luthier would charge $500 to $900 for the work that you are about to attack. Spend a lot of time staring at the work, looking for pitfalls, shortcuts etc.

Good Luck.

Steve Mason