Neck Removal

     Removing the neck from a dovetail guitar is not as difficult as it may seem. The fretboard over the soundboard, of course, needs to be slowly unglued with heat and a spatula. That's a bit of a trick but, without going into details, it requires the slow and sensitive application of heat to the fretboard until it is about 200 degrees. Heating should be done slowly to avoid charing the surface of the ebony or rosewood. The fretboard must be about 200 degrees throughout its entire thickness to be unglued from the top.  Then, work a long, sharpened spatula under the edge of the fretboard at the soundhole.  Expect to touch up the finish around the fretboard after this operation. Don't even bother trying this on a cheap guitar with plastic position markers and a dyed mystery-wood fretboard.

     Once the end of the fretboard is free of the top, remove the heel cap (probably plastic so it will have to be replaced) then drill a small hole (~1 mm) into the bottom of the heel on ~45-60 degree angle up into the dovetail joint.  You can feel it when the bit is through the dovetail and into the dovetail mortise (about one inch, 25 mm). I use a modified expresso steamer with a length of plastic tubing attached to the expresso maker. The business end of the tubing has a basketball inflation needle inserted with the needle protruding out of the tubing about 35 mm (1.5").  This needle will carry the steam into the dovetail. The hole drilled in the bottom of the heel should be only a little bigger than the needle (~ 1 mm).

     Resin glues (like Titebond) will melt between 150 and 175 degrees.  Steam, of course is at 212 degrees. It will take, maybe, 10 minutes for the glue to soften throughout the joint. The whole time the glue joint is being heated, there should be downward pressure on the joint from the top (see set up in the picture).  The joint will not slip until all of the glue on both sides of the joint has softened.  While the steam is being applied, the bar clamp (in the photo) pushes down on the head block while two small blocks push up on the heel.  Slowly add pressure from the clamp as the steaming takes place. The dovetail and the neck will slide out of the dovetail mortise all at once. So, don't do anything else but monitor this operation until the joint slips. Otherwise, the neck and the bar clamp might fall someplace that you don't want.

     I've used this method of neck removal more times than I can count.  It's easier to do than it is to describe.  If you want to try this, the first thing that you should do is become intimately familiar with how the neck joint is constructed on the guitar. Many guitars today are attached to the body with steel bolts.  But, if your guitar needs a neck reset, the alignment of the bolts and the anchor sleeves might change when the neck angle is corrected. Martin and Gibson, among many others, still use the conventional dovetail to attach the neck to the body. 

     Best of luck. On your first attempt you must realize that a guitar is just wood and glue and not flesh and blood.  An experienced repairman should have no problem with a neck reset.


What's Next?

     The next challenge is the re-build of an instrument that was brought to me with a severely damaged top. As the neck angle also needed resetting (before the top damage), the project also includes removing the neck from the guitar and resetting the neck angle. The neck will be replaced with the neck angle corrected and a new fingerboard. The top and the top bindings will be replaced with new.  Then, the entire instrument will be re-finished.

Needless to say, this guitar was a favorite of the owner.

     The month of March concluded the building of the A-style mandolin.  β€‹β€‹β€‹The month's work was to apply a lacquer finish and complete the set up of the mandolin. Before applying the finish, a preliminary set up had been undertaken in order to ensure that the bridge, neck, frets, nut, tailpiece and tuners were all working together to make a playable instrument. Some photos from the month of March are below.       

More Next Month... keep the music playing!


March, 2017

     Mandolin Finishing


     Guitar Neck Removal

To Be Perfectly Clear...

     The instruments that Woody builds are (unless the client insists) finished
 without wood stain or toners.  That is, they are "in the white", with only clear sealer and lacquer on top. As a result, the various woods appear in their natural colors. The result is that the instrument is somewhat easier for the luthier to finish, however, every hand-tooled joint and/or cosmetic imperfection is 'clearly' visible. For some people, slight cosmetic issues would not be acceptable, for others, it is further verification that the instrument is unique and hand made.

     Most mandolins have a traditional sunburst toner applied which can give the instrument a stylish and interesting appearance.  However, toners can be (and are) used to cover imperfections in the wood or in the manufacturing process. On some of the less expensive mandolins there is so much color and polyurethane that one cannot tell if the instrument is made of wood or plastic.  Woody would rather not go there.  

     Woody instruments have enough lacquer applied to create a clear, durable finish. This clear finish could, in the hands of an accomplished finisher, easily have traditional sunburst coloring applied on top... owner's choice...luthier's discretion advised.  

Finishing ... The Wait

     Finishing requires the application of several coats of instrument-grade lacquer. Woody applies two coats of sanding sealer wet sanded between coats. Then, 3-4 coats of lacquer are applied in order to build up a hard, durable finish. As the Woody shop is producing only a few instruments each year, I can afford to wait 12 to 24 hours between coats.  This allows more than enough time complete the chemical adhesion between coats. The worst thing one can do is to put on too much finish too fast.  As I am only applying, maybe, a total of 6 coats, I allow a week to apply the finish.  

     Then the hard part... waiting. One should allow the lacquer to cure for a month before returning the hardware to the instrument.  Remember, at Woody Strings we always set up the instrument completely before finishing. With the setup hardware in place, the instrument is played for about a week in order to fine tune the setup.  Once satisfied with the set up, the mandolin (in this case) is stripped of the strings, bridge and hardware and made ready for the finishing process.

     First, the instrument is given a thorough cosmetic inspection and cleaning. It is very important to remember that the rosewood still has oil in it which will bleed color into the spruce and maple if acetone is applied. Avoid rosewood when cleaning and prepping the surfaces of the instrument for finishing.

    The are numerous sites on line that explain the complete finishing process of lacquer on wood.  As to spraying lacquer, I will offer only this.  Go light rather than heavy as you can always apply another coat. If you see tiny air bubbles or drips in the lacquer after you spray... you've put on too much. That's a problem.  How much is enough?.... Enough is one coat less than too much. When learning, or unsure... go light.

     Now it is April and I have the mandolin strung up to pitch and tuned. The client comes to pick it up next week.  I hope that she likes it.