Suggestions on learning how to repair guitars

Kiwi_Neil

Tele-Holic
Joined
Nov 8, 2016
Posts
501
Age
62
Location
New Zealand
I was going to post ^this^. Ted is a badass when it comes to repair. Watching him makes me realize I may have some of the skills but I don't have the temperament.

He's certainly a craftsman and a great source of knowledge about the history of the instrument he's working on at the time. His sense of humour and soft speaking makes him very easy to watch/listen too and learn from.
 

Sharp

TDPRI Member
Joined
Oct 28, 2014
Posts
14
Location
Ontario
About 30 years ago I took an instrument building course at Ontario college of art and design in Toronto. It was one semester but the instructor let us continue off hours to complete our instrument ( few did). I built an acoustic guitar from scratch, still have it and it plays great. We learned how to plain the top spruce which varies in thickness depending on where it is on the top, how to join the top, how to bend the sides, gluing and clamping, finishing. I did cheat and buy the fretboard and rosette from stewmac. I installed the frets myself. I’ve used the knowledge I gained ever since. Many hours were spent at my dining room table getting the dovetail just right, shaping the neck and headstock. Making mistakes and fixing them and polishing the little swirls in the finish. It seemed at times that it would never be finished.

I’ve never made another but I could.
999EB746-CF87-46D8-AE8D-305167520C17.jpeg


ps. I put one of the fret markers in the wrong place!
 

Gsweng

Tele-Meister
Silver Supporter
Joined
Feb 1, 2021
Posts
308
Age
65
Location
Fort Wayne, IN
I do a fair amount of repairs along with a fair amount of building. They are not necessarily one in the same.

I built my first guitar over 15 years ago (and still play it today). It was a kit very much like Pypa just did in the Acoustic forum. There were several reasons for building it but primarily its the fact that I'm an anal engineer and I like to try to understand how things work. There are a whole lot of skills necessary for building an acoustic guitar, doing a kit eliminates some of them, but there was a lot to learn during the process.

Two of the important things you learn when building a guitar is how its structure and geometry works and how to set it up. You buy the tools and learn how to do the work. With luck your guitar is playable and you are happy with it.

Repairs, on the other hand, involves everything that can go wrong with a guitar. Things change with age and playing, things break, things wear out. The most basic part of repairs is adjusting the geometry to be correct and setting it up to be playable. Same tools and skill set as building.

All the rest of repairing is trying to figure out what is wrong and trying to figure out how best to fix it. The head is broken, there is a big crack in the top, the bridge is coming off, binding is loose, it makes funny buzzing sounds..... Erlewine's book is a great reference for how to fix a lot of these individual issues - I have a very dog eared copy on the back of my work bench.
The most important thing to learn about repairs is how to evaluate - I harp on this in my various threads. Take measurements and figure out what they mean. Understand how one affects another. I have a rule that for ANY guitar that appears on my work bench I measure everything before I change anything. I write it down. If its someone else's guitar I talk to them about what I see.

There is another part of repairing that is kind of interesting to think about - when do you not do a repair? I am very careful to consider the age of a guitar, how it was made (meaning what glues), and the impact of my working on it. I'm perfectly capable of doing neck resets, but I don't do them on old Martins because I want that guitar to have a paper trail of who worked on it and what they did. I'll set up a Martin any day of the week but I send the structural stuff to a guy who is really expensive, but worth every penny.

On a similar note, if you work on other people's guitars think about your liability if you screw up. Everyone's guitar is their personal baby, no matter how much you think its a piece of junk.

Speaking of junk, sometimes junk guitars are the way to learn something (your first neck reset for example) but frequently they are frustratingly difficult to work on and often not worth it. I will try to fix anything, but I frequently regret it.

Repairs are the classical way beginning luthiers made money while they tried to build and sell a few guitars. Some find they stay with repair work, it can be a steady income stream.

Whew, that was kind of stream of conscious wasn't it? I guess in summary I would suggest doing both. Build a guitar, kits are fair game, working with a mentor is too. But don't be afraid of doing some fret work or a good setup or replace the pickups in some guitar. Get Erlewine's book, lurk at the repair forum at OLF

https://www.luthiersforum.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=10137&sid=b2f6da3076b33ab1a8d8da5200bada54

Take on a project, get in over your head. Have fun.

ps - I'm always available to lead you astray, er, help.

Freeman Keller, I totally agree with your post. I’m also a “retired” engineer and like to tinker with instruments. That’s probably why I’m a fairly mediocre musician. Oh, that action is a little high, there’s enough saddle there to sand down, etc. There’s accordions, I can tear this apart and file that squeaky reed. Pianos, I can fix that sticky key. I can learn to tune it myself, etc. If a guitar works perfectly, I get bored (now I have to practice!) and in the case it goes. I bought a Harmony h1260 recently to practice neck resets. It’s actually a nice guitar (Jimmy Page wrote the first four Led Zeppilin albums on the same model). It had a high action (.15 inches at the 12th fret 6th string). Also noticed it had a belly. I installed a Bridge Doctor. It took the belly out and also increased the volume. Tone still sounded good. It didn’t help the high action. So on to a neck reset. I was looking around for an “easy” way to do this besides steam and stumbled on the heat stick. StuMac claims it works. Then I started looking for a really easy way. The neck joint on the h1260 is solid and I hate to tear in apart. Found a video from the UK where a luthier just steams the upper boute and clamps the neck back in proper position. Leaves it that way for a month and then all is good. Interesting. This is because the soundboard near the neck had somewhat collapsed over time like my h1260. In the meantime, I did try a crazy experiment that didn’t work (so far) but I won’t bore everybody now. So I think it’s the heat stick or the quick steam with the neck clamped back. It’s all fun and don’t be afraid to try - except on my custom Martin!
 

Freeman Keller

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 22, 2018
Posts
8,896
Age
77
Location
Washington
Freeman Keller, I totally agree with your post. I’m also a “retired” engineer and like to tinker with instruments.........

Thanks for the comments, Gsweng. There are a number of things in your post that we could talk about but I'd rather not take the thread too far off the original topic. I did post a few pictures of doing a neck reset on an old Harmony that crossed my bench on this thread at the acoustic forum. Very straightforward. Look down to post #14

https://www.tdpri.com/threads/harmony-stella-project.1080709/
 

pypa

Tele-Holic
Joined
Jul 21, 2020
Posts
739
Age
52
Location
new jersey
I would make one. That will teach you a lot of things - about yourself.

you might try starting to cobble a parts caster together. If you don’t have a lot of woodworking tools, you can buy a body. You can buy a pre fretted fretboard and a neck blank or your can buy a whole neck already done. You can buy individual electronic components, a presided switch harness, or a solderless harness.

my point is, you can start where you are comfortable.

I have only been at this for a year. The way I have been learning is to watch Tube builders like Maximum Guitar Works (he has a great Strat build which has a lot of overlap with the Tele and will give you an idea for the steps). I also like Highline Guitars.

then I would just start a build here on Tele Home Depot. Post your pix and ask your questions. Nothing is too naive. They are friendly here. Then step by step you can go off and research more deeply.
 

guitarbuilder

Telefied
Ad Free Member
Joined
Mar 30, 2003
Posts
24,966
Location
Ontario County
Learning to repair guitars and building guitars are two different animals, unless you are so inept at building that you end up repairing everything you do during the build. You can build a guitar and never have to repair it. Getting an old beat up guitar that has issues is a good place to start. Most of the books written up on repair have been replaced by other media and approaches, but don't discount traditional methodology.

There's a lot of old good stuff out there though and it is available. Check out the books by Hideo Kamimoto and Irving Sloane. They are still available on Amazon. They are the grandfathers of repair texts. Also Frets.com with Frank Ford is an invaluable resource.

FRETS.COM Acoustic guitar instrument care, repair for players, luthiers

Many of the old coots here ( myself included) here didn't have much of place to start with in the beginning , so folks are lucky today to have a wealth of information available. We learned a lot by trial and error. One of my errors was stripping my early 70's Les Paul Custom in 1979 with a can of Strypeze and melting my 200 dollar calculator ( $660 2021 dollars) on my coffee table. Besides ruining the calculator and the value of the LP, I learned how not do do things.

You could see a lot of those errors in used guitars being sold in the 1980's. Ebay, Craigslist, and FB marketplace usually have cheap instruments that can benefit from some repair. That's where I'd start if you want to repair guitars.

If you want to build guitars, there's no better place than this forum to get going on simple Fender style instruments. The various threads are chock full of successful results in building. The archived challenge builds are great. You have some people building with a lot of experience and some doing it for the first time. Some of the guitars are better than others and if you read through them, you will see a pattern developing of what not to do.

You can get ahead of the curve by investing in some decent tools designed for the tasks. I'd suggest a real fret saw over some work around. If you are making your own fretboard, then invest in a long extruded aluminum radius beam. I think those are pretty important tools to invest in. Lastly, a fret miterbox and a machined slotting template really can improve things.

If you were going to play golf, you probably wouldn't try and make your own clubs so maybe that's not the way to go here too......

Remember there are a lot of ways to get to the same place in instrument building. Find out what works for you. The internet and youtube is chock full of people doing the same exact thing the same exact way, so don't just limit yourself to youtube videos.
 
Last edited:

Ronkirn

Doctor of Teleocity
Vendor Member
Joined
May 1, 2003
Posts
12,812
Age
75
Location
Jacksonville, FL
Find someone who knows how to do it and befriend them.

Best advice around... it's how I learned...

but to get the ball rolling.. take a beater, take it apart to the last screw.. then reassemble it all the way through the fret leveling and setup... repeat... and repeat until it becomes second nature....

Now pull a few frets, replace them and level the freets again... ya might throw in making a nut or a dozen...

r
 

envirodat

Tele-Meister
Joined
Aug 19, 2019
Posts
472
Age
59
Location
York, PA
A quick follow up to the folks who kindly replied. I love Dan Erlwine's book and I have started on working on my first guitar. Glad it is a cheap one as I must be learning a lot because I am making mistakes. However, I am having fun with it and I can easily see me wanting to do and learn more.

When I got the guitar I hadn't noticed that the person before me superglued the pick guard on and there are a lot smears and splotches of dried super glue of unknown age. I figure after I get the guitar done then I can worry about that.

The notes that Freeman had on his post have been very helpful as well. The spreadsheet was a good thing to have. Once winter comes and yard work is less, I know where I will be spending some time trying to figure all of this out.

So thank you all for the advice, I found a fun hobby. Now I hope to get good enough to get playable guitars. I am focusing first on getting proficient at getting acoustics set up and then will turn my attention to electrics. From what I am seeing this could be a life long learning adventure and that makes me happy.
 

Freeman Keller

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Aug 22, 2018
Posts
8,896
Age
77
Location
Washington
Good for you. The world needs more dedicated repair people. Trust me, it will be both frustrating and rewarding.
 

Mojotron

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Dec 21, 2008
Posts
5,386
Location
Seattle
Ya, guitar making and guitar repair are 2 different disciplines. Guitar making helped me to get a lot better at repair, but I still think the repair aspect of the two is the harder if you are doing work for other people. Dan Erlwine's book is where I start when I need to do a repair though: Just keep in mind that there are also 100 different ways to do everything - but in general I believe that if someone made a specific tool for some aspect of guitar repair it's likely there was a reason for that and if I have no better approach investing in the odd tools of the trade is a good way to go.
 

1bad914

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Nov 10, 2016
Posts
1,510
Location
Michigan
Thank you for the compliment in your first post in this thread. As far as electrics are concerned, I bought a very cheap tele kit and put it together. Then did a lot of research on setups and set that one up. Upgraded the pups to learn the electronics. As far as acoustic builds, I was lucky enough to have an experienced builder 4 mikes from my house. He was super generous and offered to teach me how he built acoustics. He now says I have surpassed his skill, I don’t think so. Ask around your local music scene for names of people that build and or repair, then ask if you can pick their brain and or watch. In my case the currency was keeping him in beer. As far as repair is concerned, find a beat up acoustic and try to remove and replace the neck and remove and rrplace the bridge. Same with the frets. Practice makes perfect…sort of.
 




Top