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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Featured Restoration - The Screws & Holes

Screws & Holes

Hi Guitar Players,

It is a common knowledge that women worry a lot. I think it is equally true for guitar owners, especially the guys. They really know how to worry about their guitars… well this is a story of those worrying guitar guys out there.

Structural repairs made up the majority of my guitar services. Such repairs are very important and they should be carried out before other forms of repairs like functional and cosmetic. For this blog, I shall focus on re-gluing lifted guitar bridges of acoustic guitars.

The paper trick

Braces design of Small Acoustic Guitars

Re-gluing lifted bridges of acoustic guitars used to be rare. I didn't have to do too much of it until the dawn of "small sized" acoustic guitars. Many big brands jumped into producing such small guitars because they are very popular among youngsters. Small and light, great for lugging around whilst commuting.

In the aspect of volume projection, it is a basic logic that smaller guitars are not as loud as regular sized guitars. For musical instruments, volume projection is a significant indicator of quality. The designers overcome this barrier by "lightening" the bracing design on top boards by numbers. With the bracing design lightened, the volume projection was retained.

How do I know? Just toss a mirror into your small guitars, snap some pictures. Do the same to your regular sized guitars. Compare the pictures. The differences are obvious.

Guitar braces are like the pillars and columns of our houses. They give structural rigidity and stability to our roof and walls. In acoustic guitars, the braces on top boards function like house pillars. In additional, they also regulate the tonal qualities of acoustic guitars. Contemplate removing a few columns in your house… the same effects would apply on acoustic guitars as well.

In my blog post "Guitar Myths #002 - Are acoustic guitars' tops really flat?", I mentioned about the unavoidable bulging effects about acoustic guitars' bridge areas. If the regular guitars are suffering from this bulging effects, how much more would it affect the smaller guitar?

Bridge Lifting; How did that happened?

Many reasons contribute to bridge lift. In this blog I would be illuminating the structural rigidity of acoustic guitars' top boards, specifically small acoustic guitars.

As discussed earlier, small acoustic guitars' give volume projection more weight than structural rigidity of their top boards in design. One could easily imagine that when bulging effects set in, small acoustic guitars' top boards would get more of it. Another words, their top boards should bulge more than regular sized acoustic guitars.

Analogy of bridge lift

All new guitar bridges are made with flat base. They are glued to new acoustic guitars' top boards which were flat before loading strings on them. As bulging sets in, the curvature of the top boards increase. Invariably, the base of the new guitar bridges remain flat while the top boards changes in curvatures. As soon as the bridges could not keep up with the curvature (see picture above), the extreme ends of the bridges detached from the top boards. This detachment would appear like the bridges have lifted to our naked eyes. When left unchecked, the detachment grows until the guitars are unable to be tuned, or the bridges get ripped off.

Re-gluing Small Acoustic Guitars' Bridges; 2 Screws 2 Holes

There is actually no difference between re-gluing small acoustic guitars' bridges and regular acoustic guitars. However the difference in their respective life-spans cannot be more obvious. I have enough returning customers coming back for the same repair job, that is re-gluing small acoustic guitars' bridges that set me thinking of approaches to make this repair job more enduring.

A while ago I repaired a guitar that was of non-wood composition. Its bridge has detached and I made 4 attempts but they were in vain. Each attempt I tried a type of glue but nothing seems to work. The client was thankful for me trying that hard, at the same time he was very disappointed with the small guitar in question. He left that guitar in my shop.

Screws & Nuts; There is no better way than fastening the bridge to its top board by screws and nuts. So I picked up that guitar and placed screws and nuts on them. See right picture. Directly under the bridge and the underside of the top board, a piece of 3.5mm thick hardwood was glued onto the existing bridge plate as reinforcement. The nuts are secured onto the hardwood. I would like to emphasize at this point; the lifted bridge has already been re-glued properly before the screws and nuts get installed.

Since I have freely received this guitar, I too gave away this guitar freely to a deserving friend. I haven't heard anything regarding bridge lift since the guitar was given away.

Tone Affected?

Yes, FAQ from the worry guys. "Would drilling 2 mounting holes for screws and nuts affect my guitar's tonal quality?

What do you think? Personally, I have 2 replies to the above question, a simple and a elaborated one.

The simple reply; "No." Period.

The elaborated reply; "Would it affect the tone? Firstly there is one big hole in the middle of your guitar, plus another 6 smaller ones beneath your bridge pins. Adding 2 tiny holes wouldn't amount the slightest degradation to your guitar's wonderful tone."

Some small acoustic guitars use dowel pins for bridge positioning. For such design, there are already 2 tiny holes drilled onto the top board (see above picture). I simply make use of these 2 holes for my Screws & Nuts approach.

Admittedly, the Screws & Nuts approach may not be a popular solution to acoustic guitar owners. It is nevertheless an effective approach to give life-span endurance to your small acoustic guitars. Don't let the fear of unknown stop you from trying, instead take a rational view when deciding the most suitable repair jobs. Drilling your acoustic guitars isn't always bad.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Guitar Myths #002 - Are acoustic guitars' tops really flat?

Flat acoustic guitar top… really?

Once again urban myths strike again.

After making the big decision to part with one's hard earned money, a guitar was purchased. It was all perfect… was it? Playing the brand new guitar in private, admiring its beauty, savoring its tone… suddenly a slight bulge about the guitar bridges' area was sighted. Perplexed by it, immediately turning to internet to seek for an explanation.

Most people fear the unknown. Needless to say, many guitar owners assumed the worse. As such, it triggered their paranoia quests for solutions to this mysterious phenomenon. So the million dollars question; Are acoustic guitar tops really flat? If it isn't, so the guitar is not in perfect condition, right?

Total String Tension

First let's take a look at how much force is acting on a 6-string acoustic guitar's top board when all six strings are fully tuned to standard tuning. In D'Addario's website, the force in both pounds and kg for each string is listed. Below is an excerpt from D'Addario's EXP PB 12/53 string's technical specifications. 12/53 gauge is chosen because of its commonality.

Taken from: http://www.daddario.com/DADProductDetail.Page?ActiveID=3769&productid=87&productname=EXP16_Coated_Phosphor_Bronze__Light__12_53

There is no rocket science in determining the total force acting on a guitar top board. Just add them up.

In KG; (E)10.6 + (B)10.57 + (G)12.9 + (D)13.03 + (A)12.74 + (E)11.05 = 70.89kg or 156.29lbs

How much does a regular dude weigh?

Thickness of Top Board

Next, we shall consider the typical thickness of acoustic guitars' top boards. There are actually many considerations in determining the thickness of an acoustic guitar's top board. It isn't practical to go at length about it herein for obvious reason. Lets' take the word of a guru, Ervin Somogyi as a good guide. He mentioned in one of his many articles the preferred top board thickness is 3/32" or 2.34mm in thickness. You can read his full article here: http://www.esomogyi.com/top_thickness.pdf

We are going to rewind a little to figure out the reasons for guitar owners to assume that acoustic guitars' tops are flat.

Points of sale; firstly there is virtually no good reason for buying a guitar except for professional guitarists. We buy guitars on impulse, simple as that. Under impulse, no amount of intellect can help a guitar fanatic to discern facts from fiction. A guitar sales guy would say whatever the potential buyer wishes to hear. That includes generating an impression upon the potential buyer that the guitars in the shop are in perfect conditions. It isn't too hard to connect the dots right?

Acoustic guitars' top boards appear to be flat to our naked eyes. Most guitar buyers wouldn't question validity of this point. So it is not difficult for the sale guy to complete the sales with the buyer thinking and agreeing that the purchased guitar is in perfect condition which includes a perfectly flat top board.

Limited knowledge; while many guitar owners are passionate about playing guitars, however that has little to do with the motivation to learn adequately about guitar's construction. Flat Top guitar, this common jargon has convinced guitar owners that acoustic guitars' top boards are indeed flat or they must be flat. It is indeed factual that acoustic guitars' top boards are flat during the construction phase. All that will change when a constructed acoustic guitar gets into the quality control (QC) section. The freshly constructed guitar with a perfectly flatted top bulges immediately when the QC dude loads strings on it, for the purpose of inspection and setting up.

It isn't the end.

If this guitar gets shipped to regions with high humidity climate, the guitar continues to absorb moisture of the surroundings. Thus the bugle increases.

Answer to the million dollars question;

Lets' take a look at this picture.


Taken from: https://c3.staticflickr.com/3/2867/11215257453_6d98faf631_b.jpg

So does that answer the question? Just do an image search with this phrase "bulge guitar top" on any search engine to enlighten your mind.

Summing UP

Bulged top board is not a defect. It is an inevitable usage outcome of ALL acoustic guitars. It is perfectly normal for acoustic guitars to have a bulged top when in normal use.

Earlier we have found out the total six string force, that is 70.89kg or 156.29lbs as well the typical thickness of acoustic guitars' top boards, that is 3/32" or 2.34mm. It is also a common knowledge that wood would compress or flex under force loading.

If we put these facts together, it is not hard to understand that acoustic guitars will bulge under normal usage.

When a force of 70.89kg is allowed to perpetually act on a piece of wood of 2.34mm thickness, how would this piece of wood remain unchanged structurally?

In addition, when an acoustic guitar has absorbed excessive moisture from its surrounding, it will also contribute to the bulge.

In closing, I would submit to all readers of this blog post that top board bulging in acoustic are caused by these factors,

1. String tension
2. Thin top board
3. Wood's natural compressible and flexible properties
4. Absorption of moisture

Don't loose sleep over your bulged acoustic guitars. They are in PERFECT conditions!