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A big restoration
1887 Martin 21/2 - 40
© Frank Ford, 8/11/99; Photos by FF, 10/98

This is an expanded version of the eleven page photo article I wrote for the August 1999 edition of Acoustic Guitar Magazine.

Here's the patient, a Martin guitar, style 21/2-40, made in 1887.
According to its last owner, this instrument had been carried through equatorial Africa during the 1960s by a missionary who had it set up with steel strings. Considering its age and treatment, its survival is a testimony to good workmanship and the quality of well fitted hide glue joinery.

This and the next two photos are "after" shots, because I don't have any full pictures of the damaged guitar.
The back and sides are of Brazilian rosewood, the top is spruce, and the neck is Spanish cedar - all typical materials for Martin instruments of this period.

The white binding, heel cap, tuner buttons, nut, bridge, bridge pins and saddle are all original, and made of elephant ivory. Although synthetic ivory (ivory grained celluloid, or "ivoroid") was available for instruments in 1887, Martin continued using ivory for bindings until around 1920.
Typical of the period - the plain slotted peghead with no company logo. On the back of the peghead is a simple stamping that reads: "C. F. Martin, New York." This vintage guitar is often called a "New York Martin" but like all Martin guitars after 1839, was made in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. (Martin's sales agency remained in New York until the turn of the century.)
The back of the peghead had been smashed, and although the glue joints held well, the wood was badly broken in the area.
The bridge had become loose a while ago, and I suppose it laid around unnoticed with the strings up to full tension.
Because of the long term "over-stringing" with steel strings and the loose bridge, the top had become terribly distorted and showed a very large bulge behind the bridge. Notice also, the shrinkage cracks in the top which resulted from exposure to heat and low humidity.
I started the job by loosening the "tongue" of the fingerboard over the body, and removing the 15th fret to allow access for my steam needle. I drilled a 1/16" hole for the steam needle, right through the fret slot into the cavity at the end of the dovetail joint.
In the background you can see my steam generator, an old expresso milk steamer. These things work well for loosening old dovetail joints.
As you can see, the joint came apart well with relatively little steam damage to the surrounding finish.
Turning my attention to the other end of the neck, I spent the better part of a day with a water pipette and palette knife slowly "teasing" the old hide glue peghead joint apart.
It was a tedious process, but I didn't want to use heat for fear of damaging the original shellac finish which was in reasonably good shape.
Here, I've gotten the original joint disassembled, and I'm beginning to get the old crack open.
I used deionized water, because it's effective in cleaning old dirt without adding any contamination that might impair the adhesion of my new hide glue. Naturally, I used hot hide glue exclusively for this restoration, because the instrument was made with it, so that's what future repairers would expect to encounter.
Here's the last broken flake coming off the old joint.
Rather than simply reglue the entire joint and broken pieces all at once, I chose to rebuild the joint to photograph it for Richard Johnston's book
So here it is. The famous "diamond" or "dart" that you see on the back of the peghead of many Martin guitars. Originally, this little carving was a reinforcement for the jointed peghead.
Julius Borges, maker of the fine Schoenberg guitars, tells me this is is a modified "bridle joint."
Any way you look at it, this is a fine piece of joinery. Martin hasn't used this joint since about World War I, but still they carve a vestigial tribute on the back of the neck of every D-28, and many other models.
I could have easily damaged that fragile little finger when I clamp the joint back together, so I got out my Quick Carve. It's a fast setting catalyzed compound used for pattern making.
Protecting the neck with plastic film, I squished a bit of Quick Carve onto the area, and backed it with a piece of Masonite.
That gave me a perfect molded clamping caul so I could safely glue things back together.
Here's the peghead joint all clamped up.
And all finished, with the tuners back in place.
Back to the water and palette knife for some more tedium. It took a long while to get that old ivory binding off!
Prying the back loose went smoothly, and I could hear the familiar crackle of the hide glue as the lining joints broke apart.
No doubt about the age of this guitar. The shop foreman did us a favor by dating the inside of the top. Such top dating was customary for Martin through most of the 1880s and all of the 1890s. I only wish they'd started the practice earlier! All the top bracing was still tightly glued in place, and everything looked in good order, except for that distorted bridge area.
Speaking of which, take a look at the shape of the top. Pretty bad warping around that poor old bridge.
I heated and pried off the bridge plate to discover that the top was broken completely through across the grain in front of full length of the bridge, through some of the bridge pin holes, and partly through the back of the bridge. The bridge itself basically fell off when I removed the strings.
I moistened the top and clamped it to a flat plate, with lots of clamps and heavy interior cauls. I simply set it aside for a few weeks to help flatten it out.
Returning to the job, I started to prepare the area for rebuilding. Taking my 1/2" wide bent chisel, I carved away the top in the area of the cross grain cracks.
Using my smallest flat "finger plane" I created "ramps" in front and behind the bridge.
By now, the entire area covered by the bridge had been removed from the inside, and the ramps were complete.
I took the time to plane the top to a thin razor edge, so my new top material would lay in right up under the bridge.
To get the best new top repair material, I split my own billet of spruce. With literally no runout, it had the maximum grain strength.
I measured the top and made my new patch material just the same thickness.
"Chalk-fitting" is the traditional method of getting a good match. I fitted, tried, carved, refitted, retried, and recarved until my new patch fit right in.



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