Tag Archives: guitar repair

Saving “Miss Kay”

One of my favorite things to do in this business is save great old guitars. Especially the cheap ones because you can get creative with very little stress. Awhile back one of my customers, a local player named Gus Campbell (www.guscampbellmusic.com), brought me his old 1950’s Kay guitar.

Miss Kay
Miss Kay

He was rather distraught having found that after restringing it the bridge, which was a string through wrap around design, had broken.

Broken bridge
Broken bridge

The usual remedy would be to remove the old bridge, make a new one and string it back up except this guitar was old and to ever play right it would need a neck reset as well and it just wasn’t worth it monetarily nor would it be an easy job! So I started asking questions about the guitar…when did you get it, what songs are you using it on, anything to get a feel for how it was used. Then he mentioned what I wanted to hear. “I mainly use it for slide” he said. Then the lightbulb went off…why not make Miss Kay a slide machine? With the high action that suits a slide guitar, the neck reset would be unnecessary and I could use the existing bridge as a base for a tune-o-matic bridge. With the addition of a trapeze tailpiece I could make this thing work! So I started off. First I routed off the broken part of the bridge.

Broken bridge routed off
Broken bridge routed off

It would need to be gone to instal the tune-o-matic, but doing so would weaken the area significantly and I’d need something to sink the bridge posts into, so I decided to create a simple brace that would mount to the inside of the bridge plate.

Inside brace
Inside brace

I figured I could kill two birds with one stone and pre drill the pilot holes for the posts in both the bridge and the brace. I figured out the measurements to get good intonation with the new bridge and marked and drilled the holes. But then, how to align them while glueing? Easy, I grabbed two toothpicks and inserted them in the brace. Then it was quite simple to spread on some wood glue, reach into the guitar, and push the toothpicks up through the holes.

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Clamping the brace

The glue held the brace in place while I applied clamps and once secured, I just pulled out the toothpicks…easy.

Once the glue had set it was just a matter of installing the posts and setting on the bridge. I found an old Kay trapeze tailpiece and installed that as well.

Vintage Kay trapeze tailpiece
Vintage Kay trapeze tailpiece

A set of strings later she was up and running!

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Gus was happy and played some gigs using Miss Kay for his slide songs and a few weeks later called and said he loved it so much he wanted to make it electric, I was definitely on board for this! So we chose a pickup, in this case a McNelly Stagger Swagger (www.mcnellyguitars.com). I didn’t want to have to modify the guitar too much so I made a mounting plate for the pickup that would clamp itself in using some ebony blocks (much like a Sunrise acoustic soundhole pickup or any number of others).

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I airbrushed a little colored shellac to match the guitar, but I wanted it to look a little old and amateurish, this was a 60 year old Kay after all, no need to get fancy…just make it work. We decided to add a volume and tone control to the upper bout.

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This was easy enough, I mounted the harness to a thin maple plate, drilled the holes in the body, and once it was wired up, they were mounted to the side. I popped on a couple of old speed knobs and she was ready to rock!

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Sharp Fret Ends

I live in Phoenix, AZ. It’s extremely dry here and if you live in a dry climate you have most certainly picked up a guitar with an unbound fretboard and found the frets sharp and uncomfortable due to the neck shrinking. This is such a common problem, especially on Fender guitars, ¬†that I’ve done nearly 20 of these jobs in the last 2 months. I figured I’d share my method because it’s extremely easy. I would not use this exact method on a very valuable guitar, for those I will tape off the fretboard and generally be far more careful with finish and even the final shape of the fret ends, but since most guitars are “players”, this is the most common method I use…This example is a MIM Strat with really sharp frets…

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The frets are protruding and the bottom corners are very sharp…The first step is to tape off the side of the neck with blue masking tape right below the bottom of the fret tang…

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This not only protects the finish, but it will provide a “stop” when you begin sanding. The tape will keep you from taking off more than just the protruding frets. You’ll hit the finish just a tad, but we’ll remedy that later…Once the neck is taped off, get a hard, flat sanding block. I use a small piece of maple, sanded flat. ¬†Attach 400grit paper to the flat side and sand the edge of the neck (the fret ends) with the block, perpendicular to the board…

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Do this until you can no longer feel the frets underneath the block…in other words, once the block glides smoothly along the edge of the neck STOP and move on to the other side. It will usually take 2 pieces of sandpaper. Once the tangs are sanded smooth, tilt the block in to match the bevel of the fret ends and sand lightly…

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Now the frets should be more comfortable BUT you’re gonna need to take care of the bottom of the fret ends. Use a 3-corner file to lightly file the bottom corners. 2 quick, light swipes on both sides will be sufficient…

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Now you’ll want to clean up the file marks and the sanding you’ve done. The best option is Micro Mesh.

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Go thru each grit, concentrating on the fret ends but also hitting the edge of the neck above the tape…this will polish up any sanding marks on the finish. One cool side effect of this method is that the fretboard edges will get just slightly rolled like an old vintage guitar. Before moving on to the next grits it’s a good idea to gently hit the top of the frets, and even the board, just a tad to clean them up. This is a few quick swipes up and down the board with each grit…

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Once you’re thru all the grits the fret ends should be nice and polished. Clean and oil the board, and it’s all done…

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Cheers!