Disasters happen, but sometimes an expensive fix just doesn’t add up. Luthier and repairman Dave Walsh helps assess whether your guitar is worth mending
Every so often, though, they run into a repair that isn’t viable. Sometimes it’s a case of sentimental value, as when a customer strolls in with a mangled guitar that their late great aunt left them.
The trouble is, even if mint, it’s only worth a couple of hundred quid – but a full rebuild will cost double that. At other times, a customer may request a repair on a budget instrument that just isn’t worth the work.
You’ll be amazed at what can be fixed, but in the current climate of very low-cost far eastern manufacture and well-made budget models, the lines can become blurred.
However, this is not a repair for the novice, even if it seems tempting to apply superglue, Araldite, Prit Stick or wood screws (I’ve seen them all). Specialist clamps and cauls plus a lot of experience is needed to assess the correct method and approach for returning the headstock to a one-piece item.
Snapped truss rod
On a Fender-type electric, the walnut skunk stripe will need to be routed out and replaced after installing a new rod. It’s certainly worthwhile on an old, valuable guitar or a higher-priced model, but if we’re dealing with a cheap acoustic then, realistically, it may be time to assign it to the bin. On a cheaper bolt-on electric, a new neck may be more cost-effective than repair.
Detached bridge/belly top
On older guitars the hide glue may have reached the end of its adhesive lifespan, drying and becoming brittle to the point where it can’t handle the string pressure; in this instance the bridge can be re-seated, and all will be well.
However, if the top has begun to ‘belly’ upwards because the internal struts and bracing beneath are loose or broken, then more extensive surgery will be required. On a cheaper acoustic it’s common to see a bridge come away that was never glued down well in the first place; some modern manufacturing dictates that bridges are glued onto the lacquered guitar top, so the bond is only as strong as the lacquer adhesion.
On older or more expensive guitars the lacquer is carefully removed so the bridge is glued firmly to wood, and any repair should include this simple procedure.
A good luthier will also check that the bridgeplate which the string ball ends anchor against is sound and strong enough to effectively spread the string pull across the bracing. On very cheap guitars the bridge can be re-attached with countersunk bolts.
Old hollowbodied Hofners are particularly susceptible to this sort of break, as are certain vintage Gibson SGs where the neck tenon joint has been routed away for the neck pickup. On older acoustic guitars, the neck often pulls into the neck block and raises the action; this means a neck re-set, where the old glue is softened (usually using steam), removed, and then re-set at the correct angle.
As all of the above is specialised work, it’s only viable on guitars above a certain price bracket. If you have a cheap acoustic with a high action caused by a badly angled neck but otherwise in good shape, then consider keeping it for slide.
An innocuous knock against a door frame or table can open a small crack in the body which can soon open up into a major structural problem unless patched and strengthened. Now, anything can be repaired, but if the back, top or sides on a relatively inexpensive acoustic are split – particularly across the grain – and the bracing is smashed, then it’s full-rebuild time.
Also, as most acoustics also have a translucent finish, any repairs will always be visible without a refinish of some sort. Solidbody electrics are still ‘acoustic’ in nature and suffer some of the same string pressures, but they’re far hardier so even a body completely split into two pieces can be glued back together.
However, refinishing will still be needed to hide any serious repair, and this puts the repair costs into the unviable bracket on budget guitars.
Often the only thing that remains of the original is the strap button and pots. Although this sort of work can be enjoyable, it’s often advisable to simply go for the custom build option from the word go – that way, you’ll spend the same amount of money but actually keep your old guitar as a spare.
Acoustic guitars require a lot of work to refinish, including removal of the bridge, and unless you’re going for an outlandish ‘video prop’ design you’ll rarely be greeted with a positive reaction, as changing the finish will also to some degree change the tonal output (the same is true on an electric guitar, but it’ll be particularly noticeable on an acoustic).
Be prepared to pay high prices if you insist on this type of work – usually more than it’s worth if it’s a mid-budget sub-£500 guitar.
Of course, it’s possible; many scratches can be polished out, but if the finish has been scratched down to the wood then in truth the only way to completely hide any finish damage (and I mean completely – not a touch-in job) is a total refinish.
I usually point out that even if it’s stripped down and refinished then it will soon pick up another knock along the way, and it’s best if at all possible to try and live with the knocks.