Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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1931 Martin O-18T Tenor Guitar Restoration Begins

Well, I had my brief hiatus from guitar repair work while I worked on the Vibro Champ.  Now it's back to guitars.

I'm taking a tenor guitar class in August, and I need a tenor guitar to play in class!  So this is another excuse (not that I need one) to snag another orphan cool guitar. 

Here we have a 1931 Martin O-18T.  The "T" is for tenor.  (Duh).  This guitar has a spruce top and mahogany sides, ebony bridge and fingerboard.  It's been played a lot - in fact, quite a bit of finish is gone from the top.  It also has a bunch of old repairs.  The good news is that even with old dead strings, it sounds amazing.  It's very alive.  Hit a string and the whole guitar vibrates.

It's also very dirty.  I did a quick test cleaning of the top and got lots of grime off.  I'll do a more thorough cleaning shorty.

The inside is also dirty - I have an idea for cleaning that up as well.

Look at that ambery-orange finish.  Yummy.  I want to eat it.

Three things I need to address in addition to the usual cleaning and setup work.  The most obvious is the bridge.  This is clearly a replacement.  If you look closely, you'll see that someone took a standard 6-string bridge, filled two of the string holes, cut it down and stuck it on the guitar.

The O-18T was the first Martin to use what we now call the "belly" bridge - with the graceful curve behind the bridge pins.  You can see marks where the original curve was - I marked it in the photo.  It looks like finish was put over it, but there is still a faint mark.  I'd guess this was done decades ago and the then-new finish has faded and is actually a nice match with the original finish.  Too bad they hacked up the top (see the left side of the bridge especially) in getting the original bridge off.

To be honest, if the bridge wasn't quite so amateurish looking (look who's talking), I'd leave it.  But I want to restore it back to the original look as much as I can, so I'm replacing it.

The old pickguard also looks bad - I'm not 100% sure it's the original, but I suspect it is.  It definately is the right shape and color.  However, there are some ugly glue marks on it, so I'll replace that as well.

I took the pickguard off first.  Used my trusty heat gun and removal spatula and it came off easily.

I did inadvertently pull up a couple slivers of spruce, but they can be glued right back down.

The early 1930s Martins had a browish tortoise swirl pickguard.  This one sure looks original, although it has some chipping around the edges.  I hate to replace it, but it's SO ugly.  Those yellow streaks look awful.

I heat the bridge with my trusty Crawfish InstrumentsTM bridge heating tool.  About five minutes and it was ready to go.

Ten minutes' careful work with the removal spatula, a bit of reheating as needed, and the old bridge easily came off.

Not too much of the top came with it, which is A Good Thing.

Looks like some old glue stayed on the top - I'll scrape all of this flat and clean.

The aforementioned slivers of the top that came up during the pickguard removal.  I just took some Titebond to a thin paint spatula, slid it under the pieces that are loose and pressed them down. 

I pressed the pieces down, wiped off the excess glue squeeze-out.  Then I stuck a piece of plastic bag over the repair and clamped a wood caul over it.

I grabbed the first piece of plastic that was handy, and it turned out to have some of those Stew-Mac superglue 'whips' in it!  Funny!  It works just fine though.

One other issue I found is the end pin hole.  It's about a half-inch in diameter.  I'd guess it got reamed out at some point for an end pin jack - or a very large end pin.

In any event, I just ordered a K&K pickup for the guitar.  I wouldn't ream out a hole in a vintage piece for a new pickup, but since the hole is there already, I figure I'll put a pickup in in and just put a jack in the hole and make good use of it.


Post a Comment 3 comments:

  • Mitt said...
    July 5, 2013 at 12:04 PM
    Thats weird. Why would you reduce the number of strings?
  • Yr Fthfl Blggr said...
    July 5, 2013 at 12:53 PM
    Thanks for the question.

    I should have been clearer in the post.

    Tenor guitars have 4 strings. They were initially made to be a "bridge" for tenor banjo players moving to guitar.

    Tenor bridges are hard to find, so when the bridge was replaced, the repair person took a standard guitar bridge and repurposed it - filling the two extra holes and cutting the wings shorter.
  • Mitt said...
    July 5, 2013 at 11:49 PM
    Are you going to make a new bridge? Very exciting.....

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