Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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Kay K22 Acoustic Guitar Fingerboard Removal

We've reached the part of the Kay guitar project in which we discover if I have truly lost my mind.

By which I mean, removing the fingerboard.

I thought long and hard about whether I should remove the neck first, or if I should remove the fingerboard while the neck is still attached to the guitar.  I had visions of the removed neck squirting all over the workbench, and/or getting divots and gouges in the neck from putting it in a vise, so I opted for the still-on-the-guitar method.

Here we have my usual neck removal tools laid out for surgery.  The former paint spatula turned removal tool at the bottom left with the brown handle is the best tool for this kind of job.  I'm pretty sure I got it from Stew-Mac, but it's a standard Italian-made paint palette knife; I've now discovered them at my local art store.

I bought the two cheaper black-handled tools at the art store.  They're not so good.  Their blades bend far too easily.  Get the better ones.  Not a surprise to find the Italian ones are the best.  Those folks know a bit about painting!

I used a sharp razor blade to get into the seam between the fingerboard and the body of the guitar - you can see how I gently tapped it into place.

The edges of the razor will scratch the soft (spruce in this case) top.  Put tape on the body if you need to protect it.

I have a cardboard template cut to fit over the top bout of a guitar.  I used spray contact cement to fasten aluminum foil to the template/guard.  You don't have to make a guard - you can just use foil on its own - but you need something to protect the finish from heat.

Now the fun starts!

I put another piece of foil over the neck, and start heating it with my special neck and fingerboard removal heater.  Remarkably, the heater doubles as a clothes iron!

LMII sells a beautiful heat blanket and thermostatic unit to do this too.  If you're careful, you can achieve the same results this way.  I put the iron on its "cotton" setting - almost the highest heat.

I'm careful with the heat - I generally sit the iron on the foil (and fingerboard) for about 30 seconds at a time.  Sometimes up to a minute.  The board will begin to get hot and will retain some of the heat.  You can also stick your removal blade between the iron and the foil - the hot blade will help it go through the old glue easier.

I have to say, this is generally where older (say, pre-1965) instruments are easier to deal with because they were assembled with hide glue, which is easy to release with some heat and moisture.  You'll be able to tell because the glue will be rather gelatinous as it's heated.  I use hide glue as much as I can for that reason - it's easy to disassemble.

Oh, almost forgot.

I was very concerned about being able to realign the fingerboard once I got it off and needed to glue it back on, so I drove some small nails into the fret slots for the 14th and 1st frets.  I cut off the heads of the nails so they were pins.

As it turned out, I didn't need to do this (you'll see why later), but it's not a bad idea to be prepared.

I also wiped a bit of lacquer thinner along the fingerboard to neck joint on the sides, in the hope that the finish wouldn't chip there.  (It did not).

The main thing about this sort of operation is to go slowly and don't force anything.  Here you see the knife at about the 13th fret.  It went well, but I didn't realize it was gouging into the neck a bit and didn't follow the fingerboard seam on the other side in a couple of places.  I suspect I had moved too fast.

Once I realized it, I paid attention to both sides of the joint.  That little palette knife is gold!

Also: sharp is NOT your friend in most instances.  Blunt is better.  That's why the palette knives work so well.

Working farther along the board.  This whole process took a couple of hours.

You can see a second knife wedged into the joint to help hold it open as I progress down the board.  That particular knife is a very (very!) sharp wedge-shaped (in cross section) seam separation knife.  Yes, I said not sharp, but I'm only using the knife to hold the fingerboard up off the neck a bit.  Another palette knife, a butter knife, or careful use of a thin screwdriver would work as well.

Would you believe I got the fingerboard off!  Believe it!

You can see some places where the neck wood (mahogany) stayed stuck on the back of the fingerboard and left divots on the neck.  This is not a bad thing - it helped me exactly realign the neck when I reglued it!  (That will be in an upcoming post.  The glue is drying on the reattachment as I write this).

Taking the fingerboard off makes it super easy to get to the neck dovetail in order to steam it off for removal. 

Remember when I said the Kay dovetail was sloppy?  That's why someone ran a bolt through it originally, and why Jake put one in later.  There's a big gap between the tenon and the mortise.

In fact, I could easily wiggle the joint side-to-side once I removed the bolt.  I'm hoping to shim it up tighter after I reset it.

Note the glue also - it's hide glue.

At this point, I'm glad I decided to leave the neck attached while I removed the fingerboard.  It might make sense to remove a Fender-style neck, but the fingerboard was a lot easier to work on with the neck on the guitar.

Next: removing the neck, and routing for the truss rod. 


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