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Loosening Fingerboard Extension on 1930s Regal Tenor Guitar

The next step with the Regal tenor is to remove the neck.  The first thing I need to do is drill an access hole for the steam hose, and loosen the glue holding the fingerboard extension to the body.

Here's the guitar in the guitar vise.  I've only had the vise for a few weeks, but I find myself using it for almost every job.  It's worth its weight in gold.  Gold, I say!

I need to remove the fret that's above the dovetail joint holding the neck to the body.  In this case, it's the 13th fret.

Apply a little heat with a soldering iron. I find quite a few of these older guitars with small frets will come out with little effort.

I hardly had to heat this one at all.

Then we use some fret pullers and gently rock the fret ends back and forth.

Seconds later we have the fret removed.  The whole operation took maybe 30 seconds.

Before I do anything else, I label the fret with what it instrument it came from, and also which end is the bass (or treble, if you wish) side.

I've learned that these small old frets are very fragile - meaning they bend easily.  If you plan on putting them back in, handle them with care and put them in a safe place while you do the rest of the work on the instrument.

Now I'll drill the hole the steamer needle will get inserted into to remove the neck.

I like to put a depth flag on the drill bit so I don't go too far down.  It would be pretty awful to drill through the guitar!

I got this small, long bit (I believe it's about 6 inches - 1.5cm or so) from McMaster-Carr.  Generic hardware store bits generally aren't long enough to hit the bottom of the dovetail.

Check this out.  I can swivel the fabulous guitar vise so the guitar body is suspended where I can more easily work on it.

I can't say enough about how great that vise is.

Line the bit up near the outside of the fret slot and drill the hole.

It's a bit of guesswork as to where the side of the dovetail is on some of these guitars that you don't work on a lot.  As it turns out, I could have drilled a few millimeters further toward the outside, but as you'll see, this wasn't an issue.

If you wish, you can drill another hole opposite this one for steam to come out.  I didn't this time - just a matter of choice.  Something like a Guild, where there is probably a liter of glue (kidding) in the joint may need a second hole to release steam, because it will take a while to loosen the glue.  Older guitars, including Martins, generally don't have an excess of glue in the joint, so you may not necessarily need 2 holes.

I like to save the sawdust that the drilling produces, if possible.  That way I can reuse it to fill the hole later.

Notice the two different shades of dust.  The more brown dust is from the fingerboard, and the lighter dust is from the dovetail.

That darker sawdust is proof that the board was probably dyed a darker color than the wood's natural color.  Not unusual in these inexpensive instruments.  And nothing wrong with it.

Now I'll loosen up the fingerboard extension with heat.

I cooked up this guitar body protector a while back.  The cutout fits the size of a standard six-string guitar.  I can just put some extra foil in that gap you see on the right side next to the fingerboard.

The protector is just aluminum foil glued to a cardboard core.  It helps keep heat off the finish of the guitar top.

Here's another special guitar repair tool, my old Black and Decker clothes iron.

Put a piece of foil over the extension and heat it with the iron.  I use a "polyester" setting - almost the highest heat.

I'm also heating my removal spatula at the same time by putting it under the iron.

I heat the fingerboard extension for about 60 seconds or so at a time, remove the foil and guard, then carefully insert the spatula/removal tool between the board and the top of the guitar.

Be gentle, yet firm.  You'll find the end and the sides go easily, then you'll hit a harder spot closer to the center.  Don't force the tool.  If you force it, you may wind up tearing the top wood (spruce in this case).  Just put the foil back on and heat again if you encounter a lot of resistance.

Gradually the glue will give way and you'll get the tool in cleanly all the way around.  Remember, the top's wood is softer than the fingerboard and you can hack it up easily.  Patience is the key.

Here's the extension loosened up.  You can see the gap between the fingerboard and the top of the guitar.  And see also how the knife is all the way through right at the point where the neck meets the guitar.

I took me about 4 passes with the heat, spatula, heat, spatula to get the joint loosened.

This is the beauty of working on older instruments where hide glue was used.  It comes apart so easily with heat.  Just a joy to work with.

This joint was probably glued together 80 years ago.  It was still as strong as the day it was made, yet it came apart in 10 minutes.  Hide glue is such great stuff.

Next, well steam the neck off and get ready for the actual reset.


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