Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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Making a Tortoloid Pickguard: 1931 Martin 0-18T Restoration and Repair, Pt. 7

While the glue was drying on the repair cleats, I took the old pickguard off and made a new one.

Seems like whenever I work on an old guitar, I keep finding things to fix. I'd rather get them all done in one shot, rather than put it back together and find something I missed.

The old pickguard looks bad. I'm pretty sure it's made of Hawksbill tortoiseshell, and I know that it definitely was painted over with clear nitro lacquer when the body was.

To remove it, we use moderate heat. Note that I've put artist's tape all around the pickguard so I don't scratch the finish during removal.

The pickguard was glued to the top of the body with hot hide glue, so we can use heat to loosen the glue.

Once the pickguard is warmed up a bit, we can slide some removal spatulas under it. Note that I'm using one on top of the other. I get going with one and then slide the second one on top of the first and move along that way.

Note the amber-colored lacquer chips lying on the tape. You can see how that paint is peeling off the pickguard.

I try to go slowly and carefully, but for sure some of the top wood will come up with the guard, it's almost unavoidable.

The pickguard came off intact, except that small pointed part. Drat.

I hate it when that happens.

The guard is pretty brittle - it's 85 years old so it's not too surprising.

I freed up that corner, but a couple chips of the finished top came off.

One thing I've learned over time is not to react quickly when something like this happens. Step away and ponder the best way to fix what happened. Better to do that than just try to make a quick fix right away.

In this case, I can reglue these chips.

It's best not to handle these kinds of pieces too much. That way the broken pieces don't fall apart or lose small pieces and tend to go back together more closely. These are small, fragile pieces of wood and will break easily.

This goes for bigger pieces like broken necks - the less handling the better. Don't try too many test fittings - each time you may lose tiny pieces of wood. In some instances you may only get one shot to do the repair.

Here's how I glued the pieces down still attached to the pickguard. Note the waxed paper under the guard - there's glue under the chips and I don't want the guard to get glued down also. (Look a couple pictures down and you'll see how I clamped this piece down).

After the glue dried, I cut the pieces away from the pickguard.

It's a delicate repair. Most of the chips went back into place.

You can see that one of the fragile pieces popped off. Drat.

I'll touch it up with toning lacquer. There are a lot of dents on the top already, so this won't look too bad.

I just hate to lose chips like that.

Note the paint ridge is between the bare wood and the finish on the top. I should have measured it! It's a bit less than the thickness of the original pickguard, but quite noticeable with the guard off.

As predicted, some hunks of wood remained stuck to the pickguard. I probably should have used more heat, and 'read' the top grain better. Going with the spatulas from the other direction may have avoided some of this.

But I'm always leery of using too much heat near a vintage finish. I'd rather have some hunks like this to fill rather than blister the original finish.

Some of the pieces can be glued right back down.

I lifted them carefully with those wonderful Japanese tooth/sushi picks. Be careful not to break pieces off!

I used hot hide glue under the chips and small cauls to clamp those pieces down - including that end of the pickguard with the chips attached.

We need to get the surface as flat as possible so the new pickguard will lay flat.

So we file some spruce repair wood to make a sawdust fill.

Glue it down with CA (super) glue.

Then scrape and sand until it's flat.

You'll have blotchy marks, but they'll be covered by the pickguard.

It's always interesting to see the color of the bare wood versus the old aged finish. This guitar is particularly dark.

I thought the original guard was a reddish color, but holding it up to the light shows that's it's a brownish amber.

The new piece of tortoloid is on the right. It's the closest thing I've seen to the old color and pattern.

I may experiment with the old guard and see if it can be restored.

I taped that cracked tip back to the old pickguard, then taped it on a cutting mat with the tortoloid material to trace a pattern.

Use a silver marker so the marking will show up.

The tortoloid needs to be warm when it's cut. If it's not warm, it will shatter like glass. (As me how I know this).

So I put the heat gun on the bench so it will stand up, and heat the material. It will get soft and start to flex. Then you can cut it - I use scissors.

Cut a couple inches, heat, cut, etc. This stuff costs a small fortune and I don't want to ruin it.

The original guard has a soft curved bevel at the edge - not a sharp angle like you'd see on a Gibson or Fender guitar.

It's hard to photograph, but you can see the curve here.

When I cut the guard, I leave a little material to work with to trim to exactly the right fit. And when I file the final shape, I can also file that tapered edge.

After the new pickguard is shaped, I like to warm it a bit and put it between some waxed paper and then some wood blocks and clamp it flat.

All of this is to make it lie flat on the guitar.

Then I use double-sided 3M tape on the back of the pickguard and trim it to shape.

Then place the new pickguard on the guitar, and make a couple of hinges with artist's tape so the guard can 'swing' up and the paper on the tape can be removed.

Swing the pickguard up and remove the paper. I started a corner of the paper before I put the guard on so it would come off easily.

Then carefully put the guard down, and press it flat.

It came out well - it's flat and looks good I think. I have that tiny area near the tip to touch up, but it's ready to go otherwise.

NOW I'll glue the neck back on.

All posts in the 1931 Martin 0-18T Restoration Project:
  1. 1931 Martin 0-18T Guitar Restoration and Repair, Pt. 1

  2. Neck Removal on 1931 Martin 0-18T Guitar: Restoration and Repair, Pt. 2

  3. Trimming the Neck Heel for Reset: 1931 Martin 0-18T Restoration and Repair, Pt. 3

  4. Shimming Guitar Neck Dovetail and Finish Chip Repair: 1931 Martin 0-18T Restoration and Repair, Pt. 4

  5. Caul for Heat-straightening Guitar Neck: 1931 Martin 0-18T Restoration and Repair, Pt. 5

  6. Reparing Acoustic Body Cracks: 1931 Martin 0-18T Restoration and Repair, Pt. 6

  7. Making a Tortoloid Pickguard: 1931 Martin 0-18T Restoration and Repair, Pt. 7 - This page.

  8. Heat Straightening Bowed Guitar Neck: 1931 Martin 0-18T Restoration and Repair, Pt. 8

  9. Fret Marker Installation and Filling Fingerboard Chips: 1931 Martin 0-18T Restoration and Repair, Pt. 9

  10. Compression Fretting to Correct Upbow: 1931 Martin 0-18T Restoration and Repair, Pt. 10

  11. Completed 1931 Martin 0-18T: Restoration and Repair, Pt. 11


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