Repair of a Freshman Folk Guitar

The Damage

Damage To Fingerboard (1)This folk guitar had been dropped, catching the edge of the fingerboard on an amplifier or similar. The impact broke away a section of binding along with a piece of the rosewood. The second fret was dislodged and bent. The pieces dislodged were shattered beyond re-use.The repair would involve removing frets 1 and 2, removing the binding on the nut side of the damage, letting in a new section of rosewood and reassembling with new frets and binding. I had considered refitting the old frets but they were quite worn and, more importantly, I had some fret wire of the correct size. This article describes the repair.




Damage (2)


The Plan

Damage to Fret Slot

The plan was to rout out the damaged wood between frets one and two. That way the end grain joints would be hidden beneath the frets. A close fitting cradle was constructed to support the neck and that would carry a platform to support and guide the router.




Removing the Frets

Two frets were removed. Fret two was already partially ripped from its slot by the accident. Nevertheless, I was intent on causing as little further damage as possible. The technique of easing out the frets using flush cutting nippers was employed, starting at one end and slowly working along to the other. The photograph shows the damage caused where the fret was ripped from its slot. Contrast that with the pristine area to the right where it was removed with care. A little super-glue was worked into the frayed areas and the loose fragments glued down before they fell off.




Routing out the damaged fingerboardClose-up of the cutter

Here, the neck is clamped between the cradle and the "table" by four wood screws. Stops were fastened to the table to prevent the inadvertant removal of wanted material and an 1/8 inch bit was fitted. A nice clean rebate was produced, requiring only the corners to be squared up with a chisel.


Routing out the damage


Finished slot and inlay pieceSelecting a fill-in piece

A suitable matching  piece of rosewood was selected from the scrap box and cut to size; oversize in each dimension to allow for "cleaning up".



Inlay glued in placeFill-in Glued in Place

Here the inland section is glued in place. PVA glue was used and the piece was held in place by a wrapping of string around the neck.




Cleaned up and slots re-cutFret Slots Re-cut

Here the inlay is shown, cleaned up and fret slots re-cut.



New bindingNew Binding

The new binding shown here was butted to the broken edge and super-glued in place. No clamping was necessary. Quite a risky business: sticking your fingers to a guitar is no joke. The binding channel was cleaned up with a square-edge file before glueing. The binding material came fromTonetech Luthier Supplies




New FretsNew Frets

One of the new frets is shown here. Note that the tang is filed away where the fret crosses the binding. It was not until I looked at this photograph that I realised the tang was not completely removed. In the flesh, my eyes told me that it was wholly removed. Also note that the fret is pre curved and pretty accurately at that. If the curvature is wrong, then the fret will not sit flush to the fingerboard. I glued these two frets in place with barely a trace of epoxy and clamped them overnight. I was uncertain that friction alone would hold them, given the slot damage. Many makers glue frets as a matter of course; not something I approve, given the difficulty it may pose to future repairs.



Nipping the frets to legnthCutting Frets to Length

I removed the overhanging fret wire with this nasty pair of wire cutters. It is not unknown for a fret to leap from its slot during this procedure. These are ordinary wire cutters with the jaws re-ground so that they cut flush; a process that takes longer than you may think.



Filing the Fret Ends

The fret ends were filed to 35 degrees using this tool (block of wood and a clamping strip) which holds a 6-inch saw file.



Flatting the fretsFlatting the Frets

The frets were levelled using another block of wood with some abrasive paper stuck to the bottom. Most texts recommend the use of a file but I find them too course and too inacurate. I use fineish (240 grit) paper on a good sized block. Even so, it is possible to take off too much material and spoil the job. I loosened the truss rod fully before levelling. This process removed quite a lot of material from fret-1 but much less from fret-2, indicating that the neck is not as straight as it could be. Nevertheless, it is straight enough. It looked to me that the frets had been filed before' unless the guitar left the factory thus. Additionally, there was a good deal of fret wear. This wear is at odds with other indications of wear; the gold plating is largely intact.




Crowning the fretsCrowning the Frets

Here, the frets are being re-crowned. I am using a Stewart Macdonald fret crowning file. An expensive little file but it makes the job relatively simple. Formerly, I used the traditional three cornered file with inevitable finger board damage that has to be sanded out. It was a slow process but not any more. On crowning the frets, I may have discovered the reason for the fret wear. In comparison to the new frets, the old ones are very soft. I expect that soft frets are easier to install than hard ones.




Polishing the fretsPolishing the Frets

The frets were polished, firstly with a 500-grit and then with a 2000-grit Abralon pad.


The Buffing WheelBuffing the Fingerboard

Then the fingerboard was buffed using a 12-inch buffing wheel running at 800 rpm. It takes all the hard work out of polishing. The wheel is shown fitted on a Coronet Major Combination Woodworking machine, mounted on a home made mandrel. The wheel and compound were bought from The Polishing Shop at very reasonable prices.




Finished Repair

Here is the finished result before refitting strings etc. After assembly and setting the truss rod, the action was far too high, in the range .035 in on the 6th string to about 25 on the 1st. So the nut was re-cut. I have a morbid fear of nut cutting having on more than one occasion cut one slot too deep. I reckon it takes about 4-hours to make a new nut. No problems this time though. The string clearances range from .022 in to .012 in. I measure them with a dial-test-indicator. See the Stewart MacDonald catalogue for the design, then construct from wood as I did.


The guitar plays quite nicely and sounds very sweet and zingy. Not bad for a relatively cheap guitar. I does have it vices though; If driven hard the body flaps and honks. You can feel the side flapping on your leg when driving the A-string hard.

Pin It