Claescaster

Category: How to

How to… get your acoustic to open up

Levin Goya 172 Made in Sweden 1970 Goya GG-172 Made in Sweden by Levin in 1970

A great way to improve the tone of your acoustic guitar and to get it to open up is to use a normal air pump from a fish tank to give the top a massage. I got an old one, I think the older they are the more they vibrate, that I use on guitars that I buy that hasn’t been played for years. It works great and seems to add both bass, volume and clarity to the guitar. A day or two with the pump is like months of actually playing.

The new Claescaster

Claescaster-Greta
The new Claescaster, my first attempt at building a guitar

As I mentioned before I’ve been pretty busy building a Telecaster from scratch. I have never built anything in my life so this was more of a test to see how hard it was to shape a body, carve a neck, install a trussrod and frets and get it to intonate and actually play properly. It wasn’t that hard. I would say that with some patience this could be done by pretty much anyone. Now I will start to build something a lot prettier and use what I’ve learned from my mistakes the first time around. I promise to take a lot of pictures so you can follow the whole process. You can follow me on Instagram.

The new Claescaster

Claescaster, hand built guitar, How to build a Telecaster
I’ve been fairly busy lately building a Telecaster from scratch. I really should have taken more pictures to document the whole journey but I felt that this first one would be more about figuring things out since I’ve never built anything before. The next one will be well documented and hopefully look ten times better than this first rough cut little Telecaster built from some pine that I found in the street. Now I just need to install some frets, hardware and give it a coat of paint. You can follow me on Instagram.

How to… reglue a bridge

Francisca Montserrat, Barcelona
Francisca Montserrat Barcelona, Spanish guitar 1960’s

I recently reglued the bridge on my Francisca Montserrat and just wanted to show how easy it is if anyone out there feels a bit scared of doing it yourself. It’s very straight forward and only takes a couple of minutes.

Francisca Montserrat, Barcelona
Heat a spatula on a normal clothes iron, it’s good to keep a finger on it so it doesn’t get too hot and scorch the lacquer. Insert the spatula under the bridge, start with the edges and work your way to the middle to loosen the bridge. I prefer to reheat often instead of working with a really hot spatula from the start, less risk of damaging the top that way. Be careful when you do the last push so you don’t break it off, it’s supposed to come off without any direct force if the spatula is warm enough to loosen the glue. Once the bridge is off, clean the guitar top and the bottom of the bridge with some sandpaper to get a smooth surface. I earlier thought that it was good to scratch the bottom of the bridge with a knife to get something for the glue to grip to but have later been told that’s an old myth and it’s better to keep the surfaces smooth. Apply plenty of glue on both the guitar top and the bottom of the bridge, I always use fish glue for my guitars. Put the bridge in place, apply some pressure with your hands and remove all the extra glue that comes out on the side and then apply a couple of clamps to keep it in place over night. I recently got myself a couple of deep throated, 200 x 195 mm, Klemmsia clamps from German eBay that worked great.

Francisca Montserrat, Barcelona

Casa Parramon, Barcelona

Casa Parramon Barcelona, Laúd
Before and after, a Spanish Laúd, made by Casa Parramon, Barcelona

When Araceli and I first moved to Barcelona we found this Laúd in the streets, we took it home, put it in the back of a wardrobe and completely forgot about it for four years. It was so ugly so we couldn’t have it out, on top of that we didn’t even know if it was a laúd, a bandurria or some other weird Spanish instrument. It was therefore tucked away and quickly forgotten. Until recently when Araceli’s dad Marcos mentioned that he wanted to learn to play a new string instrument, or as he put it, I need something new to make noise on. We suddenly remembered that ugly thing with strings on in the wardrobe and I thought that maybe I could restore it for him. I mentioned earlier that we managed to find a really nice Spanish made Alhambra from the late 1970’s that we gave him for Christmas.

Casa Parramon Barcelona, LaúdCasa Parramon Barcelona, Laúd
Someone called Rosa Sola had gone crazy bananas, full blown hippie on this poor laúd when we found it

I have no idea how old this laúd is but it was built by Casa Parramon here in Barcelona. The workshop was started in 1897 by Ramon Parramon and I think he mainly built violins. Casa Parramon is actually still in the same place today as they were 117 years ago, C/ Carme 8. Now I think they are mainly building violins again but I guess they would have had time to build both laúds, bandurrias and guitars over the last hundred years.

Casa Parramon Barcelona, Laúd
Casa Parramon Barcelona, Laúd
I stripped the laúd completely, took off machine heads, tail piece and bridge. I got the bridge off with a spatula heated on a normal clothes iron, it works like a charm every time. I cleaned and oiled the fretboard and polished the frets. Then I sanded down all the wood with an electric sander, this felt a bit harsh on an instrument but most of the text was actually scratched in to the wood and not painted on so I had to take out the heavy artillery. On top of that, the solid spruce top felt really thick so I thought that the sound might actually benefit from a thinner top. I glued some cracks in the top with my trusty old fish glue and then I waited and waited for the shellac I had ordered from Germany that unfortunately never arrived. I really wanted to use shellac on this instrument, both for practice for myself for future builds and projects, but also for the laúds sake, it felt like the healthiest option. In the end I went and bought normal clear lacquer, or varnish, I’m not really sure what the guy sold me but he said it would work and it did. It applied two coats and sanded lightly in between and it looks ok but I guess if I would have looked even better if I had spent more time on sanding and getting it super smooth in between the coats. I had to paint this at night in poor light and got some drips that should have been taken out properly, I just scraped them off with a razor and then applied new lacquer. I guess I have learnt a few things for the next time. One trick I can share though, that everyone might already know about but anyway. Before I started with the lacquer I marked out where the bridge was going to be and then masked that off with tape so I wouldn’t have to remove the lacquer before I glued the bridge back on and that worked really well.

Casa Parramon Barcelona, LaúdCasa Parramon Barcelona, Laúd
The final result, Marcos new laúd, now I just have to string it up and try to figure out how it’s tuned

Casa Parramon Barcelona, Laúd
Update: August 16, 2014 Marcos seemed very pleased with his new laúd

How to… carve a bridge

Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942
Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942

Last weekend I decided to make a new bridge for my 1940’s Levin model 65. I actually did the same thing about a year ago but with less success, you can read about it here. This time I had more tools, better material and at least some knowledge of working with wood.

Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942I started with a rosewood blank that I carved roughly to the right height with my trusty old Mora kniv, a cheap Swedish knife that solves most of my guitar related problems. Then I carved the shape of the edges, I just marked where to start and then carved it in to a rounded slope. I got the top in to a nice triangle shape with a narrow chisel and then cut out the arch in the bottom with a round file. I compared it to the old bridge to get the string spacing right and then just made little groves with a small triangle file. After a bit of lemon oil I was ready to try it out and it worked perfectly.  

Levin Model 65 parlour guitar Made in Sweden 1942The final result, a new bridge for not only the oldest Levin I own but the olderst guitar I’ve ever actually had in my hands.

How to… install a treble bleed

Claescaster New, Mighty Mite bodyThe Claescaster, put together in May 2013 out of a Mighty Mite Swamp ash body, Tonerider Vintage Plus pickups, Wilkinson hardware and a cheap but fairly fat China neck.

Last night I decided to change the pots and install a treble bleed on my new Claescaster, I never liked the feel of the CTS pots I had on. I’m still not sure if I like the new changes or not, in my head it sounded better before but I stupidly forgot to record it so I can’t compare the before and after. I think it had a clearer sound with more highs, now I feel that the neck pickup is more muffled. I’m not sure if this is down to cheaper pots, the treble bleed or the wiring. I changed the wiring too from a more standard wiring to Seymour Duncan’s suggestion for a ’66 wiring which matched what I had seen for the treble bleed. Maybe it has more to do with the changes in wiring than the actual treble bleed because before I had an old 50′s vintage wiring to help with the lack of treble at lower volumes and I was pretty happy with that. I’m so confused with all the different wiring options, I have no idea who’s doing what to whom, and where? I might just have to redo it again and copy the original wiring on my Greco TL-500 or my Fender TL52-75, they both sounds great.

How to... install a treble bleed, Telecaster, ClaescasterThe new Claescaster got a treble bleed and the ’66 wiring, bottom right photo shows the original wiring on my 1979 Greco TL-500

Claescaster, Telecaster,  50′s vintage wiring
Update: December 27, 2014,
Since I had the soldering iron out to fit the electronics in my new home built Claescaster I took the treble bleed out in this one and changed the wiring back to it’s original 50′s vintage wiring

How to… install side dots

Francisca Montersat
Francisca Montserrat with her new side dots

I get really confused when I play on guitars without side dots. You are playing your cowboy chords and everything is fine and then suddenly you want to play a bit of solo up on the 12th fret and you realise that there are no markers above the 5th fret and you have to guess where to put your hand. Well on a 14th fret acoustic guitar you know roughly where the 12th fret is, 2 above where the body and neck joins but say that you need to quickly find the 11th, or 9th fret. For me position markers, or side dots, are essential. Flamenco guitars seems to never have any side dots at all and a lot of Spanish or Classic guitars seems to have forgotten them too. I guess if you are used to it, if you have played your whole life without them maybe it’s fine but I come from the world of electric guitars with clear indications where you are on the neck. My Levin guitars only have side dots up until the 7th fret, it’s just my Goya T-18 that has markers up to the 12th fret, so I decided to change that. I had to order some new Jescar frets from my favourite eBay luthier supplier in the States, Philaluthiertools, so I got some 2mm side dot position markers in black as well. I was a bit scared to drill in to thin strip of binding on my 40-50 years old Levin guitars but after practising on my Francisca Montserrat I felt ready and just did it. It went pretty well, no real drama. It was interesting to see what the fretboards was really made off when you saw the sawdust. Some of the Levin’s had normal rosewood freatboards but the Levin 174 has a ebony fretboard, how fancy pants is that? My dads old Levin LT-16 is supposed to have a rosewood fretboard but I think that sawdust looks very dark for being normal rosewood.

Francisca MontersatFirst I installed 3 side dots on my Francisca Montserrat just to warm up. There might be some Flamenco purists saying that I’ve ruined this guitar now but I think it was a fairly discrete modification that will make it hundred times easier for me to play it. I just drilled a 2mm hole, same as the plastic side dot, about 3-4mm deep. I didn’t use any ruler, I felt that my eyes would be the best judge to make a visual estimatation and get them to line up. I made a little mark with a black pen and then when I was happy with that I made a little pilot hole with a nail so the drill wouldn’t slip. I put some super glue in the end of the side dot stick, stuck it in and then cut it off with a pair of pliers. I got it smooth with a razor blade and then sanded it down with 400, 800, 1500, 2000 and 2500 grit paper, the same technique I use for repairing lacquer damage.

Levin LM-26, Levin LT-16
All my Levin’s got new side dots installed, here is a 1959 Levin LM-26 on top and a 1966 Levin LT-16 below. I have to say that the dots I put in on the 9th and 12th fret on my dads LT-16 looks better than the original one on the 7th fret that was installed 48 years ago at the Levin factory in Gothenburg.

How to… remove a bridge

Levin / Goya 163 individual height adjustable plastic saddles
The old plastic saddles before I removed the bridge on my Goya Model 163 from 1968.

I recently had to remove my first bridge on an acoustic guitar, after removing my first neck it just felt like a natural next step. It turned out to be both harder and easier than I first thought it would be. I needed to do this for two reasons, first because the bridge started to come loose, it felt like the glue had dried up and started to fall apart. Second, I wasn’t too excited about the extremely low individual height adjustable plastic saddles, as Levin calls them, that the previous owner had left me. They were too low to adjust and made some strings sound muted and dull. I watched a Youtube clip before I started with Julyan Wallis, who happened to be working on a Levin guitar as well, and learned a few good tricks. He was heating up the spatula on an normal clothes iron and that way managed to loosen the old glue under the bridge. It worked extremely well.

Goya 163 bridge removal
I heated up the spatula on a normal clothes iron and touched it with my fingers to make sure it didn’t get too hot, I was scared to scorch the lacquer. As soon as you loosened the corners and worked your way around the whole bridge you can keep the tip of the spatula quite hot if you are quick to get it in under the bridge and not resting it on the lacquer. This could have been such a smooth and and easy job if I would have realised earlier that that saddle screws went all the way through and was actually screwed in to the top as well, something that kept the bridge secure even when all the glue was loosened. I tried over and over and even managed to damaged the lacquer in two places in my desperate attempts to get the bridge off. Since I couldn’t get a grip of the saddle screws, two was filed down smooth and the others were too low to hold on to with any pliers. I had to heat up a screwdriver on a candle, I should probably have used the clothes iron, and then melt the tip in to the saddle and that way get a grip and unscrew them. Once all the saddle screws were out the bridge came off straight away. It could have been a cleaner removal if I had realised that the saddles were attached to the top but still, I’m pretty pleased with the result for being my first time.

Goya 163 bridge removal
I painted the wood where the finish had come off and then added a bit of nitro lacquer to seal it. Since I had to burn the tip of the saddles to get them out I thought the best I could do in order to save as much material as possible was the flip them over and reshape the bottom instead. I used a normal hand file to shape the saddles, I made the tip both higher and wider to get a better grip with the pliers when I adjust them. Once the shape was good I rounded them off with my fret crowning file. I glued the bridge back in place with fish glue and a couple of clamps and let it set for 24 hours. It worked pretty well, the tone is better and I can now easily adjust the string height like Levin intended 46 years ago.

How to… reset a Levin neck

Levin LM-26 1959A fairly unplayable 1959 Levin LM-26 before I reset the neck

I’ve been very lucky and managed to get my hands on a couple of really nice Levin and Goya guitars over the last year. I would probably have thought twice about getting any random 50 years old acoustic since the action is normally a bit of an issue but with Levin it’s quite easy to reset the neck. They have been using a bolt-on neck system since the 1950’s which makes the job pretty manageable.
How to reset a Levin neckRemove the two bolts that attach the heel with the neck block, you can see them if you look inside. A normal Philips no 2 screwdriver fits if you don’t have a square Allen key. The heel is normally not glued in so you will feel it loose as soon as you remove the bolts. If not, apply a bit of pressure upwards to loosen the heel. Now you will be able to fit a sanding strip under the heel and can start to sand it down and that way change the neck angle and lower the action. Apply a bit of pressure on the neck and just pull, it might take 40-60 pulls on each side so so be patient. Check the neck angle with a straight edge once in a while so you don’t take it too far. As long as the straight edge doesn’t go over the bridge it should be fine. I have done the sanding strip trick on two guitars so far, my Goya T-18 and a Goya 163. On my Levin LM-26 I felt it was better to remove the whole neck so that made the sanding process even easier.

Goya 163 neck removal
Update: January 27, 2014
I needed to sand down the heel a bit further on my Goya Model 163 and realised that the fretboard started to come loose. It looked and felt just like the bridge, like the glue had dried up and started to crack and fall apart. I tried a new trick that I learned on Youtube, to heat up the spatula instead of heating the neck, like a did on my Levin LM-26. My God, this was so easy and quick, I think it took me 7 min to remove the neck. When I had sanded down the heel a bit further I glued the neck back with some fish glue and a couple of clamps.

Levin bolt-on neck