Claescaster

Tag: Nitrocellulose lacquer

Levin LT-18

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966

When I bought my first Goliath sized Levin guitar back in September 2013, a 1966 Goya T-18, I was amazed by the sound of it. They aren’t that easy to come by so I have pretty much bought every Levin LT-18 I got my hands on. Now I’m the proud dad of seven, 3 Levin LT-18, 1 Levin LS-18, 1 Goya T-18, 1 Goya T-23 and 1 Levin 174, they are all the same model with the same specifications, it’s just small details that have changed over the years. They have an X-braced alpine spruce top with flame maple back and sides. I first thought I was a mahogany back and sides type of guy, then I believed that rosewood was really my thing, when the truth is that I was a flamed maple guy all the time, who would have guessed? It’s a pretty odd tone wood, we have classics like the Gibson J-200 and quite a few of Guild’s jumbo models that are built with maple back and sides, but not that many dreadnoughts and especially not in the 1960’s. To my ears the Levin LT-18 is the love child of a Gibson J-45 and a Martin D-28, it’s somewhere in between, a perfect mix and I just love them.

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966
Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966
Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1966

Levin LT-18 / Goya T-18
Goliath size: Body width: 400 mm, body length: 505 mm, body depth: 95/120 mm
Fingerboard width: 43 mm, scale length: 630 mm
Spruce top, flame maple back and sides, 4-ply bound top, single-bound back
Mahogany bolt-on neck with adjustable truss rod
Single-bound ebony fingerboard with bass side pearloid block inlay
Nickel plated individual Van Gent tuners with metal buttons
Ebony bridge, natural finish and ten year warranty

Marketed by U.K. distributors as Super Goliath Model 1855

Levin LS-18 (1960), Levin LT-18 (1963), Levin LT-18 (1966), Levin LT-18 (1968), Goya by Levin T-18 (1966), Goya by Levin T-23 (1966)The Goliath sized Levin collection so far: Levin LS-18 (1960), Levin LT-18 (1963), Levin LT-18 (1966), Levin LT-18 (1968), Goya T-18 (1966), Goya T-23 (1966). I didn’t include my 1972 Levin 174 in the picture since the head shape is different and it didn’t really match the others, even though it’s technically the same guitar.

Levin LS-18

Levin LS-18 Made in Sweden 1960Levin LS-18 Made in Sweden 1960

I finally got my hands on a Levin LS-18. Around Christmas 2015 I was offered to buy a Levin LS-16 that I’ve loved since the first time I played it. Therefore I’ve been really curious to hear what a full sized LS sounded like. These guitars seems to be fairly rare, I’ve seen one or two up on eBay in the last year but they have both gone for upwards of a £1000. I’m not sure why there aren’t more of these around in Europe, perhaps people refuse to sell them or they all got badged like Goya S-18 and shipped off to USA. The Levin LS-18 was introduced in 1958 and replaced by the LT-18 in 1964. The only difference sound vice that I’ve noticed between the LS-18 and the LT-18, both of them have flamed maple back and sides, is that the LS-18 seems a bit deeper in the bass. Perhaps it’s just this guitar, or the year, or the wood, it’s impossible to know without trying ten others. Other noticeable differences is that the LS-18 has thicker neck profile, different machine heads and centred pearl dot inlay instead of the LT-18’s bass side pearloid block inlay. It basically looks a bit more 1950’s and I love it.

Levin LS-18 Made in Sweden 1960Levin LS-18 Made in Sweden 1960There was quite a lot of work to do on this when I first got it. The action was so high that I couldn’t even get it in tune properly, the intonation was way off. I reset the neck and cleaned it up and now it both sounds and plays great.

Levin LS-18 / Goya S-18
Goliath size: Body width: 400 mm, body length: 505 mm, body depth: 95/120 mm
Fingerboard width: 43 mm, scale length: 630 mm
Spruce top, flame maple back and sides, 4-ply bound top, single-bound back
Mahogany bolt-on neck with adjustable truss rod
Single-bound ebony fingerboard with with centred pearl dot inlay. Nickel plated strip tuners with plastic buttons. Ebony bridge, metal Levin truss rod cover, natural finish and ten year warranty

Marketed by U.K. distributors as Super Goliath Model 1855

Levin LT-18

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1963 Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden in 1963

2016 might have been the worst year ever when it comes to good musicians dying, last out was Leonard Cohen who meant so much for me in my late teens. Having said that, 2016 has also been the most amazing year ever when it comes to me getting my hands on some mighty fine Levin guitars. I’ve been trying to find another Goliath sized Levin for the past 3 years without much luck, except for the lovely 1968 Levin LT-18 that I found a couple of weeks ago. The full sized Levin guitars don’t come up for sale that often, especially not in Sweden or Germany where people seem to keep them until they die. The 1966 Goya T-18 that I bought back in 2013, which started my obsession with the Levin brand, was imported from USA and they seem to be quite rare there too. I have seen a couple on eBay in the UK but the sellers always want £1000 for them which for me as a Swedish collector is way too much. I was raised with this brand, my first guitar was a Levin and even though they might be worth what they deserve in the rest of Europe, the cheaper models can still be found on yard sales in Sweden for close to nothing. We have to remember that Levin had produced 500,000 guitars by 1970, something that C. F. Martin & Co completed in 1990, so there are still quite a few lying around in peoples attics in Sweden. I must have done something right lately because I’ve been very lucky when it comes to guitars, both these Levin LT-18 was actually offered to me, the sellers had seen my blog and contacted me to see if I was interested in buying them and of course I was. You feel a bit honoured too, when someone offers you a guitar because they know you will restore it, take care of it, play it and cherish it for years to come. This 1963 Levin LT-18 has spent it’s life in Ireland and came to me from a guy called Fintan. It has had some repair work done to it, apparently by a luthier in Dublin about 10 years ago. The pickguard was replaced and a new bridge was cut and for some reason screwed down to the top, madness if you ask me. I just adjusted the neck a bit, cleaned it up and it was ready to go. The guitar sounds pretty damn amazing, not as strong in the mid-range as the 1968 Levin LT-18, especially not after I changed the bridge to ebony, but the highs are great with really nice overtones.

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1963
Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1963

Levin LT-18 / Goya T-18
Goliath size: Body width: 400 mm, body length: 505 mm, body depth: 95/120 mm
Fingerboard width: 43 mm, scale length: 630 mm
Spruce top, flame maple back and sides, 4-ply bound top, single-bound back
Mahogany bolt-on neck with adjustable truss rod
Single-bound ebony fingerboard with bass side pearloid block inlay
Nickel plated individual Van Gent tuners with metal buttons
Ebony bridge, natural finish and ten year warranty

Marketed by U.K. distributors as Super Goliath Model 1855

Levin LT-18

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968
Levin LT-18, Made in Sweden in 1968

I’ve tried my best not to buy more guitars, hence why I’m selling most of my Japanese acoustics. Having said that, if a Levin LT-18 shows up on eBay and the seller contacts me via email, after a couple of shamefully low best offers from my part, and I happen to lie at home with pneumonia, it was just impossible to resist. I’m so weak for these top of the line Levin flat tops from the 1960’s, they sound amazing and they are pretty rare to find, people tend to cling on to them until they die, and then their kids will sell them. It’s also quite rare to see a Levin branded LT-18 for sale, I already have a Goya T-18 which is the same guitar but branded Goya for the US market and they tend to be a bit easier to come across. I always prefer early to mid 1960’s Levin guitars, before they opened the new factory in Lessebo in 1965, having said that, most of my Levin guitars are actually from 1965-1966 and they sound pretty damn amazing. This one from 1968 is pushing it a bit, I thought it was from 1967 until I got it home and could check the serial number properly. The problem after 1967 is the new invention of Levin, the individual height adjustable plastic saddles, I hate them. I will have to carve a new bridge in ebony, to match the fretboard, and cut a slot for a real bone saddle.

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968
Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968
Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968

Levin LT-18 / Goya T-18
Goliath size: Body width: 400 mm, body length: 505 mm, body depth: 95/120 mm
Fingerboard width: 43 mm, scale length: 630 mm
Spruce top, flame maple back and sides, 4-ply bound top, single-bound back
Mahogany bolt-on neck with adjustable truss rod
Single-bound ebony fingerboard with bass side pearloid block inlay
Nickel plated individual Van Gent tuners with metal buttons
Ebony bridge, natural finish and ten year warranty

Marketed by U.K. distributors as Super Goliath Model 1855

Levin LT-18 Made in Sweden 1968There were two things that I couldn’t stand with this Levin, first the lack of lacquer on the back of the neck, and then the rosewood bridge with the individual height adjustable plastic saddles. I’m not sure how they managed to loose most of the lacquer on the back of the neck but that was easily filled in with a couple of layers of Nitrocellulose lacquer. The second part, with the rosewood bridge and the plastic saddles is something we are going to have to deal with. The sound is not terrible with the plastic saddles, it ads a kind of 1960’s Gibson bass to it but it lacks a lot of clarity in the trebles and I always prefer a bone saddle. I also don’t like the look of a rosewood bridge to a ebony fretboard, they should match. I will try to carve a new bridge in ebony as soon as I get time.  

the-big-three-at-the-cavern-decca
This Levin LT-18 was apparently owned by Brian Griffiths from The Big Three, a Liverpool band that was active during the days of The Beatles. However, since the guitar was made in 1968 he must have bought it long after the Liverpool glory days were over.

Here is the guitar in action when we played at the Cavern in Terrassa last weekend

Goya T-18

Levin Goya T-18 1966
My beloved Goya T-18, made in Sweden by Levin in 1966

When my Goya T-18 arrived from the US back in September I didn’t really know where to start. It had an amazing tone, actually every time I pick it up I think it’s my best sounding guitar, but it needed work. The action was way too high, there was three deep really annoying dents on the back of the neck and the pickguard was loose. Last weekend I actually got to work on all three problems and I managed to get my Goya up and running and now I struggle to put it down.

Levin Goya T-18 Made in Sweden 1966

Levin LT-18 / Goya T-18
Goliath size: Body width: 400 mm, body length: 505 mm, body depth: 95/120 mm
Fingerboard width: 43 mm, scale length: 630 mm
Spruce top, flame maple back and sides, 4-ply bound top, single-bound back
Mahogany bolt-on neck with adjustable truss rod
Single-bound ebony fingerboard with bass side pearloid block inlay
Nickel plated individual Van Gent tuners with metal buttons
Ebony bridge, natural finish and ten year warranty

Marketed by U.K. distributors as Super Goliath Model 1855

Goya T-18 1966 / Levin LT-18
First I had to try to fix the three deep dents in the back of the neck. Since they went through the original finish down to the wood I actually added some water first to let the mahogany swell a bit and that way make them less deep. After a couple of days I added the first layer of Nitrocellulose lacquer with a toothpick, just one drop at the time. I had to repeat the process quite a few times to get it even, the lacquer sinks when it dries. Next step was to get rid of the edges with a razor, like mentioned in my previous post, and then sand it even. I used 400, 800, 1500, 2000 and 2500 grit and then added a layer of  Carnauba wax and a lot of elbow grease and then buffed it up with a fine microfiber cloth. I guess because of the thickness of the original finish my repair blended in really well and it’s even hard to notice.

Goya T-18 1966 / Levin LT-18
The pickguard was loose so I decided to remove it completely and then glue it back again. I cleaned off the old glue with a razor blade and made sure that both the top of the guitar and the back of the pickguard was smooth and even before I glued it back with my trusty old fish glue. I added some pressure with a clamp, I had a little block of wood on the inside and half a wine cork on the outside for not ruining the finish.

Goya T-18 1966 / Levin LT-18
The main thing that was needed on this Goya T-18 was a neck reset to get the action down. I was pretty worried about this and that’s why I have put it off for so long. I have never done anything like this before and I wasn’t even sure what I could use to loosen the two bolts on the inside, these Levin / Goya guitars have used a combination of glue and the Levin bolt-on neck system since the early Sixties. It turned out that a normal Philips screwdriver no 2 fitted perfectly, they are square in the base of the tip. Once the bolts were off I tried to remove the neck completely but without any luck, well the heel came loose straight away but not the fretboard. I tried with heat, steam and all sorts of magic but it didn’t budge and since I didn’t want to do anything too drastic and ruin the guitar I left it. Then I read on a Swedish guitar forum that you could leave the neck on and just lift the heel, get a bit of sandpaper in under, add some pressure and then pull. That way you would get some material of the heel off without removing the neck completely. The guy in the forum mentioned that he had done 40 pulls on both the left and the right side so I did 30 on each to be on the safe side. I fastened the bolts and strung the guitar up again and it worked, it actually worked really well. I played it for a couple of days and then decided to sand off a bit more, so I loosened the neck again and did another 15 pulls on each side and now it’s perfect. Crazy Swedes, coming up with such a quick and easy way of resetting a neck on an acoustic guitar. Thank you Levin for thinking of me 47 years down the line.

Levin / Goya catalogue 1965Levin / Goya catalogue 1965
The Goya T-18 was top of the line back in 1965 and cost $219.50 new, I wish they still cost that.

How to… Repair lacquer damage

I really like worn guitars, well it’s hard to avoid when most of my guitars are 30-40 years old, the oldest guitar I got is my little Levin from 1942. However, there is one thing that I can’t stand, marks and dents on the back of the neck. Some little imperfection that you feel every time you move you hand up and down the neck. I’m not sure if it’s related to my slight OCD but it annoys me so much that I tend not to play any of my guitars that doesn’t have perfect smooth necks. The worst used to be my Greco Les Paul, it had a dent in the neck and I complained so much when I bought that I actually got it cheaper. When I received my Goya T-18 and my Morris W-40 and realised that they both had really bad marks on the back of the neck I just wanted to cry. Then I thought about it and came to the conclusion that I can’t be the only one that has issues with this, so I checked some Youtube videos to learn how to fix it and then ordered everything I needed. It’s actually really easy to fix yourself, well as soon as you find good lacquer and sandpaper with a grit fine enough, that turned out to be impossible around here. I managed to find a eBay seller that sold Nitrocellulose lacquer fairly cheap and was willing to ship to Spain. The sandpaper I had to order from China, I couldn’t find anything finer than 800 in Barcelona. After a months waiting and some feeble practice runs on less loved guitars I was finally ready to try to fix all dents, marks and imperfections on the back of my guitar necks. It went really well, or as well as it could with just 2500 grit, ideally I would have liked to have something much finer for really getting the shine back, especially on flat surfaces like bodies, the necks looked pretty good anyway.

Repairing lacquer damage on guitar
Before I started on any necks I decided to practice on the fairly roadworn body of my old Claescaster. The sandpaper I ordered from eBay came in 1500, 2000, 2500 grit and actually turned out to be made in Japan. I cut wine corks in half and glued sandpaper strips to them to get a straight sanding surface, remember to mark the grit on them otherwise it gets a bit confusing. Next step, apply the lacquer. It dries pretty fast, about 10 min, which is good because you normally need to apply lacquer more than once to really fill the dents. When it’s dry just cut off the access with a razor blade until the surface feels smooth. It’s good to tape around the blade, not only to avoid cutting yourself, but also to not scratch the surrounding surfaces.

Repairing lacquer damage on guitar
Remember to dip the sandpaper in water before you start sanding, you can really feel the difference especially with the finer grits. I used 400, 800, 1500, 2000 and 2500 grit on my little wine cork sanding blocks. I would have loved to have something even finer. I tried everything I could think of that could have a bit of sanding effect but was finer than 2500 grit. Pencil eraser, sponges, different cloths, in the end I rubbed really hard with metal polish which seemed to work a bit. As a last step I applied a bit of Carnauba wax and a lot of elbow grease and then buffed it up with a fine microfiber cloth.

Repairing lacquer damage on guitar
This is the back of the neck of my Morris W-40. The seller didn’t even bother to mention that it had deep cuts in the neck. This took quite a few fills with lacquer to even out the dents but in the end it worked pretty well. You can still see a slight colour change but you can’t feel the dents, which was the main thing for me. The last photo is not of the final polished result, it’s in the middle of sanding, I forgot to take a picture when I was done. I’m very happy with the result on all of the guitar necks I tried to fix. It was also a lot easier to get the sanding smooth and unnoticeable on the back of a neck compared to a guitar body.