GG198, Levin in oak from 1910

I had a visit from Luxembourg in the shop for five days. Chris Garland is a guitar builder that I have been in contact with for several years, among other things he made a replica of the old Levin mandolin guitar from 1901 that I restored. He got some calcifications of the body shape and other detailed measurements. Here is his YouTube channel. Here is his YouTube channel.

Unlike previous apprentices, he was not interested in a finished GammelGura, but rather the whole process. In five days you don't have time to do everything from start to finish. What he was most interested in, the nut intonation, we did on a GammelGura that was half finished. But what happens at the beginning is also interesting, I checked my queue, but the ones in line were not easy projects, so I had to pick out one of my own wrecks - a 1910 Levin parlor (serial number 12222!) in perfectly OK condition.

It is also a very special Levin, it has sides and bottom in oak! I bought it for a thousand SEK on the shop from a customer who would rather sell it than spend on a renovation. These are very rare, I think I've only seen one other Levin with oak bottom and side pictured. In old Levin catalogs a more expensive model, model 105 1/2 1902 and model 22 in later catalogs, is listed with "American flamed oak". This one was painted on top of the oak, the paint has faded some over the years. I think they reused unused material in the regular production, with the painting on top it doesn't really matter what kind of wood it is behind... An exciting Levin!

What I wanted to show was the manufacture of the braces, the spruce bridgeplate, the plugs and the segmented saddle. I worked overtime and took it apart myself, but took some pictures of that process (which is not very exciting for someone who has renovated before).

Nowadays I always use an infrared heat lamp to loosen the bridge, anything you can do to avoid pulling loose fibers from the top under the bridge is worth spending time on. No heat passes through the aluminum foil, only the bridge itself is heated. With a thin tin spatula dipped in water, it worked well to loosen the bridge.

The fretboard was loosened in the usual way with two Philips travel irons. They are flat and nice and can be clamed into place. The sharpened side of a spatula follows the joint nicely, a syringe with water makes it easier to loosen the hot hide glue.

An oak bottom is unusual. Both the bottom and top were 3,5 mm thick. I have to sacrifice the burn mark on the bottom (there is no doubt that it is a Levin) to be able to thin both the top and the bottom to just under 3 mm. Everything to make it sound as good as it can.

The Levinen had some repairs with carpenter's glue, the glue is annoying but not impossible to get loose if you wet the glue properly. I wet the paper towel and put it on top of the glue for about a quarter of an hour. The glue becomes white and like tough chewing gum and you can see what needs to be removed. There was a puncture wound in the side that was well repaired and a perfectly OK repair at the sound hole. One of the tuners had been replaced. The soft walnut fingerboard had deep playing pits, the neck had pits on the back from a medieval capo.

The pyramid bridge in black painted maple/birch was replaced with the finest rosewood. The wood in the original bridge on these Levin parlors are too soft for a bone saddle in a saddle ditch, even with a perfect fit you get a gap in the saddle ditch behind the saddle with tensioned strings. The fretboard was also replaced (Madagascar rosewood) to be able to give the fretboard a playable 16′ radius.

The deep wounds from the capo on the back of the neck were filled with tough No. 30 Superglue from Stewmac. In principle, the pits are filled with transparent plastic. If you succeed well, you won't see much of a difference, but the surface feels flat to your fingers. You cannot speed up the glue, it must air dry overnight. As the glue sinks together, you may need several rounds before the pits are completely filled (the glue also wants to flow away). You have to work for a few hours with a sharp knife, razor blade, file and sandpaper to remove the excess. I usually wait a couple of days before leveling so that the glue has time to harden properly.

New braces were made in the usual way and the bottom was glued in my bottom gluing jig.

After measuring and manufacturing an intoned nut, one step remains, that is to intonate the saddle according to the measurements and with the help of a standard intonation at the 12th fret. With a round diamond needle file I get a good start, after that I use the thickest nut file intended for basses to file to the intonation point on the top of the saddle bone. I mark the measured intonation point on one side of the string and the actual intonation point given by an extra thin 0,02 mm feeler gauge on the other side. The feeler gauge is pushed under the string from the front to the point where the string leaves the top of the saddle. Using the markings and the standard 12th fret intonation and a stoboscope tuner, I can slowly file under the string until I reach the intonation point. It is especially important that the thin unspun strings rest on a small surface at the top of the saddle, otherwise you will have a buzz.

This Levin is now my playing guitar. Oak has a bad reputation as an instrument wood, but this one sounds very good with high volume. Very little wolf tone (which is always present more or less), but also extremely long sustain. In addition, there is a nice overtone coming at the end of the sustain that I have not heard before! Oak is hard and doesn't dampen as much as birch/maple, maybe the fact that the oak is over 100 years old helps it sound good. Definitely a positive surprise, I must say. The autumn leaves are almost prettier than the guitar!


Danish "Swedish lute"

I start by reporting the latest renovation (not an Old Gura), a Swedish lute built by the Dane Peder Stochholm in 1906. I found some facts and pictures of him in the book "Danish guitars - and their builders" by Kenneth Brögger.

The last paragraph was grim: "Despite the wide recognition he enjoyed, the quality of his work and his large output, like most other musical instrument makers, Peder Stochholm struggled with power all his life".

So, what is a "Swedish lute"? Wikipedia has the answer:

"The Swedish lute is a lute that was first developed from a cistern by the instrument builder Mathias Petter Kraft in the second half of the 1700th century. The instrument has a theorized neck with several exposed bass strings. The modern Swedish lute usually has 6 strings across the fingerboard and 4 or more free basses.”

It resembles a harp guitar, but the Swedish lute has a curved neck and drop-shaped body with a round bottom. The six strings are tuned like a regular guitar.

This lute had unusually few bass strings, only three. The bridge had been replaced, and the sound hole decoration had been loosened, probably to be able to glue cracks in the top. The "ship" itself, the round bottom, was in good condition, the top had several cracks and the string height was high. The neck, probably walnut, was also in good condition and the tuning screws were also of good quality. An odd detail was that the ebony fingerboard had a thick oak shim glued between the fingerboard and the neck. I thought it was a later addition, but it is supposed to be original.

The binding was as wide as the top was thick, so it was not difficult to detach the top from the round bottom. The replaced bridge was a "string through" bridge, but the original had string pins as the holes in the top showed. The ribbing in the top was a bit special with a latticework of thin and carelessly carved ribs. One of the ribs had three mysterious holes as well. No bridge plate.

To deal with the round bottom I made a special jig, but later realized I needed to do something more practical and general, it's not often I have round bottom instruments, but it happens.


The top was deformed, so the first step was to moisten the top and put it under pressure overnight to flatten it. The cracks were then glued with hot hide glue.

I wasn't impressed with the original ribbing, but tried to replicate it with a custom variation of my standard ribbing with a spruce bridgeplate and A-frame around the sound hole. An extra thin spruce patch reinforced the top on the side with the bass strings. The replaced bridge was replaced with a rosewood peg bridge in the style of a bridge in one of the pictures in the book, but which may not have been original. Perhaps, or most likely, the original bridge on this one was not rectangular but some type of a mustache stall, but the wound in the top from the replaced bridge had to be covered.

The fretboard was loosened and a carbon fiber rod milled in. There was talk of stringing it with steel strings and then it is always good to have a stiffer neck. It ended up getting nylon strings.

The neck was glued and secured with a screw in a tongue through the neck block. By loosening the screw, soaking loose the glue around the tongue, and driving a wedge of maple under it, I was able to bend back the neck angle. A new way to reset a neck! It worked well. Household plastic protected the label from water.

When I measured for intonation, I realized I had a problem. Presumably the original bridge had a long fret right at the front edge of the bridge, while the replaced bridge had a saddle placed about 3 mm further into the bridge. The replaced bridge had never intoned well, with the saddle 3 mm too far back. My problem was that I don't want to move either the bridge or the fingerboard, the bridge has to hide the wound in the top and the trapezoidal shape of the fingerboard would result in an edge to the neck if it were to be moved 3 mm closer to the bridge (and the saddle would be 3 mm thicker). My solution was to fill in the old fret slots with glued ebony sticks and saw new fret slots 3 mm further down the fingerboard. Even the mother-of-pearl decorations had to be moved, a drying crack was filled with superglue. A triangular ebony shim under the fretboard was glued in after the neck reset.

To simplify life and avoid making a new jig for each round-bottomed instrument, and to be able to glue the top back on the round bottom, I made new cauls for my bottom-gluing jig with some hardware from Jula. The special plate angle is one fence fittings which had an extra hole drilled. The white round things are rubber plastic furniture feet.


The fence fitting can be turned to the right angle. The screw to the plate through the angle on the inner side is not fully tightened, which allows you to slide the caul in or out a few cm (the outer screw is tightened tightly). The hooks are attachment points for elastic "rubber bands", halved inner tubes for a bicycle.

I made 10 of these cauls, but realized I needed more attachment points for the inner tubes - now I have 15 more next time. I also used straps around the table to hold the top in place.

After the first fitting, I could tell that the top had to be made wider to fit. The "ship" was stable and solidly built, and the shape of the edge could not be changed. The binding around the top was made of three thin birch/maple strips. I added a fourth on the outside, all around. The white wood was conjured away with the miracle chemical potassium permanganate.

The top was then glued with hot hide glue mixed with 10% urea to extend the opening time. With the help of inner hoses and straps, I was able to seal all the cracks. I cheated with some pieces of tape too (needed more cauls).

The cauls came in handy when the frets had to be mounted. The hook can be unscrewed if it is in the way.

The position of the saddle was measured, and two saddles were fitted and intoned. The nylon bass strings were intended for an acoustic bass. As ordered, the string height was 3 mm on the bass side and 2,8 mm on the treble side at the 12th fret. The end plug was missing, so I fitted a leftover matching end plug from previous renovations. The decoration was glued in with fish glue. The top received a coat of spirit varnish.

After vibrating, it sounds like a classical guitar with a little extra string reverb. A guitar band is a must!

New in the apartment

I haven't been diligent about posting on the blog lately. The time I usually use to write new posts has been used to renovate the apartment and build an ambitious recording room. In the meantime, four pieces of GammelGura have also been completed and several repairs have been made in the shop. In addition, I had a visit from an "apprentice" from Luxembourg for five days. I will try to catch up and write a report for all finished GammelGura.

In the apartment, the bedroom has been renovated, including a "parlor closet" with space for 32 "wrecks". In addition, a shelf with smart boxes and suitable plastic trays to store everything possible that I have collected over the years. A new, nicer bed wasn't wrong either!

Two space-saving racks have been made to store guitars (and cases) that are in the GammelGura queue as well as some of my own.

I have put in most work in my recording room. A corner of the living room was cleared on "jox" to make room. In principle, it is a small separate room in the room. Heavy studs, plasterboard, acoustic tiles and mineral wool have been used to build a soundproof room without disturbing room reverb for recording demos. A fan and bass traps in the corners were fitted in the room as well. On the side, sorting through my old songs, I have found 358 tunes so far! Half of them are to bad to be recorded, but the rest should be recorded as demos.

The room will be able to be used to record new GammelGura when the room is ready. The sound-proof door and wallpapering on the outside and a few other bits and bobs are what remains before the room is ready for use.

I will return with reports on the four completed GammelGura that have not yet been reported.

News in the shop

Better order to attach the frets

I flipped through the latest American Lutherie without finding much of interest. But I got hooked on a little interesting tip. Harry Fleishman described a different order of attaching the frets to the fretboard, not in the natural order from frets 1 to 18, but more like the nuts on a car wheel. You start with the first and last fret, then the middle fret and so on. He wrote that with this method you got less "back bow", i.e. convex curvature of the neck. He couldn't explain why, but that it worked.

Just that extra convex curvature on the neck after fretting is a problem if, like me, you don't use a truss rod. I grind in a relief (concave) curvature of 0.15 mm in the fretboard, but when I then string on it can be a completely straight neck in the worst case. Then I have to grind more on the frets in the middle to get my relief of 0.15 mm back. This is especially true when it is a hard ebony board.

Since I have a pile of replaced fretboards, it wasn't too difficult for me to test the new method. But it took almost a whole day anyway... I chose a soft walnut fretboard and a hard ebony fretboard of roughly the same size. A piece of quarter-sawn spruce, about 13 mm thick, served as a substitute for the neck. The fretboards were temporarily attached with wide masking tape to both the underside of the fretboard and the "neck", which were then glued with superglue. This made it possible to replace the fretboard on the same "neck".

The "neck" and the two flat fretboards, about 4,8 mm thick, were sanded smooth with my drum sander. The fret cuts in the old fingerboards were sawed up to a depth about 0,2 mm deeper than the tang of the frets. I used leftover brass frets (nowadays I use EVO frets) with an unusually thick tang, the little diamonds (barbs) that hold the frets are 0,85 mm wide while the tang itself is the standard 0,6 mm thickness.

I tried the walnut fretboard first. Without any frets, the "neck" with a glued fingerboard had a back bow of 0,05 mm in the middle - not completely flat. All back bow measurements were adjusted with that measurement. To measure the back bow, I use two 1,5 mm thick feeler gauges together at both ends of the fingerboard so that the frets which are 1 mm high are not in the way. On top of the feeler gauges, I then put a straight ruler and the back bow was measured with feeler gauges in the middle when all the frets were mounted.

I started with the soft walnut fretboard and strung on in the usual order, 1 to 18. Back bow turned out to be 0,15 mm. Then the frets were loosened and mounted in the order like the nuts on a car wheel. When the frets were installed the second time, I fitted the barbs onto the frets, so they ended up on fresh wood in the fret groove between the old scars from the previous fret barbs. This time the back bow was 0,1 mm. A small improvement.

With the ebony fingerboard, I changed the order to make sure the two frettings on the same board were equal. First, the frets were put on in the order of the nuts on a car wheel. I got 0,1 mm back bow. The stiff ebony board needed to be clamped at the ends as I noticed that the tape and glue was a bit loose at one end, but it doesn't affect the result. When I then fretted in the usual way, the back bow was a full 0,3 mm!

Although my experiment could be done more seriously and thoroughly, my conclusion is that the order in which the frets are mounted actually matters. The reason why can be as simple as distributing the tension applied to the surface of the fingerboard more evenly.

Another possible reason is that an open fret slot next to the fret being fitted is compressed a little, while a filled in fret slot cannot be compressed and the fretboard and neck instead bend a little. With the usual 1-18 method, all the new frets after the first one will then bend the fingerboard between the fitted and previous frets. It can be seen as a wave sweeping down the fingerboard, leaving behind an increasingly curved fingerboard and neck.

I will use this alternate order to mount the frets in the future.

A "walker" for the wooden clamps

Wooden clamps are wonderful, they are light, reach far, and I mostly use them to make a "clamping table" with the guitar body or a wooden plate. A disadvantage is that when you tighten the clamp, the upper jaw of the clamp moves about 1 mm due to Pythagoras' theorem and the construction of the clamp. It happens that this small movement makes a difference and bends or moves what you want to glue. To avoid that effect, I bought a number of metal sleeves that can roll on top of the caul and counteract the movement. A hole in the sleeve and a wooden peg on the vise make it easy to keep it organized.


Dental filling of too deeply notched nuts

You can buy the same material that dentists use for fillings and build up an nut slot that is too deeply incised. An alternative is superglue and bone dust, but I think this filler is harder. The parts, which can be bought online (e.g. alibaba), consists of a curing lamp which is purchased separately, the filling itself and primer for the filling. It's easy to use, primer and filler are brushed on and the curing light is left on for 20 seconds.

A new backing material to avoid scratching the guitars when working with them

At IKEA there is a material called PASSARP which is intended to cover the bottom of drawers. The material is light and relatively hard and rigid. It is also soft and the guitar slides easily on top of the material. Finally, it has small printed ridges that allow the guitar to rest on only a fraction of the entire surface. It will be used when I have a modern and scratch-sensitive guitar on the workbench, normally new scratches are just a little more patina on the Old Guitars! I usually use my rubber yoga mat which holds the guitar better.

Tube socks for polishing the lacquer

I have done this for a long time, but perhaps not mentioned it. As long as you hold the guitar properly without the thumb with your left hand (for me) it's just a matter of polishing!

Gluing braces through the sound hole

Most of the time, the guitars I restore are taken apart as part of a GammelGura restoration. But sometimes I have to work through the sound hole during regular repairs, the problem is usually that the braces inside are cracked or loosened at the ends. The solution is simple, insert glue and clamp the brace against the top or bottom until the glue hardens. Simple, but not really.

Getting the glue under the brace or in the crack through the sound hole usually works well with a small metal spatula. These can be bought, among other things, from Stewmac in the USA, which has most of what you need for guitar repairs. The most difficult part is gluing the braces deepest inside the guitar through the sound hole. You can use long clamps or small wooden sticks of exactly the right length between the brace and the cover or bottom, but it is usually difficult to get everything in place, and you have to make new sticks that fit the guitar you are repairing. Another method is to use super magnets, but then you have to use powerful magnets that sometimes unexpectedly find their own place in existence... Both methods work, but I wanted to find another and simpler way.

I got the opportunity to test a so-called air wedge in a small Levin where all the three bottom braces were loose at both ends. The wedge is made to, among other things, adjust doors in height during installation. It is a small, airtight and strong bladder with a rubber pump that you can use to inflate the bladder. Without air, it is thin and flexible and can easily be inserted through the sound hole. The one I bought on Amazon is 11 x 18 cm. When inflated, the bladder is about 6 cm thick and according to the advertisement it should be able to lift 200 kg!

The air wedge was completed with an aluminum caul in the form of a U profile and a small adjustable foot to be able to push to the end of the brace, the part that is most important to glue. To give the bladder a large surface to push against, I made a block of wood with a trench where the aluminum profile can be fitted. The block can be made with different thicknesses for guitars with a low or high side, you want to get the distance to the opposite top or bottom less than 6 cm.

The adjustable foot is adjusted to the brace that is most easily accessible through the sound hole, all braces in a guitar usually have the same slope at the ends. Through the holes in the U profile, you can see that it has contact with the top of the brace at the same time that the adjustable foot has contact with the end. Once the foot is adjusted, a nut is used to lock the foot in place. The wooden block can then be clamped onto the U-profile.

The most difficult bottom brace is the one furthest into the guitar, but it's easy to feel your way and thread the caul over the brace in the middle and then slide it into the correct position at the end of the brace. With the caul in place, I simply place the air wedge on top of the wooden block and inflate the bladder via the rubber bladder and tubing long enough to reach out through the soundhole.

But before you pump up and put up to 200 kg on the caul, you must first mount two cauls with clamps on the outside of the guitar to counteract the force from the air wedge, otherwise the guitar will be crushed from the inside!

An advantage of the wedge is that you never have to think about what sits opposite the rib you need to glue. The bladder forms against any opposing ribs in the lid or bottom. I also have pieces of U profile in different lengths without feet at the end if a brace only needs to be glued in the middle or if the brace is short or lacks thinning at the end.


All six gluings in the little Levin went quickly and well. To test it out, I inflated the bladder as much as I could (it has a safety valve in the pump itself) without any problems. I used a third clamp from the outside, right where the wedge was placed inside for safety. It is enough to pump it up until you can see that glue is pushing out from under the brace and that the joint is tight. Which is recommended.

I will use this jig in the future and avoid having to custom-make wooden cauls and work blindly.

Article in American Lutherie #144

It has now been almost a year since I had my article published. There is no problem with posting it on my website as well, but they would prefer that you not do it all at once. I think the editor did a great job with the text and all the pictures! I wish I had gotten more of a response to it, but you can never count on that. The only thing that actually happened after the article was published is that I got a free old American parlor sent home from the USA for the shipping cost! The owner did not want to throw it away, and he had not been able to interest anyone in the USA to take care of it. I plan to write an article about that renovation when I get time.

The article took a year to write, which was lucky. I came up with several new things during that period and for once managed to correct errors and other bloopers before it was published - I'm fast on the keys, and sometimes it goes too fast. I was also helped by David Gill in the USA to proofread the text, I am a native English speaker, but I am not a native speaker after all. My friend Gunnar Säfsten also suggested some things that needed to be fixed, he also took some pictures of me in the shop.

Since the article was written, I have scrapped my small band saw, now I hand saw the segmented saddle at height with a hacksaw - it's safer. When measuring intonation, I use my new mechanical Peterson stroboscope. The braces in the top are now glued in a go-bar against a radius disk with the same bend as the top braces, I need to bend the larger spruce patches two-dimensionally and not just across the top as before. I have skipped the extra, small solid piece of carbon fiber rod in picture 22, it will still be strong enough. I have trimmed down my special intonation tool at the saddle and removed unnecessary metal to make it lighter.

An addition to my theories is that the reason the segmented saddle changes the tone of the guitar is most likely due to the individual bone posts being able to vibrate laterally against the soft wood between the posts. The soft spruce lets other frequencies through than the saddle that way.

Apart from that, the article pretty much describes the methods that I still use.

Big PDF file (16 MB)

Gluing bridge

I am constantly trying to improve my methods. The bridge on an GammelGura made in 2019 had suddenly come loose almost completely, and I had reason to think a bit about how to make the gluing of the bridge better. That the bridge came loose from the string pull was due to two things. The bridge was original and not a new replica, it was narrow and rather weak with airy carvings at both ends. The bridge had also come loose and re-glued earlier, which had torn the top under the bridge. To repair it, I milled a shim under the bridge, but it had finally come loose in the glue joint against the bridgeplate in spruce when the small surface of the bridge that was glued to the top had come loose at the back.

To begin with, I reviewed my way of using hot hide glue. After a chat with Per Marklund, I was verified that he used a thinner mixture of the hot hide glue than the one I usually use, I had started to think in those paths myself. The advantage of this is that the glue becomes thinner and can penetrate deeper into the wood. Now I make the standard glue a little thinner and have also filled a small plastic bottle next to the glass jar in the heater where I dilute that mixture with half water to a very thin glue. When I glue, I wet the wood first with the thin mixture in a few rounds, then on with the standard hot hide glue. When I tested this on a fretboard, you could see that the thin glue was pulled into the wood, it quickly became dry spots here and there. The same thing happened with the underside of the bridge. I think the joint will be stronger that way.

After some thought, I realized that the best solution to repair the top under the bridge is to make a hole in the top where the top damaged. The hole is then filled with a thick piece of spruce that both fills the hole and acts as a bridgeplate on the inside. The spruce that replaces the hole in the damaged top cannot come loose, as the same piece of spruce is glued on the inside as a bridgeplate. In my case, it is very simple, as the middle of my cross-shaped bridgeplate is as made for the purpose. I had a few pieces of extra thick 8 mm spruce top blank that I could test with. I'm lucky to have friends with spruce logs and band saws!

I used one of my ongoing GammelGura tests of the new methods. Also on this one, the bridge was ornate and the bridge had come loose and been re-glued. Unlike the previous GammelGuran, I made a replica bridge in fresh rosewood, on the one that the bridge came off, the bridge was made of softer fruit-wood. There was a lot of damage in the top under the bridge, in addition to two rows of stringpin holes and screw holes.

The bad area was marked out and a hole was cut. The hole should be made as small as possible and always smaller than the bridge on top, what was left of the top under the bridge was not completely flawless, but completely OK.

The middle part of my cross-shaped bridgeplate was formed in 8 mm thick spruce. When placed in place on the inside of the top, it was easy to mark the hole with a sharp pencil.

The excess spruce around the marking was milled down about 3,5 mm (a little more than the thickness of the top) in my simple little milling jig. The spruce is attached with the masking tape & superglue method to the workbench, which works as a double-sided adhesive tape.

This is how the combined bridgeplate and puzzle piece that will fill the hole in the top became. After a bit of polishing, I was able to get a good fit in the hole. This construction makes it impossible for the "shim" under the bridge to come loose!

The spruce slab was leveled against the top with a small, handy aluminum profile with self-adhesive sandpaper.

Inside, the cross-shaped bridgeplate was formed with its two wings, all three pieces were then glued with my new method with hot hide glue.

When I glue, I make sure to tighten properly with strong clamps! I have also started using greaseproof paper as often as plastic wrap as a release agent. The advantage of the greaseproof paper is that it can be reused and that it is more stable than the thin plastic that can sometimes be squeezed into a joint by mistake. Greaseproof paper also lets moisture through, and the warm hot hide glue dries faster.

After gluing, a final leveling was done by scraping with a backed razor blade.

Here we see the bridgeplate at a later stage, where plugs and rounds in bubinga have been glued in.

In the future, I will spend more time getting loose bridges without damaging the top, it is one of the most important details when disassembling the guitar, I have realized. My heat lamp should be allowed to heat the bridge and the glue properly before I start to loosen, it takes a little longer, but it's worth it. On the guitar where the top is already damaged under the bridge, I will use the method I describe here for the best possible durability.

Ongoing batch

After many regular but time-consuming repairs, I have only worked with the ongoing batch this week. I had already milled carbon fiber rods in all five instruments and glued all the bottom braces. This week, all tops got their braces, the bodies have had cracks glued and repairs done. The top braces are not completely ready, they must be shaped and polished for the best sound as well. The harp guitar needs a bunch of cleats and the neck heel a round rod in birch.

Now that I have basically come halfway, I will choose two at a time to finish and put the most work on one. During certain steps, such as when the bottom is glued or the guitar is varnished, it is good to have a second instrument to work on.

I never took any pictures of the original guitars this time, but here are pictures of the current situation. Two Europeans, two Levins and a harp guitar. Klangolan got an X-bracing, the harp guitar a special ladder bracing.


An advanced repair that I could not refuse was a very special Guitarra, a Portuguese instrument with 12 strings with tuning screws that resembles a medieval torture instrument. I had seen these in the picture and was curious about how and why they work.

It came in a coffin case that was large enough for the instrument, but which was not in the best condition. Fortunately, the guitarra itself was in better condition than the case. After an inspection, I could see that one of the 12 tuning screws did not work. They had tried to fix it, but put a short tuning screw instead of a long one, which meant that three tuning screws could not be used, the wrong short tuning screw was removed. The bottom had two solid cracks in the fine rosewood wood. The top also had a crack, but it was repaired in a perfectly OK way. The rim and neck were whole. The bar frets were not in the best condition. The nut had been tampered with, there were 20 (!) string notches. The bridge, which is probably original, however, had 12 string notches in four pairs, if I remember correctly. The "saddle", in the form of a long bar fret in brass, may have been replaced. The biggest problem in addition to cracks and loose braces, however, was that the top had sunk in at the sound hole and the thick fingerboard in fine rosewood dipped down on the top.

The guitar had a large label inside with the text:

João Miguel Andrade
Corda Instrument Manufacture and Armazem
Guitars, Brilliant Violas, Cavacos
Rua nova de Trinidade
Sole Agents for Great Britain and Colonies
Alban Voigt & Co.,
14, Edmund Place, LONDON, EC

"Fabrica e Armazem de Instrumentos de Corda" means factory (or manufacturer) of instruments and strings. "Guitarras, Violas braguezas, Cavacos" are Portuguese guitars in the style of Braga and probably cavaquinhos. "Rua da Trinidade" is Trinidad Street.

In addition, there were some notes on the label, probably made by the previous renovator.

Online I found a similar one but more lavish guitar with the text:

“I believe this guitarra is from the 1890's because of the book, A Complete Method for Portuguese Guitarra by Havelock Mason, which was supposedly published in 1892 or 1895. This method book was published by the importer of this guitarra, Alban Voigt & Company, at a time when the Portuguese guitar was popular in Britain. The tuning used in this book (gG, bB, dD, gg, bb, dd) was called the natural tuning in 19th century Portugal – as opposd to the fado tuning (dD, aA, bB, ee, aa, bb). It is a tuning which adapted the 10-string 6-course English Guitar tuning to the 12-string 6-course Portuguese guitarra. This method is a basic instruction book which also contains a few fados as well as a polka, a bolero and a romanza. ”

One can assume that this one is also made in the 1890s, bare frets is a tell that it is old. Virtually all manufacturers, except Martin, who used bar frets into the 1930s, switched to the T frets in the years before 1900. The T frets (T stands for "tang") with "barbs" were patented per se by Clinton F Smith first in 1929 in the US, but I have only seen bar frets on 1800th century guitars.

The tricky tuning screws are actually an invention that was originally used on English citterns. They are called, among other things Preston Tuners. There is evidence for similar tuning screws as early as 1766, they have also been used on the German waldcitter, but are now only used on the Portuguese fado instruments. You can still buy similar instruments and tuning screws, including on FolkReps site. One thing you need is a special tool to make loops at both ends of the strings. Luckily I already had one that I bought many years ago from FolkReps. You can also buy new Preston tuning screws of the same type. I also modified a clock key to save my fingertips and ease the tuning.

Well. This is not a regular GammelGura renovation, it would just be playable again. The customer wants to test a different tuning with five double strings tuned GCGCG, which meant that there were enough tuning screws for the 10 strings.

The bottom came loose without problems. All braces at the bottom were more or less loose, the hot hide glue does not adhere as well to rosewood as to spruce. In the top, the bracing were fixed as they should be. When the bottom braces were completely loosened, the bottom was in two parts, one of which had an almost continuous crack. The cracks were cleaned and glued together with a long spruce cleat on top. For once, I antiquated the new wood with potassium permanganate, which quickly oxidizes wood and makes the spruce darker and orange-yellow, which matched the center stick. All bottom braces were re-glued with hort hide glue.

All the braces in the top were firmly glued. But the top brace was loosened so that I could wet the top and put the top plus fretboard in pressure for XNUMX hours. It worked well, after pressing the top, it was not as sunken and the fretboard straight. To keep the top in trim, made a new and stronger brace with a curved underside, the tips of that brace were secured with two abutments that were glued to the inside of the rim. In addition, I made an A frame to reinforce the area around the sound hole.

The bar fret was not in good condition, but luckily they were thin. My old Dunlop brass frets, with a little thicker tang, fitted perfectly in the fret grooves. I also checked the location of the frets, and they were in just the right place. The very thick fretboard had an impressive radius. My tool for bending frets to a radius maxed out at about 6″ radius, but the fretboard had about 3″ radius! With a few feeler gauges, I was able to adjust the fretbender so that I got a circular fret string with almost two full circles at 15 cm in diameter, which corresponded to the radius of the board.

The tuning screws were oiled and the bottom was glued back without any problems. With a straight fretboard, the geometry towards the bridge was perfectly OK. I had to shim up the feets of the bridge a couple of mm to adjust the string height correctly. The top also had a radius, it took a few hours to shape the bridge feet against the top. A new bone nut was made, a brass fret notched for five double strings replaced the original saddle fret.

A charming detail was the 11 mini-string pins in bone that sat on the rim at the back as a bracket for the strings' loop. All of them were more or less loose, and I glued them with hot hide glue. The missing "string pin" was made of a piece of bone with the help of my little cordless drill that had to act as a lathe. It took at least an hour to do it. At one point, before I glued them down, I discovered that another one was missing. Unlikely enough, I could find it on the floor, even though I had used with the vacuum cleaner before…

As usual, small pieces of frets were temporarily mounted along the middle of the fretboard and the guitarra was strung up. It was a bit new that each string had to be made before you could string it on. The tool for making loops was not directly of the highest quality, but it was possible to use it. The problem was the thickest spun strings, if I made the loop too tight the string broke. I also managed to cut off the wrong side of the string at the last loop, the string itself and not the abundance! I found another string with the same thickness and was able to string up all 10 strings. The neck was allowed to settle in a couple of days during the vibration session.

With my new Stewmac jig, the guitar was fixed in the position it has with tensioned strings, the temporary band pieces along the middle were loosened and the fretboard was leveled and given a little relief. The board was then banded with Dunlop brass tape. I could not use my usual belt press as I did not have a suitable 3 ″ bracket, I had to work with hammers, super glue and clamps. It went perfectly OK even some of the bands had to be redone as they did not sit properly as they should. The guitar got another pass in the Stewmac jig for crowning and polishing the bands.

The “interesting tuning” made it difficult for me to play it, but my violinist Björn Sohlin was fascinated by it and improvised medieval melodies that matched the appearance of the tuning screws!

The tuning screws worked well, of course it takes a while before the two loops stretch out and the tuning becomes stable. The clock key made the tuning easier, but it was also possible to tune with the fingertips, even if it was harder to do.

The whole instrument, as big as a larger mandolin, was given a couple of rounds of spirit varnish which was then matted down with steel wool. The small format puts a limit to the bass tone, but with this tuning it had a good timbre and long sustain.