GG205 Levin 1915

Lately, I've been busy with a new project, recording demos of most of my approx 400 (!) songs over the years. My home studio is now almost complete, but I also have to assemble a new computer as the old one is not compatible with the new sound card. I've been working as usual in the shop, but haven't taken the time to write about the finished GammelGura's. I have done four that I have not reported yet. There has also been a lot of repair and tuning work done on all sorts of newer and older guitars.

The very latest to be finished was a nice Levin 1915 from my waiting room; number 22. It was in decent condition, the biggest problem was that the flaming birch at the bottom had shrunk and left a big crack along the middle joint. It had a floating bridge with the charming "Mickey Mouse" tailpiece and tuner in good condition. A nice detail was that some of the original paint on the brass plaque on the back of the head remained. The neck was in soft slightly green colored poplar, not birch as in examples after about 1920. For me the poplar neck is better, poplar is too soft for steel strings and most have a bend in the middle, but with a carbon fiber rod, you get a neck that is both stiff and light which usually sounds better than a birch neck. Levin parlor guitars are available with three different deep sides, this one was the thinnest; about 8 cm. Immediately when I felt it, I noticed that it felt promising with long sustain. It turned out that it was also very good when it was finished.

Opening it was not a problem. Inside it looked as they usually do, one of the bottom braces had disappeared on the way. The classic birch stick under the bridge does not enhance the sound, if you remove it the guitar sounds at least twice as good. After several attempts at the beginning of my career, I have concluded that it is not possible to make a floating bridge sound as good as a fixed bridge. Nowadays, it is obvious to convert to a fixed bridge, not least to be able to use plugs and a segmented saddle. It is also much easier to mount a K&K mic with a fixed bridge.

The braces in the top and bottom were removed, the ones at the bottom almost came off by themselves; the ones at the top sat better. The bottom block was split in half and a piece of thin plywood was glued ​​on as reinforcement. The kerfing around the bottom needed to be re-glued in a few places with hot hide glue, a few cracks in the top were also glued. The poplar neck had a carbon fiber rod glued in.

The customer wanted to keep the original tuners if they were good enough. Because the cog with the post is placed above the screw on old tuning screws (up to the early 1920s), even old and slightly loose tuning screws can become tight once the strings are tensioned and the cog is pushed against the screw. These worked almost as well as new after straightening the posts and a round of lubrication. Some of the knobs were a bit loose, which can rattle when playing. A drop of thin superglue in the gap between the knob and the post solved that problem.

The top was slightly deformed in the middle, to make it flatter before gluing the braces, the top was wetted up and pressed overnight. The bottom had shrunk considerably, the crack was too wide to close only with clamps and glue. New wood was needed, either in the form of a center stick or a binding around the bottom. Nowadays, I have concluded that the binding is preferable to a center stick, it is very difficult to smooth a center stick without scratching the paint. The crack in the middle was glued together and when the bottom was then to be glued, I tried not to squeeze the sides together more than a 2 mm thick strip of rosewood could fill the gap all around the rim. In principle, the bottom was widened by 4 mm. A channel for the rosewood binding was milled out when the bottom was glued in place, and the binding was glued with hot hide glue. It also looks much better with a binding than a center stitch in a figured bottom.

The top and bottom were about 0,5 mm too thick, as usual. The inside of the bottom was thinned out in my drum sander using my vacuum jig, while the top had to be planed and sanded on the inside to just under 3 mm. The burn stamp at the bottom had to be sacrificed in that process, on this one there was still a bit of the stamp left as the bottom was thinnest in the middle. The bottom also received a center stick to hold the two halves together.

The walnut fingerboard was changed to a light-colored Madagascar rosewood that gotwas sanded to a 16″ radius; a new pyramid bridge was made in the same wood. The customer wanted to keep the pearl dots on 5, 7, 9. I prefer a clean wood fingerboard myself, but it didn't take long to drill and glue the dots into the new fretboard.

The flamed wood in the bottom and side was a beautiful yellow-green, the picture taken on my work bench when the bottom was glued is most true to reality. In the middle of the darkest winter, it is difficult to take fair pictures of guitars outdoors. The G-string at the nut intonation needed the most correction, and the A-string the least. About 1 mm of the fingerboard was cut off at the nut. The intonation points in the saddle also varied a lot, the saddle had to be about 4,5 mm thick to reach all the intonation points.

It was strung with Newtone Heritage 0.12 strings and allowed to vibrate for three days. It turned out very well with high volume and long sustain; the typical GammelGura sound 🙂 I rarely have problems with wolf tones in my GammelGura nowadays, it's always there of course, but not so dominant that you react to it. I think the segmented saddle spreads the frequencies from the strings so that they don't all end up in the same place as the body's resonant tone for a particular note on the fretboard, which either enhances or kills the tone. It turned out very well!

GG206 A Levin 124 from 1959

It is rare that I do a GammelGura on such a modern guitar as a Levin 124 from 1959. Also, a small "school guitar" with a short 59,5 cm open string length. But it's always fun to have a change.

The guitar was in very good condition, a bit high string height, and bad tuning screws were probably what you could complain about. And the sound, of course! The lacquer was almost too perfect, except for the top, which had scratch marks from a plectrum. "Too perfect" because the GammelGura concept means that the bottom and fretboard must be removed and that the nice lacquer over the joints has to be cracked. An egg has to be cracked to make an omelet, so I did what I could with stain and varnish, and the end result was OK.

Unlike the regular old European guitars, this one had a mahogany neck and neck block. I have not experienced such a heavy and hard neck, I think it is made of African mahogany (which is actually a completely different wood) which is both heavy and hard. To my surprise, the fingerboard was in the finest flat-sawn rosewood. The flat fretboard was thick enough to be sanded to a 16-inch radius, the sanding dust smelled like roses and the color was a lovely dark brown. Levin had gotten the production in order in 1959 and the frets were in all the right place, which rarely happens on older Levins.

The original bridge was of the string-trough type like on a classical guitar, in my opinion, these Levin bridges are both ugly and not as good as a pin bridge. Under the yellowed varnish on Levin bridges, there can often be found a beautiful piece of rosewood, but not on this one. I replaced the original bridge with a new pin bridge in the finest rosewood that covered the large wound in the top left of the old bridge. A pyramid bridge had been an anachronism, so it had to be a more modern variant without the pyramids. I have previously made modern bridges with sandpaper cylinders and a simple jig in my drill. Now I have recently bought a "spider-sander" to simplify the job and not to destroy the drill.

Unlike older Levin guitars, this neck had a dove tail joint, a definite improvement. After loosening the fretboard, it was no problem to get the neck off with steam and a fair amount of force.

Since the modern glue took some spruce with it when the bridge was removed, a spruce shim was milled in and glued with fresh hot hide glue. Normally only a few pits need to be filled in, here almost the entire surface under the bridge was a shallow pit. The bridge was placed in the right place and low-adhesive tape marked the surface to be milled. Before gluing the bridge, the outer edge of the spuce inlay was colored with spirit-based stain.

The customer wanted brass-colored frets and gold tuners. The nice EVO Gold frets that I used to use are no longer manufactured, but there is a brass-colored alternative available from Stewmac. Bronze-colored Golden Age tuning screws were fitted at an additional cost.

The top was thin, just under 3mm, while the bottom was thicker and needed to be thinned out. The paper-thin label could be salvaged with a razor blade, water, and heat before the bottom was thinned out in my drum sander. Knowing from experience, I glued the label to a thicker piece of matching beige paper with glue sticks before gluing it back to the bottom; if the thin label is glued directly with hot hide glue, the glue soaks through and darkens the label in spots.

The holes for the string posts were enlarged for the new bushings. All the screw holes were pre-drilled with a 2mm drill so they wouldn't break off in the rock-hard wood.

All the braces in the top and bottom were replaced in the usual order, and a spruce bridge plate and dowels were fitted for the spun strings. The first neck set work is done without the bottom to get the chance to curve the brace under the fretboard more or less to completely avoid or minimize a triangular shim under the fretboard. The rim is shaped towards the bottom to give the neck block the angle it gets with a glued bottom. The brace under the fingerboard is clamped in the ends to push up the top and close the gap between the top and the fretboard.

When gluing the bottom, the rim was pushed in about 1 mm on both sides of the waist to fit against the (always) shrunk bottom. The excess protruding bottom was scrapped with a sharp knife, files, and sandpapers. Much time was spent staining the fresh white wood on the edge of the bottom and also along the edge of the fretboard on the neck. The whole guitar was then given a coat of clear spirit varnish.

Nowadays, I have better luck with the neck angle and I rarely need to redo the neck reset. This one went very well and I got the ideal height of the saddle. To get a straight fretboard with 0,15 mm relief, a small triangular shim was needed under the fretboard over the top.

The nut didn't need much adjustment, except for the thick E string. However, the saddle needed to be a little thicker than usual to be able to reach all the intonation points. The pearl dots in the fretboard were replaced with new ones of the same dimensions, the string pegs now have better-centered dots since I got the little lathe. Mother-of-pearl side dots and a gold-tone guitar strap knob were fitted.

It sounds just as good as a GammelGura should after a few days of vibration, even if the small format gives a little less bass than a larger guitar. The 10 cm high sides give enough volume inside the guitar and the thin top makes it easy to drive. Despite the heavy neck, it feels balanced when you hold it, perhaps because it is so small. It has a nice neck, a small size, and better sound than I expected!

Order on the croft

Spent two days getting my queue in order. In the future I will be more disciplined, at least that is my goal. If there is someone who did not send an e-mail but only spoke by phone or visited the premises and who is not on the list, get in touch!

GG202 European *bling* parlor circa 1910

Some GammelGura have passed the shop without getting their blog posts, but I will try to catch up. One problem is that my memory is unreliable...

This guitar was a little special with extra pearl inlays, but it was also unusually heavily restored. When it was new, it had rosewood in the bottom and sides, but the bottom had been replaced with a new one in mahogany. The bridge had also been replaced with a replica, also made of mahogany. All the inlays were nice, cut out and engraved, not the mother-of-pearl crush that you often see on cheaper parlor guitars. The ebony fingerboard, mahogany neck and great looking tuners also indicate that it was an expensive guitar when it was sold.

During the renovation, I decided that the new back, fingerboard and the fine and well-functioning tuners had to remain. However, I made a new replica of the bridge in rosewood, mahogany is a bit soft. A piece of the top had also been replaced, or at least been refinished, as it was darker. There were also several cracks in the top, the sides and bottom were, however, crack free.

The bottom was taken off with some difficulty, as the soft mahogany and the lacquer on the outside easily cracks along the edge. The cracks that appeared were glued with hot hide glue. The bottom was braced with mahogany braces, they were well-made, so they stayed put. At the bottom was a pencil shift made by the previous renovator. The text was very difficult to read, but I think it says "The guitar repaired in 1975, (New bottom), Erik Algesten, Gunnarskog". In the top there were some cleats and pieces of the kerfing came off when I popped off the bottom.

In normal cases, I usually thin down both the bottom and the inside of the top if they are too thick. The top was thin enough and did not need to be thinned, the bottom had to be as it was because of the signature and the bracing in place. Maybe it was a bit thick for the best sound, though.

The top was braced as usual and all cracks were glued and given a cleat. Since the top had many cracks below the bridge, I also glued in an extra transverse brace behind the spruce bridge plate, nowadays, I skip it if the top is in good condition for the best sound. I had to give the brace under the fingerboard a stronger radius to push up the top, so I didn't have to make a wedge under the fretboard. To anchor the ends of the brace, two reinforcements were glued at the ends to the side. A K&K mic was fitted.

A replica rosewood bridge was made, the neck received a carbon fiber rod and plugs were fitted between the bridge plate and the underside of the bridge, some of the things that are always included in a GammelGura. I was a little fooled by the narrow and thin neck when I milled in the carbon fiber rod and had a knock through, light came in when I inspected the milled groove. Luckily, the hole was narrow and only a few mm. When I looked more closely, I saw that the neck was slowly tapering in thickness and was at its thinnest at the top near the nut. I have seen this neck shape on several similar guitars, probably to make the neck more comfortable to play. Going forward, I will double-check the thickness and neck width before routing the trench for the 1cm high carbon rod!

I didn't get a good tap tone from the top and thinned the braces a little too much in the pursuit of the perfect sound. It later turned out that the bracing was too weak with strings at tension, the top did not feel stable. It all ended with me having to loosen the bottom an extra time and replace the main bracing above the bridge and below the sound hole with stronger and higher ones. It was a valuable lesson, albeit a difficult one, now I know that I cannot make the brace above the bridge lower than 12 mm regardless of tap tone.

As usual, the frets on the fretboard were not quite in the right spot, so the fret slots were filled in, and new slots were sawn in the right place. The fretboard was also given a 16′ radius. When fretting with the last EVO Gold frets (which are now no longer manufactured) I used my new method of fretting the odd bands first and then the even ones or vice versa. You get more room for both the hammer and the clamps, but also a little less backward bending of the neck.

The nut intonation was measured and the nut and a segmented saddle were fabricated and adjusted. The guitar was strung with my standard, Newtone Heritage 0.12. You can also string it up with regular 0.11 strings, which give the same tension on the top and neck.

When the guitar was finished, I could tell that it didn't sound quite as good as a GammelGura usually does. I blame the hard renovation before. The top didn't have the right tap tone, and the bottom was perhaps a little too thick. Ebony in the fingerboard is also not as good as rosewood tonally in my opinion, but there is nothing nicer looking than a black ebony fingerboard. Maybe all the extra *bling* in and around the top was another minus.

But everything is relative, as long as you don't compare it to another GammelGura it actually sounds great! It certainly is pretty 🙂

Making string pins with 4 mm pearl dot

It's been a while since I wrote a post on the blog. There are several reasons, partly because I mostly dealt with repairs that had been left for too long, partly because I spent computer time cleaning up my hard drives and digitizing my cassette tapes. In the meantime, the work has still continued in the shop as usual, and I have two finished GammelGura to present eventually.

The most time-consuming project has been hunting down all the song lyrics I've done over the years. They have existed in about 50 PageMaker and InDesign files since the late 1990s, often as copies and containing hundreds of songs with chords. My mistake is not keeping everything in order over the years and keeping track of the latest version of all texts, which bites me now. In order not to lose anything good, each original file has been saved as a large PDF file with up to 200 pages, which was then split into one file per page/lyrics. The name of the files has since been changed to the date of the original file and the name of the song, each song has then received its own folder. After going through all the original files, each folder has between 5 and 30 versions of the lyrics and the number of folders/songs is just over 400, there are probably a few more to be found. It has taken its time!

My old cassette tapes, about 60 of them, have been digitized, and the large files have been cut up into pieces. Half of the tapes are unfinished ideas or the very first versions of finished songs in little snippets recorded on my little dicta phone. Good ideas have appeared that must become finished songs, but also almost finished forgotten songs. Some very early recordings from the early 1980s as well. Say what you will, the cassette tapes are lousy quality, but they're still around! I'll go through the sea of ​​ideas with nonsense lyrics and traditional chord turns and refine what happens to be good, it's already become a new song from a good melody on the first tape that never got its lyrics.

For the past two weeks I have been floored by a bad cold. Not much was done apart from watching all the TV programs with gold diggers, crab fishermen, auctioneers, finders, renovators, treasure hunters, antique dealers etc. etc. However, I did managed to clean almost the whole apartment and replant the flowers as well. I got exhausted of watching TV whole days!

Yesterday was the first day I felt healthy enough to make it to the shop. About six months ago I invested in a mini lathe intended to be used to drill out centered holes for a 4 mm pearl dots in solid Waverly ebony pins. Old hand-made solid string pins from the 1930s and older are always made of wood, usually made of ebony, and with a significantly larger pearl dot than in modern string pins. The old original pins are often missing or are in too bad a condition. New pins are almost always needed, but new pins in the style of the old ones are not available for purchase.

I have tried different methods and jigs to drill the pearl dot, the problem is that it is extremely difficult to center the hole. A misalignment of a few tenths of a mm is enough for it to look crooked. I've gotten the best results by aiming with the eye and hoping for the best. But it was labor-intensive and in a batch of 60 pins there were always about ten pins where the dot ended up too crooked and one or two pins that broke, very few were perfectly centered. My intended solution to the problem had to be the mini-lathe. When I bought it, I already had a large stock of finished pins, only now it was time to try it in practice.

The lathe, one Proxxon Micromot DB 250, was supplemented with a large  chuck and a small chuck. The principle is to attach a round oak rod to the large chuck that spins and use drills in the small fixed chuck to make a hole in the middle of the round oak rod into which the string pin can be pushed. With a 4 mm drill, the hole for the pearl dot can then be drilled centered in the string pin. After a bit of experimenting I found that the standard string pin reamer could not be used in the oak rod, the hole became off-centered. Only if I used a fairly large drill bit (5,3mm) did the string pin stay still when the lathe was running. Furthermore, I had to stiffen up the 4 mm drill with a sleeve of epoxy-glued birch so that it would not bend when I drilled. The sleeve was easily produced in the lathe. The slider with the drill was also a little loose, but I fixed that with a 0.3 mm feeler gauge.

By pushing the slider with the drill against the string pin, it was easy to drill the hole, the string pin could then be prayed free with small pliers. The lathe also had a stop for the slider, so I didn't drill the hole too deep or too shallow.

It felt a bit scary with the protruding jaws on the big chuck when the lathe was running, I'll make a guard before I use it next time!

The result was successful. Out of 60 pins, there were about 5 that were not quite perfectly centered, probably some of the first ones before I found the right method. It was much faster to make the pins and there is no risk of any pin breaking.

After gluing the pearl dots with number 20 Stewmac superglue and a little sanding of the top (the head of the pin is round and the dot flat) there are pins enough for the next 10 GammelGura. A cheap 5 degree reamer has been ordered, it will be butchered from the handle and allow a centered and tapered hole to be drilled in the oak bar instead of the straight 5,3 mm drill hole for a better fit to the string pin.

A protective guard was made from a piece of plastic pipe.

To adjust a saddle

When I adjust the height of the saddle, I use a genius tool to sand away material from the bottom of saddle blank. I bought it many years ago direct from the inventor in Italy when I immediately realized that I had to have it.

My way of working when I adjust the saddle is as follows:

  • Make a saddle blank that fits the length and width of the ditch in the bridge and that is at least 2 mm too high.
  • Sand down the top of the saddle 1 mm on the treble side.
  • Shape the now sloped top of the saddle to the fretboard radius, first using a fretboard radius measuring tool to roughly shape the top and then a sanding block of the same radius to smooth out the curve.
  • Mount the too high saddle and string up the guitar.
  • If the nut is not already adjusted to the correct height, I put a 0,45mm feller gauge on top of the first fret for the thick E string and a 0,3 mm feeler gauge over the first fret for the thin E string. A capo is attached above the 1st fret. That way I can disconnect the saddle and fake the string height you get above the first fret with a typical zero fret.
  • I measure the actual string heights at the 12th fret for the E and E strings with two sets of feeler gauges. I write down the measurements.
  • I subtract the string height I want at E/e (in my case, 2,5/1,5 mm) at the 12th fret from the measured string height for both the E and e strings and write down the results. I double these numbers to get how much the saddle leg should be lowered at the E and E string positions. I write down the result.
  • Since my tool has an air gap of 0,3 mm down to the grinding surface, I add 0,3 mm to the two measurements and write down the final measurements. I also put a pencil mark at the bottom of the saddle on the E side, so that I don't turn the saddle the wrong way in the tool.
  • Using two sets of feeler gauges with the final thickness i have to grind down the underside of the saddle at position of the e and E strings, I can fasten the saddle in the tool with the saddle sticking out exactly to the thickness of the two sets of feeler gauges . The feeler gauges are placed right next to the protruding saddle on the bottom of the tool at the E/e string positions and the height is adjusted with the two adjustment screws in the tool until my fingers tell me that the bottom of the saddle and the two sets of feeler gauges are both even.
  • I firmly attach the saddle to the tool and roll away on top of a flat board with adhesive sandpaper until there is no more resistance from the sandpaper when rolling.

When I'm done, the saddle is mounted in place and I have the perfect string height at the 12th fret with the nut adjusted to the heights I get from a zero fret. I also have a completely straight and square bottom in the saddle. When the oversaddle has been adjusted to "zero fret height", the top of the saddle is intoned in place string by string with files, without filing down the height of the bridge leg. This mechanical way of doing it does not require much concentration and the result is predictable. I just do it and it works perfectly every time.

A 1 mm thick rosewood shim is also glued into the segmented saddle on the underside, and the tool is used one last time. Then I also have the chance to make a small final adjustment to the height of the saddle.

GG201 Levin 1938

It all started with a Levin that was found in a garbage room. I brought it home for a GammelGura restoration, but it just so happened that I just bought a similar Levin in better condition at a local auction with the serial number from the same year and close to the one from the garbage room. We agreed to change the guitars as the one from the garbage room was in significantly worse condition.

To me this is an almost like a new guitar, but what I like is that the headstock is straight and simple and not as flared as they became in later Levin of the same model. In addition, early Levins like this have real mother-of-pearl in a fretboard of the finest rosewood! It was in good condition apart from a few nasty drying cracks in the top and bottom, nasty because they were wide and uneven and also on a burst. The bottom and sides in flamed birch and the whole guitar lacquered in an early variant of cellulose lacquer, surely in any case on the top where the lacquer was cracked.

The first repair was the cracks in the top and bottom. I started by soaking up the bottom and forcing and gluing the crack together using hot hide glue and a cool fiddle side clamp, but it works very well on a guitar too. A triangular stick from a similarly scrapped Levin was then glued into a triangular cut-out trench. Clear glue had been smudged in a previous repair, which was scraped off with a razor blade with a back. Before gluing, the bare wood was stained with Swedish made Herdin's Carl Johan brown water solvable stain. The same procedure, but with a spruce stick from a scrapped top, was performed on the top.

I took some pictures of my adjustable "magic wand" that I use to measure and cut new braces to the correct length inside the top. It works very well!

The neck had a carbon fiber rod glued in, and then the fretrboard was glued after sanding to a 16″ radius. As usual with Levin from the same era, the frets were not placed in quite the right place. Typically, the 2nd and 4th fret does not fit correctly. The fine fretboard had to be preserved, so the frets were plucked loose and the fret grooves filled in with rosewood sticks. New slots were cut, most of the new frets covered the sticks in the old slots, except for 2nd, 4th and a few more. I'm sad that the gold-colored EVO frets have just stopped being produced, but I still have a small batch of the world's best frets. Going forward I will use Stewmac's gold colored variant which might be just as good.

One of my quick-made clamping jigs was used to saw the new fret slots straight and in place. Jigs like this usually only take me ten minutes to figure out and make with off cuts from one of my boxes with scrap wood.

The bridge was changed to a modern looking peg bridge in the best rosewood instead of an ugly original that was string through and similar to the bridge of a nylon-strung guitar. With a finished bridge, the correct location on the top could then be marked with low-adhesive tape and holes drilled for the four 8 mm plugs, 4 mm above the center of the stringpin holes. Small pieces from a cut up wooden blind purchased at a flea market are good as a sacrificial counter for the drill. Next, the bridge was glued with a fresh batch of hot hide glue.

As always on old Levins, the neck foot was not a true dovetail, and a wood screw with deep and sharp threads was drilled and screwed in from the inside of the neck block into the neck foot. I have started using a lock washer to prevent the screw from loosening. As usual, the hole in the neck foot was reinforced with thin superglue. The screw was waxed and screwed in and out a number of times in the hole to give the hole the same shape internally as the threads, this makes it easy to fasten the screw through the sound hole when the neck is glued and tightened with a short Phillips screwdriver.

To avoid having to fabricate and glue a triangular shim under the fretboard on the top, I'll wait to glue the brace above the sound hole. If it turns out that the neck angle needs to be large, the top can be pushed up by that brace with a greater curvature on the underside and seal the gap between the fretboard and top under a straight fretboard. To test the geometries, I use the bottom as a template, it is necessary to shape the sides to the same shape as the bottom. To do that, I have an adjustable rod between the neck and bottom blocks and some adjustable straps to pull the sides together if needed. With the right shape of the sides, the neck block and the neck gets the same angle as after gluing the bottom in place.

The neck is screwed on and a first adjustment of the neck angle up/down and side/to side is made by grinding the foot of the neck at the bottom. Without a fretboard, I usually use two 0.5 mm feeler gauges on top of the fretboard and then adjust the neck so that the straightedge ends up exactly on the top of the bridge. The neck on the Levin tends to move more with strings at tension, so in this case I also added a 0.35 mm feeler gauge on top of the bridge to get a neck angle with higher saddle (which can then be ground down if the neck moves). As always, you have to guess, no two guitars are exactly like the other. It turned out that the brace above the sound hole needed to be bent a little more than usual to push up the top and seal the gap between the top and the bottom of the fretboard. To secure the ends of that brace, a slightly longer stop block is glued to the side. These stops are a bit tricky to manufacture as there is not a single straight angle on the glue surfaces!

The bottom was glued with my bottom gluing jig, nowadays with pure hot hide glue on the neck and bottom block and hot hide glue with about 15 weight percent urea dissolved for edges to give the glue a longer open time. What is new is that the stop between the neck and bottom block is made from a threaded rod, wing nuts and leftover pieces of the carbon fiber rod I use for the neck. They are a little nicer than the old wooden ones.

The neck was glued in place after another adjustment of the neck angles, most of the work was already done so it didn't take long. The guitar was strung with old worn Newtone Heritage 0.12 strings, an old matching nut and drills as a temporary saddle. Nowadays, the guitar is allowed to hang with strings at tension and vibrating for at least a day. It takes a day or two for the glue to dry completely and the neck to sit with tensioned strings after gluing the bottom and neck.

The guitar is placed in the jig purchased from Stewmac, which holds the neck in the same position as when the strings are at tension, in two rounds. First to sand a relief of the fretboard and secondly to crown the frets after fretting. My CNC-machined aluminum profile with a 0.15 back bend "relief" is the perfect sanding block for a self-adhesive sandpaper. After sanding, the fret slots are sawn to the correct depth and the fretboard is prepared with oil and Squalane before the frets are pressed in and glued with number 20 superglue.

I read in an article that you shouldn't mount all the straps in sequential order to reduce the backward bend you get when the frets are pressed in. A test I did showed that this is actually true. But it was too complicated to keep track of which fret you were going to mount and which one you had just mounted if you jumped between the first and last fret and then the one in the middle, etc. I have realized that you get the same effect if you simply first mount the odd frets in turn and then the even ones. You will also get more room to mount the frets at the bottom of the fretboard.

The tuners were cheap and loose and were replaced with new ones. One advantage of newer guitars like this one is that the spacing between the tuner posts has the modern spacing, it was easy to change to new tuning screws that fitted the old holes. The fretboard got new finer and thicker pearl dots as the old ones were very thin.

The neck was varnished with a thin layer of spirit varnish, for the first time, with a rubbing pad and oil that is used in French polishing. The result was very even and good. On the other hand, I was less successful on the body with the rubbing pad, for big surfaces the fine-haired brush that I always used before is better. I removed the failed varnish with spirit on the body from the first attempt. It turned out that I didn't need any more varnish after that, I just needed to polish the old cellulose varnish. Sufficient amount of the varnish remained in all the dings after the spirit removal. Before painting, I also went over the lacquer dings with Herdin's stain of the right color, the end result was better than expected. The guitar looks very nice with its burst and dark brown fretboard and bridge.

After a solid vibration period of 4-5 days, there was a lot of sound in the box. It sounds very good, the slightly narrow fretboard and the C shaped neck are to my taste as well. It's fun to play!


I am currently reading an interesting book, Work clean by Dan Charnas. It is about a way of organizing the work in a way that is used by all commercial chefs who have high demands on themselves in order to work both efficiently, well and quickly. They call it "Mise-en-place". By planning both the time and the tasks, work can be made more efficient and you get more done.

When I read the book, I realize that for a long time I worked with roughly the same things, e.g. keep the workbench clean so I don't have to look for tools, put the tools that are used the most near the workplace, make sure materials are at home before they are needed, start heating the glue before I have to use it, prepare for the next batch of glue, clean the room before I go home and do all the work steps in the correct order. Fast, but still with quality. Mistakes always take the longest, so it's important to learn from them.

Of course, I still have a lot to learn, but once I have read the book, I will tackle some tasks, such as e.g. measure how long the various stages take on average. Hopefully I can work more efficiently, that wouldn't be wrong 😉

GG199 American conservatory circa 1900

Work continues with ongoing batch, one that has already been completed and delivered is an American American Conservatory parlor. Although I have a stamped serial number, 79982, I have not been able to work out when it was manufactured. Probably around 1900, but maybe a little later. It is rare to see similar guitars in Sweden, but those that exist have probably accompanied returning emigrants. The shape resembles a Levin parlor, not so surprising since Hermann Carlsson Levin more or less copied the shape and construction from the American parlor guitars he made in New York during the 1890s.

The woods were luxurious, the finest rosewood in the bridge, bottom and sides and light and light mahogany in the neck. The fretboard, on the other hand, was a disaster, ebonized pear wood (most likely) with about the consistency of biscuit chocolate! The fretboard had to be speared loose into a thousand pieces. During the ebonization, high heat and aggressive chemicals were probably used, which have destroyed the wood over time. The spruce top was in good condition with a few cracks. The bottom was incredibly thin, only between 1,5 and 1,7 mm. Normally it should be about 2,3 mm thick! I had to be extremely careful when I loosened the thin bottom along the edges where it was still a little thinner. Another thing about the bottom was that the inside had a very smooth and nice surface, almost polished. It was also unusually evenly thick. There is probably a reason why, perhaps they deliberately built an extremely light guitar. Even the mahogany neck was light as a feather without the fretboard. The top, on the other hand, had normal thickness. The guitar was probably sized for gut strings. The ribbing in the top was sparse with only two braces and a fir stick under the bridge in the top, the bottom had only three braces.

It was in good condition, except for some cracks in the top and bottom. The biggest problem was that one of the sides had completely detached from the end block, which was also cracked in half. Unlike a Levin parlor, it had a dovetail. The bridge was not in good condition and too narrow for an intoned saddle, so a replica in the finest rosewood was made. The fretboard was replaced with a new one in ebony. The customer wanted to keep the original tuners which were in good condition for their age, almost as good as new. No side dots on the fretboard or a guitar band knob on the neck foot should be mounted, however a K&K mic.

The braces came off without a problem, to soften the glue and loosen the fir stick under the bridge I heated it with a small travel iron. The loose rim was a bit tricky to glue back to both the end block, top and sides, you have to press from three sides at the same time to get tight joints. But with various cauls and clamps it worked out well. I always use a soft steel plate as a counter-hold on the outside and plastic foil to avoid gluing the cauls in place.

With the fretboard off, I was able to sand off the glue and fingerboard residue on my sanding board while flattening the neck. In cases where the neck has a noticeable bend, I first heat it straight. This one could be sanded straight. The neck was very light and in light colored mahogany. The neck had its carbon fiber rod milled in and glued, it's a step that I do at the same time for all guitars in the current batch.


The top had narrow cracks around the center joint. They could be pressed together with the top bracing removed and glued with hot hide glue. This is one of the many good features of the hide glue, you can dab on and massage the glue into the crack and then wipe off the excess with a damp cloth. The clamps on one half are tightened first, then the clamps across to compress the crack, and finally the clamps on the other side. Cauls are then clamped onto the inside of the top to keep the top flat across the crack. When the cauls are in place, you can then detach the long side clamps, the stop blocks towards the outside of the rim and other clamps that are no longer needed. It's always exciting to "open the package" after a gluing like this the next day when you can't see exactly what you're doing, but so far it's always been a good result!

The crack at the end block had also spread a bit on one side of the rim, a piece of rosewood veneer was glued on. It is important to get even pressure on the entire veneer, for that I use small cauls with a 4 mm soft yoga mat that molds to the bend of the edge.

The most artistic thing I get the chance to do at all GammelGura is the new bridge. I have a stock of rosewood and ebony blanks, I chose a rosewood blank of the finest variety. To make the job a little faster and easier, I use a wood drill to drill out the channels between the middle of the bridge and the pyramids at the ends. An old maple table leg is a good platform when shaping the bridge.

The channel is widened and thinned down to approx. 2 mm at the edges. The pyramids must be lower than the middle part, the height is cut down with a Japanese saw or my small band saw.

The bridge is rounded off towards the back with grates. A nice detail is to give the edge at the back a slight, even bend. The small razor files are perfect for fine-tuning as they leave a smooth surface.

The pyramid bridge on this guitar had a flat top on the pyramid. A stick with coarse adhesive sandpaper is also a good tool.

The string pin holes are measured and drilled before the bridge is glued with freshly made fresh hot hide glue.

The ebony fretboard was given a 16″ radius and a scale that places the front of the bridge bone about 4mm into the bridge. The bottom got four ribs instead of three, the top the patented GammelGura bracing with plugs and bridgeplate in spruce.

Before the bottom is glued, the string pin holes are reamed and a groove is filed in the bridge plate, top and bridge for the strings and for solid string pins. I have tried different ways to make the groove, the fastest way is to use a needle file rasp. They are rare, but they are available for purchase. Some cut NH 0,12 strings are used to fit the string pegs so that they are tight, but can be loosened with your fingers.

The gluing of the bottom and neck went well and the guitar had to hang for a couple of days with a vibrating aquarium pump with strings at tension, the neck usually moves a little the first few days before it finds its final position. Typically, the string height at the 12th fret increases at most 0,5 mm, but sometimes not at all.

It will take a couple more days before the guitar is completely ready. The most tedious part is measuring the intonation, but it is something that must be done. With the measured values, it is easy to mill the bridge in the right place and manufacture a segmented saddle.

The sound in this GammelGuran is a bit special, an unusual amount of jingle&jangle! I think it's due to the rosewood in the bottom and sides instead of the usual maple/birch. The wood in the bottom and sides is important and shapes the sound, even if the top is the part that accounts for most of the sound. Because it was so lightly built, I strung on NH 0.11 strings, which is equivalent to regular 0,10 strings in tension.

The pictures of the finished GammelGuran were taken on a cold winter's day on the bridge outside the shop.


Low tension strings

I try to keep a stock off Newtone Heritage 0.12 and 0.11 strings in my shop, but sometimes I only have enough for the ongoing batch. I also usually have a few NH 0.10 sets and regular Newtone Masterclass 0.11 sets in stock. Right now the stock is low, but a new load is on the way. It usually takes a couple of months from order to delivery, it seems that their website is often out of stock as well. Something happened during the pandemic and after Brexit, I hope it straightens out. With new prices for customs and shipping, they now cost SEK 140 per set if I have strings to sell. Postage is usually SEK 30 or SEK 45 within Sweden depending on the number of sets. If you want to order, send an e-mail and don't forget your name and address. I also have single strings in stock, it happens that one of the spun strings does not quite intonate as it should or that a thin E string breaks off when measuring the intonation.

I would also like to remind you that you should never cut round core strings during assembly before they are in place and tuned. The top 10 centimeters of the string is flattened during manufacture so that the string does not spin up, if you cut the string at the top first, there is a great risk that it will completely lose its intonation! I have also been told that the unspun strings in NH are no different than regular unspun strings, so they can be replaced with strings of the same thickness from other makes.

There is actually another similar low tension string to buy from Thomann in Germany, Optima Vintage flex. It seems to be more or less a copy of the NH 0.12 with the same string thicknesses and low tension. I have not tested them myself, but reviews online say they are equivalent to the NH strings.

Another low tension string with roughly the same tension as NH 0.12 is GHS Thin core Light.

Otherwise, it always works with any steel strings with normal tension if they are just a notch thinner than the NH strings. Then you get approximately the same string tension that the guitar is built for. Pretty much all GammelGura get NH 0.12 and there you can instead string up the guitar with normal 0.11 strings. If it's an unusually brittle old guitar, I use NH 0.11, and then you have to make do with a 0.10 set of normal strings. The intonation of all GammelGura are measured with NH 0.12 or 0.11 strings. The intonation will not be exactly as good with thinner normal strings than the NH strings used when doing the measurement, but the difference is small and hardly audible to a normal ear.