Coles, circa 1905

In my private collection I had an American parlor made with the finest rosewood. The story begins with a purchase of a guitar project on eBay by a customer who wanted to make an GammelGura on it. When it came from the USA, it turned out that the neck was extremely wide, about 49 mm at the nut, and did not suit the customer who wanted a narrower neck. I ended up redeeming it and another guitar with a narrow neck was used as GammelGura object. Hera are pictures from the eBay auction.

Unlike old European parlor guitars, the American ones are almost always provided with a manufacturer name. This one had a stamp "W. A. Cole, Boston" on top of the edge of the head, inside was an ink stamp "W. A. Cole, Boston, 1898 Model". After some searching on the internet, it turned out that many high-quality banjos were manufactured under the name W. A. Cole around 1890-1922, not as many guitars. But the ones that are available are nice, often with very intricate inlays in the fretboard. The guitars also have their own and lightly built variant of the X-bracing. It is an unusual guitar of good quality, here you can see a finer copy. Here you can also read more about WA Cole.

This guitar was simpler, but still with a nice rosette with several layers of herringbone strips. At the bottom there is also a beautiful center strip. As stated, the best rosewood in the bottom and side and as veneer on the top of the head. Mahogany in the neck and top in spruce, most likely Adirondack. The paint on the top is colored orange, the same color I have seen on other American parlor guitars from around 1900. I think this is made about 1905, a copy dated to 1909 had simple round dots in the fretboard. The tuning screws are beautiful and works very well. The inlays in the fretboard, on the other hand, are rather sparse and not engraved as on finer specimens. The ebony fingerboard was flat with a white celluloid strip around it.

The bridge was replaced by a larger, more modern one. The bottom had several cracks (which were difficult to see in the dark wood!). The neck had probably received a blow when the foot of the neck was cracked and the top repaired around the sound hole at the end of the fingerboard. There is a mark on the back of the neck as well, probably from the "bang"! The top had some major cracks behind the bridge. An pearl inlay at the 12th band had been removed, and a screw had been pulled into the neck foot to repair the crack. The sides had no cracks, but there was a weakening right at the edge of the kerfing on the inside on both sides. The celluloid strip around the fretboard was thin, and a few pieces were missing. Despite all the small problems and previous repairs, the condition was good after all, it was complete (except for the bridge) and all faults were fully repairable. Here are pictures before I cracked open the guitar.

I told about it to a friend who really wanted to buy it and get it renovated and so it was. From the beginning, it was only intended as a repair and a quick "flip", but the project grew and all the steps I usually use in an GammelGura were done. Since I took many pictures on the road on behalf of the buyer (except when I forgot the camera at home), there are many pictures of this renovation process.

The celluloid strip around the bottom could be loosened completely. The celluloid was still tough and flexible and had not shrunk much, very unusual! The neck came loose in two parts, no glue had been used when tightening the screw. Under the bridge, the top was very broken.


Nice inlays and purflings.

The braces in the bottom sat well, but only at the ends. In the middle, the glue had released. Here I did one of the two mistakes made during the renovation, the top brace was well glued, and the bottom had an unexpected run-out, so there was a crack in the bottom after I loosened the brace that did not exist before.

The braces of the top sat really well, but they were too wide and low and had been deformed. They were replaced with new, taller and narrower ones.

I found a bridge blank by the finest rosewood and a matching dark Madagascar rosewood board.

Some pictures after the repair of the top and the milling of a carbon fiber rod in the neck.

The new pyramid bridge was formed with various rasps.

Good color matching on bridge and fretboard.

Before drilling the stringpin holes, you need to measure a little.

I use a thin piece of wood to give the holes a slight slope. The underside of the bridge should follow the slightly domed top.

Before gluing the bridge, the plugs must be drilled and mounted. I used BFGGGG plugs from the E to the e string. All are end wood, B is birch, F is pine and G is spruce. In an X ribbed guitar you need treble, on a ladder braced I have no plugs on the treble unwound b and e strings. All the braces in the top had already been glued in place in my go-bar in almost the same pattern as the original.

Buttons in hard bubinga wood make the bridgeplate in spruce withstand the wear from the ball ends.

Here I glue the celluloid strip back into the sound hole. It had shrunk 1 mm in length. Nice flower!

Got some good advice from Per Marklund and took down the braces well below the X-rib junction.

A K&K mic was ordered. I drilled out the 12 mm wide hole with a step drill.

The bottom and top got cleats over the cracks.

During the bottom gluing, I made my second mistake. I heated the fridge-cold fish glue too much, so it became runny. Without seeing it, some glue ran down the side and penetrated under some caul blocks on the top side. The orange color on the top was just in the paint itself, and a few small shocks of paint got stuck in the cauls, leaving behind wood-white damage. In the future, it will be cold glue, perhaps supplemented with kitchen plastic on the edges of the top. I later saved what I could with orange stain and filled in the pits with tough 30 superglue, which was scraped flat against the rest of the top surface.

Apart from the mistake, the bottom gluing was perfect. The very narrow celluloid strip, less than 2 mm wide, actually fitted perfectly all around! It was glued back with 20 superglue. The neck foot was glued with hot hide glue, in addition, an 8 mm round rod in birch had been glued in through the entire foot with epoxy glue at the same time as the carbon fiber rod.

The dark rosewood board was filled with resins, when I was going to thin it with the rdrum sander, the resins melted and filled in two sandpaper before I was done. It took an hour to take it down 3 mm in thickness… The original fingerboard had perfectly OK placement of the frets - up to the 12th fret. After that, they were apparently applied with eye measurement, the last frets was placed 3-4 mm wrong!

Test mounting of loose fretboard. In the correct position, it was marked with a pencil from below how the fingerboard would be planed to get the right trapezoidal shape with a narrower upper part.

The fretboard got its 16 ″ radius in my new improved jig for sanding. It provides better precision, and it is easier to adjust the sanding height from above. In the last picture, the jig is ready, and the screws are cut to the right length.

The fretboard is glued with hot hide glue.

The critical neck set was then done in my neck reset gluing jig.

Before fretting, the fingerboard is ground to a small 0,15 radius in the position it is in when the strings are tuned. Among other things, I use an aluminum beam with a grounded inverted 0,15 radius as a sanding block.

The frets are mounted in my simple plank jig and a handhold fret press.

The inlays in the old fretboard are inlayed with a Dremel in the new one. I had to invent the insert at the 12th fret since the original was gone.

To crown the frets, the guitar is mounted once more in my jig with tensioned strings. The body, neck and head are then fixed with various clamps and supports so that the neck does not change its shape when the strings are loosened. Then the tops of the frets are sanded to a small relief, the tops are then rounded with a Z-file and sanded with 600 and 800 papers followed by steel wool and polishing with Autosol polishing compound. The ends of the frets are filed and rounded with special files.


The finished fretboard is oiled and cleaned.

Before the measurement of the saddle intonation begins, I extend the fretboard with a piece of maple. The measurement is then made with a stroboscope tuner, my special jig for adjusting the "saddle", small loose and tangless pieces of frets at the nut, new strings, feeler gauges and some tools to make adjustments to the intonation points' placement at both string ends. I also use reference strings to double-check and not be fooled by new defective strings. A boring job that takes a long time, but which is necessary.

The fretboard is cut at the point of intonation at the nut that came closest to the 1st fret.

To fit the new nut in camel bone, I use a small piece of self-adhesive sandpaper to shape the neck against the nut.

The positions of the notches in the nut are measured and marked. To easily align the measuring points, I use a long ruler between the center of the string pin hole and the marking on the nut. The lines do not become exactly 90 degrees but follow the line of the string. With a small thin saw, a saw cut is made in each notch.

The measurements from the measurement of intonation are used to mark how deep the milling should be done for all but one string (the one that came closest to the 1st band). Small brown pieces of tape mark the exact position on the nut.

The milling for intonation is done with a simple wooden jig and with the same jig that I use to mill the saddle ditch.

The measured position of the intonation points on the saddle is marked for each string. An approximately 4-4,5 mm wide inclined rectangle is marked that holds all intonation points. The rectangle is cut out to provide good contrast when the ditch is to be milled.

To make the segmented saddle, I first make a temporary saddle in spruce that fits perfectly in the saddle ditch. With a long ruler between the notch in the nut and placed in the center of the string pin hole, I mark where the string will pass the saddle. The the bass E side is marked with a dot so as not to turn it the wrong way.

A blank for the segmented saddle is sawn out of a piece of quartersawn spruce. The blank is thinned to about 5,5 mm in my drum sander.

Using the temporary saddle, I can mark the blank and saw out 5 mm wide notches centered over the position of the strings. I use my jig to saw fret grooves in fingerboards and a small jig that I attach the workpiece to and that moves the saw exactly 5 mm for the second sawing. The resulting pin in the middle can be easily broken off.

Finished pieces of 5 mm thick camel bone fit into the slots, the two outermost bone pieces are wider. The bone posts are then glued with tough 30 super glue, the fresh sanded spruce surfaces are "painted on" with thin liquid 10 superglue before they get dirty. A point extraction sucks away most of the aggressive fumes.

The blank is sanded approx. 1 mm lower on the treble side (according to the measurement saved when doing the intonation measurements) and then given the same radius as the fretboard. The depth of the saddle ditch is marked with a pencil. The height measured on the saddle at the intonation + the depth of the saddle ditch is used to cut the saddle to approximately the correct height. Later I glue a 1-1,5 mm strip in rosewood at the bottom to make the saddle stronger, then you also get another chance to adjust the height of saddle.

Final adjustment of the nut, saddle and intonation points on the saddle.

The guitar gets a round of thin spirit varnish, I use a clamp as a handle and a large round fine-haired brush. After at least one day of drying, the varnish is matted down with fine steel wool and polished back to a reasonable gloss with a linen cloth. After a month or so, you can polish again as the varnish has become harder.

By filing away as much as I dared on the side of the neck, I reduced the width of the nut to 46,5 mm. For me, the neck feels easy to play on, the few millimeters are noticeable!

How did it turn out then? Well, the answer is very good! I have a bit of a hard time with the tonality you get from X-bracing, a more fundamental and simple sound with more bass. Ladder bracing gives a different tone with a more complex and rich sound and less bass, which I always like. But this one turned out so well that I wanted to keep it. Very dynamic and powerful and perfect for strumming. This variant of X-bracing is at least as good as the one Martin came up with and which is standard nowadays. The braces that have been changed cover the surface of the top well. It was strung up with standard Newtone Masterclass 0,11 strings. It can probably handle 0,12 as well, but I'm a little afraid of unnecessarily high string tension.

I now have a better grasp of the X-bracing, I learned a lot on this project.



Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *