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!


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