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!