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!