General repair

After disassembling all the objects in the current batch, the next step is to fix all the bugs and cracks. Unusually many in this batch are in need of creative repair. Here are some examples.

The guitar with the decoration in the sound hole needed several rounds of gluing. The sides needed to be glued to the end block and the entire lower part of the top needed to be glued to the sides. In addition, parts of the top's purfling were missing. Instead of remanufacturing the purfling, it was replaced with solid rosewood. It usually looks really good. The outer edge of the top was picked from an old leftover top to match the grain

As usual, the top's in the Levin guitars was about 3,5-4 mm thick. Maybe good for strength, but not good for the sound. The tops were thinned to just under 3 mm with the help of small planers and a sanding mouse. It is one of the things you actually have to work hard on!

The other Europeans had top's that were all about 3 mm and did not need to be thinned out. Except the old guitar with the monster bridge which had a top that was only about 2,3 mm thick. The top was deformed and had lots of cracks. To make it all work, I glued a plate in 1 mm thick spruce with the grain in the same direction as the top under the entire large bridge. It is tricky to glue such a large plate, to get pressure on the entire glue surface, I used a cut soft 4 mm yoga mat and a 4 mm thick piece of birch veneer as support for the clamps. The plate was glued to a curved surface, you do not want the top to be completely flat.

One Levin parlor guitar had some long and 2-3 mm wide cracks in the top. To fill in the cracks, I cut triangular sticks from another old top with about the same color in the paint as the guitar. A board is perfect as a base for cutting with a carpet knife. It is a bit of a chore to grind in the sticks so they fit in the cracks before the actual gluing.

GammelMando 173, Levin 1959

It happens that I buy old interesting guitar wrecks from customers who come by the premises. It can be one of two and the other one will be an GammelGura. On one of those occasions, it was a simple Levin school mandolin that was bought up for a cheap penny - actually I got it for free. It had its problems when a shrunken bottom and the sunken top, the tuners were not intact with a couple of knobs missing. The bottom had a small crack between the bottom halves. But it was still in good condition in the paint and the fretboard was in beautiful dark rosewood. I took it on in the last batch a bit like an experiment and as a side job waiting for some glue to dry, how good can it be?

The smaller size of a mandolin makes most steps easier and not as laborious as a guitar. The shrunken bottom was easy to crack loose. Inside was the usual ladder bracing in the top, one of the braces was cracked and that explained the sunken top.

The neck had a small banana bend, so the fretboard was loosened and the neck was reinforced with a solid carbon fiber rod, I think it was 5 × 5 mm. My usual milling jig for the carbon fiber rod does not work on a small mandolin, so I had to make a temporary jig with some wooden planks and clamps. It all went well and the fretboard was glued back.

Both the top and bottom were unnecessarily thick, the top was thinned with small planers and a sanding mouse on the inside. I thinned the bottom with the drum sander. The top and bottom were thinned to just under 3 mm, the bottom a little thinner than that. A center stick was glued in over the middle joint at the bottom and new slimmer braces were glued. In the top I made an X-bracing where the two cross braces passed under each foot of the bridge. For some reason I missed taking pictures of the finished result, but it all looked good.

Because the bottom was shrunk, it was not possible to glue it to the sides and get a perfect fit. I decided to mill a binding much like the one on the top. It turned out really nice if I may say so myself!

The fretboard was re-fretted with EVO Gold frets, a new bone nut was made and new tuning screws mounted, Stewmac Golden Age. The original bridge got a hatch on the underside and two legs, they usually sound a little better that way. The original string holder was simple but without faults with only a screw that fastens it. A coat of thin spirit varnish was applied to the body.

I think it sounds really good after a few days of vibration. It can not compete with my Gibson from 1929 which has a fuller bass, but I think it sounds really good for a school mandolin. It is also a stable player with its carbon fiber rod and X-ribbed.

It is sold at Östmans Musik in Örnsköldsvik for 2995 SEK.

Carpenter glue

The best thing I know is an old guitar that has not been repaired before. Then you can be sure that it is assembled as expected and with correct glues and varnish. Old repairs are seldom done right and sometimes in unexpected ways.

Some classics are that carpenter glue was used to repair cracks or glue the neck. Screws and nails are not uncommon, typically there may be screws in the bridge, through the neck foot or the fingerboard. Sometimes in other unexpected places, e.g. the screw through the neck foot may have been hidden behind the cover plate on the tip of the foot. Nails are less common but they occur. In worse cases, the guitar has been sanded down or sprayed on with a plastic varnish. There is really nothing you can be surprised about in an old repair. Sometimes, however, a repair is professionally done with the right glue and varnish, then it is mostly a violin maker who has done the job.

In the current batch, there are some that have been repaired before. The worst one is probably the one with the monster bridge. The sides are cracked from the neck block to the bottom block on both sides and the top has several cracks too. Everything glued with carpentry glue. The bottom had also been re-glued with carpentry glue, when I loosened the bottom I had to sacrifice the top of the neck block so as not to ruin the bottom. A neck block can be spliced ​​without it being visible, a damaged bottom can not be hidden away.

Carpenter glue is a nuisance, but perhaps also the reason why the guitar still exists. But unlike epoxy glue, which is completely hopeless, there is a trick you can use. By soaking the glue joint with a wet kitchen paper for half an hour or so, the carpenter's glue can be saturated with moisture. Then the glue becomes white and clearly visible, also softer and can be scraped off with a knife or scrubbed away with a hard brush. You can also heat and soften the glue with a hot air gun or hair dryer, but it is important to be careful with lacquered surfaces.

I soak the glue on both sides if possible, the glue becomes white and easy to both see and remove. The long glue joint on both sides took some time to clean.

The same thing was done for some of the cracks in the top.

Here you can see how the glue changes color to white. With a sharp spatula and a knife you can push the tough glue from the crack, with a strong pig brush (preferably with dried hot hide glue) the last glue can be rubbed off.

With the wooden surfaces properly cleaned, you can then glue the cracks together with hot hide glue and various wooden patches and inlays.

The damaged neck block must be repaired with a piece of new spruce. With a simple jig and a dremel, I mill off the top layer of the neck block.

A fitting piece in spruce is glued on hot hide glue. The new piece can be easily planed down and the bottom gets a new flat surface to be glued to.

Levin 1910 with oak in the bottom and side

Today I got to see something I have never seen before, a Levin parlor with oak in the side and bottom! It was from 1910 with the charming serial number 12222. Did not even know that there were such!

It might be a project for the future.

There is a Model 22 with American oak (included in the 1907 catalog), but that model was expensive and lavish with fine inlays and bindings. This is an ordinary simple Levin, maybe it got oak in the side and bottom by mistake. It has colored lacquer as usual on top of the nice wood.

GG170, Levin 1927

I should always have a ready-made GammelGura for sale, but for the most part the ones I do are already ordered. This Levin from 1927 has no buyers yet and can be tested at Östmans Musik in Örnsköldsvik.

There was a misunderstanding when I started up the last batch, it was another guitar from the waiting room that was to be used, and I already had this one in pieces. It had to finish it off. The guitar was in pretty good condition without major problems. This was one of the last to be made with a slotted head. Somewhere around 1929, Levin began to phase out the old models. That it is later can be seen in the dark red color of the body, the plaque on the front of the head and that the neck is in birch / maple and not in poplar as in most older Levin guitars before 1920.

The guitar was disassembled without any problems. Both top and bottom were thinned when they were about 0,5 mm too thick as they usually are (made to to keep!). The fingerboard and bridge were replaced with new ones in Madagascar rosewood, the tuners were in poor condition and were replaced with new ones. A K&K pickup was mounted. The neck got its carbon fiber rod and the neck pocket, that chipped up during loosening of the neck, was covered with a 2 mm thick maple plate. The neck also got a wood screw from the inside through the neck block.

I took some pictures while gluing the bottom. The bottom gluing jig came into use once again. I first spread the clamp abutments more or less evenly around and adjusted the pin between the bottom and neck block so that the bottom fitted perfectly lengthwise to the side at both ends. If the bottom protrudes somewhere, another abutment is placed to push in the bottom, it is a great advantage that you can place the abutments wherever you want on the plywood board. This is the second plywood board I use, after 4-5 years it is too perforated by all the screws and needs to be replaced. Since the bottom has always shrunk in width, you can never get a perfect fit around the whole bottom, but you can get a perfect fit around the two rounds, the sides in the narrowest place ends up a little further in. When the bottom is glued, the edge of the bottom is scrapped at the narrowest point where it protrudes from the side.

I use hot hide glue on the two blocks and fish glue along the rest of the perimeter. You have to be quick to clamp the bottom to the blocks, for the rest of the bottom you have plenty of time to clamp as the fish glue has a long open time. I use special cauls in the form of fitting pieces on both the top- and bottom side that I made from plywood and spruce connected with knot wire.

When all the clamps are in place, it's time to release the guitar from the jig. I use an extra long screwdriver to unscrew the brackets in the plywood board. It is important to wipe the side clean from fish glue in particular, if it gets dry it can pinch off small round pieces of the varnish! The entire package of clamps and guitar is set aside on a flat surface and the jig is cleaned and stowed away until the next time. The whole thing is allowed to dry overnight.

For some reason, the nut intonation became unusual on this one, I had to test the strings several times when I measured, but got the same result every time. Apart from the fact that the neck is a bit fat (which is common on newer Levin parlor guitars) everything felt good with the guitar. It sounds like it should!

It is now sold.

GammelGura showcase

Check out this video made by Andreas Brink, the man behind the TV documentary about Levin. A very good showcase for an GammelGura. This one was made a couple of years ago before I came up with hardwood plugs, but it has an early segmented saddle, the nut intonation and a bridgeplate in spruce. This one is also a little more original than usual with the original bridge in black painted maple :-)

New batch

I still have some laggards in the previous batch, mostly those that have not been sold yet. But I went through my queue this weekend and five guitars in turn are in the shop and will start working on. As always, it's a mixed bag with Levin and European parlor guitars. Some in good condition and others genuine "wrecks" that require a little more glue :-)

GG174 Levin 1920, fixed bridge

This is one of three Levin 1920 parlors from one and the same customer with serial numbers in a row! One has already been given a simpler renovation, but the other two will be real GammelGura. This one was in good condition and equipped with a fixed bridge.

GG175 Levin 1920, floating bridge

The second of the three in sequence was not in as good condition, to say the least. It will be easy to take it apart when the bottom is already loose! This one had a floating bridge and a "mickey mouse" tailpiece.

GG176 European

The one in best condition was this one. Probably German and made around 1910, but it may be older than that. It has "wrong-turned" tuning screws, ice-cone heel and a typical mother-of-pearl rosette. The bridge is a bit more unusual as it is very straight and simple and not a mustache bridge that is usually the norm. Nice maple in the bottom!

GG177 European, No. 23 from the waiting room

This guitar is probably not as old as it looks, I may be wrong. It was a period in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany when they made guitars in the old style with e.g. mustache stall and ice cone heels. Sometimes even a fingerboard at the height of the top and wood tuning screws to imitate Renaissance guitars. This one has a very nice sound hole decoration, old tuning screws and mustache bridge, but also an adnustable saddle that breathes 1930s. At some point, it has probably been in water or received a proper blow to the end plug. This one will also be easy to take apart :-)

Addendum: Got the guitar apart and I think it is really old, about 1900 or even. 1800s. Beefy tuners, no bridgeplate and visually old hot hide glue and wood make me change my mind. The adjustable intonation plate on the bridge is original, but the time around 1900 was also the time for many inventions on guitars where metal was used in many ways. The decoration in the sound hole is a separate piece of wood that has been carved out and glued to the inside of the top.

GG178 Parlor with ornate bridge

The oldest guitar in the collection is probably this one, I guess in the 1890s. Could be Swedish made, I recognize the natural color neck from other old Swedish parlor guitars and the slightly clumsy body shape. The surprising bridge can be thought to be original, it is at least the same spirit as the KB guitars from the turn of the century 1900. It can also be a later addition. Even if the bridge is not optimal for the perfect sound, it must be allowed to remain. I have to do what I can and adjust the bracing accordingly!

Addendum: It was not visible in the pictures, but the lid is really deformed where the stable rotated in. That it is old is no doubt, no stable plate and the third bar placed behind the stable instead of in front as it should. The lid was also unusually thin, about 2,5 mm. The decoration at the stable is a whole piece of wood with the rectangular stable glued on top.

Renovation of a Levin 1916 parlor

In addition to GammelGura, I also do renovations. This one became unusually extensive, half an GammelGura. The customer wanted as much as possible original, but also a carbon fiber rod in the neck and a K&K mic. The guitar came in parts with the bottom and the bridge off. The sound-destroying plate under the bridge across the top was also removed. My friend Björn Sohlin had started a renovation together with the customer, but it had stopped a few years ago.

It also had a real hole in the side and a large piece was missing, probably something had fallen on it in the storeroom where it was stored.

With the guitar came a bunch of cleats and some other wood as well as a label that was steamed off. The bottom looked like a potato chip, the top bottom brace was missing and the bottom had bent up at least 5 cm in the wrong direction on both edges! The bridge in black lacquered birch / maple was of the simpler triangular model, but also unusually low. On these, the bridge can be ridiculously thick and high, but this one actually had the right height for a fret saddle and about 13 mm high string height above the top.

To flatten the potato chip bottom, I moistened a lot and put the bottom in a press for a few days. An old original brace was glued in the hope that it would keep the bottom flat, but it ended up with both ends of that brace cracking as the bottom wants to regain its shape. There are great forces in wood! I had to take off the old brace and mount a stronger one in fresh wood. But first I moistened the bottom again and put the bottom in pressure with an aluminum caul on the inside and heated it to about 80 degrees with an iron. This time it went better, the heating stabilized the wood and the stronger brace withstood without cracking at the ends. The paint melted a little bit from the heat (I would have preferred to gas up to at least 100 degrees), but thanks to plastic foil as a release agent against the paint no worse than it was not visible after the final spirit painting. The bottom also got a center stick and the old label was glued back.

The top was repaired with the cleats that came with the guitar. It also got my patented bridge plate in spruce and reinforcements around the stringpin holes, but no plugs. I also added a few reinforcements to make it hold 0.11 steel strings.

An old half done repair of the rim was removed as the cracks in the side were not glued edge-to-edge. A piece of wood from a scrapped guitar was sawn out and fitted in somewhat. It could of course have been made nicer, but the function was the most important thing. The piece was glued in by means of abutment in sheet metal, then a 0,6 mm maple veneer was glued with the grain across the cracks on the inside. The color of the new piece did not match the guitar, but I had to solve it later with stain when painting.

Got loose the neck that was glued with carpentry glue, but not without problems. It turned out that someone had lifted the rosewood cover plate at the end of the neck and pulled in a screw under it. It was not visible from the outside. The first time I came across that solution. Picked off the fretboard without problems and milled in a carbon fiber rod in the usual way. Then glued back the fingerboard on the neck.

The bottom went well to glue back.

The big challenge was to glue the neck. On the one hand, it was mounted obliquely from the beginning, the bridge was not centered on the top and in addition it was turned to the wrong way with a shorter string on the thick E side instead of the other way around for the intonation. The bridge was glued back centered and straight, and I had to adjust the neck attachment accordingly.

Only when I started to do the neck reset did I notice that the original fretboard was bent like a banana on the bass side. I have never seen anything like it. The edge protruded 3 mm more in the middle! The other edge was almost straight, when I fitted the neck it was just possible to get both E/e strings to lie over all the frets. It also turned out that the fretboard was about 1 mm higher in the middle and not flat, so I had to grind down the middle of the fretboard on the top. The board also had a radius of 14. On an GammelGura I had sanded the neck straight on the bass-side and mounted a new fretboard :-)

After all the measuring and testing, I actually managed to get the string height at the 12th fret right against the saddle fret, which cannot be adjusted in height like a normal saddle. The intonation was also good on all strings with a straight saddle fret except the thick E string which would have needed about XNUMX-XNUMX mm adjustment backwards on the bridge. Four missing string pins were replaced by old originals. A wood screw was tightened through the neck block into the neck foot as usual.

Without composite saddle, plugs and without thinning the top and bottom, it lacked a bit of force and volume, but it still sounds good if you do not compare with a complete GammelGura. In addition to the K&K mic, it also got a guitar strap knob on the neck foot, but the bridge, fretboard, frets, tuning screws, nut and most of the braces was original.

GG172, Levin 1916

This GammelGura was made of a Levin parlor from the waiting room and 1916. It originally had a tailpiece, but was converted to a pinbridge for the best sound. The biggest problem with it was that part of the top around the sound hole was missing on both sides of the fretboard. In addition, the tailpiece always gives a light impression on the top during a conversion.

As on GG171, ebony was ordered in both fretboard and bridge. I have always said that rosewood is the best wood in both fretboard and bridges, but I can not complain about the sound in the last two GammelGura with ebony. On the contrary, they have sounded at least as good as those with rosewood. The material in the fretboard and bridge does not matter much for how the guitar sounds.

Both the top and the bottom were thinned in the usual order and the neck got its carbon fiber rod. The bracing in the top was the one I always do now with extra reinforcements under the fretboard and in the middle of the top. The bottom also got new braces with the third brace flat to give the bottom greater mobility.

 

I received an order for finer inlays in the fretboard copied from a more expensive Levin parlor. Levin had some special inlays, in addition to the round dots, which were used in most "high end" instruments. A star with round cutouts, a long narrow inlay and a horizontal diamond shape. I have taken the opportunity to take pictures and measurements of such during previous renovations. Per Marklund made replicas in mother-of-pearl of the highest quality of the special inlays with the help of pictures and a CNC cutter. They turned out very well! It took some time to fasten the pieces into the ebony board, but it turned out well.

It was more difficult to add the missing pieces in the top. I used an old scrapped top and did what I could to fit the new pieces. Not invisible but functional…

Here is a series of pictures of how I drill and mount the plugs at the string pin holes. I begin by placing the replica bridge on the top and mark the place with low-adhesive tape.

I marked the holes for the string pins in the bridge with the tip of a 4,5 mm wooden drill and drew a line through the marks. A second line was drawn 4 mm above, the plugs are 8 mm and I want half the plug to remain above the string pin holes when the holes for the string pins are drilled.

In order not to chip the spruce in the top, I first drill in the wrong direction with an 8 mm wooden drill.

Then I drill through the top and bridge plate with a thin 1 mm drill to be able to do the same thing on the inside.

I then drill through the last with a regular metal drill in the usual way. The spruce wood really wants to chip itself up, but if you do this you get no chips (almost).

Because you want to attenuate the volume and treble from the unspun strings, only plugs on the 4 thickest strings are needed. The E-string gets a hard birch plug, on this the other three plugs are end wood of spruce. The plugs are glued with hot hide glue.

The holes for the string pins are drilled with a sharp 4,5 mm metal drill with the bridge in the right place.

Buttons in hardwood with pre-drilled holes in the middle are glued in using the tool from Stewmac. The best glue I have found for this is tough Superglue (Stewmac no 30), hot hide glue or thin superglue is quickly sucked into the spruce endwood and the button is not glued properly.

Gluing a semicircular button in a semicircular hole is not so easy, for them to sit straight, I clamp the buttons with some clamps and a caul. Plastic film is used to not glue the caul together with the top.

Finally, the bridge is glued with fresh hot hide glue, every time you heat up the HHG it loses a little of its strength.

To make grooves in the bridge for the strings for the solid string pins, I have a set of cut strings of the right thickness. The string pin holes are reamed and the grooves are sawn and filed with various tools. The pliers are used to pull up string pins that are wedged.

The end result is string ball ends that rest on both the hard button and the plug.

The work went on with gluing the bottom and neck.

The fine inlays were milled into the fretboard with a dremel.

Unfortunately, the shadow from the old tailpiec cannot be hidden.

The measurement of the intonation is among the last to be done. It is perhaps the most boring part of the whole process, but very important!

I have just made a longer and nicer jig to make the segmented saddle in my band saw jig. A point extraction takes care of the fumes from Superglue.

As I said, the finished GammelGura sounds as good as they usually do, even with ebony in the fretboard and bridge. I had run out of Gator cases at the time, but the customer was satisfied with a used TKL case.

GG171, European circa 1920

An unusually large unmarked European parlor is ready. Considering the size, tuning screws and other details, I guess it is from the early 1920s and made in Germany. It was in good original condition, worn of course with some cracks in the top, but otherwise without problems. The original fretboard was in rosewood, a sign that it is not older than the 1920s, but thin and flat. The mustache bridge was in black-painted maple with straight tips, which is also a sign that it is "newer". "Correctly turned" tuners indicate middle of the 1920s

  • Total length: 96 cm
  • Top (upper round, waist, lower round): 26,5 - 20,5 - 33 cm
  • Side (neck block, waist, end block): 7,5 - 8,5 - 8 cm
  • Neck: Soft V-shape
  • Fingerboard (nut, 12th, bridge): 45 - 57 - 58 mm
  • String length: 63 cm
  • Paint: Spirit varnish
  • Weight: 1306 g

The customer wanted an ebony fretboard with a 16 ″ radius, a replica bridge in ebony, transparent pickguard, K&K mic and extra luxurious Waverly tuners in addition to what is always included in an OldGuitar. Except for a Gator 3/4 case that I first thought was too small for the guitar, but it turned out that it fit exactly with a snug fit.

As almost always, the top and bottom were thinned to just under 3 mm for the best sound. The neck was given a milled carbon fiber rod and new braces were glued into both the top and bottom. Here are some pictures from the renovation work.

Since the bottom is always shrunk, the sides must be pressed in a few mm in the narrowest place for the bottom to fit against the side. This means that the protruding bottom must be leveled to the side with a sharp knife and then stained. I now use almost exclusively Herdin's water-based stains, I have bought all the colors available :-) A lap or two with clear spirit varnish softens the worst white scratches without removing the patina.

The neck got a couple of layers of black spirit lacquer, the old lacquer smelled like a freshly tarred boat when I sanded!

Waverly mechanics are pure luxury. It costs four times more than the usual Stewmac Golden Age tuners, but it feels like butter when you tune. The brass color also fits very well with the EVO gold bands. The Waverly tuners are a bit heavier and have fatter string posts (6,38 mm instead of 6 mm) compared to the cheaper one, so the fit against the metal bushings became very tight - much like the guitar in the case!

The customer wanted Newtone Heritage 0.11 strings on it and low string height. I reduced my standard string height at the 1st fret by 0,05 mm without having problems with rattling. The difference between NH 0.11 and 0.12 is not big, they sound just as good but 0.12 responds a little better and gives a little higher volume.

I also pasted on a transparent pick guard. It turned out good even if the top was uneven and some air pockets are trapped under the plastic itself.

I am happy with the result and thinks the guitar sounds good. The larger size and volume of the body gives a little more space and bass than on a smaller similar parlor, but the difference is not big and it sounds just as good as an OldGuitar should!

   

I made a small sound clip with my new recording rig, using a stereo pair of Coles band micks. Here is the sound from loose strings, some random troubadour chords, barre chords and some random plectrum playing. I used my new standard for the plugs, hard birch on the E string, endwood in spruce on A, D and G and "horizontal" spruce (without plugs but bridge plate in spruce and top in spruce) on the two unwound strings. Lots of "snap" on the E string, more snap, volume and treble on the A-G strings and subdued volume and treble on the unwounded strings.

GG171 demo