One of our customers, Kirk, came to us with this Villager 12-string in less-than-ideal condition. The top, cracked in multiple places and liberating from the neck pocket, needed serious attention, and the neck had its own set of fissures as well. Add to that a broken nut and action miles from the fretboard, and it seemed as though I had my work cut out for me.
My first step in this repair process was, funnily enough, to do absolutely nothing. For a week. This guitar was entirely too dry, with a musty odor emanating from within. I felt that, had we just dived into the work, things would have been made much, much worse rather than better. Luckily, John’s insistence on our shop being properly humidified made the storefront the perfect waiting room for our new patient. So, I waited seven days.
When I finally felt it was properly humidified, I started dismantling. Things went smoothly enough, considering the myriad faults in this guitar’s body. I had sort of a John Nash/A Beautiful Mind experience, where before my mind’s eye flowed the many steps I was to take in restoring this instrument to its former glory.
Kirk had mentioned that he couldn’t use the pickup due to the wheel and potentiometer being pushed into the body, so the first thing I did was re-seat the offending components. While I was at it, I took out the Nev-R-Dull and brought the chrome back to a shinier state. It turned out so well!
I quickly moved on to addressing two cracks, one at the headstock and one rather nasty looking one by the bridge. I use hide glue mainly, and I’ve got this nifty little syringe in which I keep a small amount of watered-down glue. It’s perfect for flowing into cracks, rather than simply sitting on the surface, and when heated it’s surprisingly easy to properly repair even the most inoperable-looking cracks.
As I worked I made sure not to rush, and many times waited a day or even two between repairs. The one by the bridge was a bit of a pain, I’ll admit, and required stressing the top from inside the guitar in order to flow any glue into it. I made a fulcrum out of a pedal and a lever out of my small dead-blow hammer, gently pushing down in order to raise the wood slightly. This not only pulled the crack just slightly apart, but also ensured the crack would go back together nicely once glue had taken hold. I taped the crack together (a trick I picked up from Dan Erlewine’s book, The Guitar Player Repair Guide) and clamped the body.
This guitar had some particularly stubborn detritus all over the top, so John and I spent a good, long time polishing out the worst of it. All in all, for a 50 year old instrument, it looks pretty darn good. We’re happy.
I turned my attention to shaping a new bone nut for this guitar, as the original had cracked in a fit of brittleness and defiance. I will say, getting the string spacing right on a 12 string isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but my deliberation paid off in spades. I’d addressed the other cracks- and found another hidden one- when that sudden sadness finally hit me. You know the kind: You’ve just come to the end of a long, enjoyable process only to realize that you’ve fallen for your patient and you’ll likely never see them again. Sort of a luthier’s Florence Nightingale syndrome. *SIGH*
Fighting back the wave of emotion pounding my shores, I shimmed and re-attached the neck, taking great care to correctly set the angle, strung that puppy up and voilá! Kirk wanted the guitar strung as a six-string, so I made sure to offset the strings as if there were 12 in order to ease that future transition.
With Mike Ball waiting patiently, I finally plugged the guitar into one of our Fender amps. As I strummed the first chord I was blown away by the deep and brilliant tone of this guitar. I’d never heard this particular DeArmond pickup, but instantly I wanted one for my own guitar. Thick and bluesy, this guitar sounded like electric sex, with a sustaining grit that served well each badass lick we could think to play. This is one of those “pass-around” guitars, each of us in the shop having to get a moment alone with it before calling the job “done.”