Teardown/rebuild this guitar, or trash it?
August 7, 2023 4:59 PM   Subscribe

I am a skilled carpenter and amateur luthier, but I am not your skilled carpenter and amateur luthier. I have come in to possession of a nice acoustic with stove-in sides, they cannot be fixed. Everything else is serviceable. Can I replace the sides?

It's a Martin from the 70's. I don't know what it did to be treated so poorly but it's sides (one of them, anyway) are a complete loss. I don't care about faithfully restoring it but it would be nice to make it a decent player again. And also, one doesn't often get the opportunity to take apart such a (previously) nice instrument and practice carpentry upon it.

I'm pretty confident in my ability to take the neck/top/back off without damaging it too much. The other repairs (that I can see) are simple. But I don't have a clue about removing the sides and fitting new ones (for the sake of this question pretend I can bend them to shape).

There's not a lot out there (that I could find, anyway) about a repair like this, I imagine that usually when the sides are destroyed this thoroughly the rest of it is, too. Has anyone out there ever attempted such a foolhardy endeavor? Any advice?
posted by Admiral Viceroy to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Find a book that teaches lutherie, and see what it says.
Talk to a luthier, and see what they say: maybe get an estimate.
See how you feel about it after that.
posted by the Real Dan at 5:59 PM on August 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

Seconding what the Real Dan said above, with this addition:
What's the harm in trying? At the least, you learn things. At best, you learn things and end up with a playable guitar with a cool story.
posted by coppertop at 6:04 PM on August 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

You'll need some specialized equipment to bend the wood (a form like this), one to match the style of the guitar in question (Dreadnought? Parlor? Orchestra?).

It's no small undertaking, because it'll entail taking pretty much the entire guitar apart. Your background in carpentry might give you a leg up, but I'd suggest doing research first to determine just how much work you're in for. Good luck.
posted by MrKellyBlah at 6:14 PM on August 7, 2023

Ted Woodford has a marvelous YouTube channel where he does some pretty complex repairs on guitars. I don't think he's ever done anything quite like replacing the sides, but I know he's taken backs or tops off. At the least you can get some ideas of the processes involved in dismantling and rebuilding guitars. (And I have watched him do some pretty serious repairs to sides that have been bashed in, so maybe you're not at the "replace" point yet?)

Stewart MacDonald and Luthiers Mercantile International are 2 of the big names in guitar repair parts, tools, and supplies, including wood for acoustic backs and sides. Maybe pre-cut? I'm not sure about that, I don't really work on acoustics. StewMac has also been putting out books and videos on guitar repair for years and years, so that could certainly help you get some knowledge.

Also with a Martin there's a chance you could find kits meant to replicate some of their more well known models, so you could maybe buy a kit and just use the parts you need.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:27 PM on August 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

Send a message to bondcliff, he has made a few guitars and a bass -- but I expect he would also encourage you with the age-old question, "What have you got to lose?"
posted by wenestvedt at 6:36 PM on August 7, 2023 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My luthier husband says there's a pretty good book that illustrates this pretty well; Hideo Kamimoto's Complete Guitar Repair book has a pretty good section on sides, he says.
posted by shadygrove at 6:49 PM on August 7, 2023 [7 favorites]

Send a message to bondcliff, he has made a few guitars and a bass

Yes, that's true, but: Solid body electric guitars and a bass.

wenestvedt is correct in my answer though. What have you got to lose?

If this was your friend's Martin and he asked you to fix it, hell no. If you acquired this Martin for cheap or free and you can live with yourself if you don't make it any more playable, then go for it.

I don't know enough to offer you repair advice but worst case you could treat it as if you were building a new guitar. Just strip it down to the point when you'd put on the sides. You probably already know about this fantastic book, which is a very thorough guide to building acoustic guitars. I haven't yet found the courage to commit to building an acoustic but when I do this will be the book I follow.

It's going to be very difficult. Just one example: When you build an acoustic you put the binding on by routing a channel for it after you fit the sides. But you've already got the binding on. So do you take off the binding? Do you attempt to fit the sides around the binding? I do not know the answer. Solid body electrics don't really have this problem.

And what about finishing it when you're done? The top and bottom are already finished, now the sides and maybe the binding aren't. How do you blend the new finish in with the old? Lots to think about.

It's going to be like renovating an old house. Once you take the walls off you realize you've got a lot more to do than you originally thought.

But put it this way: If I came into possession of this guitar, I would totally attempt to replace the sides.
posted by bondcliff at 7:57 PM on August 7, 2023 [12 favorites]

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