Making an "unfixable" electric guitar fixable again
September 19, 2007 10:59 AM   Subscribe

A botched repair has left my electric guitar nearly unplayable, and repair shops won't take on the job. Can anyone help me save my lovely instrument? [more inside]

My roommate accidentally knocked my Guild Starfire IV semi-hollowbody electric guitar off a guitar stand a few years ago. The impact caused the neck to come (cleanly) detached from its base. Since I was traveling for a few weeks, my roommate handled getting the guitar repaired by a shop in NYC where we then lived. Fast forward two years: the neck has separated from the body, producing an approximately 1/8" gap: photo 1, photo 2. The action is now extremely high and the intonation is completely out of whack, making the instrument more or less unplayable above the 6th fret.

Two local guitar repair shops have told me the same thing: the joint was originally repaired with epoxy, so the neck can't be removed without literally cutting it away from the body. Neither shop wanted to take on the job, since there's not much chance of the instrument surviving that kind of work intact. One shop did suggest that I could try to bend the neck into place using rope, then drive a deck screw into the joint to force the neck and body back together, but I have serious doubts about that approach (specifically, driving a screw through the curved surface of the neck directly into the neck/body joint without splitting the wood.)

I've decided that my last, best hope is to try to determine what kind of epoxy was used to glue the neck onto the body, then find the proper solvent to dissolve the bond. With the neck removed I could have a local shop do the repair again, properly.

Can anyone offer advice as to how I might (1) identify the type of glue used, and (2) safely dissolve it without damaging myself or the instrument? Responses suggesting alternative approaches to repair are also welcome, though I'd primarily like to know about (dis)solving the "glue issue."
posted by UlfMagnet to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend getting a copy of Vintage Guitar magazine and looking through the repair columns and ads for luthiers who can help advise you on this. There's bound to be someone who's seen an example of this.
posted by tommasz at 11:09 AM on September 19, 2007

I don't think you're going to find anything that would dissolve set epoxy without damaging the nearby wood and finish too. Epoxy is tough and it undergoes serious, irreversible chemical changes when it sets up. (IANA adhesives expert, but my father was a composites engineer and taught me a lot about epoxy.) The internet suggests things like boiling methyl ethyl ketone, dimethylformamide, or sulfuric acid; any of these things would ruin the rest of your guitar, and they are toxic, dangerous compounds.

I think the right way to do this would be to grind or saw through the epoxy joint, get the neck loose from the body, and then grind or sand away all the epoxy. Use a mask and a well-ventilated area for this. After that's done, the neck should be glued back in place using wood glue. It'll probably have to be carefully shimmed to account for the fact that these shenanigans have been done to it.

Sadly, resetting a neck on a hollow-body guitar isn't something you do at home, unless your home contains a fully equipped lutherie shop including an experienced luthier.

The original repair was a botch from start to finish - epoxy just isn't how you do this kind of repair. (48th Street, not Mandolin Bros. - am I right?)

And because of that, I'm not sure the amount of work that's going to be required to fix this is going to be a good trade-off for the sub-optimal result you're going to get. The guitar may be wrecked, unless you're willing to pay more than its replacement cost to fix it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:41 AM on September 19, 2007

Which shops did you try? Can't help you with specifics, but I would trust any instrument I own to Matt at 30th St Guitars, or Mandolin Bros on Staten Island, Jimmy at The Guitar and Bass Boutique, and Rudy's Music Stop. Have you checked those places? They are, in my opinion, the best in the city.

At some point I suppose that the cost of the repair exceeds the cost of the instrument, and then what's the point? (Unless, of course, there's sentimental value...)
posted by fingers_of_fire at 11:48 AM on September 19, 2007

Evan is reportedly awesome, and cheap too.
posted by Mach5 at 12:43 PM on September 19, 2007

Thanks for the answers so far! I should point out that I now live in the Bay Area, no longer in NYC.
posted by UlfMagnet at 12:45 PM on September 19, 2007

Poster's no longer in NYC.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:46 PM on September 19, 2007

Have you tried Gryphon? They might be able to recommend somebody, at the very least.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:05 PM on September 19, 2007

Gryphon was one of the shops unwilling to take on the job. Their response was really close to what ikkyu2 laid out in detail above. I didn't think to ask for any other recommendations at the time.
posted by UlfMagnet at 1:07 PM on September 19, 2007

This is not a job you can do yourself. When I started reading your post, I though "Pffft, just bolt on another neck". Then I read that it's a hollow body Guild, and I wanted to cry.

This is going to be expensive, because you need a luthier. If you can't find one under luthier, look up violin/cello repair shops. This is a common repair with those instruments. IF you don't want to spend a lot, a luthier might buy this from you cheap, fix it, and then repair it and resell it himself. So you can consider that.

And find a really good one. Here's why: this repair to the neck affects the distance of the nut on the neck to the bridge on the guitar. That distance is a known quantity. If the neck is bowed slightly, or worse, twisted, or people start cutting off wood and shortening that distance, then because distance is off slightly (too long or too short), every fretted note will be increasingly too flat or sharp relative to the open string. And chords will sound like crap. The guitar will be rendered untunable.

This repair is actually easier on a violin or a cello, because the bridges are easily moved. Violin and cello bridges are not glued down. They are kept in place by the force of the strings.

You live in San Francisco. If you really love this instrument, and you want it done right, call Ervin Somogyi. He's built guitars for Michael Hedges and Will Ackerman (i think). He's in Oakland, and his guitars are works of art. He may not take your job, but he will tell you who to call if he won't.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:19 PM on September 19, 2007

I should also mention that the guitar has a floating bridge (like a violin or cello) so the distance from nut to bridge is actually not a fixed quantity.
posted by UlfMagnet at 1:49 PM on September 19, 2007

I cringed when I read your post. Sorry to hear that happened to your guitar!

And now I'm wondering WTF is wrong with me-- I breeze right through the "my relationship with [whomever] is tearing my heart out!" threads...

I've been in such a situation before, and I'd like to offer some different advice, just so I know someone has:

Prepare yourself for the worst. These kinds of repairs are difficult, if not impossible to do. Even if your guitar could be fixed, it's likely that it won't ever feel or sound the same. Your best bet might be seeing what is salvageable on this beautiful instrument and look into building a "Frankenstein" guitar.

I don't say all this to be negative; it's just a long shot that it's salvageable, and it might be worth it to be prepared to say goodbye. It sucks, but sometimes there's nothing that can be done.

Good luck.
posted by Rykey at 1:54 PM on September 19, 2007

Wow, if Gryphon isn't going to take it, who will? A lot of effort which might cost more than a replacement.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:37 PM on September 19, 2007

Thanks all for your responses. I've spent the afternoon messing with the bridge on the guitar and I've got it fairly well intonated, but the action isn't really acceptable yet.

Since it seems that dissolving set epoxy isn't feasible, and by most accounts this is a wrecked/totaled guitar, I think I'm going for the "nuclear option" of trying to close the gap with a deck screw (as recommended by the guy at Gryphon in Palo Alto.) Doesn't seem like I have much to lose, and if it succeeds I'll have a playable guitar again.
posted by UlfMagnet at 4:32 PM on September 19, 2007

Yeah, I'm surprised that Frank Ford's shop wouldn't take this on, but it might have been because the cost would have outweighed the value of the guitar, and not because they couldn't do it. Before you start putting deck screws into this thing, I'd post your problem to the Musical Instrument Maker's Forum in the repairs section. There you will not only get advice, but also connections to luthiers in your area that might want to handle it.
posted by Eekacat at 5:37 PM on September 19, 2007

I vaguely recall using methanol to soften up some epoxy when doing lab work. At least compared to some of the other solvents it's not quite so bad. Don't drink any, of course, and wear gloves.

But I'm not sure how you'd really get methanol in there. Is there room to apply any for a bit and then scrape away with something like a dental pick?

And I have no idea what it would do to the finish but probably nothing good. You could try testing it out on the back first.
posted by 6550 at 7:44 PM on September 19, 2007

Hey cool! I read your thread over at MIMF, and it looks like it's working out. Hope you find someone to do what is now a pretty simple repair.
posted by Eekacat at 2:03 PM on September 22, 2007

Yeah, this all worked out great thanks to you guys and the folks at MIMF. I just shipped the guitar out today to be fixed - properly this time!
posted by UlfMagnet at 12:09 PM on September 28, 2007

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