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Epiphone Archtop Restoration

“Wowee wow wow.”  -C. Walken

So this project came along in April.  This is an 1940 Epiphone archtop with some serious stuff going on.  A large piece of the back is missing from the bass side upper bout, and there are structural cracks present in both directions.




The binding on the neck is coming off and has been…repaired…?






The body binding has been removed and replaced with a cream-color that doesn’t match the original very well.  Also, the glue job is coming apart.


The question I get asked often: “Is this even worth repairing?”  My answer is always the same: Any guitar is worth repairing if it’s worth it to the owner.  This one belonged to the owner’s father.  Question answered.


So let’s start at the beginning.  Because there are structural cracks, the only way to fix this guitar correctly is to take the back off.  Fortunately, the glue joints are already a bit loose, and with some gentle persuasion, the back came off fairly easily.  Before removing it, I drilled small holes through the back into the neck and tail blocks.


This is one of the best parts of a job like this…you get to see parts of the guitar that haven’t been seen or touched in 70+ years.


But alas, there is always some collateral damage.  Some of the kerfed lining had dry rot and fell apart when the back was separated from the sides.DSC00907

Easy enough to replace with a mahogany lining.DSC00985

After discussing things with the client, he and I decided to restore the back rather than a complete replacement.  I like to keep vintage instruments as close to original as possible.

With the back off, I used a soy chemical stripper (you should try this stuff…it works really well, doesn’t burn your skin, and has a lovely orange fragrance.  In fact, I’m wearing it right now) to remove the nitrocellulose lacquer.

Once that was done, a small piece of tiger maple (supplied by the customer) was grafted onto the back.  It was much paler than the well-aged maple of the rest of the back, so I used a tinted stain to match it as best possible.  For the same reason, I used small splines of cherry wood to patch the structural cracks, as the color and grain was a better match.

Some sanding, a light coat of tinted shader to make the grain pop, and some contour carving of the replacement piece, and the back is ready to go back on.



I decided to use shellac on the back of this as it tints a bit more evenly than lacquer.  Some sunburst spraying, and here is where we are.


There’s still a bit of work to be done on this old girl.  I’ll keep you updated.

UPDATE: After 6 months, the old girl was finally ready to go.


Final finish on the back. About 20 coats of French Polish.





DSC01055DSC01059DSC01052 The binding was replaced with white (on the bottom), and oversprayed with a tinted shellac to mimic the yellowed appearance of the original finish.



Strung up – she sounds great, nice loud projection and smooth tones. The client is very pleased.



~ by badmin on October 20, 2014.

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