Replacing a Classical Guitar Top, Part One

 Few realize the influence of the luthier on the life and career of the artist.

Andres Segovia, In Memoriam of Hermann Hauser, The Guitar Review, 1954

Recently, a classical guitar made by a well known, highly respected Spanish maker came into the shop for evaluation. The current owner had removed all the original lacquer finish from the top and sanded so much that areas of the top were less than 1mm thick.  The first day it was in the shop I spent over an hour scrubbing the top to remove remaining finish remover and other chemical crud that was leftover by “a home repair”. 

The top after a one hour scrub with NAPTHA...

The bridge with remnants of finish remover...

The next day I spent some time with the guitar to learn more about the damage with the hopes that all I needed to do was to re-finish the top. With the aid of an inspection mirror I found a repair completed at some point in the guitar’s life, a “floating brace” was installed to prevent the top from further collapse and an ugly repair done by the owner, a piece of teak veneer and lots of epoxy. I gently flexed areas of the top with my fingers, one section so thin that the wood immediately split. At that moment I knew I would need to replace the top. The neck, fretboard, sides and back were in great shape, those parts need only touch up of the finish.

A floating brace to prevent further collapse of the top. You can see the smeared epoxy to the left.

These two photos so how much wood was removed by sanding to remove the original finish...

I called the owner with what I discovered and we both concluded that the guitar deserved a new top. The owner stopped by the shop later that week, he selected a nice redwood top and a new rosette.

The biggest challenge with this guitar is the original binding had to remain to preserve of the guitar’s integrity. My typical procedure is to rout off the binding, cut off the top, replace top and re-bind with in-kind wood binding. After some research for different techniques I found a short photo essay on top removal by John Greven and a video by Fritz Damler, both master luthiers. I am very grateful that they shared their knowledge and techniques! 

This guitar has an armrest which is glued to the side and is part of the resonator, this is the first pass with a laminate trimmer.

At the leg rest I used my old Ibex brand purfling cutter. I later set up a variable speed Dremel on a Stewmac precision router base with edge guide, which proved to be very efficient.

The guitar with top removed.

A photo of the owner's patch and epoxy.

The original top with bracing.

I didn't try to match the original bracing, this bracing has worked well for me on other guitars that I made.

The new top fits like a glove...

The owner told me that I could put my label next to the original, I declined.

The new top glued on an ready for purfling.

The purfling channel was cut with a Dremel and router bit and lots of hand work. If you zoom in on the photo you can see the original binding, which is about one millimeter thick. The BWB purfling you see in the channel is part of the original purfling.

The purfling ended up as East Indian rosewood, which I scraped down to exactly 0.0430", so it would added up with the B/W/B/W popular and curly maple veneer and fill the channel. I glued all strips in with CA glue, I feared that any other glue would make the strips swell so much that they won't fit!

Everything worked!

 Close up of the original binding and new purfling. I am quite happy with the result!

To conclude Part One, I present some photos on how I glued the fret board extension back onto the top.

Again, my thanks to master luthiers John Greven and Fritz Damler for sharing information on their top removal techniques! 

In Part Two, I will cover installing the bridge and maybe a few other things!


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