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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Featured Restoration ( A Broken 12-string)

A brother in Christ has brought to me his dear Takamine 12-string after a tragic incident that occurred in his house. Fortunately only his 12-string was affected and nobody was harmed, Praise God. He told me to be wary of IKEA shelves, don't load it with too much weight ... his Takamine 12-string has suffered impact blows from a string of falling objects when his IKEA shelves gave way to the constant loading from the items they were supporting. The impact has resulted in a broken headstock. It was indeed a guitar lovers' nightmare, equally to a guitar restorer ... This is one of those challenging restoration jobs that are talked about ...

This brother is a close friend. I took up this challenge as a way to reciprocate my gratitude towards him for being a brother in Christ and a faithful friend to me.

Lets' take a look at the start state. The headstock was totally severed from the rest of guitar.

The broken Takamine 12-string
A close-up on the matching members

Guitar in parts of neck and headstock
Fortunately or usually, such cracks are repairable. You can also see the severed fibres are perfectly matching to each other.

Headstock Front

Headstock Back
After studying the mechanics of the crack and the wood grains of the neck, time to get started.

Some wood splints and chips were carefully removed from the crack areas to avoid possibility of weak sealing between the crack areas when glued. The easy part was to glue the two parts together.

Glued and clamped
The wood glue needed only 30 minutes to set but it was recommended to not stress the glue joins within 24 hours.

Curing for the next 24 hours
After the glue has cured for 24 hours, the clamps and wooden blocks were removed. Usually the excess glue will ooze everywhere and cleaning was inevitable.

Glued Headstock Front
Glue marks were easily visible.

Glued Headstock Back
This is a 12-string, and my brother told that he has no intention to load all 12 strings on it from this point on. So he said I didn't have do a lot, just glue it back will do. However, it woud be hard to believe that the glue will be able to hold the tension exerted by all six strings. More has to be done ...

I think that both front and back of the headstock need to be reinforced. So I begun from the back.

Cutting a seat for the mahogany stripe
I used a piece of hardwood (mahogany) to reinforce the weakest part of the guitar neck.

Gluing again ...

Same rules apply ... 30 minute/24 hour
After glue is cured.

The mahogany is inserted into the seating
I went on to work on the headstock front

A square seating was cut into the headstock front
The tricky part ... the square seating was cut according to the size of the reinforcement wood. In this case, I should have used tonewoods but I didn't have any of the shape and size readily. Nevertheless, a piece of hardwood was used for reinforcement.

Gluing again ...

Same thing ... 30 minutes/24 hours
When the glue was cured.

I didn't think that my friend was going allow the two reinforcement woods to stick out like sore thumbs, so the excess wood must be removed.

Reinforcement wood seated snugly
Sanding down
The Headstock Back
Most sanding and shaping work were done finally. Next, I went on the stain the reinforcement woods to blend into the guitar neck.

The back, after staining
The Front, after staining
For the headstock front, the reinforcement wood needs to be varnished.

Clear Satin varnish was applied to the demarcated area
Buffing ... the back

Not perfectly concealed but it was smooth to touch
the front ...

Pretty blended
This dear friend of mine usually forgets a thing or two ... there was no guitar nut when he handed the guitar to me. So I was left with the options to buy a standard 12-string plastic nut, or hand-craft one. For this friend, I have decided to hand-craft a 12-string guitar bone nut ... oh dear ...

However, he has emphasized that this guitar was not going to hold 12 guitar strings anymore but I have cut light marks for the high octaves strings set in case he changes his mind later on. You might be able to see in the pictures below.

The 12-string bone nut
From the side

Nut seated snugly
The Headstock Front

The Headstock, Strung
The back

The Back
Finally, the completed work! My dear friend's 12-string has been restored and road ready again! It was tough but it was rewarding to see it through.

It is finished!
Praise the Lord for seeing me through this entire process.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jeffrey Yong Guitars Rendezvous @ Tomas Music

Jeff and his freshly made classical
As brief as Jeff’s email, he has arrived in Singapore on the 13 Jan 2011. A few days prior to his arrival Jeff sent me a short email stated his intend to drop by Singapore to take care of some businesses. He suggested to organize a guitar night at some premises. He would like to invite guitar lovers to have the actual "hands-on" experiences with his guitars. Thankfully, Tomas, also the owner of Tomas Music allowed Jeff to have the gathering at his shop. So the rendezvous was set on the 14 Jan 2011.

I met him for breakfast on the 14 Jan 2011 and we chatted about his plans for 2011. It was indeed very interesting because the eventual plan was conceived of a string of unexpected and unwanted external factors. Suffice to say that he has no control over those factors that resulted in the decisions. But what comes after the early disappointment turned out to be a huge blessing instead. Jeff is a man of God. Throughout our conversation he has never stopped praising God for the unexpected and pleasant arrangements that fell into place without much toil and effort required.

For the past few years, Jeff has been participated in the Healdsburg Guitar Festival ( held in States. However his application for year 2011 wasn’t successful. As an experienced guitar maker, he was well aware of the opportunities of attending the festival. He made a request to be re-considered but the organizers were very firmed about their stance. He moved on … Things can never be better timed and arranged; in Dec 2010, Jeff completed his last guitar making class of the year for three overseas students. Each one has guitar making ability at  professional levels and one of them a Canadian. (see picture below, middle)

Jeff's last guitar making class in year 2010. They are all guitar makers.
With hopes for Healdsburg gone, Jeff decided to join the Montreal Guitar Show ( in Canada instead. In a breeze, his application to participate as a luthier in the festival was approved, and the usual uncertainties of obtaining visa to enter Canada and States have never been easier. He attributed all these to God’s intervention. The Canadian student has offered to host Jeff during the show. Incidentally, tri-annual Guild of American Luthiers’ Convention ( is happening in July 2011. These string of events has given Jeff an idea, i.e. to drive from Montreal to Seattle so as to catch both guitar events. The drive is expected to take days so he came out with another idea; to visit any luthiers along the way … that must be a dream for most guitar lovers I reckoned. The eventuality was unexpected and way more interesting than his usual routines at Healdsburg for the past few years. He said; “That can only be God.”

Among all things discussed, Jeff also shared his attitude and thoughts towards guitar making. I vividly recalled the three elements Jeff steadfastly held as the guiding principles as a luthier thus far. They were profound and yet practical,

1. Art
2. Science
3. Craftsmanship


Have anyone got tired of looking at Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, etc? It should be easy for us to agree with at least one of the sports car brands mentioned to qualify as a timeless speed machine. To many people, the iconic Porsche 911 has survived since its inception in 1963. There are many revised models but the basic shapes and forms remain unchanged. It might survive another few decades more. What makes 911 what it is today?

The Iconic 911, launched in 1963

Jeff stresses that to make a guitar aesthetically pleasing, guitar makers should pay close attention in matching the shapes and forms. While there are certain shapes that go well together, there are those that repel. He said that guitar is a three-dimensional article and it possesses area and depth as well. It would be a pity to ignore this art form and simply glue all the wood parts together and hope for the best. Imagine a Martin headstock without rounded corners on a Gibson SJ200 ... During the infancy stages of Jeff's guitar-making career he has studied the shapes and forms of those guitars considered as timeless by most guitar players and lovers. While these intrinsic values are never written in black and white, he is able to discern the importance of this aspect. Following his intuition, it led him to create the OM and JJ models which have been proven successful among guitar players and lovers. Jeff said that people don’t just like any shapes that are made into a guitar. You need to make something people would be able to appreciate.

Do you like all the three guitars below? (See pictures below)

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C


Science is about discovery and evidence. Both aspects must logically support each other. However, love for music and playing is led by intuition which has absolutely zero logical properties in it. Nevertheless, I shall attempt to summarize the abundance knowledge shared by Jeff.

Passion can drive anyone to do things but it does't automatically deliver results. A guitar maker can lose hope when his work is plagued by numerous rejections. Even thousand of hours are spent to build a guitar, it doesn't guarantee quality. Ignoring information and knowledge regarding guitars is setting up an impending failure. Guitar makers are as much a scientist as an artist.

A guitar plan
Taken from:

Tone is sound to any laymen; guitar makers ought to understand the basic principles of sound generation. Guitars are mostly made of wood; guitar makers should be conversant in the acoustic properties and behavior of various woods. Finishing a guitar requires careful mixing of lacquer and other compound; a guitar maker needs to understand the outcome of certain mixes proportion. Removing materials of braces is to manipulate the stiffness of the top and back plates, a guitar maker is required to internalize to intricacies of this process. While the players feel the guitars’ playability, guitar makers are supposed to produce consistencies in this aspect by controlling the related yet minute dimensions on the guitar. Tools and machines are needed to trim and sand while making a guitar, the maker cannot afford to be ignorant to the limitations of these tools and machines. In a nutshell, guitar makers are expected to blend all these knowledge and apply with discernment during the making process.


It would be hard pressed to expect a good guitar from someone who is unable to glue parts together in alignment, or a person who doesn’t know the use of a file, a planer, trimmer, etc. Jeff emphasizes on craftsmanship as the glue that blends both aspects of art and science, transforming the desired intrinsic values into executable work.

Typical wood work

More care is expected

Is a guitar maker also a wood-worker or vice versa? Jeff often uses wood-workers as comparison because of the apparent closeness between the two in many ways. While the two has many parallels, the critical difference lies in attention to detail. A wood-worker can glue two pieces of wood together but a guitar maker will book match the wood grains. When making a dovetail join, a wood worker relies on shims to marry the joints but a guitar maker goes for precision. A wood-worker will sand all corners to similar roundness but a guitar maker knows where should stay sharp where to round off. To trim away excess wood, a wood-worker uses just about any tools that will deliver the fastest results but a guitar maker will use specific tools to achieve completion. When smoothening a wood surface, a wood-worker will use any available sand paper to complete the job but a guitar maker will use a succession of grits grades to obtain a fine finish. When finishing with lacquer, wood-workers would apply coats of lacquer without the knowledge of the composition of the lacquer to volatile fluid but a guitar maker is well aware the composition and the purposes. This should sum up Jeff’s sentiments on craftsmanship.

In summary, the conversation I had with Jeff was extremely rewarding as I have learn abundantly from this man of God the essence of guitar making. In fact, the three elements are very much relevant to anyone who strives for excellence in life. If you manage get to this point, a big thanks for reading.

Pictures taken at Jeff Guitars Rendezvous. Here goes,

Arrived at Roxy Square. It has indeed changed a lot since my last visit ... 

Entrance of Roxy Square
The load ...

Finally, at Tomas Music

Jeremy wasted no time. Digging in ...

Jeff has an apprentice now ...

Jeff's apprentice far left, his parents chatting with Jeff
Shun and his friends ... jamming ...

More ...

More ...

Learning from each other ...

They will play guitar at any place they can find ...

These youth are good at it and they love it too!

At about 2300hrs, we concluded this guitar rendezvous. It was pleasant gathering that was filled with numerous exchange of ideas and knowledge, all driven by the passion for guitars and music. On behalf of the guitar community here, a great thanks to Jeff for sharing his passion for guitars with us. Also not forgetting Tomas Music's generosity in allowing this gathering. Many thanks to the owner of Tomas Music, Tomas and his staff who assisted in many ways that night. God Blesses!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Featured Restoration (A Taylor Baby Story)

Dear All,

Every now and then, I will get some uncommon restoration job requests. These guitars bear certain unique identities that were like no other. It was not about price nor the superiority in the wood but the strong bond between the guitars and their owners. Some jobs were down-right economically not viable to be undertaken but these owners have insisted that prices were not the main concern although it is worth weighing. The overwhelming desire to have the guitar restored back to "the desired state" was the main challenge for me. It is ethical to remind the owners the impending investment and the expected outcomes. If owners are agreeable, the jobs get a green light to proceed.

While there are many websites in the internet that feature the quality of the restoration jobs, this feature article is all but for this purpose. I thought it is valuable to share with this unexplainable passion to anyone who cares to read this article, and passing the flame to more people who are playing guitars, stopped playing guitars, play guitars once in a blue moon, just picked up guitars and those yearning to do so.

Here goes,

It is a Baby Taylor, arrived with a cracked neck. After ten plus years on the road, inevitably the road wears were noticeable at various areas the Baby. The owner requested for re-glue of the neck, replaced new bone nut/saddle, set-up, clean up. There is an"off limits"area that ruled out any restoration jobs regardless if they are desirable or not. I'll let you savor the moments of this process until the last few pictures where you will be able to see the "off limits" area. You will understand immediately the reason.

Notice the glue marks, the crack line was glue marks (picture below) ... Baby Taylor's headstock is glued to the neck by means of Taylor's unique finger joint. The crack propagated from the joint ...

Glue is applied to the crack line

More pictures of the clamping process ...

My concern was the puny bit of glue to take on the string tension ... as it turned out, the glue dislodged and the crack re-appeared when I loaded the string tension upon the guitar. As such plan B was incepted. While it was not my favorite but it was a viable option, i.e. to reinforce the cracked area with another piece hardwood. A cavity is routed out from the crack area and a piece of mahogany was introduced into the cavity. (see picture below)

The reinforcer was glued in place
The piece of mahogany was glued in place. Again, another 24hrs of curing. Thank God for Titebond wood glue, things were made much easier.

Clamped for glue to cure
Once the glue is cured, time to sand the mahogany to flush with the neck.

Dremel ... carefully removing excess wood
Wah lah! Almost flushed!

Much excess is removed
The final sanding was done by hand. Scratches were inflicted onto the surrounding areas during the sanding process thus these scratches have to be removed by buffing.

Buffed ... most scratch marks were gone
An important thing I have learned was that all structural issues on the guitar must be addressed prior to other jobs like aesthetic upgrades or pickup installations. Finally the neck was reinforced, and with peace of mind I moved on to install the new bone nut and saddle. Once the new bone nut and saddle were installed, setting up and tune up follow. It was a great relieve that the mahogany was able to hold the neck together. Here're some pictures of the restored guitar.

The Finished Bone Nut
A closer look at the slots

Strings are seated just above the crown of the bone nut
The fitted saddle.

Bone Saddle
You may wonder now, what was the unique identity of this Baby Taylor? A friend to this owner has drawn an illustration of a toddler, munching away some food, who is the son of the guitar owner. That fully qualifies the "off limits" status. Does it not remind us that youth is invaluable and to cherish the food delivered to our tables daily? The illustration was completed with pencil ... on the top plate.

Enjoy the last few pictures to sum up the story!

Such detail touches
Nothing could drive me to clean the illustration away, it is sin to do that. From another angle ...

The full illustration
Finally, the Baby Taylor.

Yes! It is done!
If you got till this point, I really appreciate the time you spent. Stay bless!