I have several issues with this guitar.
1. The brass tuners have a post spacing of 1 9/32", and a couple of the worm drives and gears are worn. Could these be gears be repaired ? Are there replica vintage tuners available in this odd post spacing? Should I plug the slotted headstock holes and drill standard post spacing and replace with replica vintage tuners? I would add that the buttons are in great shape. The gears and worm drives are not screwed, but fittings are spread.
2. The ebony nut needs to be replaced. Should I switch to bone?
3. The bridge was shaved for a tail piece that has been removed. What would be the minimum depth of the slot for the saddle?
4. Should ladder bracing stay original or would cross bracing for stability be a no no?
5. How would these alterations affect the value?
What does the rest of the guitar look like?Is it in good shape, or have lots of modifications already been made?Pictures of the body and the gears of the tuners would be helpful, as well as that bridge.
And what do you plan on doing with this guitar? If it is a keeper, and you will play it always, then do whatever you want to do to make it as playable as possible.Value is immaterial if you aren't going to sell it. Playability is all that counts.
But if it's to sell, do it right, and keep it original.
As far as I can tell everything is original. My main issues are the tuning machines. The guitar can't be tuned in its' current state. I included the list of modification suggestions to get an idea of how much money I might be sinking into this project and if the improvements are worth the price for this guitar. Here are some pics of the machines and the shaved bridge.
Again it would be nice to see some pics of the entire instrument - just looking at in individual parts without relation to the overall instrument makes it hard to judge the condition. Such with out a scale beside the tuner's or a more modern tuner it's hard to determine how great the mismatch. And a shot of the top would provide a better idea of the bridge situation. Are to understand that this guitar didn't come with a tailpiece originally? If so was it a pin bridge which was then commonly used for all string types or what would now be referred to as a "classical" guitar bridge? What kind of condition are the back and sides in? Are all the braces tight against the top - is there any rattling if you tap the top with a knuckle?
Before doing anything with the tuners, try cleaning them up as per Paul Hostetter's site. Yesterday I used some naphtha and a toothbrush to clean the disassembled tuners on a 1927 Martin. They had been very stiff. I was amazed how much dark grunge ended up in the bottom of the small pan. They now work beautifully.
If you look at a recent thread here, "Need specs for a flattened pyramid bridge" there are several pictures of old Washburn bridges.
A lot of the old Washburns had ebony nuts originally. If the ebony nut is functional, I would keep it. If the slots are too deep, you could try ebony dust with CA glue.
Finally, I wouldn't change the ladder bracing. These guitars have a great old-time sound, and sometimes are amazingly loud for the size.
The tuners are not stiff, a couple of the worm drive/gears are slipping when trying to tighten the strings. There is visible wear on these worm drives(hard for me to capture on photo). Thanks for the ebony dust tip; the ebony nut should still usable. What I am wondering about with the bridge is the structural integrity with the bridge having been shaved down. I will keep the ladder bracing, as it seems tight.
Here are some additional pics. I believe a tail piece was added for possible use of steel strings, but when I got it the tailpiece had been removed(three screw holes at butt). The bridge pins I currently have are mismatched plastic. Do you know if original pins were ebony, bone or something different?. The bracing appears to be tight, as there is no rattling when tapping top or back. With ladder bracing, nylon strings would be recommended.
Chip, based on the age and evidence of a removed tailpiece is it possible that the pin holes or whole bridge was a later addition? Is there a distinct bridge backing plate below below the bridge on the other side of the top - and if so can you tell the type of wood? With the tiny foot print that bridge has along with the age I wouldn't suspect that it would last long under full string tension. If it all seems as originally made I'd use some sort of low tension strings - I haven't followed what's not available so any brand advice I gave might be sorely out of date - or make a habit of tuning down and using a capo to bring it to pitch. I've probably seen fewer of these than most other contributors but those I've seen were either for "gut" stings (really were intestines when that was made) or used a tailpiece for steel strings (and you had to tie your own knots to make "balls" <somehow that sounds like the start of a bad joke about stick figures - sorry>).
Chip, The problem with the tuners has to do with the design. These are the early reverse gear type so the string tension is pulling the worm and shaft gears away from each other. I have repaired this problem in the past by filling and then redrilling the inner guide holes in the headstock. These holes act like a carrier bearing for the string post and tightening up the fit will keep the gears meshed together as designed. I'll sometimes use CA glue and wood dust as the fill but I've been leaning more towards mastic made with hide glue and wood dust lately. By the way I recently sold one very similar to yours in original condition for $1,100.00. Your bridge doesn't look that bad, try to keep it original.