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I recently acquired a 1936 0-17H and I'd like some advice about restoration.

Background: It's in pretty good condition Except it's missing the original fingerboard and the bridge has been removed and has been thinned. It's pretty obvious to me that the bridge is unusable but I have a piece of BRW I can use to make a reproduction bridge. I'm planning on converting it to a standard guitar, and won't need to feel guilty about molesting a pristine Hawaiian guitar. I can put a slanted saddle in the bridge and reset the neck at the proper angle.

The real question is about the fingerboard. It came with a new slotted and shaped IRW fingerboard. Would it make a significant difference to the restored value if I used BRW instead? Any reason to use modern bar frets rather than T-frets? These models have a wide 1 7/8 neck. Any suggestions to make the finished neck feel less wide? Is it possible to taper the edges of the fingerboard a bit? I'm presuming it's sacrilege to narrow the neck slightly as it would disturb the original finish on the edges of the neck.

Steve

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Well gosh, Steve, that's a beautiful find! Just my esthetic, but since it's not original, a nice black ebony fingerboard would be very elegant on a mahogany top g uitar. I would think bar frets might be harsh sounding on this type of top. As well, aren't they harder to install? At any rate, the neck job is certainly easy to start. You think this bridge was a lot thicker. When new? It looks like a fun and potentially rewarding project!

The original fingerboard would have had bar frets. Actually since it's a Hawaiian model the frets would have been flush with the surface of the fingerboard to act just as markers. Standard procedure is to shim the bar frets and raise them up. That way the 0-17H guitar ends up pretty much the same as a normal 0-17 guitar. But the original fingerboard is long gone so I can't do that. Apparently it's possible to get bar fret material but in the end it won't be the original fingerboard, so I'm not sure if it's worth the effort. I'm hoping someone knowledgeable can advise me.

I've attached a photo of a bridge from another 0-17 for comparison. You can see that the top of my bridge has been flattened down to where there's almost no wood left to hold the saddle. If the slot is deepened it weakens the bridge, so I don't think it's possible to use this bridge. Maybe it's possible to laminate a layer of rosewood onto the bottom of the bridge, then deepen the slot. Again, I'm hoping someone with experience can advise. I don't think I'd have a problem making a convincing replica bridge, so that is probably the solution. And it also allows me to use an angled saddle and end up with better intonation.

Steve

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We just finished up a 1937 0-18H conversion (sorry no pictures, got picked up yesterday). As to the fretboard, since the original is gone I see no blasphemy in replacing it with Indian rosewood and standard frets. Actually depending on how you read the law, a Brazilian board fashioned today could make the instrument illegal to sell or trade from this point on, so a nice piece of Indian could arguably be preferred.

As to narrowing the neck, I assume the string spacing at the bridge is still 2_5/16", so you would have to plug the holes and reset the spacing there as well to keep the transition up the neck in reasonable proportion. A modification that would not be absolutely condemned, but worthy of careful consideration. It is already devalued in many regards, so you wouldn't be destroying an invaluable artifact. Still, I tend to err on the side of preservation, but it's a personal choice.

Just make sure the fret spacing on the board you choose is compatible with an ideal saddle placement within the original bridge footprint. No one I know of is making boards completely true to vintage Martin scales, but usually you can get close. Just take careful measurements and check the final saddle placement within the bridge footprint before gluing any board on to be sure.

Thanks David, your comments are appreciated.

The Indian rosewood fingerboard that came with the guitar is already slotted and profiled and seems to be the correct scale. (Looks like 24 7/8 but I'm using a cheap tape at the moment so that might not be precise.) As can be seen in the photo it's lighter than I'd prefer, but will darken some when finished. Most of the 0-17's seem to have dark fingerboards but I've seen some that are a bit lighter. I want the finished guitar to look credible from across the room. I do have a Brazilian slab but it would need to be thicknessed and slotted. Guess the main thing I'd gain would be a darker fingerboard, and as you say, there are potential legal issues.

The bridge string spacing is 2 5/16 but I'm going to need to make a new bridge. Of course there's the bridge plate issue. I also tend to want to preserve things, but a 1 7/8 nut is really wide. Is there anything wrong with leaving the bridge spacing but narrowing the nut? If I were to narrow the neck on each side by 1/16 to 3/32 it would leave a small band of neck wood along the fingerboard with no finish or touched up finish. I'm not sure if that could ever look ok. As an alternative I'm wondering if I could leave the neck width but taper the edges of the fingerboard so the top surface is not as wide? Maybe that would help the neck feel slightly narrower. What are your thoughts?

Steve

I'd be personally inclined to leave the neck as it is, not only for preservation but for practicality. One measurement you're kind of stuck with is the width o the board where it meets the body (unless you want to do major finish work to cover the heel and extension area exposed on the body by narrowing the neck /fingerboard). Narrowing at one end and widening at a more rapid rate as you move up would be less appealing to me than just accepting an overall width greater than your preferred ideal.

I'm actually a 1_11/16" man myself, and don't even like 1_3/4 necks as much. That said, the guitar I play most is an old parlor with a 1_7/8" nut and I've gotten used to it enough that I don't even notice anymore.

For the scale length, just get a good scale to measure, and measure carefully with compensation. The original boards from that era seem to be spaced to a 25" scale divided by the literal "rule of 18" (rather than the modern 12th root of 2 spacing), so they end up effectively nearer to or just below 24_7/8". Given that the Hawaiian bridges were made without compensation though, you will have to account for moving the saddle further back than the original. On a 24_7/8" or 24.840" board this may be putting it too close to the pin holes, and you may actually find a 24.75" scale board to deliver a better end saddle position relative to the pins. Again though, the only way to decide for certain will be measurements from the individual instrument itself.

I'm inclined to think that narrowing the neck would require refinishing it.   If you did limit the finish removal to a narrow band, you'd end up with an unnatural profile, unless you widen that band to about 3/4" on each side of the neck, so by the time you're done, you'll have wished you went for the full deal.  

Thanks Frank and David for good advice. It was worthwhile to talk through the options but we don't want to refinish that beautiful neck. I have a 1 & 3/4 neck guitar and find it playable so can probably play 1 & 7/8.

I'll also have to do some careful measuring of the fingerboard scale and saddle position. Thanks David for the tips.

Steve

An idea that comes up every so often may apply here too. Modifying the guitar with a different wood for the fingerboard and installing modern fret wire is reversible should someone want to return to the original setup do in the future. Narrowing the neck isn't reversible. If you are uncomfortable with the neck width, rather than making a non-reversible modification to a decent vintage guitar, you might consider fixing and selling it then apply the money toward a guitar that you find more comfortable.

Good point Ned. I agree about narrowing the neck. I doubt someone would return it to a Hawaiian guitar since the original fingerboard is gone and it will never be completely original. But narrowing the neck would require new finish and then we'd lose some of the original character of the instrument. I'll also need to reset the neck to regular playing angle, as it's currently dead flat to the top of the guitar. I don't think that's reversible without shortening the scale. So, for me it's more about retaining the character and look of the instrument.

It may be worth just using a  narrower string spacing on the existing nut width(moving each e string in 1/16")

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