A customer of mine has fallen in love with a 1910-ish parlor guitar. Although he won't say it specifically, he really wants it to play like a modern Taylor with low action. He purchased the guitar in basket case condition, and I had to do a ton of work to it just to make it playable. It was originally made with a trapeze tailpiece and light bracing under the bridge, and was converted at some point to a modern style bridge with string pins. I suspect the original bridge had a poor break angle over the saddle and that was the reason for the change. Even with the big belly the top currently has, I think the break angle would be too poor.
I did a pretty big neck reset on it last fall, so much that the fretboard extension has a significant bend in it where it meets the fretboard. The top is bellying so much that the soundhole is sunken by comparison.
I'm looking for ideas on how to approach this now. Here are the ideas I have:
#1: Remove the braces from the top and reclamp them into a lower arch, possibly adding another brace. This could be desirable since the back needs to come off again for a different repair.
#2: Do another really big neck reset, and put an angled shim under the fretboard extension.
#3: Tell the owner that the guitar is over 110 years old and he's asking too much of it.
Is it ladder braced and what tension have the strings? If the bracing is original it may be designed for gut strings comparable with nylon strings. With a warped top like you decribe I would replace the bracing to a stronger one, either a light X bracing or my kind of lader bracing with an A frame round the soundhole amongst other stuff (look at my site www.gammelgura.se for some pictures).
Even if the guitar is nylon strung or strung with light steel strings, I would go the replace bracing route and flatten out the warped top by regluing/replacing braces.
Thanks for your thoughts, Roger.
This one is ladder braced; sorry I didn't mention it before. Normal tension steel strings. I'm pretty sure this was originally a steel string guitar, but I'll double check the research.
FWIW, the arch of the top is about the same with or without string tension, and even pushing down on the bridge with some significant force doesn't get it to move very much.
The trapeze tailpiece and low bridge/ low string break angle allowed a guitar braced for gut strings, to be configured with steel strings. The pin bridge is inappropriate for the way this instrument is braced. You will need to take the back off and re-brace it with an X brace configuration if you expect a lasting solution.
Paul, there are lots of steel string ladder braced guitars out there with pin bridges. Can I ask why you think that X bracing is the right solution?
What do you call normal steel strings? Anything heavier than 0.11 is too much, in fact 0.10 would be best. An X brace is strong (should be very light weight on a guitar like this), but a well dimensioned ladder brace will do the job too.
Another dealbreaker is the thickness of the top. If it's 2.3-2.5 mm it's thin with aged and brittle spruce. On my site I restored a George Bauer guitar recently with a thin top. I ended up putting a big spruce patch (the same grain direction as the top and glued with hot hide glue) under the top in front of the brace just above the bridge. About the width between the two E strings and with a small gap close to the two ladder braces framing the patch. That worked great, no big change in tone at all, and if so for the better. Gluing the patch flat with cauls will fix the depression in the top in front of the bridge.
With low-tension Newtone Heritage strings you can have a 0.12 set with ladder bracing.
You stated "It was originally made with a trapeze tailpiece and light bracing under the bridge, and was converted at some point to a modern style bridge with string pins"
This implied to me minimal bracing, possibly just one strip of wood (often Spruce which would not fair well acting as a brace/ bridge plate will ball end strings) glued in flat ways just below the bridge. You should look at later examples of ladder bracing than the 19 teens for top structuring that will be adequate for what you are hoping to accomplish with this guitar, if you want ladder bracing.
Some early parlor models where configured with pin bridges but where minimally braced for gut string use, I have a 1907 Washburn configured this way. South of the sound hole, there is just the single flat brace across the width of the top, just under the bridge.
Most conversions that I am aware of have been reconfigured with X braces to allow the use of metal strings and also to be enduring. Yes, you can ladder brace but if you want the conversion to play more like a Taylor as you say, X bracing would get you closer. It would also do a better job, in my estimation, of restoring the top deformation.
One thing to consider is how the parlor will sound. There is a difference between X-bracing and ladder bracing. With an X-brace it will sound pretty similar to any new X-braced guitar, ladder bracing will sound like the old parlor it is. It's a matter of taste, I for one thinks the modern X-brace sound is a bit boring on a guitar like this.
X-bracing is way stronger than ladder bracing and the only way to go with a big guitar. Or if you need 0.12 string or heavier. A ladder braced parlor with it's small size will be strong enough for steel strings done right with max 0.11 strings on.
An X-brace on a parlor guitar needs to be really light to sound great. It's soo easy to overdo the bracing leaving a stiff sounding guitar, the braces around the bridge should be made much smaller in size and width than on a big dreadnought (above the soundhole the bracing can be made much stronger).
Putting in a carbon rod in the neck under the fretboard is another great thing to add. If the top is strong enough for 0.11- 012. strings, the neck may not cope with the tension. No need for a truss rod in a 12 fret neck, and a carbon rod is much lighter than heavy metal.
I'm leaning towards A bracing around the sound hole and removing the existing ladder braces to re-arch them. The bridge is not leaning forward very much at all, so I don't know if adding extra bracing at the bridge will be required. It has one wide, flat brace going all the way from edge to edge that also functions as the bridge plate.
The owner really loves the voice of this guitar, and that's not something I want to mess with if I can help it.
If the flat brace is made of spruce, you should reinforce the wood around the string pin holes with hardwood. A-bracing is the way to go, makes the area around the soundhole much stronger with no or very little change in tone.
Could you provide photos of A-bracing the sound hole area please?
Also, recommendations on the brace dimensions would be most helpful.
Thanks, Roger. What dimensions do you use for the A braces? They look to be about 1/16" thick and a little over 1/4" wide.