I've been focussing recently on restoring turn of the century Washburn Parlor guitars. I just completed a long on going project, an 1897 New Model 145 and have several others in the works. One is a very nice New Model 201, a mid sized plain Jane parlor guitar that should be a great instrument when it's completed. Based on the serial # and labeling, it probably dates to sometime just prior to 1896. It displays well crafted inside bracing, but no steel bar in the neck.
Along with several face and back splits, the neck had pushed forward and broken the neck block free of the top needing a neck re-set and some neck block restoration. I was easily able to remove the neck by drilling just behind the 13th fret (rather than pulling it and drilling in the fret slot) and applying steam. It has a pure black ebony fingerboard that will easily take a patch but will certainly splinter regardless of how carefully I removed the fret.
The neck came off fairly easily, but as I have seen with similar era Washburn guitars, it appeared that the heel end of the dove tail had broken off. In this particular case, I was able to soak the end piece with wet paper towels and eventually remove it by working a heated palette knife into the joint. Upon further inspection, I realized that the butt end of the eve tail was not from the same piece of wood as the neck (which but the way, DOES have the correct serial number pencilled onto the dove tail). Not only did the edges not match up size wise, but the grain was running in a totally different direction from the rest of the dove tail. You can see in the pic below that the size doesn't match as well as the grain running in the opposite direction.
I also noticed that when the end plug was removed, the dove tail joint went clear down to the back seam. I'm wondering if anyone has come across this situation before. I can't help but wonder if this wasn't a specific building technique that Washburn used.
For what it's worth, I get the sense that this is all original work and this is the first time the neck has been taken off.
Any thoughts and comments from those more experienced than I would be greatly appreciated!
I reckon it's just a little plug they stuck in the bottom of a saw-cut dovetail pocket as a bit of filler before the back was glued on.
By the way, if you're getting chips when pulling frets, try heating them as necessary as you pull them out. I'd rather see smoke than chips when pulling frets!
Thanks Frank, that's what I had begun to suspect. I did heat and pull the fret on the last of these Washburn's I did the neck re-set on, but the ebony (also very pure black) was extremely brittle and a long series of tiny chips came out. I've refilled and sanded them out, but I can still see some of the damage. I figured I could get the same result with less damage this way but I'll try more heat the next time and see if that helps.
I've had the neck off of a number of these old Washburns, but have never seen the 'filler' piece in the joint. Along with Frank's idea of heating the fret, I also score a line along the fret on each side, so if chip does happen, it may break out on the part under the fret.
The necks on these are usually cedar.
My biggest problem resetting the neck on these lightly but carefully build Washburns is buzzing. Sometimes there is too much relief in the neck for a nice low saddle, so pulling frets, planing the board may be necessary. I try not to get too high a saddle on these fragile bridges. I aim for what I would on an old pyramid bridge Martin from that era, rather than that of a more modern D-28.
You're correct, they are great instruments and worth the effort, and will reward you with very sweet and effortless tone.
I like the idea of scoring by the fret edge. The fret I pulled had very tiny chips flake off all along the fret line. It's the first time I had that issue, but it was probably the best grade of Ebony I'd worked with plus it was well over 100 years old.
Some of these old Washburn's have an steel bar running down the neck. This one doesn't so I'll see how the re-set goes. The frets are original and only show modest wear on the first 4 frets so I hope I can keep them. The fingerboard is gloriously black ebony. Reading back over the original post, I see that I didn't mention; it's ladder braced.