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Thread: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

  1. #1
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    Default Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    Quite a while back I bought a (apparently Lyon and Healy or cousin) bowlback mandolin, off eBay. I didn't notice that the seller was a pawn shop: known for being experts in assessing a vintage instrument's integrity.

    Anyway as it turns out the neck was twisted. Not a little, a noticeable amount. If you think of a clock face, it was about 4.5-5 minutes off of nine, the angle that that it differed from horizontal. Like it you looked down the neck, from head to bridge, the bridge lay at 2:45. But the nut lay at 2:40. (Just pretend the 'little hand' stayed right on the 3.)

    Because of the twist, the E strings hit the first five frets, they all played the same note, obviously making the mandolin unplayable, unless one knows a bunch of songs that never use the e strings...

    I tried taller bridges, taller nuts, nuts and bridges elevated on one side, etc.

    So the mandolin, my favorite as far as its tone, was useless, so I figured what did I have to lose by trying to get the neck straighter.

    I'd asked on here, but neck resetting and luthiers are not something I can afford, being as I live on social security.

    So, I first tried bracing the mandolin and weighting the neck opposite its low side, which actually made *some* progress. Then, I tried more drastic measures. I couldn't play the mando anyway, so if I ruined it, I would have just ruined it more... and learned something.

    I lay a length of metal along the neck, and clamped it tightly (protecting the neck from clamp marks). I then placed the mandolin face down across a rectangular crock pot, put an inch of water in the crock pot and turned it on high. I draped the whole mess and left it alone for an hour or two. The metal and the mandolin were both really warm, and the steam rehydrated the wood.

    I then removed it and let it sit and cool awhile. Although not perfect, the mandolin neck is now maybe a minute off, and by using a tiny shim (like the tip of a flat toothpick) under one side of the nut on the low (e) side, I restrung it with extra light GHS strings, managed to get it tuned even on the twelfth fret, and my mandolin is again playable and still sounds lovely.

    I wouldn't recommend doing that on a Gibson, but it made my useless mandolin sing again. If the neck returns to its original twist, at least I know a way to make it playable. I'm no professional, no musician, and I play only for myself, so it was worth the risk. It was only like $100 or $150, so I wouldn't be out a lot.

    On the downside, the finish suffered a few small white-grayish spots probably from moisture, but a minor payoff to make my bowlback sing again. It really has such a lovely tone.

    I can't find the "attach photos" thing, so use your imagination...

    In my internet research, I found photos of a guitar made with an intentional severe twist to its neck, and my next attempt was going to be how they set up the nut and bridge on the thing so the strings stayed off the frets, but I'm glad my jerryrigged MacGyver mandolin fix worked...
    Rogue A-style Mandolin
    Lyon and Healy Bowlback Mandolin
    Kala Soprano Ukulele
    Oscar Schmidt Mandriola

    ...so far...

  2. #2
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    I have a great imagination but still love to see pictures of mandolins. Take a look at this thread and follow Jamie Stanek's directions.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

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    The first photo is hard to tell what's going on. The squarish loop of wire and the dirty black tool bag are looped from the G string peg for weight. The mandolin is IN the crock pot, just for a container to hold the bowl, padded and strapped down.

    The second photo is the mandolin clamped and on the crock pot, the third photo is a close up of the metal plank clamped to the mandolin neck.

    Hey, don't laugh. It worked!

    I will scroll through the 11,000 photos in my phone and see if I can find a photo of the twisted neck.

    (Thanks for the photo posting tip; mobile phone site is different than "full site," on which the photo posting stuff is available)
    Rogue A-style Mandolin
    Lyon and Healy Bowlback Mandolin
    Kala Soprano Ukulele
    Oscar Schmidt Mandriola

    ...so far...

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  5. #4
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    No reason to laugh, whatever works works. We're good with that.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    What a crock ...
    I love it.
    New to mando? Click this link -->Newbies to join us at the Newbies Social Group.

    Just send an email to rob.meldrum@gmail.com with "mandolin setup" in the subject line and he will email you a copy of his ebook for free (free to all mandolincafe members).

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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    Very clever! I might have to try this technique myself.

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    Nicely done! Over the decades, I've applied lots of low-dollar fixes to low-dollar instruments, and yours is ... inspirational!

    If you wanted to be a perfectionist, the fretboard is probably now flat enough to apply some sanding and/or planning to truly flatten it, the downside being that you'd have to re-fret & re-set the nut as part of the process. I'm not sure how much stress an old bowlback can take, but your heat treatment doesn't seem to have loosened any glue joints.

    For further reference, there's LOTS of fix-related stuff on the "Frets.com" website.
    - Ed

    "What our group lacks in musicianship is offset by our willingness to humiliate ourselves." - David Hochman

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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    "I'm not sure how much stress an old bowlback can take, but your heat treatment doesn't seem to have loosened any glue joints."

    I watched a few YouTube videos, a couple used a metal plank but used a clothes iron to heat it. I don't recall if it was in a video or on a website, but the guy (author/speaker) was discussing using heat and or steam to soften the glue, but specifically noted that the Lyon and Healy lines used a particularly stubborn glue.

    I'm not sure why my trick worked, and it remains to be seen if it doesn't 'do the twist' again. I think it had been gradually worsening, because it was playable when I got it with just minor string buzz, and over the year or so that I've had it I have made a variety of different nuts and bridges, some "worked" but the intonation was off and such. It's been sitting around unused for several months, and I figured if I killed it trying to fix it, it wouldn't matter much since I couldn't play it anyway. I'm happy as a millionaire in a mandolin shop. :-)
    Rogue A-style Mandolin
    Lyon and Healy Bowlback Mandolin
    Kala Soprano Ukulele
    Oscar Schmidt Mandriola

    ...so far...

  10. #9
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    No reason to laugh, whatever works works. We're good with that.
    +1
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

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    Registered User NEH57's Avatar
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    I did a similar fix on a 'craft' Bouzouki ( twisted ) neck for my lad. Hot iron, metal plate along the fret board.........but to brace the neck I used a rasp file to run a channel into a length of 3/4 ply......then used wood screws ( in the ply) to create an anchor for 'G' strings from the tuners. We then clamped the neck to the board and strung the tuners on the 'high' side to the anchors (screws) and slowly applied developing tension over time which untwisted the neck.

    From my recent experience with the Martin it sounds as if they used the same glue 'pot' as L & H.

    Similar principals, again picked up from Youtube.

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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    I finally found the before photo. It's not very clear but you can see the angle, and the very pronounced twist. The second photo I took today; the neck isn't perfect, but it wasn't even playable before, now it's fine. Low action and rings like a bell... it's got such a beautiful tone. The last photo shows the mandolin's pick guard which I made. It had its original one on when I bought it, but it was lifted and chipped. My last name is Moon, and having never cut MOP before I chose simple shapes, stars and a moon. I also replaced a few pieces of MOP around the edge.

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    Rogue A-style Mandolin
    Lyon and Healy Bowlback Mandolin
    Kala Soprano Ukulele
    Oscar Schmidt Mandriola

    ...so far...

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  14. #12
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    Beautiful job on the details, Moon!
    Technique, theory and fun, fun, fun. I love playing, studying and sharing MUSIC.
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    Registered User Greg Mirken's Avatar
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    Your grey finish areas are from moisture trapped in the finish. Try a quick, light, single swipe with a cloth dampened with alcohol. If that helps, do the other areas and come back after the solvent has flashed off to do any touch-ups.
    Shade Tree Fretted Instrument Repair
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    http://www.shadetreeguitars.com

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    Registered User Kalasinar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    This is a really interesting read, and I really enjoy your problem-solving process using items at hand! Also admire you for not giving up on such a beautiful instrument. I won bids on a mandolin banjo a while back sold by a seller who appeared to specialise in restoring ukulele and mandolin banjos. I got a good price for it and it was advertised in good playing order with low action etc. Anyway, when I got it the neck was hellishly twisted and the action was certainly NOT low. The whole thing was unplayable, an out of tune mess of a thing. I was very disappointed and annoyed. I got a refund and sent it back, but seeing this I hope it did not get thrown in the rubbish heap and that maybe it was fixed somehow... (probably woefully hopeful thinking) it was in excellent condition, just a shame about the neck
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    Necessity is often the mother of invention with such restoration/repair projects. I'm not a maker but I've done a lot of stringed instrument repair work over the past 35 years and there are often such challenges to be overcome that involve "thinking out of the box", and it can be very mentally (if not financially) rewarding to make something (and it doesn't necessarily have to be a valuable piece) playable again. Very well done on a good job Moon!

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    Nice job, moon. I echo the applause for your innovative nature. One question, though: have you checked the intonation of the mandolin? As far as I know, with the exception of Vega bowl backs, most flattop mandolins have the proper position of the bridge on the sound hole side of the cant (fold in the top). Unfortunately, this will probably raise your action but I think in the long run it will play more in tune.

    In any case, for proper location of the bridge, you can measure nut to 12th fret and then use that distance from the 12th fret to position the bridge, then adjust that to play perfectly in tune.

    Actually, if you look at this photo, you can see the original bridge position slightly below the pickguard:

    Quote Originally Posted by Moon View Post
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    Last edited by Jim Garber; Mar-28-2017 at 10:04am.
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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    Good work.

    When I worked in repair shops, one had a long metal device with a heating element inside, you clamped it to a neck and used it to straighten warped necks.

    This worked much the same way, nice!

  20. #18
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    You got yourself a playable Lyon & Healy for about $150... That, in and of itself, is quite a feat!
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    The mandolin is one octave higher at fret 12. I used that (tuner) for its placement, rather than where it is supposed to sit. It's in tune. :-)
    Rogue A-style Mandolin
    Lyon and Healy Bowlback Mandolin
    Kala Soprano Ukulele
    Oscar Schmidt Mandriola

    ...so far...

  22. #20
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Poor Woman's Repair aka What Have I Got To Lose?

    Quote Originally Posted by Moon View Post
    The mandolin is one octave higher at fret 12. I used that (tuner) for its placement, rather than where it is supposed to sit. It's in tune. :-)
    the neck was not only warped, it was too short? So you didn't win just one MacGyver Award, you won two!
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

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