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Extreme makeover of an old 12 string guitar


This axe needed a very serious make-over, as it is over 40 years old. The make and model is unknown to me as it was purchased used back in the nineties from a seller who also knew nothing about it. The label inside is weathered to the point that it is unreadable. This was a very long project, but it was worth it.


before                            after

As it spent a whole lot of it's life in a trunk of an old 1973

VW Beetle, you can imagine the shape the neck was in.

The guitar was left with 12 strings on in standard tuning,

and the stress was too much for the wood.


The neck was bent from the point touching the body so

much that the action was about 10mm.


The frets were actualy in good shape considering the age

which led me to believe that the guitar spent most of

it's life laying around and not being played. Shame for that

because I believed, with a good repair job, it would be a

very nice guitar. It has a mahagony neck, and is a large

jumbo dreadnought shaped, and sounds very nice and



The Fretboard was as dry as blackpowder, so worn out that in some places it didn't even

look like rosewood anymore...


So before starting the repairs, it was time for a cleanup. From ligter fluid to Dunlops Formula 65 cleaners, it was clear that the guitar hasn't been cleaned in a while, and

was in a smoking  room for a long time. After getting rid of the yellow and the DNA of all

previous owners, it was time to start the job.


I put a damp towel inside the body, turned it upside down and clamped it to the table using wood clamps. I also put a block of wood beneath the nut so with the use of clamps the neck could be bent slightly backwards as the 12 stings will surely pull on it when assembled and the pull is enough to make it straght again.


This is a risky procedure I I urge you to take cauton if you atempt this kind of job, because if done wrong, it can do a lot of damage.


Left like this for a few days and checking the progress occasionally, this did 2 things: it straightned the neck and also the bulge in the body beneath the bridge. 


Dry fretboard

Straightening with wood clamps

Damp towel helped in rehidrating the instrument and also helped soften the wood for getting rid of the bulge. As the body touched the table only with the bridge, tightening the clamps removed the bulge, but don't overdo this or you could end up with a concave body which would be much harder to fix.

With a straight neck it was time for fret leveling and fret dressing. After leveling with a leveling bar, I used a medium fret file to give the frets their round shape, since leveling makes the tops flat. Followed that with sanding with 600 grit sandpaper and polishing with 003 steelwool.


With the frets done, I repeatedly hidrated the freatboard over several days with Dunlop Lemon oil. As you can see below, it looks much healthier now.


 Fret leveling  

Fret dressing 

Restored freatboard

O.K. so now the guitar was playable again, but looked like crap. After considering some choices, I decided I would refinish the top of the guitar and restore the sides.


Acoustic bridge removal

This meant removing the bridge, which is a major pain-in-the-ass. It involves a thin metal sheet, a lot of heat, a lot of poking, a lot of swearing, reheating, more poking, wiggling, sweat, but most importantly patience and time. I found that feeler gauges were a great tool for this, as well as a hairdryer for heat. You would be astonished at how many household items come in handy as luthier tools.

With a vibro-sander it took a good 3 hours of elbow grease to take the finish down to the bare wood. In the process the rosette was wiped out, so I ordered a new rosette from Ebay. The pickguard was also useless after taking it off the body, so I decided to go with a new one in the Hummingbird style, also from Ebay.  


As you could see in the first before picture, the body had a nasty crack but it was easily fixable with some CA super glue. After preparing the wood, It looked really nice so I decided to leave it natural with a thick clear coat.


I decided to go with a nitro finish, but unfortunatelly nitro finishes are banned in Croatia, and since I had no experience with PU lacquers, i went with the easy option of automotive acrylic lacquers in spraycans. Now I know that this is not the way to go, but I took a chance thinking that if it didn't go well, I could always sand it back down to the wood. 


Since I wanted the natural finish, I went with the clear on bare wood, and it took 3 cans to get the job done. The first can was basically used as a filler, since the top was rough, and it took a lot of coats just to fill the grain. After that dryed up, I wetsanded it progressively to 800 grit sandpaper. Now that it was smooth, I went on and put a few layers with the second can to get some thickness to the finish. Wetsanded this to 3000 grit to get a mirror finish, but without polishing, yet. At this point I applied the rosette water decal. Finally I used up the final can of lacquer to get the last 2-5 coats of clear. Wetsanded again to 3000 grit, and polished to mirror finish.


Now the cans say this stuff dries in 45 minutes to touch, and 24 hours to cure, but this is simply not true. This whole process took me about 2-3 months because of drying, as the finish may seem hard, but once you start to sand or polish, you find out it's still soft on the inside. 45 minutes between the layers is enugh, but if you want to work on it, you must leave it for about 3 weeks. - Bluesmannus






All repair and setup articles on this website are provided 'as is' without warranty of any kind.. The entire risk as to the results and the performance of the information is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Bluesmannus be liable for any consequential, incidental or direct damages suffered in the course of using the information on this site. If you are not sure you can do this you are safer leaving the process to a professional. - Bluesmannus Team