A Special Gift
Recently, a good friend and musician in Asheville, N. C. gifted me a very worn out AXL acoustic guitar. I knew nothing of the brand, and after looking online quite a bit I still know nothing. The only identifying mark is the headplate logo. The label has been scratched off and there no other markings. According to Neal it was purchased new around ‘03 for under $300 and in his possession until it came to me. He also noted that he had often been told that it sounded really nice. Hey, it’s free and a run-o-the mill factory made guitar that may be a gem. I need to see if it can be saved.
The final straw in this case is that the neck joint failed. The only other critical issues being the worn frets and the wear on the fretboard behind these frets. I also checked the saddle location from the twelfth fret and found it to be a bit off. I will check this after the neck is re-set and adjust when re-gluing the fretboard if necessary. Cosmetically it’s in pretty rough shape. I know it had a strap malfunction once and hit the floor, splitting the top and separating the binding. This happened a few years ago and I repaired it at the time. I have cleaned it up, sanded and buffed some of the worst areas and probably the only place I will spend time on the finish is at the neck joint.
I began the repair by removing the frets and the fretboard. Revealing the neck joint was interesting to me because of the truss rod installation. The top half inch or so of the neck tenon extended up to the ‘top bar’ brace at the sound hole. Just another way to skin the proverbial cat that I had not seen. Once the neck was out of the body it became clear why the joint had failed. The dovetail mortise in the body was tilted from the plane of the top so, ‘they’ put a shim at the top of the joint, and at the bottom nothing. The bottom half of the dovetail tenon was in a void and not locked in. There is a picture of the neck and body together after I removed the glue and it’s easy to see how loose this was.
Moving on, the fretboard was was bound with black plastic binding that was loose and needed to be replaced. Replacing this would mean notching every fret on each end, allowing the tip of the fret to lie over the binding. Not the way I do things. In this case I decided to glue rosewood binding on the side of the fretboard and later saw the fret slot through them when fully cured and trimmed. This plan worked out well and I could fret normally without notching. There were also divots in the fretboard, mostly in the area behind the second, third and fifth frets at the B and G strings. I filled these with rosewood dust and Titebond. When the fill was cured I sanded the fretboard to a 16” radius and cleaned the fret slots, then re-fretted it.
The neck joint though sloppy, was a fairly easy fix. I began by gluing maple shims inside the mortise until the tenon was tight and neck plane was proud of the plane of the top. At this point I used a very sharp chisel to remove material from the appropriate surface of the neck face and tenon in order to get the proper fit.
With the neck fitted and glued into place I check the fit of the fretboard, and using my trusty saddle locater I adjust the position of the fretboard for correct intonation. Now that the nut pocket has effectively been narrowed by moving the fretboard toward the headstock .085”, I decide to widen the nut pocket by cutting through the headplate veneer with a razor knife. Next things needed were nut and saddle made from bone, some fret work and set-up.
Like I said, “A Special Gift” . This is a good sounding guitar. It has lots of punch and brightness which I had nothing to do with. Every string rings out equally, again not me. I just replaced the frets, nut and saddle then put it back together. It kind of plays itself. Like it’s possessed, gives me that Robert Johnson feeling, ya know?