Morgan Monroe Mandolin Repair

Morgan Monroe Mandolin Repair

Looks and Deceit

In a previous post, “ A Special Gift” , I wrote about repairing a guitar that a friend had given to me. Recently, that same friend asked me to check out a Morgan Monroe mandolin with some badly worn frets and one tuner that seemed stripped. I happily accepted and brought it to the shop to look it over.

Starting with the broken tuner, I quickly realized that things weren’t what they seemed here and that this was actually an easy fix, provided I could locate the correct tuner button. It was obvious that the tuner button was broken, yet when you tried to turn it the shaft seemed to move. Once I removed the retaining screw and the button it was obvious the sleeve over the actual shaft was turning, not the shaft. An ‘Optical Illusion’ or, as a friend’s young child once said, “Hoptical Disillusion”. The only button I found to fit the shaft wasn’t a perfect match, however the customer is fine with it so I bought a spare. I did have to counter-bore the new buttons for the screw head using the drill press and a brad point drill. Tuner repair is done.

The frets were worn so badly in the most often played positions that it was impossible to play these notes without buzzing. I failed to get a true ‘before’ picture but I do have one showing the worn spots during the ‘re-dressing’. At first glance I was sure some of these frets would have to be replaced. Again, looks can deceive. I began by marking the top of each fret with a permanent marker. Using a flat sanding bar and 1000 grit paper I sanded the frets enough to see how they were laying. Then I checked the fret board for level and adjusted the truss rod as needed. After sanding again with 600 paper until all of the tops were level there was hope that maybe these frets would clean up. Next I re-marked the tops and used a diamond fret dresser to round and level each fret, followed by sanding each fret with 600 and 1000 grit papers respectively, to polish them. This is where I cleaned up the last traces of the deepest worn spots. After all of that I marked the tops again very lightly and sanded lightly with 1000 grit paper checking for any high frets.   Dressing out the worn spots makes the fret shorter and the rest of the frets must be taken down to the same height. When I think it’s ready I string it up and see how it plays and listen for buzzing.

I found there was a buzz on the 13th fret at the G and A strings. I add-DRESSED the culprit, tuned it up and worked for a while on the action which had to be lowered as well. I spent a good hour working the nut slots to get the proper string height at the first fret. The twelfth fret height is easily adjusted at the bridge.

This repair turned out really well. No major surgery required and it’s good as new. One thing I am not sure about is the back side of this instrument. This Mandolin has a gold marble sunburst front and back. On the back it appears to have had a “dam” around the sunburst and a weird greenish epoxy-like material. Not sure if this was unfinished in the factory or if this was done later.  All the images I’ve seen of this model have the same finish front and back.  Whatever the story this is  a really good sounding instrument.

Author: Rick

A life long woodworker, I've been building guitars for just over ten years. I build acoustic dreadnoughts, electrics, and the "Hambone", a Terz guitar. I am a North Carolina native and am currently located near Charlotte, NC.