Friday, 27 April 2012
French guitar restoration part 1
This guitar came in a few weeks ago and has given me considerable pleasure to work on. It was clear, as soon as the case was opened, that the guitar had been considerably altered as is so often the case with vintage guitars. At some point the headstock had been broken off, and had been replaced by a rather inappropriate substitute, complete with unusually mounted modern tuners. The bridge had pulled away and had been replaced by a modern classical guitar bridge which, in turn, had failed. A new fingerboard had also been fitted but, just visible on the soundboard, were the ebony fret inserts that showed this guitar originally had a flush fingerboard. (See the photograph below.)
At some point in the past, I was told, the guitar had been taken out to Libya (there is an evocative luggage label from Tripoli on the case) and the hot, dry desert air had caused the guitar to dry out, resulting in some large splits in the top and back.
It was decided that I should take the restoration as far as I deemed appropriate, but that it should certainly be restored to a playing condition. This guitar has had many different incarnations and has been repaired and adapted according to circumstances. At this stage, I feel that the most appropriate course of action is to restore it, as near as possible, to its original state.
My first task was to try and close the top and back splits by re-hydrating the guitar. In theory, subjecting a guitar to a moist environment should swell the timber and close the cracks. However, sometimes other distortions and tensions prevent this from happening. As I write this, the splits have lessened but not closed completely.
It was only after the guitar had been in the workshop a few days that a close inspection of the interior revealed a very indistinct makers stamp, located on the upper treble side lining at the waist. Although unclear, the stamp is that of F. Roudhloff, a well known French maker from Mirecourt. Francois was the brother of Charles Roudhloff (and not the son, as sometimes believed) and uncle of Dominic and Arnould Roudhloff, who also made guitars.
I removed the old headstock and made a new figure of 8 head, based on that of the C.Roudhloff instrument. The pictures below show part of that process. A v-joint takes either 5 minutes or 5 hours to fit; this one took me 5 hours!
As can be seen from the picture below, the neck is veneered with fine, black ebony on a core of sycamore or possibly lime. The new head is sycamore and will be ebonised at the end of the restoration.
By some considerable coincidence, this week has seen a guitar by Charles Roudhloff in the workshop, so the temptation to photograph the two brothers' guitars together proved to much. The Charles Roudhloff, on the right, is a more ornate guitar with a moustachioed bridge and decorative binding.