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Best way to approach this repair?

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  • Best way to approach this repair?

    I recently sold my beloved Collings to rectify a financial situation, and in a moment of GAS madness, contacted a fellow on craigslist, and decided to buy a 40 year old Yamaha FG-300 as a consolation gift to myself.

    When I first saw it, I knew there was a problem. Or two, or three. The area in front of the saddle was badly sunken, the bridge had been shaved practically in a smiley face (and from the top gouges, removed sloppily and re-glued), the former adjustable saddle replaced with a long through Martin-style saddle that was very high and leaning badly, it had been refretted (although a pretty good job), and the nut had been replaced and moved up towards the head stock to (I assume) correct the scale length issue with the leaning saddle, Further examination showed a big honking maple bridgeplate, possibly to help support the dip in front of the bridge. And most of this had been done because the neck needs a reset, perhaps because of the dip in the top behind the sound hole. Again, I assume, I'm not a guitar forensic specialist, but the story seems to fit the parameters. There's a replacement pickguard, too ... and while I don't see any cracks or cleats, who knows what is under that 'guard ... ???

    There was every reason in the world to walk away, but I played it, and I'll be darned if the dad-blamed thing didn't speak to me, when I just knew from how it looked that it had to be dead as a doornail. Despite the structural issues, the tone was rich and warm, with a sweet punchy bass, good note distinction, and great trebles. Much like a couple of the better older Gibson 'Birds that I've played in the past. A nice mild mod-V style neck, and a comfortable switch from my usual 1-3/4" guitar to 1-11/16". A lovely, sweet tone; louder than I expected.

    And the price was arguably within what I was willing to pay, considering ... definitely the best sounding all-laminate guitar I had ever heard.

    So I hauled out my wallet and bought it. Stupid move, really, but the sound was so sweet, and the guitar seemed to like me ....!

    Now comes time to do something about that high leaning saddle before the bridge cracks, and the acquisition becomes ugly man cave wall art.

    Tentative thoughts ...

    I figure that the saddle is leaning so much because the saddle slot is not a good fit. The bridge was probably shaved too much, as well. I understand the high saddle solution ... the action is still too low, and although there is almost no relief, there's some fret slap that occurs if I dig in with a pick. Audible noise from the fretboard from hammer-ons, for instance, although no buzz. Of course, if the saddle had been any lower, the strings would be laying on the neck. Good idea, maybe ... but not the best execution of such, IMHO.

    So maybe ... a possible solution ... a Bridge Doctor? Use it to rotate the bridge to help remove some of the sound hole dip and flatten the area, and then I could take off some of the saddle, redo the saddle slot, and get the action up slightly to a more playable level? There's not much belly behind the bridge, but the bridge footprint on this guitar is huge, so a little rotation back towards the lower bout might help a lot. One would think.

    Then I might be able to carve a new nut, and move it back towards the fretboard, and still have the intonation/scale length within an acceptable range.

    If the Bridge Doctor hasn't ruined the tone, the top hasn't cracked or refused to move, and the bridge is still intact.


    The guitar is not worth a real repair (make that expensive), with a neck reset, new bridge/saddle/nut/frets, and some kind of work to correct the top weakness around the sound hole. But I would like to make it a little more stable, straighten that saddle out, lower it, and still raise the action a hair or two. Then I've got that great beater everyone is always talking about wanting, for camping and beach trips, and it might last a few more years.

    Comments or advice?

    I'll take pictures and post them if someone thinks it might help.

    ... JT
    Last edited by JT Foote; 04-26-2014, 08:42 AM.
    '75 Yamaha FG-300
    '92 Gallagher 72 Special
    '13 Yamaha FG-730S
    '14 Eastman E20-SS

  • #2
    1. Neck reset. I understand from certain testimonials I've read that Yamaha did not use water soluble glues in their neck fitment joints so the resulting removal can be a misadventure at best, probably a refusal-to-do by many and otherwise not a cost effective job for you or the repairman. They have better, more lucrative things to do with their limited time.
    2. Bridge Doctor, not fret doctor.
    3. New bridge.
    4. Admit defeat and go about replacing the Yamaha.
    Last edited by Idunno; 04-26-2014, 07:57 AM.
    - The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it. - H.L. Mencken


    • #3
      Personally I would replace the bridge if it's been messed with like that. The way you go about it is to take a clothes iron and set it to its highest setting and set it flat on top of the bridge itself for about 5 or 10 minutes....making sure no part of the iron touches the guitar top. After the wood gets really hot, the glue beneath it will soften and you can pry it up with a chisel.
      Then it's just a matter of finding a new bridge with a larger footprint to replace it. With a larger footprint, no bare wood will be exposed around the bridge.
      Look for a bridge with a shorter height than the original as it will help with any high action issues.

      Approach #2. Get a handheld random orbital sander and apply it to the exact top surface of the bridge without allowing it to touch the surface of the guitar's top. This will even out the to surface of the bridge into a flat shape while lowering it a bit improving the action. One problem with this approach is that it you overdo it, the saddle slot will be too shallow to hold a saddle well. If this is the case refer to approach #1.

      If the top in front of the bridge is "sunken", there's a chance that internal brace(s) have come loose. You can reglue these with long C-clamps....but it's a lot of work getting glue in the right place under there and getting a C clamp of the right type to work.

      Lots of problems and work for such an inexpensive guitar. I hope you got it cheap.
      "I don't want to be immortalized through my work. I want to be immortalized by not dying." Woody Allen


      • #4

        I appreciate the comments.

        Yes, thank you, Bridge Doctor - don't know why I wrote Fret Doctor, instead. Just overly tired when I wrote the post, I guess. You knew what I meant, anyway. LOL!

        1. Neck Reset. Yes, not in the realm of possibility. I had heard of problems with Yamaha guitars in this area, and I'm looking for the cheapest way to add structural stability, primarily to keep the leaning saddle from eventually cracking the bridge. I wouldn't bother with a neck reset on any guitar, even on one with sentimental value, if the repair by itself exceeded the cost of the instrument. And it would in this case; I didn't pay much, the guitar was practically given away. I suspect that the instrument was modified by someone who was learning how to do certain repairs, and so, was a "project" guitar in the first place.

        2.) Bridge replacement. A possibility, but probably the last resort, really. I don't know what kind of glue was used, and the area around the bridge looks weak, with a bulge in front around the bass side near the sound hole, and the dip near the treble side. There might be a small crack in that area, as well (which is currently tight) ... so pulling the bridge might remove some of the top laminate, or more. I'm see dollar signs when I look at it, if you know what I mean.

        2.) Rotation. The bridge rotation towards the sound hole is not good, but looks worse than it is, mostly because of the shaving in front of the saddle, but there's not much belly behind the bridge. FYI. And this is why I was hoping that a Bridge Doctor might help, because if I could use it to level the bridge, slowly adjusting over time (and with some humidity), this should raise the saddle, allowing me enough room to lower it, and set the action to a slightly higher level. This is the thought, but my inexperience with repairs might be showing.

        4.) Saddle. The saddle is glued in, but I think that the slot was probably made too loose. Perhaps if I tighten up the slot with a shaved shim and deepen the slot ... but the replacement saddle is a long one, and this part could be tricky. I don't want to crack the bridge by making the slot too deep.

        5.) Sanding. Flattening the bridge with a sander definitely might help, but that might not help with the rotation, or getting some of that dip out. The bridge has a large footprint, but is not particularly thick as it is.

        6,) Braces. Looks like the previous owner was already working on this ... there's the replacement maple bridgeplate, which extends almost to the sound hole, and a ton of wood glue around a couple of the braces in the area. The braces are extremely light, due to the top not being solid, so it's no surprise that after nearly 40 years of hard use, they might come loose, and probably didn't add a great deal of support, even when it was new.

        Based on this, you can see that I could easily spend some money on this guitar. But I just can't go that route. If I took it to a tech, he'd probably think I was an idiot for trying, and soak me. I couldn't blame him, either. LOL!

        Which is why I was hoping that the Bridge Doctor might be a good fit, and the most cost effective. Or should I just play it as is, and when it finally explodes, paint it cheerful colors and put flowers in the sound hole? I've not used one before, so figuring out the optimal spot to attach it to the bridge to force the bridge to rotate back might be the hardest part of the application. And then if that didn't work well, I might be willing to get a replacement bridge, depending on the pricing.

        I've also heard that the dowels that come with the Bridge Doctor are not that sturdy, and with sufficient pressure, tend to shatter. Anyone else heard of problems with this?

        .... JT
        '75 Yamaha FG-300
        '92 Gallagher 72 Special
        '13 Yamaha FG-730S
        '14 Eastman E20-SS


        • #5
          JT - let me add two cents worth. I have a little experience with both old Yamahas and the JLD Bridge Doctor, let me make some somewhat random comments.

          1 - It would help me to see some pictures AND some measurements. The old straightedge on the fingerboard trick, actual thickness of the bridge, straightedge across the lower bout (to show the belly) and all of the current action measurements.

          2 - Old Yamies are notorious for needing neck resets and its relatively hard to do. Some people can get them to pop using steam, but many resort to other techniques. I tried steam on mine, wouldn't budge so I did the sawn off neck method - if done carefully it works pretty well and can breath life into an old guitar.

          3 - IMHO shaving the bridge is never the proper fix for needing a reset. Unfortunately its done a lot and greatly weakens the bridge (as you have found). In the long run you should replace the bridge - unfortunately it might have the same glue as the neck and might be hard to get off. Use heat applied directly to the bridge (I have the little StewMac iron thing but you can mickey-mouse something) and keep working a very thin blade under it. Another unfortunate thing, Yamaha's bridges are not the same profile as Martins so you can't just buy a replacement - you will have to make one.

          4 - If you decide not to replace the bridge at least pull the saddle and fill it with a piece of ebony or rosewood, then route a new slot. Anyone who works on old Martins knows how to do this - some of them have the slot in the wrong place. I have a cool little jig that clamps to the guitar and holds a Dremel. The slot should be at least 1/4 inch deep in the bridge - normally a bridge is about 3/8 but it sounds like yours is quite a bit thinner. When you do this you will also need to make a new nut - by moving it they might have fixed the scale length but every fretted position would be wrong.

          5 - As to the braces - one of the reasons old Yamies sound as good as they do is they were very lightly braced. It is possible to remove bridge plates - depending on the glue used, heat and scraping with a hooked chisel can get the oversized one out. Again, people who work on old Martins have learned this trick - I have two from the 70's that have had bridgeplates replaced.

          6 - You haven't mentioned the neck, fretboard or frets - once you get the saddle and nut in the right place you will need to look at frets, relief and all that stuff. It is very possible that if it needs refretting that you can fix some of the neck angle problems by doing a little sanding on the fretboard. Don't rule that out as you look at the other items of work.

          7 - OK, now to the Bridge Doctor. First, my experience - I have a 1980 D12-28 that was developing a belly and the action was too high and couldn't be lowered any more. I tried a JLD which slightly reduced the belly, but made the guitar almost unplayable. There are two styles of Bridge Doctors - one uses your stock bridge pins but requires a hole drilled thru the bridge to mount it, I didn't want to do that to an old Martin so I used the kind with special "pins" that have holes in their heads. They resulted in a break angle that was so low that there was almost no driving force to the top - the guitar sounded weak and tinny. Remember too that a guitar top works by rotating around the axis of the base of the saddle (which is what is making the belly) - but by putting that big cantilever brace under the saddle you've effectively eliminated its ability to move. Guitars that have the JLD designed into them (Breedloves) have very lightly braced tops - the JLD is doing the work of the X brace on a normal guitar.

          If you decide to try a JLD I would suggest getting the kind that mounts by drilling thru the saddle. You can take it out if you aren't satisfied and fill the hole. Be very careful with that hole - forumite Kwakatak split a bridge trying to use one on his guitar. You want 3694 (its also the cheaper one)

          If you lived near me we would work thru this thing together (and I wouldn't "soak" you) - it would be a learning experience for both of us. As it is, I can help you with advice and pictures of the work that I've done on my old FG-150, but it would be very helpful to see the pictures and measurements of yours.


          • #6
            FWIW, here is a thread on the sawn off reset on my FG-150


            and a thread from the UMGF



            • #7
              Oh, and the rest of the Bridge Doctor story. I took it out of the D12-28 and had the neck reset (at that time I didn't have the confidence in my ability to work on an old Martin). The reset removed some (but not all) of the belly, but better yet, made the guitar wonderfully playable again - sweet low action all the way up the neck.


              • #8
                Great information, all ... exactly why I posted to this forum. I really appreciate it. I was hoping that my idea of the Bridge Doctor might pan out, but obviously, if I want the guitar stable and playing well, I'm not going to get my wish for a cheaper fix that I could do with my own limited carpentry skills.

                Guess it's time to save up some cash, and see what can be done to repair the guitar. I don't have the tools to do this myself, so if the bridge must be removed and replaced, I'd rather let someone with actual skills make the attempt.

                I'll haul out the camera this weekend and get some pics and measurements, so you can see what I'm up against. I've not done this in a while, so hold your breath, and pray I can take good pics, upload them, and that they'll be acceptable.

                For those who are interested, the neck appears to be refretted by the previous owner, and I'm basing this on the fact that the frets look glued-in - there's some squeeze-out around the frets ... not a neat job, really. I wish he hadn't done this, as pulling the frets might be a problem. The fret crowns are pretty much squared off, the frets are fairly flat - I'm assuming this was to avoid fret buzz with the marginal action height.

                The nut doesn't touch the neck binding, there is a gap, and there is no overhang whatsoever over the fretboard. I had to think, when I saw the saddle, that the nut was done this way to correct the scale length. The intonation is actually better than you'd expect, so it had to have been measured pretty carefully to pull that off.

                The neck itself looks pretty straight, just from eye-balling it, which I was glad of, as I didn't want to mess around with the truss rod unless I had no other choice - I've heard too many stories about frozen nuts and problems getting these to move in older guitars.

                Wish that you did live in my area, Freeman -- I recall that thread on your FG-150, and that was what prompted me to post this in the first place. I'm in Fletcher, NC, about ten miles from Asheville. There are a couple of techs in my area ... one is extraordinary, but also very busy, very slow, and very expensive. His work is great, but it would cost an arm and leg. He worked on my Gallagher, and I'm still feeling the pain. The money probably re-carpeted his house. The other is faster and much cheaper comparatively, but he did some fretwork for me a few years ago, and it wasn't the best ... gaps in the wood around the frets, and they didn't look anything like the rest (had the first five frets replaced). He got a little huffy with me when I wanted the action adjusted, due to fret buzz, with the relief at factory specs, suggesting that the problem was my playing technique, not the guitar. I eventually redid the action and relief at home myself, and got it where I wanted.

                I admit that I'm not going to win any contests with my skills any time soon, but after playing for a number of years, and in two bands as the acoustic player, I don't think that I'm THAT bad. Maybe we had a personality clash, but honestly, I tend to be respectful around those with knowledge I don't have, and I never did think I asked him for anything unusual. Since I did correct the issues on my own, maybe the problem wasn't completely me after all.

                Thanks again to all who posted; guess this is going to be a learning experience, whether I wanted it to go that way, or not. Maybe this can be done without pulling the neck ... my wallet is trying to crawl under the bed even as I write this, but I have a feeling that my cheap acquisition is not going to stay that way.

                Maybe I should just ship this guitar to you Freeman, and you tell me what it will take to fix it, and I'll try to accommodate the financial end. I'm planning on selling my house soon, so there ought to be a little extra available in a few months, as I'm going to down-grade to a smaller piece of property that is more manageable at my age. Do you have a payment plan? (He said, tongue-in-cheek, in a serious tone.)

                ... JT
                '75 Yamaha FG-300
                '92 Gallagher 72 Special
                '13 Yamaha FG-730S
                '14 Eastman E20-SS


                • #9
                  I tell you what: If Freeman doesn't want to do it and you are willing to pay shipping both ways, I can fix that guitar for you. I do these things for fun. I'll even post pics on here of the work. I can even try a neck reset as long as the neck isn't epoxied in. Email me at if you want to have a go at that. I'm in SW Florida
                  "I don't want to be immortalized through my work. I want to be immortalized by not dying." Woody Allen


                  • #10
                    I'm kind of like 'Capo - I do these things for fun and to learn. And to get guitars back in the hands of people who need and want to play them. Capo is a whole lot closer to you but possibly there is a L-in-T in your area (luthier in training) who would work with you. The Bridge Doc might work - somewhere I think I still have the one out of my guitar - I could ship it down to you and you could give it a try. The important thing right now is not to do anything that might make it worse - the Doc is totally reversible.

                    Also, post the pictures and let us discuss - I'll bet between everyone we can come up with a plan.


                    • #11
                      Especially take good pics of the bridge. So we can vote on repair or replace.
                      "I don't want to be immortalized through my work. I want to be immortalized by not dying." Woody Allen


                      • #12
                        Hello, all ... and especially guitarcapo.

                        I'm sorry that I took so long to get back here, but personal matters have taken precedence. My wife, who has been fighting cancer for the last two years is now actively dying, and I am spending most of my time with her, taking turns with her mother in providing comfort measures. I haven't been able to really think about anything else. I am currently taking a family medical leave of absence from work, as I want to be with her as much as possible, until the end.

                        I am still interested in having the guitar repaired, and hope to take some pictures when this is all over, and post them here. I have become very attached to it, and intend to use it in a gospel duet with another fellow at work, to play for the residents of the facility where I am employed. A way of giving something back to the elderly people who are in my charge, and have given so much to me, by also becoming some of my closest friends. Despite disabilities and age-related problems, they have been there for me, in my grief, knowing that I'll always do my best for them, no matter how difficult things might be. It's good that God put me in this place, for all of us, both my friends and I. It's my responsibility, but also my solace.

                        I just wanted to say something, and not let anyone think that I wasn't still interested in fixing the guitar ... this is just not a good time, right now. I'm in some kind of mental fog at the moment, and I wish that she could hear me play again for her, especially on the new guitar, as she would love it so.

                        Tonight, I intend to remarry her, and exchange my vows with her again. Hopefully, she'll have a few moments of lucidity, and will be able to participate, as this was her last wish. This may be the hardest thing I have ever done, as I watch her slowly pass from this earth, and I want to give her a few last moments of joy while I can.

                        I'll post again when the time is right. Besides my silly little cat (who seems to be deeply attached to me), my guitars and the music may be all that keeps me sane and grounded, knowing that someday, somewhere out there, she might be listening.

                        Thanks for everything, folks ... you guys are the best.

                        ... JT
                        '75 Yamaha FG-300
                        '92 Gallagher 72 Special
                        '13 Yamaha FG-730S
                        '14 Eastman E20-SS


                        • #13
                          Sorry to hear about your wife. You'll both be in my prayers. The gospel duet sounds like a great way to give back. I'm sure your wife would approve.
                          Official HCAG “Theory-Challenged Hack”
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                          • #14
                            JT, we will be thinking of you.


                            • #15
                              Thanks for all your well wishes, folks. Debbie is still hanging in there, but I was told that she is now in a transitional phase, and her time is short. It's a very hard thing to see happening in front of your eyes, let me tell you.

                              Update on the Yamaha ... I had recently dropped off my granddaughter's guitar for a set up, and when it was ready, I took the Yammie in for him to check out. He made a bad noise when he saw it, and immediately said that I should just play it until it breaks. Pretty much what I expected. He thought it was a shame that someone had tried to do the amateurish repairs, that it was full of gorilla glue, and it would definitely not be monetarily feasible to try and fix it.

                              He did mention, however, that I could moisten the top (well moisten) with a towel, and then clamp a block of wood to it with a c-clamp, with the wood being strong and straight, and then let the moisture raise the section in front of the soundhole, Along with some heat, in which he suggested that I leave it out in my car when it's hot for a half hour or so (Believe it or Not), and let the sun take care of the rest. Said he had done it in the past with electric guitar necks to straighten them, and that it might be worth a shot.

                              I think I'd really have to watch the temperature to do this, and time it just right, or the whole guitar might fall apart!

                              Afterwards, supposedly, I could use the Bridge Doctor to keep the top flat, but without needing as much torque to stay that way. And then, I'd be able to lower the action. He also said that I should go ahead and superglue the saddle in place to create more resistance against the leaning motion caused by the loose slot.

                              I figure that I might give it a try, and see what happens. If it doesn't work, I'll try something else, or just play it until it won't make a decent noise anymore.

                              ... JT
                              '75 Yamaha FG-300
                              '92 Gallagher 72 Special
                              '13 Yamaha FG-730S
                              '14 Eastman E20-SS