Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - 72

COLUMN

Dan's Guitar RX
Spruce used for
the tops on some
vintage Gibson
acoustics suffers
from improper
quarter-saw.

JIGSAW PUZZLE FROM HELL
"Baby Steps" on a Classic Gibson Flat-Top
By Dan Erlewine

I

've always loved jigsaw puzzles. In my first
shop, I even made some from wood to sell
at the local farmer's market. The toughest

jigsaw puzzle I've ever tackled was this '57
Gibson J160-E.
One of my customers inherited the guitar

1) I carefully removed the broken pieces then
took time to consider how to glue them back
in place, including the loose brace ends. If I
glued the brace ends first, it would be difficult
to fit the spruce top pieces in place.

2

Photos: Kate Erlewine.

1

from his father, and as you might imagine, he
was devastated when his toddler stepped on its
face. When modern acoustic guitars are subjected to crush pressure, they usually crack or
split, but the top on this one broke into pieces.
After a close look, it seemed to me the piece of
spruce used for it should have been rejected;
it had terrible runout, giving it no strength
along the grain. A properly quartersawn top
would have held up. I've seen more than a few
'50s Gibson flat-tops with imperfect top wood.
"Runout" is created when boards are quartersawn at an angle to the length of the tree.
The steeper the angle, the worse the runout
- and the weaker the wood. When looking at
the end grain, boards with runout look good.
But, if you try to break it end-for-end, poorly
quartersawn wood will likely split in angled
pieces, whereas a good board won't break because properly quartersawn wood is very stiff.
On the J-160E, Gibson used cross bracing
(also know as ladder bracing) on its top,
employing braces made from spruce - one
shoulder brace on the neck side of the sound
hole, and four running from behind the sound
hole to the butt end. The braces on the treble
side from the sound hole back (where the little
boy stepped on it), were split and hanging
loose. I glued and clamped them as I would
normal loose braces, but also had to glue their
split ends. It was a complex job because each
piece had to be glued in sequence in order for
the shattered pieces to fit together.

VINTAGE GUITAR

72

January 2018


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