What I do: Repairs and Modifications
Current Price List (PDF)
Warranty and Disclaimer (PDF)
Work identified as "Hop-Up" carries some risk and I am not responsible for accidental damages incurred during or after this work is done. Feel free to contact me for more information.
Brace scalloping: Scalloping of a non-scalloped guitar will produce more bass and a warmer, fuller sound. If you have a 70's Martin that sounds "nasally", scalloping can really help it out. I'm not an aggressive scalloper, though- I do just enough to get a better sound and then stop. I don't want your guitar blowing up in 10 years! This is important: You will hear some difference right away, but the sound will really start to develop 2-6 month after the braces have been scalloped, and the full sound will take 1-3 years. I would much rather under-scallop and see the guitar again in a year for a little more, than over-scallop and cause problems. This is a Hop-Up item.
Back Brace shaving: Prior to the mid-90's, Martin used a low, flat brace for the rear-most back braces. In the mid-90's, they changed that to tall, stiffer braces. Shaving the two rear back braces down to pre-90's heights will give your guitar a richer, warmer, and more complex sound.
Bridge replacement. This is most typically done as part of "Correcting Intonation", but we will sometimes do it to improve tone or playability. Martin D-35s, in particular, tend to be a little bass heavy and changing to a quality rosewood bridge can really bring out the treble snap. In addition, I can usually increase string spacing at the bridge from a stock 2 1/8" to a slightly roomier 2 1/4". This gives a little more space and I think it makes the guitar sound a little better.
When it comes time for a saddle on the new bridge, I recommend a long glued-in "true" vintage saddle for best sound. Yes, they're tricky to remove, but if you want the best sound, that's what I like. My 2nd option is a long drop-in saddle. These don't have to be glued in, but the deep slot can weaken the bridge. Third, and perfectly viable option is a short drop-in saddle. This produces the strongest and easiest to work on bridge. For the saddle itself, I nearly always use bone although I can use other materials if you wish. Bone is hard and gives a crisp punchy sound and there's nothing wrong with it.
If you do a new bridge, you'll also need a new bridgeplate.
Bridgeplate replacement: The huge rosewood bridgeplates in 70's/80's Martins are tone-killers. If you have belly problems, the bridgeplate is going to be high on my list of suspects. It's tough pulling bridgeplates and there's some potential for damage to the top. This is easily the riskiest job that I do. The most common problem is that the top seam will separate a little from the heat required to pull the plate. This will happen on 1:10 guitars, usually due to a dry top. I can often humidify it and close the gap up, but it's something of which you need to be aware. For a replacement, I personally like maple or black locust bridgeplates for their clear snappy tone. I like to run the grain at a slight angle to the top's grain, and I'll sometimes add a small stiffener strip to the plate to further keep it from warping and twisting. Prewar Martins, Gibsons, and Asian rim guitars are extra tricky and will incur additional risk and expense. I consider this a Hop-Up item.
Bridge slotting and Bridge pins: Bridge slotting produces a much stronger bridge/ball end contact and will really help cut down on chewed up bridgeplates. I include it for free with purchase of a set of bridge pins. On Martin guitars I sometimes slot the A and low E string slots only partially, and cut relief grooves in the respective pins to keep the string angles from getting too sharp. The tone will change just a little bit with a slotted bridge, but the main reason I do this modification is for bridgeplate longevity
There are several options in pins. Bone pins will increase treble and overall sound over stock plastic, and are a great economical alternative to fossil walrus ivory pins. I typically put bone on D-28 and D-35s. Water buffalo horn sounds a little crisper than ebony, and almost as bright as fossil ivory. Water buffalo bridge pins are good on D-18 and often D-35s.On some guitars (non-scalloped D-18's in particular), water buffalo horn will be too jangly and thin, and in that case, I recommend ebony for a woodier sound. Vintage recreation plastic pins are good options too. They are made from a much harder plastic than what they replace and will typically give smooth, full trebles. No matter which pin I use, I will fit them so that they're not sticking up like stock pins. If you want a really low profile, I have a trick where I shave off the collar of the pin, thus letting the pin sit down evern lower- these can be a little tricky to remove, but they give a low profile and still look cool.
Correcting Intonation: The saddle slot of many 70's Martins is off by up to 1/4". This'll make the guitar play sharp. There are several options here. The first is to fill in the slot and recut it in the right place. This is only sometimes possible. In some cases the new saddle slot will come too close to the bridge pins. In that case, I need to make a new bridge and if I do that, I strongly recommend angling the pin holes so that they follow the angle of the saddle- this will give a more balanced sound and help prevent cracking in between the pin holes. The second option, and the one I typically use, is to remove the bridge and scoot it back as far as I can. There is usually some finish under the front edge of the bridge and about 1/2 the time, I can use this finish. Even if I have to scoot the bridge just past that finish line, it'll often just look like there's a dirty line at the front of the bridge. In the worst cases, I need to scoot the bridge past the finish line, exposing bare wood. In this case, we just have to deal with the cosmetic issue as best as possible. All in all, moving the bridge is the best solution because it puts the bridge in the correct position on the X braces and keeps the saddle in the correct position on the bridge. If the intonation is really off, I may use shims under the neck heel to push the neck back and lengthen the scale. And sometimes, rarely, a combination of all 3 options- saddle slot, bridge location, and neck shims- may be necessary.
Fretting: Includes fretboard preparation (re-planing if necessary to fix relief). I use glue on the frets to seal air gaps, give a nicer sound, and help keep frets secure. I have Martin "compression" frets available for really bad fret slots or if needed to correct excess relief. I don't "dress" frets, but prefer to remove worn frets and install new to keep all the frets at full height. I will re-crown and polish frets if I can do this w/out losing much height. I typically only re-fret out to the 15th fret, to save time and effort, and because frets past that are rarely worn, but if you want all the frets replaced, we'll do that, too.
I also do stainless steel frets on both guitars and mandolins (thin-wire). They can make some guitars a hair brighter but for the most part, there aren't really any downsides. SS will last pretty much forever. It's a little harder on tools and takes a little more care for installation.
Saddles/nuts: I usually work with bone as I feel that it gives the best sound/dollar, but I also have fossil walrus ivory (FWI). Compared to FWI, bone generally gives a slightly rougher, bassier tone that sounds "older". FWI is extremely clean, bright, glassy, and more "modern" sounding. I don't sell elephant ivory.
Neck resets: Includes new bone saddle (but not a new nut- you may or may not need to add the price of a nut) and general setup. I use either hide glue or LMI white to put things back together, depending on which was originally used. I shoot for a saddle height of .130"-.150" over the bridge, with a 12th fret action of ..093-096". This gives you some room to move both higher and lower. I like to do neck resets and do about 30/year. Neck resets are guaranteed for 1 year.
Popsicle brace removal: The popsicle brace is a long flat brace under the fingerboard (See one!) that was added in the late 40's to help prevent cracks where the fingerboard lies on the top. However, even with the brace, many tops still crack and this brace inhibits vibrations coming down the neck from working the upper bout. I also think that many cracks are due to the neck block rotating forward and I take steps to prevent this (although only time will tell). Removing the popsicle brace will give you a slightly more "airy" and complex sound. The most common comment I get is "my guitar sounds 10 years older". This work goes hand in hand with the tuner work.
There is a litle risk involved with removing the popsicle brace: There may be some small gouges and scrape marks. If chips occur I will touch them up a little, but I prefer to do as little sanding as possible inside the guitar to avoid thinning the top any further. Most of the time, the braces will come out quite cleanly. Other risks include potential for cracking in years to come. It's worth mentioning that pre-war Martins, Collings Clarence White, 1995 Martin D-18 GE, and many modern guitars do not come with the popsicle brace at all. Plus, I have seen lots of cracks in guitars with popsicle braces and NONE in guitars w/out them. Go figure. If the guitar has the modern L-shaped truss rod cover, I leave it in place and, if not, I install a brace of my own design that will add support w/out damping the upper bout.
Removal of the popsicle brace WILL void your warranty and I am NOT responsible for future cracks. This is a Hop-Up item!
Tortis pickguard: These are mostly cosmetic changes (and they sure look good!). I use double-sided sticky tape and I cut each pickguard for each guitar. See Pickguard page for color choices.
Truss rods: late 60's-80's Martins have square tube truss rods that can sometimes benefit from stiffening. They can always benefit from plugging that metal resonator chamber to keep it from projecting metallic sound into the box. One way to do this is with a carbon fiber/epoxy insert. Another way is with a compression refret. And sometimes, both are needed to really stiffen some rubbery necks. Another thing to consider is removing the fingerboard and replacing the non-adjustable rod with an adjustable one. I like LMI's one-way rod and I usually inlay carbon fiber alongside it to make a really stiff neck. Truss rod work is usually done in conjunction to a neck reset and installing an adjustable rod will involve fret work at additional cost.
Tuner Replacement: If your Martin has Grover Rotomatics, I'd like to replace them with the much lighter tuners. I prefer Gotoh open back tuners. Besides being lighter, the replacements have the advantage of having a lower string shaft. This will pull the string closer to the peghead, resulting in more sound to the neck and thus the soundboard. In addition, the physical balance of the guitar will improve a lot with all that weight off the peghead. You can expect to hear a clearer, punchier sound. The Grover grommets are larger than the vintage sized replacements, and the wood underneath will not be as faded as the wood above, thus you'll get some "eyes" where the old grommets where. On some guitars this is noticeable, on others it's not. Also, the finish will have dented. I buff these dents out and overspray a little if I have to. All in all, a tuner swap is well worth a slight cosmetic blemish. Finally, the new tuners require one new screw hole.
Open back Gotohs are not as smooth as Waverlies, but they're good tuners, in my experience. I have not had very good experience with Grover 18:1 but I'll be happy to install them for you. I can also install Waverly tuners, but they are expensive. Link to Tuners for pictures and more options.
One other option is to fill the old tuner holes with a wooden bushing so that the tuner shaft makes contact with something besides air. This will result in a more "solid" sound, but it will also require more force to turn the tuners, and when you de-tune, the tuners will have more backlash. This is because the shaft is being gripped by the wood and the string doesn't pull it around. Consider these disadvantages strongly before requesting wooden plugs.
I do quite a few complete overhauls on Martins from the 1970's. These guitars typically have a lot of "problems" that hold them back from their full potential, including a saddle slot 1/8" out of position, non-scalloped bracing, Indian RW bridge, a large Indian rosewood bridgeplate, heavy Grover tuners, and a popsicle brace.
Not all guitars will need everything, but this is what "everything" costs. If you're buying a 70's Martin for this purpose and you can get it for < $1000, you'll end up with about $1900-2000 in it and it'll sound like a punchy 30 year old D-18 V. I don't like to overhaul guitars in good, collectible, condition but if you have one with cracks, dings, or etc., you can end up with a really nice guitar. Here's an example.
Contact me for other work.
What I Don't Do:
At this point, I do not do refinishing on a large scale, vintage restorations, or major repair jobs such as serious cracks or trauma damage. I'd be happy to point you to some luthiers that do that work, though.
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