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JasonM

Posts: 1075
Joined: Dec. 8 2005
From: Baltimore

How to loosen a top? 

Hey guys, so I finally got the guitar I just built strung up and first thing I notice is that the top seems a bit on the stiff side. My go to labella medium tension strings feel like hard tension. and I can sort of sense sound wise that the soundboard could use a little more breathing room. But not too much.

I’m not sure where to begin exactly. The soundboard is maybe 2.1mm thick and is French polished - although it needs a lot of touching up so I’m not completely adverse to removing the polish completely and sanding the top. But obviously sanding braces would be easier. This guitar is pretty heavily braced (Reyes plan). It’s got that long bridge patch plus 7 fan struts. I’m thinking maybe sand the struts under the bridge to encourage it to rock forward a bit and maybe remove wood from the wings of the bridge patch.

Sorry I know this is a big topic and a lot of factors but some general advice would be welcome!
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 23 2019 18:05:01
 
Tom Blackshear

 

Posts: 2000
Joined: Apr. 15 2008
 

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

Jason, if you followed the 2003 plan then thin the third fan brace a little thinner toward the sound-hole on its top, using a long swipe, but apply pressure only toward the sound-hole.

Then thin the top of the 6th brace, length wise, just a little from top to bottom.

Usually a few short swipes will do it.

It's best not to go into the center bracing but allow the guitar top to loosen up with age.

If you mess the middle up then it will be next to impossible to correct it.

_____________________________

Tom Blackshear Guitar maker
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 23 2019 19:02:30
 
JasonM

Posts: 1075
Joined: Dec. 8 2005
From: Baltimore

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to Tom Blackshear

Tom, I did follow your Reyes plan for the top pretty much verbatim. Thanks for the guidance. I Will try sanding number 3 and 6. Also was reading through your thread on fine tuning the top.

Question...Which way do I count the braces? Number 1 starts at the treble side, or count from the bass side?

Also, I did not sand the braces in front of the bridge - across the grain - to free up the bridge area like you do. Maybe I should try this as well?

Thanks for the advice and best wishes for your recovery!
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 23 2019 22:40:41
 
Tom Blackshear

 

Posts: 2000
Joined: Apr. 15 2008
 

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

quote:


Question...Which way do I count the braces? Number 1 starts at the treble side, or count from the bass side?



One starts at the treble side. And don't get ahead of yourself.

Try what I suggested first.

_____________________________

Tom Blackshear Guitar maker
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 24 2019 1:01:28
 
eccullen

 

Posts: 78
Joined: Aug. 14 2007
 

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

Interesting, but I'm not clear: are you expecting to alter the felt/tactile tension in the strings, the volume of the guitar, the dynamic range, or the tonal range, or something else with these adjustments?
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 24 2019 2:51:00
 
JasonM

Posts: 1075
Joined: Dec. 8 2005
From: Baltimore

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to eccullen

Thanks Tom. Won’t get ahead of myself! Lol

What is my aim for adjusting the soundboard? Primarily to reduce the tension feel in the strings and guitar. Playing the guitar, I can just feel the top needs a little more flex. If I were to just put lighter tension strings on the guitar then they wouldn’t drive the Soundboard to its potential, I think. This is sort of a feel thing that I’ve just developed as a player, not as a Luthier.

I’m making a new nut for the guitar and then maybe I’ll post a before and after video like Tom did on his last guitar.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 24 2019 21:58:56
 
Richard Jernigan

Posts: 2681
Joined: Jan. 20 2004
From: Austin, Texas USA

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

After 18 1/2 years using Savarez 520R "red card" normal tension (though it says "fort tirant" on the card) strings on my Arcangel Fernandez blanca, I tried the lower tension 520 B "white cards," at Tom Blackshear's suggestion. Actually I would say the cards are off-white.

The feel, playability and tone improved, without any noticeable decrease in volume. The tone warmed a bit, without any loss of brilliance, nor of crispness on rasgueados.

I still have "red cards" on the '67 Ramirez blanca. They sound warmer on it than they did on the Arcangel.

RNJ
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 25 2019 19:37:04
 
Ricardo

Posts: 11365
Joined: Dec. 14 2004
From: Washington DC

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

What is the action over 12th fret with capo at 1? And how high are the strings above the golpeador at the bridge vs over soundhole?

_____________________________

CD's and transcriptions available here:
www.ricardomarlow.com
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 26 2019 12:33:45
 
JasonM

Posts: 1075
Joined: Dec. 8 2005
From: Baltimore

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to Richard Jernigan

quote:

The feel, playability and tone improved, without any noticeable decrease in volume. The tone warmed a bit, without any loss of brilliance, nor of crispness on rasgueados.


That’s always good! I havnt tried saverez strings in 15 years. For my main guitar, D’Addario Pro Arte medium tension is the lightest I can go. They feel like a medium-light tension and I probably should give them a go.

String heights:
Height of the low e string at bridge is a little less than 7mm.
12th 6th string- 2.8mm, 1st string ~ 2.5mm

There is no fret buzz, and the 12th fret numbers feel high because of the tension, and because I’m used to lower numbers.

And this leads to my biggest blunder with this guitar. I messed up on the fretboard angle. I over ramped the fretboard so there is extra clearance at the 12th fret. I’ve got the saddle the lowest it can go at the moment. Second problem is that the fretboard is thin and there is not much wiggle room for re planing it. Third problem is the neck is also a little thin. Lol. So I may wind up planing first, but ultimately replacing the fretboard.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 26 2019 21:34:18
 
RobF

Posts: 360
Joined: Aug. 24 2017
 

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

Hi Jason, if you’re feeling up to it, replacing the fingerboard and trying to get the string height at the saddle up to somewhere between 7.5 - 8mm is worth considering. Less than 7mm on a new guitar is pretty low. It’s a bit of a pain, but if you think of it as a learning experience, it might not be so awful. If you do take the plunge, it may be a good plan to do the replacement before doing any brace adjustments.

Also, this comes up now and then, but did you measure the 12th fret action with a capo on first? Doesn’t really matter either way, but now that two methods are in play on the Foro, it’s not a bad idea to identify which one you used.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 27 2019 1:12:39
 
Ricardo

Posts: 11365
Joined: Dec. 14 2004
From: Washington DC

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

Replacing with a thicker fingerboard will lower the action and allow you to raise the bone up a bit to make up for that problem. I’m sure it’s the neck angle that makes the guitar feel too stiff. If that doesn’t work try playing hard rumba on it for 6 months, that will make it feel looser

_____________________________

CD's and transcriptions available here:
www.ricardomarlow.com
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 27 2019 12:42:46
 
Tom Blackshear

 

Posts: 2000
Joined: Apr. 15 2008
 

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

quote:

Thanks Tom. Won’t get ahead of myself! Lol


Jason,

The adjustment I gave you will work with a thin board whether thick or thin. The idea is to bring the third brace into a synergistic compliance with the first and second braces. Then slightly level the top of the 6th brace to comply with the third brace adjustment, if needed.

This will work, even if you have to change the fingerboard thickness. The trick is not to sand too much at a time , and then play the guitar to check the torque and balance, at concert pitch.

By sanding the third brace thinner toward the sound-hole, this causes the third string tone and torque to drop off into the box a little for better articulation and snap back for thumb and picado.

This is the general idea without getting too complicated.

And if you mess it up, then all is not lost as you can replace the top along with the fingerboard, as you go.

_____________________________

Tom Blackshear Guitar maker
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 27 2019 16:30:02
 
RobF

Posts: 360
Joined: Aug. 24 2017
 

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

Hi Jason, I don’t see any benefit to replacing the top unless you have a fairly good idea of where you went wrong. Otherwise it’s a crapshoot, without more experience how will you determine what you should be doing differently on the new one?

I think let common sense dictate your strategy. What are the knowns? For a starter, the string height at the saddle is a problem that won’t solve itself. If anything, this can get worse over the next couple of years so why not bite the bullet and address it now? It could be the subject for a new thread.

It’s also pretty normal for a new maker to overbuild a bit, so adjustments to the braces could be beneficial, especially since the plan accounts for the possibility in its dimensions. Did you triangulate them, as shown in the plan?

But, unless you are certain the top is overbuilt, adjusting it before addressing the string height issue may be putting the cart before the horse. The string height at the bridge is a prime dimension from which the others follow, IMO, so it’s good to try to meet that target. Not easy to always achieve and not the end of the world if you end up a little higher, but too low is not so good.

Finally, have you given the guitar a fair chance? I had very high expectations for the first flamenco I made. It was my third or fourth guitar and I made it in Spain under the tutelage of a very competent teacher. When I first strung it up in the shop I gave it a strum and murmured “This guitar sounds like sh*t!”. I was only disappointed in myself, but unfortunately the teacher overheard me and I think it hurt his feelings, too, which I really regretted. So then I was mad at myself not just for making a crappy sounding guitar but also for being ungracious to my teacher.

Long story short, I still have that guitar. It came alive over the years and is now an excellent instrument, not just good, but top drawer. There was never anything wrong with how it was built, at all. It was simply green (as was I) and needed some time to develop its voice.

So maybe your new guitar also just needs a bit of time to find its way. But the string height issue should be addressed, IMO, if you can at all see your way clear to doing it.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 27 2019 18:34:39
 
RobF

Posts: 360
Joined: Aug. 24 2017
 

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

It occurs to me that one thing you can try right away is to put in a new saddle which raises the height to at least 7.5mm and see how that affects the right hand feel and general temperament of the guitar. Then, if you decide to play around with adjusting the bracing you could use the higher saddle as one of your guides when evaluating the results. Just a thought.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 28 2019 2:33:03
 
JasonM

Posts: 1075
Joined: Dec. 8 2005
From: Baltimore

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to RobF

When I setup the guitar I set the saddle to about 7.5 mm just to see what it sounded like. Then I went ahead and lowered the saddle and nut past their limits to see how it would change the feel of the right hand. First time hearing the guitar I sort of had the same reaction as you Rob lol. That is a good story with a happy ending. First time playing The guitar was a bit dull but I knew I needed to give it at least 24 hrs and sure enough the sound drastically came alive. I like the sound and don’t want to replace the top!! I’ll try to record something before I take it back to bench.

Ricardo played the guitar this weekend and he said the tension felt fine to him, but I needed to obviously fix the nut and saddle, put a golpeadore on and slap a mosaic rosette sticker over the wooden ring rosette 😂
I did sand braces 3 and 6 as Tom suggested (before Ricardo played the guitar). Just a little bit. Maybe 6 passes with 320 grit. I was kind of nervous about taking it too far. I think it made a very slight difference on the treble side.

Rob, you sealed the deal. I’m going to replace the fretboard. A little nervous but also kind of excited to go through the process and gain valuable experience like you said. I used fish glue for the fretboard so hopefully it will come off pretty smoothly with an iron and some sharp putty knives

I’ll revisit this after I get the new fretboard on and play the guitar in for a bit.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 29 2019 16:18:03
 
JasonM

Posts: 1075
Joined: Dec. 8 2005
From: Baltimore

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

Ricardo playing the guitar at the bar


pics from the dungeon





Images are resized automatically to a maximum width of 800px

Attachment (2)
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 30 2019 2:43:37
 
RobF

Posts: 360
Joined: Aug. 24 2017
 

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

Wow! You did a great job on the guitar. Very handsome! Quite impressive, actually.

Now get yourself some decal paper and print out that rosette sticker, and you’re done! Kidding...I meant label.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 30 2019 3:10:56
 
Filip

 

Posts: 200
Joined: Apr. 23 2006
From: Madrid

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

quote:

I did sand braces 3 and 6 as Tom suggested (before Ricardo played the guitar).

How do you sand the braces on a guitar that is already completely built and closed?
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 30 2019 10:21:09
 
Filip

 

Posts: 200
Joined: Apr. 23 2006
From: Madrid

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

quote:

Ricardo playing the guitar at the bar

Oh, the guitar sounds wonderful, congratulations!
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 30 2019 10:50:02
 
ernandez R

 

Posts: 24
Joined: Mar. 25 2019
From: Alaska USA

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

Jason,
Congratulations on completing such a nice looking instrument.

I've been lurking here at the Foro for about a year and really have learned a lot as you shared your build progress.

I think you should leave your first guitar alone and wear out a few sets of the wound strings while building your next. She really needs you to work her a couple hours a day.

Of course I too had to refretboard one and refret my first three guitars more then a few times here and there...

Still play my #1 every day because it has some kind of magic but she is not perfect.

Two questions:
How much does she weigh?
What strings are you using? Answered up thread I think.
What did Ricardo think about your neck angle?

HR
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 30 2019 18:20:15
 
Tom Blackshear

 

Posts: 2000
Joined: Apr. 15 2008
 

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

Jason,

The guitar looks very good and the sound is good to hear. The thinning of the third brace is to get the articulation for thumb and picado. The way I check the articulation is with the thumb to pull a D chord on the 3rd, second and 1st string. If it snaps back instead of bounces, then it is correct. Thinning the 6th brace merely levels the 3rd string balance, if needed.

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Tom Blackshear Guitar maker
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 30 2019 18:35:47
 
rombsix

Posts: 6988
Joined: Jan. 11 2006
From: Beirut, Lebanon

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to Tom Blackshear

Looks amazing, my friend.

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Ramzi

http://www.youtube.com/rombsix
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Sep. 30 2019 23:08:38
 
JasonM

Posts: 1075
Joined: Dec. 8 2005
From: Baltimore

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

Thank you all. I certainly couldn’t have built the guitar without all the sage advice from you guys! Rob, Tom, Andy, Ethan, Estebanna, and old post from Anders, and others here ! I’ll make another sound clip after I finish up everything.

Flip, to sand the braces I just reached through the soundhole but to reach alll the way back I made a little sanding stick/ sponge like a toothbrush.

Ernandez, welcome. great advice about playing the guitar in for a while. I’m still noticing the top opening up. I had the strings off for a couple days before Ricardo played the guitar and noticed today the sound opening up more. Ricardo said the guitar felt good to him minus the stuff I mentioned above about the saddle and nut. The guitar weighs about 1300 grams. Strings are La Bella 427’s. I havnt tried another set yet.

Tom, I sort of understand what your saying about snap and bounce. Hard to explain in words. Although I think I remember you doing the d chord thing in one of your videos.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 1 2019 1:04:07
 
Filip

 

Posts: 200
Joined: Apr. 23 2006
From: Madrid

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

quote:

Flip, to sand the braces I just reached through the soundhole but to reach alll the way back I made a little sanding stick/ sponge like a toothbrush.

Thanks for the reply Jason. To me it seems a bit complicated, I am thinking about how much pressure you need to apply and how can you apply it with a sanding stick. I guess this actually depends on how sensitive the braces are in terms of size/shape and sanding (e.g., if you sand 0.1mm of the top of X brace, does it influence the sound (or any other feature such as stiffness/volume/sustain) a little bit or dramatically ?
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 1 2019 10:21:09
 
ddias

 

Posts: 42
Joined: Apr. 16 2017
 

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to RobF

@RobF

How long did it take for your green guitar to come alive? I bought a handmade blanca from Rene Baarslag in Granada 5 years ago. Although the sound has definitely changed over the years, I oscillate between being satisfied with how it sounds/plays to being disappointed that I spent so much on a guitar that I still don't quite love.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 1 2019 14:05:03
 
Echi

 

Posts: 671
Joined: Jan. 11 2013
 

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

It depends by many things and for definite by your guitar and how much you play it.
I read once Tom Humphrey speaking of this happening in 3 stages but I’m not confident enough to report it by heart. I don’t think an apple couod turn in an orange though. I used to have a stiff guitar which started really singing after some years, but it never became an easy guitar.
Anyway, my 2 cents here are that you possibly are not fully convinced by your guitar (in relation to what you paid for)?
In 2014 I took contact with Rene’ to commission him a guitar. Eventually it didn’t go through and anyway I repented with the guitar I bought instead. .

Re: the main post: Congratulations for the guitar Jason. Well done.
Judging by the tube the guitar sounds a little tight at this stage, as you said. I’m not an expert as Tom here.
I read here in the foro Andy Culpepper playing his guitars in the white and modifying something at closed box. Maybe he too has some advices.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 1 2019 14:28:00
 
RobF

Posts: 360
Joined: Aug. 24 2017
 

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to ddias

quote:

@RobF
How long did it take for your green guitar to come alive?


It improved into a reasonably good instrument within a few days and then got progressively better over the first few months but didn’t really shine. In hindsight, I’m fairly certain the Turkish Cypress used for the back and sides was quite green. The top was fine.

Over the course of a couple of years the action at the 12th raised by over half a millimetre and when I lowered it I also took a bit of wood off the bridge to allow a standard couple of mm bone to show above the wood. The bridge/saddle was already a bit high so I just moved into a more comfortable territory of ~8mm string height. I think this is an important point and the slight reduction of bridge weight likely played a role in the sonic improvement.

But the guitar continued to improve after that. It took about four years for it to become close to what it is today, although when I’ve played it recently it seems to have improved still even more, and that’s after not having been played for quite some time. This, along with the dimensional change it experienced to lead to the raised action, is what’s led me to conclude the B&S woods were likely too green. Although I’m certain the bridge adjustment also had a hand in the improvement.

I would be very surprised if your guitar was made with green woods, however. I think after a number of years if a guitar doesn’t suit you it might be best to look for a better fit. If it’s a good guitar (and I suspect it is) it will likely be perfect for someone else.

Just a word of caution - shaving bridges and braces, or thinning tops or backs, is not the cure-all that some repair “luthiers” will sometimes tout. Any adjustments can just as easily throw things out of whack and lead to a detriment in quality. More likely to, in fact. I don’t know how many fine old Martin instruments or Condes, for that matter, have been ruined by people claiming to know better, when in reality they’re selling snake oil in pursuit of a quick buck.

*edit* P.S. before I get myself into trouble here, I should add that making adjustments to their own builds is the maker’s prerogative. My caution is intended more to prevent people from indiscriminately attacking fine instruments with sandpaper in the hopes of “improving” them.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 1 2019 15:42:30
 
Tom Blackshear

 

Posts: 2000
Joined: Apr. 15 2008
 

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to RobF

quote:

More likely to, in fact. I don’t know how many fine old Martin instruments or Condes, for that matter, have been ruined by people claiming to know better, when in reality they’re selling snake oil in pursuit of a quick buck.


I concur that it's best not to monkey with another builder's art. But I also feel it's right to admit that there are builders that have a gift of correcting poor art.

I hate the idea that people use the term subjective to validate poor art, but then, there is reason to accept things as they are when it comes to trying to improve another builder's attempt at perfection.

All it does is put the poor fellow in a bind to try to improve his own product which may not equal the altered work.

_____________________________

Tom Blackshear Guitar maker
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 1 2019 19:57:05
 
JasonM

Posts: 1075
Joined: Dec. 8 2005
From: Baltimore

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to Filip

quote:

Thanks for the reply Jason. To me it seems a bit complicated, I am thinking about how much pressure you need to apply and how can you apply it with a sanding stick. I guess this actually depends on how sensitive the braces are in terms of size/shape and sanding (e.g., if you sand 0.1mm of the top of X brace, does it influence the sound (or any other feature such as stiffness/volume/sustain) a little bit or dramatically ?


Well, I’m no expert obviously But there is a formula regarding stiffness. Called Young’s Modulous? Which states there is a 1:3 ratio between thickness and stiffness. Basically this means that on a thin guitar top and braces, It doesn’t take very much material removal to alter the stiffness. you can cross a threshold really fast and go too far if your not careful . Difference between 2.0mm and 2.1 mm might be significant. And Spruce and cedar are really soft woods that sand fast. Also the tops of the braces are shaped like a pyramid usually so its less of a surface to sand. Some people use a small finger plane which would be faster.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 1 2019 22:48:59
 
Andy Culpepper

Posts: 2752
Joined: Mar. 30 2009
From: NY, USA

RE: How to loosen a top? (in reply to JasonM

Dude, it looks amazing! I'm working on a Spruce/Maple blanca right now. Yours sounds great too.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 2 2019 0:04:09
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