1975 Guild F-212 Overhaul *

Sep 2016

I had successfully put off re-setting the neck on one of my 1975 Guild F-212 12 strings for several years. I didn't take it out of it's case very often, anymore, as the action was too high to be comfortable. The saddle had been lowered beyond acceptable limits for years. It was to the point where the (already shaved) Brazilian Rosewood bridge would need to be planed down so low in order to maintain any semblance of break angle on the strings that there would be insufficient mass left in the bridge to set the top in motion. In my experience, heavily-braced acoustic guitars such as these older Guilds sound perfectly awful with thin bridges.

The day of reckoning had come - this Guild needed a neck reset. But, as with many of these projects, it didn't stop there. After all, why should I simply reset the neck and get back to all the other projects awaiting me? As you will see, there was an opportunity to spend way more time on this guitar than I had originally intended.

1975 Guild F-212 on the bench
1975 Guild F-212 on the bench

At a glance this Guild was still in remarkably good shape for a 40-year-old guitar. Further inspection, however, revealed issues I knew I had to deal with. I have no idea when it occurred, but the dreaded neck block shift had struck this guitar at some point in recent history, splitting the top along one edge of the fingerboard extension from the neck block to the edge of the soundhole. It wasn't grotesque, but it was noticeable, and it identified a larger underlying problem. A neck block should never shift. If it does, it is likely due to glue failure. Glue failure can occur for a number of reasons, perhaps the most common being a combination of heat and string tension, such as when a guitar is left in a hot car. That was never the case with this instrument, so I can only guess as to how it happened.

Top crack along the fingerboard extension
Top crack along the fingerboard extension

These guitars were constructed without using a fingerboard patch, a thin horizontal strip applied to the backside of the soundboard just behind the transverse brace and extending across the width of the upper bout. Instead, a small block was added at 90° to the neck block, sized to be the width of the fingerboard extension and glued to the underside of the soundboard. While this extra buttressing would counteract the tendency of the fingerboard extension to depress the soundboard, should the neck block ever shift forward it would take that section of the soundboard along with it.

Neck block (as viewed from inside)
Neck block (as viewed from inside)
A little heat, and this bridge lifted off easily.

Removing the bridge
Removing the bridge

The Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard had one too many planings and sandings (during re-frets and a re-radiusing or two) and could use replacing. If I recall, this one had suffered many finger divots over the decades, more than I remember on my other guitars. These worn, shallow gouges are typically a result of some combination of repeated fingernail and/or string contact, and/or a softer fingerboard material. They don't technically impede playability as much as they are unsightly. They can be filled (under certain conditions) or the board can be leveled by planing or sanding. Over time, if enough material gets removed, eventually the whole thing will need replacing. As I would be replacing the bridge, anyway, mating it with a new fingerboard would breathe new life into the instrument.

The old fingerboard
The old fingerboard

It was time to take off the neck. I removed the appropriate fret and drilled an angled hole through the fret slot, hoping to emerge in the recess between the dovetail of the neck and the mortise of the neck block. I missed the cavity, burying the drill in solid wood. I tried it again on the opposite side of the fingerboard, adjusting the angle slightly. I missed, again!

Drilling into the neck block - missed it by *that* much
Drilling into the neck block - missed it by *that* much

Refusing to be beaten, I moved back to the original side, altered the angle one more time and SUCCESS! I repeated a second successful hole on the opposite side.

4 holes in fingerboard
4 holes in fingerboard

I like to apply steam to both sides of the dovetail, instead of concentrating the heat on one side. Additionally, the second hole provides for an egress for any water, an inevitability as the steam cools inside the guitar. If you can hold the instrument fretboard-side down, you can prevent the pouring of water into the body - a definite no-no. If you have one of those guitars with visible white rivulets of powdered residue down the inside of the back and/or sides, you know what I am referring to.

Using a jig that presses against the top rim of the body while, simultaneously, pressing against the heel cap (I think of it as my reverse steering wheel puller), I pushed the neck up and out of the socket it was glued into. And I experienced another misstep. Note that, as substantial as the necks on these Guilds are, the neck heels can be surprisingly thin at the heel cap, not leaving much to push against.

Thin neck heel
Thin neck heel

In the days before CNC, all guitar necks were made by hand utilizing some combination of sawing, carving, sanding or routing. Not all hand-made necks were of identical measurements. Some of these Guild 12 string necks had thicker heels than others, and this one was pretty thin to begin with. Upon adding serious heat in the form of steam, and applying sufficient pressure to the end of the heel, guess what happened? The wood of the neck heel, right at the heel cap, compressed and curled, actually de-laminating slightly.

Neck heel wood has curled
Neck heel wood has curled

Now that it had curled, I had to make a decision. I could re-cut the heel and thin it even more. I could attempt to re-shape the heel, reversing the steam process, and risk greater damage to the neck. Or I could overreact entirely and re-make the neck. I opted to take the easy way out and re-make the neck! (LOL) To be fair, I had thought about doing this for several years in order to significantly lighten the neck. As you may be aware, Guild 12 string necks of this era were constructed using twin steel compression rods. Apart from the discussion of the pros and cons of adjustability, they are heavy necks! This would also give me a chance to document the dissection of one of these necks, something I realized I had never done.

The fun didn't end there, however. As the fingerboard extension lifted off the top it took a chunk of the top with it. That can happen if I am being overly aggressive in trying to pry off the neck and have not applied enough heat. But this one was suspicious: it appears there is some serious grain runout, and the piece that broke off followed the grain. It is unfortunate, as I need to either fill or cut out and replace that missing section. But it is also of no real consequence, as the new fingerboard (extension) will be glued down over it.

Top tearout
Top tearout

The old bridge along with the old fingerboard are too thin and need replaced, there is a top crack from neck block shift that needs addressed, and I have just decided to replace the neck entirely. What else can I do to reinvent this guitar? I know...let's refinish it! There is a tinted lacquer finish on the neck and back and sides, hiding the underlying wood. Even if that wood is not perfect in appearance, I would rather look at it than at a painted guitar. So I grab my scraper and start to work...

Scraping off the finish
Scraping off the finish

Lo and behold, the underlying Mahogany is quite lovely!

Mahogany Back and Sides
Mahogany Back and Sides

The body of the F-212, three sizes down from Guild's largest body, is quite heavy. Weighing more than 3.1 lbs, it is a testament to the Guild legacy of being over-built (more wood is used than is needed) that accounts for it's unique sound. By contrast, my own jumbo guitar bodies, larger than this Guild, weigh a mere 37 oz. I intend to reduce some material from both the soundboard and the braces which will result in a bit livelier 12 string.

This project is headed to the shelf for a short time, as I other pressing orders to fill. I am debating replacing the plastic bindings with wood...we'll see how that argument goes...

* Overhaul Note: I lost all fear of altering so-called vintage instruments long ago, as I came to believe I could improve on many of them. While I would leave a bona fide collector’s item alone (that is an entirely different discussion), there are a serious number of guitars that are fair game for (my understanding of) improvement. That is not to imply that such efforts are always going to be cost-effective or economically viable. While they are largely labors of love, breathing new life into old guitars is incredibly rewarding. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to finishes, I do not subscribe to the notion that older looks better simply because it’s older. In fact, I am quite convinced of the opposite: a new finish on an old guitar makes an old guitar look - well - new! Regarding tone (issues of collectability aside), if you are certain that your 40-(plus)-year-old lacquer sounds better than any finish available today, and refinishing your guitar will destroy it’s tone, I won’t try to convince you otherwise. But I can no longer believe such a thing, as I have witnessed too many cases where the opposite is true. Most builders consider a finish to be a necessary evil, successfully protecting the delicate wood underneath while supplying a measurable muting or damping factor. A few will argue that a finish could play a positive role in the overall tone of the guitar, while acknowledging that any such contribution would be minuscule, at best. What we do know for certain is the primary role of the finish is that of a protectant, not a tone generator. The soundboard plays the most significant role in the overall tone of the guitar and in many older factory-built guitars the soundboards are simply over-built. The tops are too thick, the braces are too big and the finish is applied too heavily. If, like me, you see any room for improvement in your old guitar, then an overhaul may be in you and your guitar’s future!