Martin Pickguard cracks

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Martin Pickguard cracks

Postby Chris Vallillo » Sat Jan 30, 2016 5:35 pm

After years of working on mediocre instruments, I've got my first Martin neck re-set on a 1972 Martin D-18. The neck came off perfectly and should make for a good repair. One other thing I've been asked to deal with are the usual Martin Pickguard cracks.

In this case, the pick guard has shrunk over the years and come loose from the edges,particularly at the top and the bottom. There are a series of cracks by the outer edge of the pick guard where it did not break loose; one long crack and several short adjacent cracks.

My feeling is that it would be best to remove the original pickguard before gluing and cleating the cracks, then either replace it a new one or re-use the original. The owner is a local music store and they are concerned about originality and re-sale value since they plan on flipping this guitar. Can I get the opinions of some of you pro luthier's out there on what is considered the best approach in this situation?

The pick guard is loose at the top and bottom and I suspect it would pop off with a bit of heat (not too much) and thin bladed tool.

Thanks in advance.
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Re: Martin Pickguard cracks

Postby Barry Daniels » Sat Jan 30, 2016 11:25 pm

Here is the generally accepted method for this common Martin problem:
1) remove the pick guard carefully with a putty knife with grain direction in mind,
2) repair the cracks (splint and cleat if necessary),
3) brush a couple of coats of lacquer onto the top only where the pick guard was attached,
4) then reapply the pick guard with the clear double stick adhesive specially made for this application.

This will ensure that the pick guard does not crack the top in the future as it continues to shrink.
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Re: Martin Pickguard cracks

Postby David King » Sun Jan 31, 2016 1:04 am

I was going to say that that cellulose stuff keeps right on shrinking. Also look out for runout in the top as you begin to lift it, you may have to start from the opposite end.
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Re: Martin Pickguard cracks

Postby Michael Lewis » Sun Jan 31, 2016 3:20 am

As a Martin service center for more than 20 years I have done many of these pick guard repairs. The guard will most likely not be reusable, so get a new self adhesive one for your repair. Barry has basically laid the process out for you but there are some 'finer points' you might benefit from. Often the area of the top where the guard sits is cupped from the shrunken guard, and this should be flattened before gluing anything. I made a clamping caul the shape of the guard from a piece of 5/8" plywood and some MDF blocks attached to it to fit between the braces and push up the top. The outside gets a flat plate of MDF, plywood, plexiglas, or whatever you can find to work. The top is sandwiched between the caul on the inside and the plate on the outside. One C clamp will suffice to hold things in place. Oh yeah, first I wet the bare wood with a few layers of paper towel trimmed to fit the guard shape, and clamp the whole thing to dry for three or more days before attempting any gluing.

This makes the area much flatter than it would otherwise have been, and presents a much better appearance when all done.

Usually there is only a small crack just under the strings at the top edge of the guard, but sometimes there can be significant cracking/ splitting along the lower edge. You shouldn't need any splints but cleats will be needed.

I made a mask of heavy paper for the guard site, making it about 1/8" to 1/4" bigger than the guard so finish is exposed all round. I use the green 'lacquer' tape to mask from just outside the finish edge and hold the paper mask to the soundboard, using short pieces of the tape about an inch or so long, overlapping to cover all of the finish but the very edge. I try to leave about 1/32" of finish exposed for the new lacquer to burn into. You may have to fiddle with the paper mask near the bridge to get it to do it's job of protection the rest of the finish. Do not allow overspray to get on the rest of the finish. I spray 2 or 3 heavy coats of nitro lacquer and carefully remove the mask the next day or so. Let the lacquer cure out for a week or more and level it, then finish sand and buff.

The final step is to prepare the new guard and apply it. I try to trim the new guard to match the old one making sure it is slightly bigger so it covers the old bare spot. Once the guard is trimmed it needs to be smoothed along the edges and polished. I use 400, 600, and 1200 grit wet/dry paper before going to the buffer. You want the edges to be rounded like the original guard. Place the guard on the top and mark where the point goes with a small piece of tape, and the inner edge should fall in one of the black rings of the rosette if you trimmed it well. Also mark with tape the upper edge behind the sound hole so when you peel the backing off and place the point in position you can follow with the upper edge, and press and rub well down all over.

Street price on my shop for this repair is $150. I think that is a very good deal for the work that goes into it and the result it gives.
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Re: Martin Pickguard cracks

Postby David King » Sun Jan 31, 2016 4:16 pm

Great summary and a lot of work for the $$ no doubt. Is Martin covering any of these expenses at this point?
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Re: Martin Pickguard cracks

Postby Michael Lewis » Sun Jan 31, 2016 8:42 pm

For original owners that have registered their guitar it is a warranty issue.
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Re: Martin Pickguard cracks

Postby Chris Vallillo » Thu Feb 11, 2016 12:59 pm

Thanks very much for all the excellent advice. I essentially did what you all suggested. I was able to gently heat the pick guard and remove it with no damage to the wood below. There was significant warp to the top and a second crack by the E string side. I clamped the top in both locations to flatten it out and left it for a couple days under moderate pressure. It did the trick perfectly. I used Hide glue to glue the cracks and cleated the larger crack. The smaller crack on the E string side was short and stopped by the brace below so I didn't add a cleat there.

As you suggested, I was unable to re-use the original pick guard and purchased a Stu Mac replacement which proved to be just big enough to cover the the old footprint. I used shellac to seal the wood and a taped razor blade to level the varnish bump at the edges from the original pic guard. The owner of this particular guitar was a local music store I am doing some work for on occasion. Along with the pick guard repair, he also got the neck re-set, new bone saddle and a minor side crack super glue repaired.

I particularly appreciate the information on what you charge. I definitely gave this guy a deal! Being somewhat new at this and hardly considering myself a pro yet (though I'm getting there), I did all the work for $325.00.
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Re: Martin Pickguard cracks

Postby Barry Daniels » Thu Feb 11, 2016 3:07 pm

Wow, your client got quite a deal.
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