Last week a buddy asked me to check out a mandolin online that he was considering buying. I gave him the pros and cons, and he eventually passed on the deal due to the asking price for its condition. That got me motivated back into one of my old hobbies – basic lutherie, or stringed musical instrument repair, building and maintenance. Ever since my first bass guitar (a Magnum short-scale Jazz copy that I re-wired with a 3-band EQ), I’ve always loved working on guitars and other stringed instruments.
I could kick myself that I did not pursue that interest when I was younger. I always saw myself with a small guitar shop that people would come to try out my work and perhaps have jam sessions on a Friday night. But alas, I went the college route, got a degree that proved useless, and have bounced around at various white-collar jobs ever since.
However, I continued my love on a small scale throughout my life, repairing electric guitar electronics, minor amplifier jobs, building effects pedals, and stringed instrument setups/maintenance. After the above talk with my buddy, I got to thinking that, because of this stay-at-home virus situation, I should do some basic lutherie work again. All of my current instruments are in good shape, and as I have mostly acoustic instruments, there’s not a lot of electronic work to do.
I went on eBay and found a Rogue A-model mandolin that needed some work done on the back of the body. I bid on it, my highest price being something that I thought no one would come near as the mandolin’s shipping cost was pretty high. I won the auction, and the total cost came out to about what would be average – $41.95 – not a bargain, but not killing the wallet either.
The mandolin arrived a few days later via FedEx, and when opened, I got to see the actual damage. About 1/3 of the back had snapped out of its joining with the side, which made it look like either the back or the side was shaped wrong. Inspection showed that the glue joint was bad, very little glue was used, and the wood joints were dry. At first I thought that I would have to re-cut that part of the back and glue in a 2nd piece, making it look like something the Three Stooges would have built.
Fortunately, before I pulled out the tools, I wedged my fingers into the soundhole, flexed the back a bit, and it snapped back into place. I carefully removed that part of the back again, put in some hide glue, re-snapped it in, clamped it, and let it dry overnight. Voila! It held, and all that I have left is to clean off some glue residue, check for any rough spots on the finish around the repair site (it may need some sanding and re-laquering in spots), and re-install the bridge for set-up.
This has motivated me to go back to eBay, and the internet in general, to start looking for repairable guitars, mandolins, and violins. It’s not that I want to have an arsenal of low-end stringed instruments, no way! What I would like to do is repair them and make them available to kids that want to learn bluegrass and folk music on the cheap. Making a non-playable guitar playable again is an emotional reward. I don’t see me making even a part-time wage from this. And even this simple repair and maintenance stuff takes time and some money.
It has got me to thinking that perhaps I could help start some form of non-profit group that repairs string instruments and donates them to a charitable music organization such as Junior Appalachian Musicians, which helps teach music to kids (if you haven’t heard of this group, you need to check them out at www.jamkids.org). Or perhaps starting a JAM type group in my area (I have discussed this idea with the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association, as well as local multi-instrumentalist Aaron Jonah Lewis). Or at least do it on my own one instrument at a time. Hopefully some of the free time I have now can be used to research such an idea.
I would love to see young people in my area spend a lot less time by themselves in the basement playing XBox and more time with others (hopefully with a lot less social distancing) creating art and music. With technology taking over our everyday lives, now more than ever, I would hate to see creativity and socializing become a thing of the past.
Chew on it and comment.