2 - Removing the bridge
Removing the bridge is a fairly serious matter, but here it had to be done because it was already separating from the top. First, slivers of paper were inserted under the bridge crack and marked to determine the extent of separation. Three things are needed to remove an acoustic guitar bridge – a heat source, a wafer-thin palette knife and strong nerves. Actually that last one’s a joke… it’s not that difficult, but you do need to be careful and patient.
Luthiers often use specialist bridge-sized heating pads but, like many others, I use a regular clothes iron. First I cut a rectangle out of a piece of corrugated cardboard to protect the finish, then held the hot iron on the bridge for around five minutes (not forgetting to turn off the steam setting).
Once the bridge felt pretty hot I removed the cardboard and slid the palette knife under the existing gap. It went in quite easily and I gradually worked my way around the bridge, occasionally stopping to apply more heat. All the while you must ‘ease’ the palette knife between the bridge and the top, taking great care not to damage the finish and trying to work from the outside edges towards the centre rather than pushing the knife straight through.
It’s imperative to do as little damage to the top as possible, so never try to lift or prise the bridge off. If you get bored or impatient, just stop, have a break and come back to it later. Removing this bridge took me around 15 minutes, but relatively little of its surface area was actually in contact with the top.
When the bridge finally released it was obvious why the back had been pulling up. Read any book on acoustic guitar building and you will learn that the soundboard wood underneath the bridge needs to be exposed for wood glue to adhere. Wood glue won’t stick to polyester, acrylic or nitro finishes. Some builders carefully scrape away the finish in the bridge area after the guitar has been finished; others apply masking tape to the bridge area of top of the guitar prior to spraying.
The tape is then peeled off to expose bare wood when it’s time to fit the bridge.
So far as I can tell, someone at the Recording King factory simply scored out a rectangle using a sharp blade then chiselled away the finish – along with a fair amount of the spruce top. This left an uneven surface, along with some nasty gouges. Worse still, there was a strip of intact finish almost 10mm wide all the way along the area under the back of the bridge. No wonder it was pulling loose.
This struck me as bizarre considering the otherwise outstanding build quality for a guitar in this price range. However I have since learned that in early June 2011 two of Recording King’s head honchos re-trained the factory’s bridge gluing staff to ensure finish scraping and application was standardised and correct. Hopefully the well-documented Recording King bridge lifting issues have now been remedied.
2. Acoustic Rescue