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Repair

Article:    


These articles are intended as informational resources to be used by professional guitar repair techs. The fact of the matter is that Travis Bean instruments have a very unique construction and therefore will require a different set of repair techniques. There is little to no technical repair information that exists online or in print because of the relative scarcity of these instruments.

A good repair tech is one who is experienced and informed. As I mentioned before, these articles are intended to provide information regarding repair techniques...more specifically, my repair techniques. They should not be taken as "the only way" to work on these instruments, I am simply sharing methods that have given me great results. My advice to any repair tech who gets one of these through their shop would be to read both articles through and use this information to proceed as you see fit, and with techniques that you are comfortable with. After reading, you will certainly have a greater knowledge of these very rare and remarkable guitars.

**Dave Johnson currently works as an in-house repair tech at Gruhn Guitars. He also operates Scale Model Guitars, a custom shop based in Nashville, TN. Dave can be reached by email at scalemodelguitars@sbcglobal.net.

Introduction.

In the following article, I will take you through the process of removing and re-gluing the fingerboard on a Travis Bean 1000 Artist. The purpose of this article is to provide insight as to exactly how Travis Bean necks will react during this process, and to document the techniques that I use to properly perform this task. Also, please keep in mind that Travis Bean guitars are in fact vintage instruments, and replacing parts or modifying a vintage guitar can in fact devalue it. The original fingerboard is a factory-installed part, and a part of the guitar's history. Whenever I get in a TB to repair a lifting fingerboard, I make every attempt to re-use the original board even if it is warped or damaged. In most cases, even a badly warped board can be heat treated, and missing pieces can be spliced and/or cleated. I would advise any of my customers against replacing a fingerboard unless it was absolutely necessary (damaged or modified beyond repair).

Getting started.

Here we have a Travis Bean 1000 Artist that has a fingerboard which is lifting off of the neck. This guitar was shipped to me for repair by Ryan Lesser who plays guitar in the band Megasus. I would like to thank Ryan for allowing me to document this process and post pictures of his guitar being repaired. The fingerboard is lifting off of the neck on the bass side starting at the 12th fret and extending all the way to the end of the board. This particular model is one of the earlier ones that do not incorporate a shim sandwiched between the board and the neck. Making the situation more difficult is the fact that the sides of the board are not "squared." On some TB models, the fingerboard edges will be cut at a 90-degree angle relative to the top of the board. However, the edges on this one act as a continuation of the "C" profile of the back of the neck taper...they are perfectly flush and match to the neck at every point, but have a subtle angle at the sides. After the fingerboard is re-attached these angles will need to match up perfectly.

"So, why did this happen and what is the fix?" This particular TB neck is comprised of two parts: the rosewood fingerboard, and the aluminum neck. Hardwood and metal have different expansion/contraction rates and will be affected by humidity changes differently. If you adhere a thin wooden fingerboard to an aluminum neck, the wood will expand and contract with the changing seasons (humidity), while the neck remains unaffected. Over time, it is possible for a fingerboard to shrink or swell-up and release itself from the aluminum surface which it is adhered to. Also, the Travis Bean neck is not a solid piece of aluminum. The design utilizes a set of channels machined down the center of the neck, end-to-end. These channels were added to cut down on weight and allowed the neck to flex (relieve) under string tension, but they also cut down on the gluing surface area of the fingerboard. As we proceed with this repair you will see detailed pictures of these channels and how we will deal with this issue. In later models, they began to add a shim sandwiched between the neck and fingerboard. This addition improved the design in that the board would have a full gluing surface and was much less susceptible to lifting off of the neck.

Before Ryan shipped his guitar to me, we had a discussion about repair procedures and one of the issues that we talked about was the possibility of adding a shim underneath the fingerboard. He did not want to modify his guitar with a shim, and I was happy to be in complete agreement. In my opinion, adding this component (even though it would structurally improve the design) is in fact a modification...and it is not supposed to be on a TB from this era. Especially on an Artist with a two-digit serial number!

"So, do I really have to remove and re-attach the entire fingerboard to fix this? Isn't this going to be a lot of work? Can't I just work some epoxy in there, clamp it shut, and call it a day?"

The answers to these questions are: yes, yes, and no. The fingerboard is lifting off of the neck because it is loosing adhesion. It has either slowly expanded or contracted over the last 30 plus years and needs to be removed and re-attached in order to properly set it back into place. Shooting a bead of epoxy into the affected area and clamping shut is nothing more than a "band aid" repair. This might hold for a little while, but since it will have nothing to grab onto (there is a lot of old glue residue in there) it is just a matter of time before this also breaks down and you are right back where you started. Not to mention, if the fingerboard has lifted you can almost bet on the fact that the bottom of the board has already warped (is not level). As you will see in the following example, this is exactly what is causing this issue and you will need to address this if you want a repair that will last.

Removing the nut and detaching the neck from the body.

To begin, I remove the strings and then remove the nut by gently tapping it out from behind with a hammer and straight file.

I then remove the saddles using a long allen wrench. These saddles are original to the guitar and came off effortlessly. In the event that they are "frozen" you can release them by applying a small amount of household oil and then heating them with a soldering iron. Never force saddle screws that are not moving, you don't want to break these original parts. Also, this works great for saddle height adjustment screws.

Next, I remove the bridge plate.

Then, I remove the four pickup-mounting screws. Be very careful on this step to hold the pickups from the front side so they don't accidentally drop out and damage the wire leads.

Then I begin to slide the neck out of the body. Working slow is a very good idea here, the pickup lead wires run down the treble-side channel between the aluminum neck extension and body and you don't want to accidentally damage them as the neck comes out. I find it best to lift the pickups a little bit and then move the neck gently from side-to-side as it is pulled out. You might also notice two additional chamfers gouged in the aluminum that guide the pickup leads to the pickup wire channel. If these exist (they were present on this one), then you will need to guide the wires out of them as the neck slides out. It will be obvious if they are there, just work slow and you will stay out of trouble. I would also like to add that it is extremely important that you do not de-solder the pickup leads from the volume pots to remove the pickups before you pull the neck. In the vintage repair world, this is a very big "no-no." If the guitar is ever presented for resale, one of the first things that a potential buyer will look at is the solder joints, and if it is obvious that original solder joints have been broken this will certainly raise suspicion, and also devalue the instrument.

Preparing the neck jig.

The next step is to begin to build my neck jig. To begin with, I use a 3/4" thick piece of MDF board roughly 24" x 5", a 6" x 1" x " piece of hard maple, and another piece of maple 1" x 1" x 6". Also, 6 c-clamps and 4 quick grips with a 3" throat.

Then I begin to dry-clamp. I do this before removing the fingerboard because it is currently in place, and the jig will follow the tapers at the sides and ends as it currently stands. I begin by adding an end block.

The end block will dictate how the neck meets up with the board lengthwise (end-to-end). It is " thick which will cover the entire end of the board and rest against the aluminum. This "locks-in" this direction. I will not be adding a block at the other side by the nut. If the rosewood has expanded or contracted over the years, then I want the other side to remain open to accommodate for this.

Next, I use a pair of quick grips to clamp the neck into place making sure that I am fitting square against the end block. This compresses the fingerboard to the neck and closes the areas that have lifted.

Now, I prepare my fingerboard edge supports. Since the edges of the board are not square (at 90 degrees relative to the top of the board), I will have to modify these supports to accommodate for this. I begin by leveling one side of a 6" maple block on the belt sander.

Next, I work one other side of the block until it intersects the exact point where the fingerboard meets up with the neck. The purpose of these edge supports is to keep the board from sliding side-to side when the neck is clamped-home. It is very important that this angle is correct, if the fingerboard edges end up being even a tiny bit off you will notice (and feel) the imperfection. I prefer to create this angle on a drum sander pivoting off of the level side. I then adjust the sanding base until I find it. The entire block will conform to the same angle if you use the drum sander base correctly. In my experience, if I can find the angle on one side of the block at the end, then the rest of the block will also be correct at any point up and down the nec

k.

Then I cut the block into smaller sections. I typically use four on a six-string guitar (two per side), and six on a bass (three per side).

Now I add the end blocks by clamping them to the base, flush to the sides of the neck. I place these roughly 2 to 3 inches from the ends of the fingerboard on either side. Then, I add the last two quick grips. The quick grips should be placed evenly along the length of the clamping area (fingerboard to neck). At this point, I have completed building the dry-clamping jig. It is important to double and triple-check every point of the jig to make sure that it is 100% solid. I will be using a very high-strength epoxy to re-attach the board...which is a one shot deal. The jig needs to work right the first time.

Removing the fingerboard.

I start this process by making a new palette knife. I prefer to use a 2" paint scraper for this task as opposed to the thinner ones that you can find at an art supply store. Paint scrapers are slightly thicker, and you can really lay-into the glue without worrying about the knife breaking.

Next, I round off the edges and start to sharpen it on the belt sander. I continue to sand the edge until it is as sharp as a dull knife.

Then I sand the sides starting with 320 grit and ascending in grits up to steel wool. When I am finished, the knife is very smooth with an even edge.

Now I start to remove the fingerboard. I begin at the point where it had started to lift off. As I begin to work down the side, I am also trying to hit the center part of the neck. The board will be attached along the sides, and also on a ledge right down the middle in the center.

As I work my way around the edge, I follow the knife with a guitar pick. The pick acts as a support that will lift the board as I re-position the knife. I mentioned before that the palette knife should have a cutting edge that is sharp as a dull knife. The reason for this is because I don't want to accidentally cut into the rosewood. If the blade is dull, then it will track the seam.

Here, I am beginning the turnaround. I leave the pick right behind the knife and work around the end in one swipe.

Now, I am around the end of the first side. I repeat process on the other.

I would like to add that this fingerboard was very easily removed. I have had to remove others that didn't come off as easily. The fingerboard should never be forced-off; the knife should cut right through the old glue residue with little resistance. If you find yourself cutting into the rosewood, or if the palette knife is dramatically bending then you are definitely fighting it. I would recommend using a heat lamp to help loosen the glue if this occurs. One trick that you can do, which is one that you can only do on a Travis Bean, is to heat the back of the neck under the heat lamp instead of heating the fingerboard. The aluminum will suck-up the heat very quickly, and the glue will relax. Just make sure that you wear gloves as it will get very hot, and hold the neck at least four inches away from the bulb.

Cleaning and preparing the fingerboard.

The next step is to clean all of the old glue residue off of the back of the fingerboard and then make sure that it is level. When the board is re-glued to the neck, you want to ensure that it makes clean and even contact. I start by removing the big stuff with a 3/4" chisel.

Working my way down the board, I am being careful not to cut into the back of the board. I just want to cut off the glue, not cut into the rosewood.

Now I scrape off the remaining glue residue using a 2 1/2" utility blade. It doesn't take much, just a few passes and the glue is off.

With all of the glue residue removed, I can now check the side-to-side level. This is a very important step! As a matter of fact, this step alone will determine how good of a bond (and fit) I end up with after the board is glued back to the neck. The best technique that I have ever used to see if a piece of material is level is to hold it up to a light with a straightedge. Using the entire length of the utility blade, you can clearly see in this picture what is happening. I can now see why this fingerboard was lifting off of the edges in the first place. It is also a very good idea to check the top of the board's radius to make sure that it is close to 0 degrees. This one has clearly "swollen" in the middle.

I then begin to scrape away until I am perfectly level from side-to-side. The best advice that I can give is to keep both ends of the blade overlapping the edges of the board at all times when you are leveling. Also, be sure to hold it up to the light as often as you can and check at all points up and down the board. You need to end up perfectly level at all side-to side points, especially at the edges where you will make contact with the edges of the neck.

Here is what side-to-side level looks like. It took me quite a bit of time and three blades to get here, but it is most definitely worth it. Now, when the board goes back on it will have a perfect side-to-side fit.

The last step in prepping the fingerboard is to score it. I take a utility blade, and make hundreds of small cuts on the areas where the rosewood will contact the aluminum. I am following the grain with these cuts, not cutting super-deep, just a little bit to help give the glue something to grab onto. Then, I take one final scrape to knock off any chatter above the surface.

Cleaning and preparing the neck.

It is important to keep in mind as you remove glue residue from the neck that you do not want to alter the level of the neck. Chances are very good that it will already be perfectly level, and you do not want to change that. I lightly scrape off the glue residue in the same fashion as I did the fingerboard; overlapping both ends of the utility blade over the sides of the neck, I simply scrape until the glue is removed. You will also uncover machining marks from when the neck was made.

At the end of the neck, I use a chisel to hit the areas where the neck expands to match the width of the neck extension. You wouldn't want to scrape here...you would almost certainly scratch up the "wings."

Next, I score the neck in the same fashion as I did with the fingerboard. Making hundreds of small cuts, I am creating small indentations that will give the glue something to grab onto. I would highly recommend taking your time on this step. You do not want to accidentally run the blade over the side of the neck. Unlike on hardwood, if you cut or scratch aluminum you will not be able to remove it easily. The sides of the neck on this guitar have a really cool "worn" patina, and a fresh gash on the side would stick out like a sore thumb. My advice...don't even go there, just take your time and do it right even if it means working very slowly. Again, when you are finished take one final passing scrape to knock off any chatter.

At this point I am finished prepping and ready to glue. I wanted to post this picture as it details the functional design of a Travis Bean guitar neck. Notice the fingerboard in relation to the neck. If I were to put a straight edge from end-to-end on the neck and hold it up to the light, you would see that it is dead straight. Now, look at the fingerboard. You will notice an extreme back-bow. This picture details how this all works together. The neck is machined perfectly level and true, then a certain amount of resistance (back-bow) is added with the fret tang pulling the board back, and finally, when string tension is added and deflects the neck a balance is found (relief). And...that is how it works.

Gluing the fingerboard back to the neck.

There are a few more things that I need to do before I start to mix the glue. The first is to add wax paper to my fingerboard edge supports. I don't want to accidentally glue these wooden blocks to the sides of the board. To do this, I cut thin 1" strips and staple them to sides of the blocks.

Next, I apply a generous amount of paste wax to the sides and ends of the fingerboard. When I clamp the neck down, epoxy is going to run out the sides and I don't want it to stick to the board. Epoxy will not stick to paste wax. It is important on this step to avoid rubbing the wax on any of the gluing surface area.

Then, I apply paste wax to the sides of the neck and the wings at the beginning of the neck extension.

I have read numerous message board posts and articles, done a ton of research online, and received plenty of advise from other guitar repair techs on the following subject...what is the best and strongest way to adhere metal to wood? The answer is always the same. Use a high-strength, slow cure epoxy. And what is in fact the highest strength epoxy on the market? The answer is that I simply do not know. Everyone claims to manufacture the best stuff. Well, I have tried them all, and I will narrow it down to three for you. Devcon, West System, and J.B. Weld. I use all three of these regularly and they all work great. If you need to color your epoxy with a furniture powder to accommodate for imperfections in the fingerboard joint, it would be best to use Devcon or West System. They both take color very well without loosing adhesion. Devcon is very easy to use, and with West System you can tweak the ratio to make it "hotter" if you want. I prefer to use J.B. Weld because I am simply used to working with it when doing a TB fingerboard re-glue. I also really like its viscosity and ease of use. Also, when my mind is focused on clamping it home, the last thing that I want to worry about is if my epoxy is mixed correctly. You pretty much can't mess this part up with J.B. Weld. The only thing to remember is to not spread it on too heavy as you can create "pockets" in your work if it goes on too thick. I apply it directly to the fingerboard using the palette knife, just enough so it clearly fills the scoring lines with just a little extra, nice and even.

After applying the epoxy to the fingerboard, I lay it down on the jig flushed-up to the end block and then place the neck on top. From this point, I have about fifteen minutes of working time before things start to set up...this is the whole logic behind using a slow-cure epoxy, you will have plenty of time to properly set up the clamping jig. This is where double and triple-checking your jig in the beginning will pay off, you know very well how it will come together. Add the edge supports and clamp them flush to the sides of the neck, then add the first quick grip at roughly the first fret area while pushing the fingerboard towards the end block. Next, add the other quick grips in order moving towards the end of the neck. The quick grips all need to go on very strong. Here is where I add a few more clamps to be on the safe side. Remember how I used c-clamps to attach the edge supports to the MDF board? Now I add a few extra side clamps pushing them together with the neck in between. You will see two orange clamps that I added to the mix. These clamps will ensure that you end up with a super-tight side-to-side fit. I also added one other big clamp at the base of the neck extension.

Here is another picture of the other side of the clamping jig.

The last step in this process is to wedge-up the end of the fingerboard. Since I am re-gluing this board fretted, I will need to add a wedge underneath the nut to first fret area. For this, I use a super high-tech method. I shove a couple of picks under there until I can see that the board is flush. Not all aspects of guitar repair can be this advanced! I would recommend allowing the epoxy to cure for at least one full week. The longer that you let it cure, the stronger the bond will be.

Cleaning up.

One full week later, I remove the clamps and inspect my work. I need to remove the excess glue that has "squeezed" out of the sides in order to see what I have. Since I applied paste wax to the sides of the neck and fingerboard, the dried epoxy can be easily removed using a soft cloth or paper towel and naphtha. The epoxy will not stick to paste wax. I would highly recommend that you no not remove the excess glue with a blade or chisel. You do not want to scratch the sides of the aluminum neck. After inspecting my fingerboard fit, I am very happy with the results. The board fits-up squarely with the neck at every single point with absolutely no gaps. This is where spending a lot of time leveling the bottom of the board pays off. Also, the new glue joint will be much stronger than factory since I scored the gluing surfaces...the epoxy has a lot more to grab onto.

Next, I remove excess glue residue from the nut slot using a chisel. I am very careful not to touch the visible parts of the aluminum peg face, only working inside the area where the nut will be glued back in place.

And finally, I repeat process at the end of the neck. I am only hitting the edge of the fingerboard here.

Finishing up.

At this point, I am finished with the fingerboard re-glue and can start to re-assemble the guitar. The neck slides into place in the opposite order that it was removed. I am always careful as I guide the pickup lead wires as the neck slides back in. It is a very good idea to do a light fret level and dress before you re-install the nut. The fret level may have slightly changed in the re-gluing process. You can read the final steps of the re-fretting article for details on how I do this. Once I am finished with the level/dress, I re-glue the nut back in place using a five-minute epoxy (Devcon works the best for this, it is very strong for a five-minute). Then, I reattach the bridge base and saddles, and re-install the pickup mounting screws. The last step is to string it up and adjust bridge saddle heights and nut slots.

Finished! Check out Ryan's repaired black TB1000A (on the right) next to my one and only Travis Bean (#1082).