Instrument Restoration

At various points in a valuable bass's life it may be necessary to open the instrument right up, strip out badly-done or failing previous repairs, and rebuild the instrument with new, long-lasting repairs that will bring out the very best in the instrument's tone, and keep the bass in good physical condition for the current and next generation of users. A good restoration will improved the look, the power and the timbre of the bass, and ensure that the instrument is resistant to normal use and climatic changes.

I combine a respect for tradition with a dash of innovation; add a careful and well-reasoned approach and plenty of good communication ... that is my recipe for a successful world-class restoration.

Hard to believe the ugly wreck on the left was transformed into the French beauty on the right ... On this instrument the original varnish was totally oxidised, ugly, and provided no protection to the instrument. A new spirit varnish was applied thinly, retaining the aged look and mojo. but revealing the glorious maple flame underneath.

Scroll was completely smashed,  reglued badly with PVA by someone's Dad ... but I was able to remove all the previous glue and restore it to original condition. I left the little chip on purpose!

Maybe you have a candidate?

If you have an instrument that you suspect may need restoration, bring it in for a checkup. I will give you a detailed run-down of the work that I believe is necessary. I wont charge you for this appraisal.

As I have a waiting list, I may not be able to work on your instrument immediately, but if you want to proceed, I will work with you to find a timeframe that suits both of us.

A good restoration does not happen overnight; the principle reason is that wood is affected by climate, and the traditional glue I use takes time to dry. Sometimes I can only clean, prepare, and glue one crack in a day, then I must wait for the glue to properly dry overnight before I can move onto the next one, or start the next restoration task. For this reason also, I cannot work exclusively on one restoration; I therefore usually run several jobs in parallel. 

A rushed restoration is rarely successful, so we need to allow sufficient time for the job. It is also wise to allow a contingency amount in your budget for problems that are not evident without opening the instrument.

Thin old bass top, with previous repairs, and repairs-on-repairs glued with ... epoxy. Lots of stiff horizontal straps and cross-grain gluing. As the wood is constrained, many cracks on the outside opened up due to dry conditions,  buzzing audibly and spoiling the integrity of the top.

The restored upper bout after (almost) all previous reinforcements removed, Around 12 vertical cracks reglued one by one, and the reinforcements replaced, crack by crack, with diagonal grain diamonds, glued with traditional hide glue. No crossgrain gluing means the top is still flexible but strong. In dry conditions the wood is free to move and cracks less likely to open. 

When all the cracks and loose bits have been properly reglued and reinforced, the top rings like a bell when tapped.

Previous repairs, and repairs over repairs ... all sorts of woods and mostly crossgrain ...

Removing previous rib repairs carefully to expose clean wood underneath.

Rib reinforced with individually fitted diagonal-grained diamond cleats and straps.

Use of diamonds cleats and linen in rib repair to maintain flexibility and avoid creating new stresses and fault-lines. 

Opening old cracks for cleaning and realignment.

Retouching is difficult but fun. My aim is to conceal any repairs, blending with the original finish, and where possible maintaining the integrity of the maker's original intent. I use spirit varnish and a range of lightfast colours, with advanced techniques to match age, natural wear and texture. Its a meditation.

The setup process after a restoration is just as important as the restoration itself. All the points where you contact the instrument must be comfortable, and all parts and fittings must be sound and free of unwanted buzzes and rattles.
Then there is a period of tonal adjustment and settling in, where you and the revived instrument get used to each other again!

Next Steps

Make a time to bring in your restoration candidate for a cost estimate. Email me now.

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