Sunday, November 29, 2009

Epiphone B-4 # 1454

And we are onto the next project…Epiphone B-4 # 1454. This one will be a challenge for sure!

This bass came to us from the west coast for a neck repair but there is a bit more to the story. The scroll took a hard “whack” at one time and the previous repair is now failing. We will need to repair the scroll and peg box to make it solid. The neck break is the lesser of the two repairs.

We have just started on this bass so come back and see how we make progress. Lonnie is still in the thinking and problem solving mode.

More to come…

The final chapter on the 1942 Kay S-9

Well it is time to write the closing chapter on Martha’s restoration.

Lonnie got into a groove and this bass came together pretty fast. On Thanksgiving morning (a non-work day) Lonnie was up at 6:00 am working on the final set up. He had in his head he wanted the bass ready for our Friday night jam and nothing was standing in his way…not evening Thanksgiving dinner. We ran right to the wire, by mid day Friday Martha was a thumping gal. And true to form, the Velvet Garbo’s did not work well on this bass. I don’t like the “boing-boing” sound from the Garbo’s. They did not make the 1950 AS bass sound good and the same sound came from Martha…so it must be the strings and not the bass. We chose a string combination I had in reserve for a special bass, a Gamut gut G & D and a Thomastik steel Dominant A & E. I like this combo on this bass.

I played it Friday night and also had another bass player play it for an hour while we listen…sounded really loud in a large jam. When the bass player handed Martha back he said “you did it again…this is ANOTHER good one!” We love to hear that, it made Lonnie smile. The extra effort was worth it. He spent a good deal of time on repairing the edges, which was one of the first things the other player commented about. The bass really looks good for it age, it had a caring owner for a long time before it came into our hands. So Martha is now completed and living along side by side with all the other basses.

The Kay S-9 is a nice sister bass to my Kay M-4…basically the same bass but renamed M-4 to S-9 in 1940. A nice pair to have and compare.

On to the next project...don't has already started!!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

1942 Kay S-9...

The Kay S-9 bass is coming along better then expected! Lonnie has cleaned up the edges really nice; he made all the edge chipping disappeared. When the bass is completed it will be difficult to see the edge repairs…very cool. The fingerboard is original and the ebony is of good quality. He scraped it clean, put scoop in it and filled in the bolt holes at the end of the fingerboard. It looks really fresh and ready for a light oil rub down.

The new end pin installation is putting up a bit of a struggle. Lonnie cut off the huge fixed wooden dowel that was used for an end pin while the back of the bass was removed. The hole is too large for the new USLA ebony end pin, so he is using the extra wood to make the diameter of the opening smaller. A light turn with his tapered end pin reamer and it should fit better then new. Lonnie just purchased some vintage German tapered reamers; he now has three sizes and can accommodate most any size end pin.

If he keeps this pace on this bass over the holiday, I expect to be thumping it by early December. My choice for strings on this bass will be a full set of Velvet Garbo’s, if the bass does not respond with that string we will move onto gut or Spiro’s. The bass sounded pretty darn good with a dead set of steel strings. I expect with a fresh set up, new strings and tight fitting back this baby should sing.

Stay tuned…

Sunday, November 22, 2009

1942 Kay S-9...

The bass is glued up and feels good and solid. Lonnie made good progress today repairing all the edges. A Kay S-9 has real factory inlaid purfling, which looks really nice but it causes the edges to chip more quickly then a non-purfed edge. This bass had some chipping around the edges mostly on the bottom back and the at the violin corners. Lonnie has come up with a real nice technique that works well to fill in the missing pieces with out removing any original wood. In most cases once he has made the repairs and completes the color touch up you can not see the repaired edges. This is the best way we have found to make a vintage bass look original as it can be.

The original ebony fingerboard is in good shape and only needs a light dressing. The end of the board needs a repair as there was a 1950’s style pick up mounted through the fingerboard with nuts and bolts. Lonnie will fill the hole with an ebony paste and sand it down. It will look as good as new when it is all finished.

He is making good progress and hopes to be working on the set up by the weekend. I’ll be playing this one sooner then I thought.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2009

On to the dry fit...

The repairs to the inside are completed and Lonnie has begun to dry fit and then later glue the back…zipping it all up so to speak. The dry fit is a tug of war between the body and the back of the bass. Because the bass sides become flexible when the back it is off the dry fit is a necessary process before he begins to use any hide glue. As soon as the bass is all glued up we can flip it over and start on the next steps.

Once again…how many clamps does one bass need?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lonnie is making slow and steady progress by working on the bass a little bit each evening. I stood and watched him for a while last evening; it is still amazing to me after 25 years of knowing him how meticulous he is. He cleaned the old hide glue from the edges of the front and back of the bass with warm water and a stiff brush moving along the edges inch by inch. The kerfling (the slotted rib lining on the inside of a Kay bass) was cleaned tooth by tooth to get the old glue out from between the slots...a slow process to watch.

During the process of removing the back some small pieces of wood broke loose with the old hide glue. Lonnie is taking each little sliver of wood and re-attaching to the font or back of the bass where it belongs. He is also gluing together any loose plies around the edges of the back. We have found in working on these vintage basses they produce the best tone and volume when the wood is making full contact and can vibrate freely while playing. This is why Lonnie takes such great pains to glue any open seams, plies or makes paper thin shims during the neck re-setting process…the more solid the bass is, the better it sounds.

The patch work on the upper bout is going well; the huge wooden C clamp is from his grand-dad’s workshop. Lonnie’s grand-dad passed away when Lonnie was young and he barely remembers him…but he remembers his tools and his work ethic very well. It is cool to see an old tool being used on and old bass, they go together like milk and cookies.

Monday, November 9, 2009

1942 Kay S-9 named Martha...

Meet Martha, a 1942 Kay S-9 serial number 9892. She has been selected to be the next bass for a full Bass Monkey make over. She is in good over all condition and sounded pretty sweet with some really old dead steel strings. This bass came to us from the mid-west and if I had to guess it has not been a gigging bass for many years. The 1950’s style pick up, the original canvas bass bag with the initials “M.S.” on the outside, the coatings of dust on the inside are all indicators to me that she has been sitting for quite some time…but we are here to change that!

This bass is your classic pre-war Kay and being the “S” model or a Swingmaster she has the fully factory carved scroll, a factory installed ebony fingerboard, real inlaid purfling and the classic ebony horseshoe detail at the button, which are all original and intact. These are features you will find on the professional grade Kay Swingmasters. These basses have just a bit more “frills” then a regular student grade Kay M-1B and only a few of the S-9’s were manufactured so they are more rare…especially a pre-war model.

We want to make this Kay last another 68 years or more so we are going to repair some cosmetic concerns in addition to a new set up and end pin. The first thing we noticed is the back of the bass had open seams on the upper bouts and a quarter size hole on the E side upper bout. My guess is at some point in its life the bass fell and caused the classic Kay neck break…which has been well repaired a long time ago and remains solid…but what was not repaired was the hole in the upper bout. Since the back was already loose it made more sense to remove the back, repair the hole from the inside to give a nice clean appearance from the outside. This also gives an opportunity to inspect the bass bar and the interior of the bass for other flaws. One additional curious thing is the large, fixed wooden end pin, it is larger then a broom stick and glued in solid to the end pin block. With the back off we can cut off the fixed wooden end pin, bush the oversize hole and install a new adjustable ULSA ebony end pin. This will make the bass much more user friendly for the next lucky owner. Also with the back off we can clean out 68 years of dust and dirt…and boy this bass was dusty and dirty on the inside.

The back is now off and it did not put up too much of a struggle. I wish we had time lapsed photography of this process, which I don’t because I was holding the bass. The process requires a steady hand, nerves of steel and trying to not listen to the cracking sound which is the hide glue releasing from the wood. It made me jump a few times and I got “the look” from Lonnie to be quiet…as to say “I’m not hurting the bass!”

With the back off, the dirt cleaned out we are ready to start the repairs from the inside out. The great news is the bass is in really good condition with no delamination in the plywood, the interior wood is beautiful and the bass bar is in perfect condition. I even see signs of bird’s eye maple on the interior laminates. I wonder why sometime the inside of the bass has more fancy wood then the outside…but then again they were trying to match the wood on the outside…and Kay did a fine job on this bass. It has a beautiful honey, blonde patina that only years of use and wear will give to the finish.

I’ll keep the updates coming as we want to have this blonde beauty completed for the holidays.

More to come, stay tuned!!!