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Repairing a Norlin Era FT guitar with broken neck


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I've salvaged this one from the old board. I just copied and pasted, for the most part, so if it appears anything is left out, let me know and I'll fill in the blanks.


This includes most FT-*** bolt-on neck flat top guitars. this DOES NOT INCLUDE FT-79 'Texan' aka John Lennon model. Generally speaking anything with a number greater than FT-100. Except an early FT100 or maybe it was a 110. IF your FT has a heel, then this fix doesn't apply. If your FT has a blue label or you are looking to purchase an FT with a blue label, check for this type of failure. Brown label Norlins were built better.. I think.


Mine doesnt' look this bad but some do. It well illustrates the mode of failure. Some have fared better than this old FT140.. some worse where the wood under the fretboard extension is totally gone.



Here is a look at evidence of a failed neck. Note that the fretboard is not parallel to the sound board:





This was originally posted in response to fixing an FT160, 12 string

I made this latest repair in January, 2006 and have since had her strung up with nylon, then lights, now mediums with no evidence of movement.... knock of sound board


I have repaired my FT145SB with the same (I think) problem. Mine's a 6 wire so I'm not 100% sure yours is built similarly. The end of your fret board, just above the sound hole, is it pressing on the sound board? Is the sound board distorted in this area? Yes? Mine too

Here's how I re-set it


Remove neck serial number plate on back of guitar (4, #4 wood screws). You have now revealed how this neck is held on. Down in the bottom of those four holes you should see the heads of the four screws that hold the neck on. Get a BIG screw driver that FITS these screw heads. Mine are 3/8" flat slotted head screws. Usually the largest Flat driver in a set of 4 screw drivers. Remove these four screws. As you lift the neck off, check for shims... Don't lose these. Make note or sketch their location. Set a side for re-assembly.


The neck block is what is loose. That is the part where the 4 big screws screwed into and that which has the large routed out pocket for the neck. This is the design deficiency. By routing out the pocket, they took the meat out of the joint. The joint between the block and soundboard is probably completely free. Carefully pry up with a pen knife to see it. Between the neck block and the guitar side (it has the top button screwed into it. There is probably also a gap part way down the block. Check the binding, if yours is bound, to see if it has seperated too in that area. Finally, there is a ladder brace between the sound hole and the neck block. If it isn't partially loose, I'd be surprised. The tilting forward neckblock needs only move a quarter inch before it starts to shear this brace off. If it's mostly loose, carefully remove it for later re-installation.


Here's what I did. Use a 6 - 8 " length of 2x4 placed flat on the outside of the guitar, just above the top strap button. It should be perpendicular to the now missing neck Sandwich wax paper between the 2x4 and the guitar. This will keep you from gluing the 2x4 to the guitar when the glue squeezes out. Then, a 3/4" thick piece of short scrap wood opposite it on the inside of the guitar, against the neck block, accessed through the sound hole. To hold these in place use a sufficiently long bar clamp. As you tighten the clamp you will see the block move back into position.


You will also need to clamp from the top down. You'll need another 2x4 and a 1x6 each about a foot long. Place the 2x4 under the guitar, covering the neck screw holes and the 1x6 over the top of the neck pocket. Both, perpendicular to the now missing neck. Clamp it down. You could use your bench top inplace of the bottom 2x4. YOU MUST CLAMP IN THAT ORDER, otherwise you might not be able to pull the block back into positon.


Now that you know how it all comes together. Remove the clamps and clamping blocks. The neck block should spring back to it's improper positon. Now mix up some two part epoxy glue and with a spatula or wooden stick. I used a wide tongue depresser like thing I obtained from a hobby shop. I squared off and sharpened the end to make it flat. Force the epoxy into all the joints between the Neck block (NB) and the side. The technique is to scoop up some epoxy on the end of the spatula and drag thespatual across the joint and the glue will be forced in. Do this several times and the glue will seem to disappear. Do this again for the NB to Sound Board (SB) joint. Also, be sure to get glue between loose binding and SB.


Put your first clamp and blocks in place to pull the NB back into position. Install your second clamp blocks to force the SB and NB together. Glue should squeeze out of the joints. This is good, don't worry about it for now.


24 hours later remove the clamps and cut off the squeezed out glue, inside and out. Clean any squeeze out that came in contact with the finish with alcohol or mineral spirits. I scraped mine off, what little there was, with my fingernail. I wouldn't hurt to wax the finished top and side in this area BEFORE gluing to help keep escaped glue from sticking to parts you don't want it stuck to.


I find it easier to use a knife to cut the dried excess off 24 hours later as opposed to wiping the wet stuff off. That usually just spreads it around. You have now glued it as much as the factory did. It will probably hold just as well... not well enough.


That's Step ONE. This will only hold the neck block in place until it can be braced. More on that later...


Step 2a.


UPDATE: Refer drawings and photos a couple posts down I added theses later, they may clarify the text.


Now that you've got the body back in it's factory configuration, albeit structurally defficient. We need to brace it.


To brace it we need what cabinet makers call glue blocks. It's appropriate that we discuss cabinet makers as they are the ones responsible for the current guitar basic design. Ya see, back in the olden days cabinet makers couldn't make violins because they didn't belong to the right union. Sooo when cabinet making was slow, they made an instrument with square joints, like cabinets.. but I digress.


Cabinet glue blocks are triangular shaped blocks with one corner at 90°. The sides radiating from this 90° corner are slathered in glue and placed in the corner where two parts of a cabinet meet at 90° angles. Take a look at your kitchen cabinet. Go on, look now. Open the door under the sink and look around the corner from the hinges... See 'em? I told you they were there! Glue blocks add stiffness and strength to these joints. We need to add a couple BIG glue blocks to the 90° joints between the Sound Board (SB) and the Neck Block (NB), one on the treble side and one on the bass side. But, instead of being triangular in shape, they will be 'L' shaped.


To make my glue blocks I chose Poplar 1x2 stock. I chose poplar because it is a tough wood, unlike spruce, pine or fir. Also because I had it on hand. Any hard wood like poplar or maple will do. Just don't use 1x2 'furring strips' available at the lumber yard. These are junk lumber suitable for furring and nothing else... well okay they work for holding up a garage sale signs too. Go to the Hardwoods aisle at Lowes or Menards or other 'big box' home center or your local lumber yard. The other reason you want hardwood is that it is usually used in visible trim around the house and has not knots and all four sides are trim and SQUARE (90°). This is critical for our purpose. Also, 1x2 means 1 inch by 2 inch. This means.... it is 3/4" x 1 and 1/2" in actual dimension. 1x2 is the 'nominal' size. If you are not familiar with building materials, this is an industry standard. I think the sizes are supposed to be the size before they start sanding the sides smooth. Don't ask for a stick exactly 1 inch by 2 inches. They lumber yard guys will look at you funny and think, "idiot." You will also need a small disposable brush. Not the sponge type. Find the soldering supplies. They sell a bush with an aluminum tube handle with bristles. It is about 1/4" wide. They are intended for brushing on soldering flux paste. These are perfect for our use and cheap.


Measure the distance from front of NB to back of NB. The front corners of the NB on my 145 are eased.. or rounded. Also note that between the SB and the guitar side are a bunch of little glue blocks that hold the SB to the sides... cabinet makers!. Anyway.. Your glue block for today's project needs to be as long as practical, but not protruding beyond the eased edges. As our big glue block will be in the corners between the SB and NB, we want to be sure to account for the little glueblocks the factory put in to hold the SB to the sides. Mine are 2" long.


Cut 3 pieces of 1x2 to your length. Cut one of these pieces length wise so that you have two pieces 3/4" square and your length long. If it isn't clearly obvioius, make an 'X' on the two small pieces where the saw cut them in two You now have four pieces. You will also need a two thin pieces like the tongue depresser in part one. They need to have square ends and be slightly longer than the distance between the SB and back of the guitar minus 3/4".


Now it is time to glue the small pieces and large pieces together into two identical glue blocks. I used hide glue. You could use epoxy if you wish. Frets.com has a couple treatises on the use of hide glue. Go to this site and click on the 'big page' for the index to all his pages. Read everything on the use of hide glue he has, about 3 articles. One has an article about using hide glue found in the grocery store labeled, 'Knox' gelatin. I chose this route as I had a hard time finding dry hide glue in small quantities. DON"T USE THE LIQUID STUFF IN A SQUEEZE BOTTLE LABELED HIDE GLUE! While it is hide glue, it isnt' strong enough for this purpose. I should know, I did and it wasn't.


A .25 oz packet of Knox gelatin needs to be mixed with 22 ml of distilled water. Prepare per Frets.com's instructions. Any clean, disposable, small container will work. I happened to have an empty 1/4 pint paint jar for the glue mix and placed it in a 1 pint jar of hot water. I had to wrap the outer jar in towels to keep the hot water from cooling off too fast. I boiled the water in the large jar and by the time the glue was melted, the temp was about right. I took Frank's advice and let the now liquified glue cool off and sit for a couple days. I then re-heated it for use. Be patient. You will begin to see the glue granules liquify around the edges. Start to move the granules around with your disposable brush. Eventually it will all be liquified.


continued on 2b.


2b. I had to split up because of its size.


Take one small piece and one large piece of glue block. Stand the one large one on the bench on it's shortest side. Take one small piece and lay it along side of it so that you can see the 'X'. The 'X' will either be up or out, but not against the large piece or the bench. You will want to glue these two together just like that. It's important that the 'X' be out as this was the cut edge. These edges may not be square and we don't want the end product to be glued in place using these non-square edges. Use your little brush to apply glue to the mating surfaces, then clamp them together. They will form an 'L' shape. Make sure the joint on the outside of the L shape remains flush. Do the same with the other two pieces.


After the glue sets, clean up any squeeze out with a cloth dampened with warm water. While not absolutely necessary, I eased the two long edges on the inside of the 'L' shape (not the edges which will be against the SB and NB. I then used the side of a bench grinder wheel to smooth the ends of the blocks. It looks nicer when done. And almost looks like a factory installation.


Frank also recommeds sanding the area where the glue blocks or brackets will be glued. This is a bit of a juggling act, but can be done. It helps to have small hands to get inside the hole.


Before you glue them up, test fit the glue blocks into position. You want the 90° corner of the brackets in the 90° corner between the SB and NB. Use your pieces of tongue depresser, cut as above to prop and clamp the blocks in place. Make sure the tongue depresser clamp is positioned in the outside 90° corner of the brackets and the other against the guitar back. Now force it tighter. The tongue depresser clamp should be bowed now and at approximately 45° angle. If not, trim it shorter and retry. If they are short, make longer ones. I've tried a lot of ways and this seems to be the simplest, and maybe the only, way of getting clamping pressure in this area. It's just too hard to get at with a bar or C clamp.


After clamping my two brackets in place, I Put a clamp from the SB to the back of the guitar using a 2x4 and the bench to squeeze the SB and back together. It was the second clamping set-up used in Part I. I wanted to make sure there was something pushing from the outside as well as the inside. It may not have been necessary, but It didn't hurt either. You will want to dry assemble first so you know how it all goes together as you need to work quickly after applying the hide glue.


After dry assembly, dis-assemble, brush sufficiently warmed glue on the brackets, install and clamp with your tongue depressers. Do these one at a time so the glue doesn't cool off too much by the time you get to the second one. When both brackets are installed Clamp top to bottom. Let set over night and remove all clamps and clean up any squeeze out. Remove the clamps. Don't forget to remove the two tongue depressers on inside.


Reassemble the neck to the body placing the shims (remember those?) in their original position, re-string and you're back in business! If the neck screws won't 'bite' into their original holes, gob some white or carpenter's glue on 4 round toothpicks and jamb the glued ends into the holes in the neck. Cut the picks flush and install the neck. These holes are large enough that 2 toothpicks may be needed. My screws were a bit rusty, and the threads mostly gone, so I took them to the hardware store and replaced with identical new ones.


Here's the beauty of this design. If you need to adjust the action, you can by shimming either the leading or trailing edge of the neck to neck block joint. Others styles need to be wrestled apart with steam and brute force... IF they can be disassembled. We only need a screwdriver.


Can I guarantee that this will work forever? .... Well,... no. But, it is working for me. It's the only way I know to get a venerable, much loved Japanese made Epiphone FT guitar of this vintage back in playable condition. Currently my FT145 is nylon strug as I needed it for a Flamenco class I'm taking. I also re-fretted, and treated Epi to a new saddle. The original saddle was getting a bit tattered. I polished her up and installed some Augustine nylons. GOD does she sing pretty now! As I have another steel strung guitar, I may never re-string her with steel, but if I do I believe the joint will hold.


I chose this BIG glue block as the dimensions appoximate the square inches of glue joint removed when they routed out the neck pocket. If, in the future, if the joint doesn't hold I will use Epoxy glue where I used hide glue here. You can try this yourself or pay someone to do it. Given the market value of these guitars, it probably is not worth the money spent to have someone else do it unless the guitar is an heirloom, which yours is.


A professional luthier may not want to guarantee this fix. As, technically, this is an experimental fix they may be within their rights to deny warranty. I see no other alternative. If it were me, I'd get Dad's old Epi up and singing again. It would be worth a hundred or so to do this. Whether it is worth it to you, is up to you.


In your case you may want to start out with only installing 6 strings until your fingers strengthen and toughen up. Start with 6 lights, then after a month or so, mediums, then heaveies. Then use only light strings when stringing all 12. While I've never heard of a nylon strung 12 string... It is not beyond the realm of possibiliy. This will reduce the stress on this joint by HUNDREDS of pounds. You may be like me and like the nylon voice.


Something else I did. Epi was really, really dry from neglect on my part. I clearned out all the dust bunnies and vacuumed and wiped down the inside with a damp cloth. Also, while the neck was off I placed an open container of hot water into the sound hole, resting it on the guitar back. I then layed piece of plastic over the sound hole to seal it up. I did this three days in a row. I think this allowed moisture to migrate into the wood. The wood looks better now and Epi smells good too. Be sure to cover up the label with waterproof plastic so dribbled water doesn't get on the label. The ink is water soluble. Probably wouldn't hurt to protect the label this way while doing all the above inside work to protect it from being torn. I will keep her humidified properly from now on.




Woops!!!. For those you following these instructions you should now have one more piece left on your work bench. The ladder brace you removed in step 1. This is the one that, most likely, was sheared off, or almost sheared off by the creeping Neck Block. The factory used hide glue for mine so cleaning up the old glue was as simple as using a damp, warm wash cloth. Do the same with the mating surface of the brace. Be sure to cover your blue label with plastic to prevent the inevitable contact with the damp cloth or drips. And, while you've got the glue hot and your hand already inside, it won't hurt to feel around and see if you have any other loose braces. Mine had one loose back brace which needed re-glued.


For this brace, there should be a noticable 'scar' where the brace once was. One end of my brace fit into a small socket in the little glue blocks around the edge. Use a caul, 1x4 or better across the top of the guitar Sound Board above the location of the subject brace to protect it. and a 1x2 on each side of the NB. These 1x2s should span the brace you are replacing and at least one leg of the 'X' brace next to or below the sound hole. Place your bar clamps on the 1x2s, not directly over the replaced brace, but about 1/4" below, closer to the 'X' braces. This will give your clamps stability. Test fit dry as before, then glue and re-clamp. There... All done.


When working inside, a hand mirror and flash light can be helpful to make sure you get pieces where you want them. For lighting I used a standard trouble light with the metal guard removed. I then installed one of those curly fluorescent screw-in bulbs. It is plenty bright and won't over-heat and scorch guitar wood.


If you are not at all familiar with the term 'X' brace. Spend some time on Frets.com site. There are photos of the underside of a guitar's soundboard that many guitar players never knew was there. It's a real eye opener and helps you get the lay of the land, so to speak, of what's under there.


Even if you never intend to do luthiery work, it makes you a smarter consumer to understand what 'scalloped' braces, X-braces, ladder braces, etc. are.


Here's a drawing to go with the above instructions:




Here are a couple pics of the repair


Inside looking at bass side brace. Note eased (rounded) edges and the chamfer in the corner to avoid any possible glue squeeze-out interferrence.


Outside looking in from bridge. Braces on both sides. Above-the-sound-hole ladder brace is not installed yet. It would be in front of neck block and braces in this picture.


The deformation of the sound board under the cantilevered fretboard can be seen. I have elected to leave this alone for now for fear of making matters worse.

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  • 8 months later...
  • 1 year later...
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  • 6 months later...

I don't want to sound like a school girl, but Oh My God!


Thank you for posting this! I just purchased an FT-150 12-string with exactly that deformation starting. It was a risk, but it cost me a whopping $25. I believe I can follow these instructions and allow me to create a working instrument.


I need a get a new set of pins and a new bridge. I have the metal adjustable saddle, but am unsure how it is supposed to work. Perhaps the screws are stripped.

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The adjustable saddle holder has two screw in it, one on each end. There would be washers between the screw and saddle holder. The saddle slips into the holder. Then, the whole affair slips into the slot in the bridge. By turning the screw in, clockwise, you raise the saddle. By turning the screw out you lower the saddle. Couldn't be simpler. Without strings, the saddle will just fall out if you tip the guitar over.


Since you are replacing the bridge, some folks opt to do away with the adjustable feature. It's up to you.


btw, if yours is a 12 string, it is probably a FT160. The ink on those blue labels is water soluble and easily smudged.

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Yes, it is an FT-160, I fat fingered it!


Who ever had the instrument before drilled out the area under the adjustment screws, eliminating the ability to use the adjustment. I suspect that they wanted the screws as low as possible so they weren't in the way. I will probably replace it with an over-sized bone bridge. I should get better sound transfer that way. It appears that the block is solid against the back of the box, but the entire top is loose from the block. I'll set up some pictures in the next couple of days and show the before and afters.


I actually have access to a luthier to consult with who works in my office. He works part time at a local instrument shop, used to do it full time many years ago. He recommends putting it together without the one shim that was in there, as it was probably added by someone other than the manufacturer, and may be part of what caused the problem.


As I'm collecting materials and parts, I'm hydrating it with the small bowls of water. Good idea!

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My FT145SB came with a paper 'shim' between the neck and neck block. I removed it during the repair process and somewhere along the line I forgot to re-install it and lost it. No ill effects though. Good luck with the fix.


I just mixed me up another batch of that Knox gelatin hide glue to fix up a ukulele with a separated neck. Works like a charm.

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I'm actually a ukulele guy myself. When I get to the glue stage I've got a bridge on an old uke to re-attach.


Here's a couple of the before photos. Not as bad shape is the one described, the soundboard is completely unattached from the block, but the back appears solid.





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Yup, classic break. however, on the right side of the bottom picture it appears that part of the neck block has split and broken loose.


Clean out the old glue, pull the block back into position, then re-glue the joint. Make sure the block doesn't shift while the glue dries. Then after the glue dries, put in your reinforcement block. Simply re-gluing is not good enough. There simply is not enough glue joint to hold the neck with strings at pitch. Looks like you have a good start.


Frets.com's Knox gelatin hide glue works best. While hide glue is available, I've never been able to find it in less than 25# bags. Don't use the 'Hide Glue' that is sold as a liquid in a bottle. It does not have the strength. Whatever they put in it to keep it liquid at room temperature weakens it. I tried it and it didn't work.

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I'm looking at it and going "What is he talking about?" and then I see it. I'll have to take a closer look at it when I get home, but I can clearly see the issue you are referring to. Thanks for pointing it out, I might have not realized it when I started the glue down!

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I took a careful look at the neck joint this morning and was quite surprised by what I found. The right edge is actually bound! The neck block is routed out and the binding is still fastened to the top. That is why it looks much thicker than the left edge. It also explains why the top is not as deformed on that side as it is on the other.


It is going to make it a bit of a challenge to get the glue up and around the corner in that area.

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I'm guessing factory, as the finish is consistent across the joint. I'm going to do my first glue pass with the epoxy sometime in the next week, I need to get the clamps. Obtained the pins and strings this weekend, so I have everything to make it workable now, though I do want to replace the adjustable metal part of the bridge saddle. Any suggestions? I'm thinking the best course might be to just buy a bridge and cut it down to fit in the slot.

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  • 1 month later...

Yeah, time flies when you are having fun! And working and taking care of the family and all that other good stuff.




Reglued the top to the existing neck brace section and clamped per the description above. It was tricky getting the glue into the top on the right side as the binding was a bit of a challenge.


Fashioned two braces from some scrap oak that I had, generally close to the specs provided. Hardest part was cleaning the old hardened glue away from the location of the braces (not the glue I had used to re-glue the top). Used a scalpel to do it and it took a long time! Positioned using the tongue depressor braces as suggested. I also used a Stanley clamp. These have large soft padding on them of a very dense foam that won't harm finishes. They have good control on the force level. It was small enough to fit through the sound hole and catch the end closest to the hole. I did them one at a time.


Reglued the brace into place. Was able to use two of the Stanley clamps to catch the brace onto the sound board without any problem.


Refashioned a new bridge from a blank, matching the broken one in profile. Reassembled the entire instrument.


Successfully strung it up with the lowest tension set of strings I could get. No apparent issues and it has been settling for 24 hours so far. My daughter tuned it up and gave it a few strums. Sounding pretty good! I hope I can get a video clip and a couple of pictures up in about a week once it has totally settled.

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  • 4 weeks later...

IN my experience the top AND the side becomes loose. The top fully disconnected, the side possibly still attached closer towards the back. The block tilts forward, twisting the back a bit.


I've never seen one come completely loose.

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  • 9 months later...

I recently traded for an old FT-160N that has this problem. It was unstrung when I got it, so the extent of its problems wasn't obvious. But the binding is coming apart to one side of the neck, there are cracks emanating from the corners of the neck cutout in the guitar side (where the heel ought to be), the sound board is warped under the end of the fingerboard, and the neck + neck block are loose enough that they readily wiggle around inside the guitar.


I don't much mind having a project, so unless I find it's beyond repair I'll probably be happy enough with it - unless it turns out to really suck, action-wise, when I'm done.


It appears to have all the parts for the adjustable saddle. Some of the tuning keys are loosey-goosey, might try to tighten them up when I tear the tuners down for cleaning & lubing. The shiny finish has quite a few cracks in it.


I picked it up so I can try a 12-string... hope it doesn't turn out to be a regrettable decision. I've only been playing guitar for about 16 months. I figure I can always sell or trade it off if I don't like it. But I really like my Epi AJ 18S VSB and I LOVE my Epi Masterbilt AJ-500RE NS, so I expect to not hate this one.


Thanks for the post about the repair. I'm going to look at what I have when I tear it down, and either adopt your repair or devise my own plan. I had the wife pick up some Knox gelatin today, so I'll be able to whip up some hide glue when the time comes.

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I recently traded for an old FT-160N that has this problem. It was unstrung when I got it, so the extent of its problems wasn't obvious. But the binding is coming apart to one side of the neck, there are cracks emanating from the corners of the neck cutout in the guitar side (where the heel ought to be), the sound board is warped under the end of the fingerboard, and the neck + neck block are loose enough that they readily wiggle around inside the guitar.


I don't much mind having a project, so unless I find it's beyond repair I'll probably be happy enough with it - unless it turns out to really suck, action-wise, when I'm done.


It appears to have all the parts for the adjustable saddle. Some of the tuning keys are loosey-goosey, might try to tighten them up when I tear the tuners down for cleaning & lubing. The shiny finish has quite a few cracks in it.


I picked it up so I can try a 12-string... hope it doesn't turn out to be a regrettable decision. I've only been playing guitar for about 16 months. I figure I can always sell or trade it off if I don't like it. But I really like my Epi AJ 18S VSB and I LOVE my Epi Masterbilt AJ-500RE NS, so I expect to not hate this one.


Thanks for the post about the repair. I'm going to look at what I have when I tear it down, and either adopt your repair or devise my own plan. I had the wife pick up some Knox gelatin today, so I'll be able to whip up some hide glue when the time comes.


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Turns out, the neck block (NB) had come partially loose from the side and completely loose from the top (sound board). The top was slightly broken and warped under the fretboard. Someone had been into be before and tried slopping some wood glue here and there, and the sound-hole end of the neck had been shimmed in the cutout for it in the NB.


I mixed up some glue using Knox gelatin and first glued the NB to the side. Then glued the top down to the NB. Left it overnight, then today I made some blocks to glue on each side of the NB. I went simpler than TommyK's blocks - I ripped the old weathered sides off an old rough-cut 2x2 piece of oak I had lying around, and then ripped it on a diagonal - so I was left with two pieces with a triangular cross-section. I used two pieces of that triangular wood for my braces, one on each side of the NB.


I took a few pics, but need to get them off my phone to upload 'em.


I also gave the tuners a complete going-through. They were pretty grody.


The glue appears to be holding well. I'll have to leave it alone until after Christmas and then I'll put it back together, see if the neck pocket needs that shim or not, and give it a try.

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