Introduction: Cleaning and Basic Restorating an Old, Left Alone Guitar

About: Tiny projects from wood and bone with minimal tools. I like to use handtools for better controll and to feel the workpiece. This way I can escape a little bit from this automated, instant and digital world. (Y…

Back in may of 2013. I inherited a nice guitar from my friend Gyurka, who passed away 9 years ago to that date. His good old guitar was left alone in the corner for years, his wife was unable to touch the instrument that stood there as my friend last put it down. It was a long, sorrowful silence. But one day Ildiko, my friend's wife picked up the Cremona - old Czech guitar manufacturer - and gave it to me and said: I feel You'll be able to care for her.

The previous owner (before my friend) was a musician and the guitar worked in the showbusiness on an ocean cruiser. There are traces that it has a pickup and an electronics inside the body.

The guitar was in bad condition, was dirty, dusty, little corroded and half of the strings was broken, like our heart. So at first I must had to clean and restorate it. The only little problem was that I'm not a luthier, what's more I never played guitar before. So it started a slow learning process, lots of research, dive into how can I care a guitar and it happened to be a beginning of an interesting journey. I explored a wonderful world, the wood itself and bone, and thats why now I love both.

Here I document the whole process. Keep in mind that I'm not a luthier, what and how I did is not necessarily the best practice but finally everything worked fine and came out nice. Before every step I researched a lot to be sure not to harm the instrument. I kept the integrity of it, changed only the strings and the plastic saddle to bone (finally).

Warning: mega ible.

Step 1: The Head. Dissect and Clean the Tuning Machines

First I destringed the guitar and started with the head.

Unscrewed the plates and the gears, placed the tiny parts in BluTack to keep the original sequence of it. At this stage I thought that's important, but later realised it isn't really. Cleaned the metal parts in regular window cleaner with toothbrush. Worked well, the yellow layer came off nicely. You can see the difference on the pictures. I think it was dirt, finger grease, smoke and nicotine. Yes it was a bit sticky. Next I polished the gears with Dremel and fine wirebrush.

Under the metal plate found additional screwholes in the wood. Pretty sure it's not the original plate.

The wood on the head was cleaned with Pronto. Worked but was not so effective. But the micro fiber clothes are wonderful to this job.

Put it together and worked as before. It means that there was creaks and jumps during the tuning process. Started to measure the diameter of the string rollers on each ends. The result was surprising, there was a significant deviation. (Values in millimeter with hundreds of a millimeter accuracy.)

  • E 10,0 10,45
  • B 9,94 10,54
  • G 9,86 10,485
  • D 9,85 10,50
  • A 9,975 10,55
  • E 9,9 10,59

Some of them was loose, some was tight. So I started to change the sequence of the rollers, and finally I found a right order where the creaks minimised. On roller left squeaky, I must widen a bit the hole on the metal plate with needle file. (I wanted not to alter the wood.)

Head done.

Step 2: Cleaning the Body Inside

Before the next step I looked inside the body. It was easy with a cameraphone with flash. There was a fair amount of dust and cobweb and some interesting storyteller trace of the past of the instrument.

On two of the braces there is some green glue remnant. I suppose there was an electronics glued here. I found a hole on the top under the bridge. There must be a saddle pickup and the wire came down here. But on the bridge there is no hole, so it means the bridge was changed, it's not the original. On the bottom of the guitar's side there is another, huge hole. Ideal for the jack plug. It was covered a sticker.

So the inside must be cleaned. For that I used a small vacuum cleaner, it's hose was flexible and small enough to work with inside. Take care not to fully cover the soundhole, the vacuum can be strong enough to collapse the body. Use a baby hair brush and long enough paintbrushes. Where You can reach inside the micro fiber cloth is ideal too.

During the process You can check the braces if there is any loose one. Here everything was fine.

Finally the guitar is clean inside.

Step 3: Cleaning the Back of the Guitar

Time to clean the back of the body. Here is nothing special, used some Pronto with micro fiber clothes. Under the dirt there is a nice mahogany. Since it's a cheap guitar it's pretty sure a plywood laminated with mahogany veneer, but I don't care, it's nice.

Step 4: Cleaning of the Side of the Body

The cleaning basically was the same as on the back.

The interesting thing here is the hole on the bottom next to the strap button. Here on the macro photos You can see the layers of the wood. So it's a plywood laminated with mahogany veneer. I think the back of the guitar is the same material. On the sides we can see some minor cracks. I don't worry about that, since it isn't visible inside, so it must be only on the upper layer of the structure.

Step 5: The Case

Still not ready in my mind for the soundboard and particularly not for the fretboard. So let's clean the case. There were lots of dust in the pattern, but the window cleaner and toothbrush did the job well. Micro fiber clothes again, and some car care silicone protector brought is back to life. My constant quality control supervisor classified it as good enough.

Step 6: Soundboard

Time to care the soundboard. It brings some challenge. The soundboard itself is lacquered, but the fretboard and the bridge is pure rosewood. Needs different care. And there is the so called rosette, in this cheap guitar it's a thin sticker under the lacquer. Unfortunately its glue weakens over the time and then the lacquer starts to fracturing and finally some pieces fall off. So this area is loose, must be cleaned extra carefully.

Here I tried something new over Pronto. Mixed my own cleaner, one part Sofix (wood floor cleaner and conditioner), one part window cleaner and five part hot water. (During the process You can keep it warm with the cup in hot water.) I apply a small amount to the small area, wait a minute then clean it off with micro fiber clothes. This way You can take care of the rosewood and loose rosette parts.

Step 7: Rosewood Bridge

After the soundboard came the bridge. Since it was unusually dirty I used a touch of lighter fluid. Doesn't hurts the wood and immediately evaporate. Then came the lemon oil. It makes a huge difference, brings back the wood to life.

Step 8: Fretboard, Frets and Nut

You can see on the photos how dirty was the fretboard. Obviously it was the dirtiest part on the guitar. And it's seemed to me it's the hardest challenge to clean properly, not hurting anything. Thats why I procrastinated and left it as last touch.

During my research period I've seen lots of different methods and approaches to clean and care the fretboard and the frets. But I have no proper tools and materials, I must found good enough workarounds that seems safe enough. Here a simple clothes rubbing was not enough, the dirt was too thick, so I must use something more drastic. I realised I must scrape off the dirt, so I used a glass window paint scraper for this job. The handle gives really good control, and with the right amount of force (almost no force) and the right angle it works pretty well. You can see the leftover dust I scraped off, it's really a minimal amount of material.

Now the fretboard is roughly clean but there is fine remnants of dirt in the grains. For that I used rubber eraser. It can be pressed into the grains and clean it. I found the best is Faber-Castell Grip 2001 Eraser Cap, it hard enough but doesn't hurts the wood. After that I cleaned the fretboard with micro fiber clothes some lighter fluid on it. It evaporates immediately, can't go deep and there is no time to hurt the wood. Despite that I used just for this time, later I will not need to clean such extensively.

Time to clean the frets. At this stage I used a Rotring eraser template to protect the wood. For the cleaning I found an eraser as best solution again. Faber-Castell Perfection Eraser Pencil is harder and contains additional fine abrasive material. You can work with it quickly and what is more important precisely and can reach the corners on the fretboard. For polishing use polishing compound on micro fiber clothes. At this step I protected the fretboard with standard Post-it sticky notes (instead of masking tape that I hadn't at this time), easy to work with especially to think of the dispensing. It's already the right size and easy to grab the next piece.

After the polishing compound came the nail polishing stick. I gone through both on the fretboard and the frets. With this step I fine sanded the nut. It was colored in a thin layer of the material. That came off nicely and got some polishing too.

The final step is a touch of lemon oil. I really like what magic it does on the wood. It feels smooth, smells good, brings out the grains and sunshine.

Step 9: Wooden Saddle

Remember originally it came with a boring plastic saddle. I wanted something nicer and unique. There is a nice pattern on the plate of the tuning machines and was inspiring. Took a photo, measured the saddle, edited and printed the two as a template. I had some leftover moldings, I used it as base material. Carboncopy the template and cut out the raw shape. Thicken to the desired thickness and fine sand it. Try it to the place and fine sand again until it fits. Apply some lemon oil, polish and ready to use.

Time to put the strings on!

Step 10: String It Up

But I've never ever owned a guitar before, therefore I've never put strings on guitar. So continued the research and it wasn't surprise that there are some different methods. Beads, various knots, I chose the most appealing to me.

Grab new strings. Remember, this time it means the new strings are 9 years old, but unused original ones. Everything went fine with the knots, tuned the guitar accurately with an app.

Cremona took a deep breath and broke the long long sorrowful silence with clean, crystal clear sound. It was not a regular melody but the sound of a revival, a simple rebirth simphony despite the facts it was only a few notes played repeatedly. Yes, I can't play guitar, but this moment was something special unique and unrepeatable. A moment of truth. So I must learn to play on Cremona. I owe her that much, to keep alive and keep away silence.

On the photos You can see I made a bone saddle later (will be an ible later), made an owl shaped soundhole cover, a bone pick. Neverending story. :)

Step 11: Bonus: Some Macro Photos

The devil is in the details. And Cremona have so many tiny details You can't see but can feel with hands, ears, soul. There are many moments when I must examine closeups to see tiny gaps and things that affects the sound and the feel of the instrument. It's part of the wonderful jorney started with Cremona.

I hope You enjoyed it too. Prepare Yourself, to be continued.