. . . With this post, there will probably be many of you fellow guitar enthusiasts out there, that will think I’ve completely lost the plot?
Several years ago, I visited a charity shop in Kendal, UK. There, sat in the window, was something that instantly caught my eye, a guitar. It turned out to be a 1956 Egmond (Dutch firm, now bust) 12 String acoustic, 17 fret neck, 12th fret at the body.
Imagine my surprise when enquiring, that the price was just £40. SOLD !!!
|1956 Egmond 12 String Acoustic Guitar|
On getting it home and after restringing the guitar left-handed (for that is what I am) and a quick tune, I sat down to have a play.
To cut a long story short, the guitar sounded great but for some reason, it seemed to lack a certain something that I couldn’t put my finger on. After that, the guitar was hung on the wall and left to gather dust for the next couple of years.
That was until I discovered the music of The White Stripes and specifically, Jack White’s old battered and torn Kay Acoustic with a Humbucker pickup stuck in the front. For some time I was drawn to this picture and eventually began to look again at the Egmond 12 String.
|Jack White with his 1950’s Kay Acoustic.|
Could I take this discarded, forgotten and unloved beast and turn it into something I would cherish and enjoy playing?
Being left handed, it is exceptionally difficult to find guitars that offer that ‘certain something’ – self modifying often being the only recourse.
So as is my style and approach, I took the guitar to the workshop and set to it.
First job was to remove all the hardware and then the neck, which in this case was very, very simple. Egmond guitars were unusual in that their acoustics had un-boltable necks. One bolt later and the guitar was in two pieces.
|The guitar dismantled and ready for stripping.|
With the guitar broken down into manageable ‘chunks’, next task was to remove that horrendous ‘Sunburst’ paint finish on the headstock and neck – over time, the paint had shrunk and crazed into thousands of tiny little rectangles, so I set to work with a blunt, flat tipped screwdriver.
Working away slowly, very lightly and just a minute area at a time, the powdery ‘crust’ came away surprisingly easily. Several hours of scraping later, I had a rather nice bare wood finish.
|Neck and headstock down to bare wood.|
I was eager not to remove all sense of history and identity from the guitar, so I carefully kept what was remaining of the ‘Egmond’ name on the headstock.
|The ancient Egmond name on the headstock.|
Moving onto the body, it was screwdriver time again and thus began the lengthy (and laborious) job of removing the crumbly finish from the front of the body.
Here though was one particular obstacle I wished to overcome at all cost. At some point in the instruments hazy past, someone had seen fit to place an old John Players cigarette sticker on the lower right bout. To me, this offered untold quantities of Mojo to the guitar and felt that to remove it, would possibly exorcise any musical spirits that may be present. 🙂
|I’d no idea how old this sticker was but it had to stay no matter what – mojo and all that.|
Despite several large pieces of the sticker already missing, I spent an inordinate amount of time carefully scraping around the edges. Easily worth the effort.
|Halfway point, time to rest the fingers . . .|
Compared to the neck, removing the old paint from the front was taking an eternity – and two evenings later, the front was stripped.
|Pheww, that took some doing.|
Feeling quite pleased with myself, I decided that the sunburst on the back had seen better days, so began the monumental task of scraping that.
|Here goes again.|
Naturally this entailed even more work as there is no soundhole in the back, hence more paint. Oh well . . .
|Keep going Kevin, remember your goal . . .|
|Thank the guitar gods for that.|
Finally, with the back stripped, I turned my attention to the headstock. I placed each of the new tuners in their respective holes in order to get a ‘feel’ of proportions etc. Humm, the headstock’s too big. Being made for 12 tuners, with just 6 it looked a little over-the-top.
|The slightly too large headstock with tuners.|
No problem, out with the tenon saw and I removed approximately an inch from the headstock. First cut was slightly below the area with the Egmond name, the other cut an inch below that. After drilling, glueing and screwing the top piece back on, planing the sides to match with a spokeshave and filling the spare tuner holes, I had a headstock more in proportion to that of a 6-string.
|Notice I kept the serial number . . .|
|Much more in-keeping.|
At this point I bolted the neck and body together so that I could appreciate how the project was progressing.
|Now I’m fully motivated . . .|
|. . . this is going to be a guitar to cherish.|
Placing the neck to one side, it was time to begin some of the more serious and involved mod’s. First stop, filling in the sound hole and then cutting out for the humbucker mounting.
Sadly I got so carried away with this part of the job, that I didn’t take any pictures during the process. However, here are a couple of when the work was done.
|I’m liking this . . .|
To make the circle, I took a compass and marked it out on the back of an old cigar box, then carefully cut it out free-hand with a Stanley knife. After sanding to fit by hand, I inserted a small screw in the centre to hold the piece of wood and glued it in place with quick drying (15 minutes) epoxy resin.
|. . . not bad for a first attempt ?|
After that, it was a simple matter to mark out the internal shape of the humbucker mounting, drill the corners and cut it out with the blade from a junior hacksaw.
A Jack White Kay Guitar inspired project wouldn’t be complete without a set of f-holes. However, I didn’t want to chance my arm by attempting the more traditional design of f-hole, with their curved and swirly pattern, so I adapted and designed my own style, based loosly on those from a National Steel Resonator guitar.
I lightly drew the design onto the body with a ruler (being extra careful at each step to ensure I wouldn’t be cutting into the cross bracing of the body) and drilled small pilot holes at the corners so that they would have smooth curves. Then I simply scored along the lines with the edge of a steel ruler and a Stanley knife. After several light strokes, I was through the wood.
|One f-hole cut out, with the other side marked and drilled ready.|
Once cut out, it was just a case of lightly sanding the edges smooth.
|Really coming together now.|
The final stages were a breeze compared to the previous tasks and in no time I had refitted the tailpiece, humbucker and wired in a simple 240 volt on/off toggle switch (from Maplins) to control the pickup, with a matching on/off nameplate and volume and tone knobs (later removed because they didn’t work too well).
|Almost there . . .|
The remainder of the guitar ‘flew’ together rather nicely and also benefitted from the addition of a proper left handed brass nut, which really helped the tone and sustain.
|Didn’t expect the guitar to have such a cheeky grin. 😀|
Very last job was to fit a Kay style pickguard. I couldn’t find one of these in the UK for love nor money, so eventually tracked one down on ebay in America. It was a right handed version but the seller assured me it was just as nice on the reverse side. He was right and this soon found it’s way onto the guitar.
|Well worth it ?|
Now to the present day and as I write this article, was the time and effort worth it?
In one word, absolutely. I play this guitar every day, without fail. The tone is to die for, sweet highs and deep lows (helped no doubt by that voluminous 12 string body). As soon as I strum a chord or pick a note, this guitar turns me into an old Bluesman from the Mississippi Delta – all I need is a rocking chair and a porch. I wouldn’t part with it for all the tea in China.
What’s more, I can’t help but chuckle to myself when I realise that this year, it will be celebrating it’s 60th birthday. Not bad for £40.
A guitar to cherish? You bet.