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Hofner 12-String Archtop - Loose Braces and Neck Reset

I have a client who loves Hofner archtops and semi-acoustics and brought this to me one day for a set up. Upon quick inspection I noted that the top was falling in and surmised that there were loose braces inside. It also looked as if it could use a neck reset. I'd only know after I did the work on the top if I needed to change the angle of the neck.

I first removed the pickups and indeed, the braces were visibly loose and pulling away from the top. I wanted to be the least invasive as possible and was hoping to be able to clamp the braces through the pickup holes, but I soon realized that it would be impossible to do that effectively and the back would have to come off. I also knew that re-gluing the braces would distort the geometry of the guitar somewhat, and I have to figure a fix for that as well.

I removed some hardware and decided to try and remove the neck dry, without any steam. Fortunately, these Hofners, and other German brands of the same era had a tenon neck joint that was simply glued in with hide glue, so I began to separate the neck joint with my custom putty knife and it came apart pretty easily.

To remove the back I would have to first remove the first layer of binding, so I took my Exacto knife and scored along the edges of the outer layer of binding, both on the back and the sides. I then took my putty knife and began to separate the binding, which fortunately came off fairly easily in two pieces and in good shape, so I would be able to reuse it.

I knew the back was laminated and that there was a danger of some tear-away of the wood, so I very carefully began to separate the back from the sides. I did get some damage, but it was minor and would be invisible when repaired. Upon inspection I realized it would have been impossible to glue the braces correctly without removing the back as one of them needed to be pushed a little sideways in order to get it into the proper position. Not only that, but the bracing separation was major and I had to be able to get the glue into every spot that I could. I glued and clamped the braces and moved onto the back, which needed some attention because of the lamination becoming separated in some areas, so I glued and clamped those areas.

After letting it dry for a day I removed the clamps. I knew there would be some distortion of the sides after gluing the braces back into place because of the severity of the distortion of the top, and therefore the back wouldn't fit properly. After careful consideration, combined with the fact that there was already a hole in the end block of the guitar where the tailpiece attached, I was able to slide a dowel through the hole all the way up to the neck block. I then clamped it in such a way as to push on the dowel and expand the length between the neck block and the end block. I also knew doing that would distort the sides, so I put another dowel in there to expand the waist of the body...and it worked! The back appeared to fit just about perfectly. I would be able to slide the long dowel out the end block hole and I'd be able to fish the other one out of one of the ƒ holes.

I began to glue the back on using TiteBond and spool clamps, end block and neck block first to make sure my length was correct, then worked my way around the sides. I cleaned up any excess glue, then left it to dry overnight.

The next morning I removed the clamps and was pleased to find everything where I wanted it. I scraped off any excess glue with a sharp chisel. I also cleaned off any old dried glue on the binding. I then masked the finish around the binding slot with drafting tape so that it would be safe from the binding glue, which can ruin a finish. I fit the binding in the binding slot and it fit very well except for a gap at the end block. I expected that, as binding shrinks over time. I'd slip a little piece of binding I had laying around in there and it would be barely noticeable. I began to glue in the binding, cleaning off the glue and taping the binding tightly into place as I went with more drafting tape, which is very easy on the finish, and worked my way around the body until it was glued and taped very snug. Then I fitted a piece of binding in the gap and glued and taped it in there. Then I left it to dry overnight.

The next morning I removed the tape and scraped any excess glue off. The binding needed to be scraped a bit to make it flush with the sides and back, which I did with a razor. Once that was done I did some touch-up on the body to make it look and feel like nothing happened. I then sprayed some amber lacquer on the binding to make it match the aged binding on the top (sorry, no pictures of that!). I then proceeded to build up the lacquer on the binding and where it meets the body so I'd be able to smooth it out and make it look untouched. That took a few days of "spray a coat, let it dry a few hours...repeat another couple day same".

Once the lacquer was built up I sanded it down and evened out the finish around the back binding. Then I buffed and polished the finish out and it looked nearly undisturbed, except upon very close inspection. The body was done!

Now onto the neck. I had to make sure the angle would be correct. After fitting it in the neck pocket, I knew I needed to reset the angle slightly. After some careful sanding I was able to get it just where I wanted it, so I fired up the glue pot. These types of neck pockets can be tricky because of the loose tolerances, so I had to put a shim in one side to tighten it up. I glued up the neck, clamped it, cleaned any excess glue and set it alone until the next day. In the morning I removed the clamp and cleaned any dried glue off. I sighted down the neck and saw that the reset was a success. I then re-installed the hardware and strung it up. I needed to take a little off of the bottom of the bridge, but otherwise it was great. The action was low, it didn't buzz, and it sounded fantastic.

The owner of the instrument was all smiles when he took a look at it and even more so when he started playing it! He was very pleased with the results and glad he had spent the money to restore this vintage guitar back to playing condition.

Major bracing separation.

Neck separated from body.

Scoring the binding.

Beginning to remove first layer of binding.

Working the binding off the body.

Binding off in 2 pieces.

Separating the back from the body.

Back removed.

A good look at the loose braces.

Glued and clamped braces.

Re-glued braces.

Gluing the back damage.

Cross-bracing to distort the body back into shape.

Ready to re-glue the back

Laying it on thick!

Clamping the ends first, then working the glue in as I go around.

I ran out of spool clamps!

Clamps are off and everything is looking aligned properly.

Cleaning off the excess dried glue.

Cleaning the glue off the binding.

Fitting the old binding on the back.

Gluing and taping the binding back on.

Gluing and taping...

Finished taping.

Bind the Gap.

Scraping the binding.

Paint touch-up.

Finish binding.

Glue pot.

Neck glued and clamped.

Neck joint nice and tight.

Finished back.

Ready to rock!

This guitar was nearly unplayable when it came to me because of the action. Now, not only is it butter to play, but it's structurally sound and should last another forty years before any major work will need to be done. My client was ecstatic and kept saying how worth it it was to get the work done correctly.

It sounds and plays great and was saved from certain death if it had been allowed to deteriorate any further. Vintage instruments like this are meant to be played!

Other mods, repair, and custom work available as well.

To find out more, email me!

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