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At this point in my adventure I began considering the following conundrum: do I restore the guitar to original condition or do I alter the rascal from its original, poorly designed specifications? I can still imagine some worker at Gibson going to his superior and saying, “You know, if we just altered the top bracing a little and added a little more to the bridge plate, we might be able to still use the pin bridge and make a better sounding instrument.” In my imaginary scenario I can hear the supervisor reply, “We don’t do it that way. We’ve had so many warranty repairs for that pin bridge that my boss wants it done this way.” Not working for Gibson four decades ago, I press onward.
I then enlarged my X-ray photo of the guitar’s top so that the image of the bridge measured exactly 7 1/2” from side to side. I made three 16”×20” prints, varying the contrast and exposure between them. When dry, I had an exact, 1:1 ratio photo of the top with the bracing structure revealed. This trick needs to be done with black and white film and an enlarger so you can tweak the enlargement proportions. In case you’re wondering, I’ve been a professional photographer since the seventies. I’m the guy who took Clapton’s photo in the Tulsa Jail, but I called Dick Sims’ mom to get him sprung (perhaps another story for another time).
I positioned my new-old-stock Gibson pin bridge over the photo of the existing bridge and determined that I would need an additional bridge plate underneath to both strengthen my new bridge and allow for a base for the new bridge pins to snuggle into. I started with a corrugated cardboard template cut out with a razor blade and carefully shaped it to fit between the existing bridge plate and the cross braces underneath. After staring at the mahogany bridge placed on top of the photo of the old bridge, I determined that I needed to add two small additional braces going top to bottom underneath the ends of the bridge saddle and joining the existing lateral cross-brace under the top. I remembered the words of my friend, the late Stewart Mossman, “Nothing is stronger in top bracing than the triangle.” I gazed with delight at how I had created three additional triangles under the top at the end of the bridge with the addition of my two braces glued to the lateral brace. I imagined my luthier friend from Kalamazoo up in heaven giving me a big “OK” with his right hand.
Afterwards I began cutting out my new bridge blank by hand with a hacksaw and a coping saw. Mechanical saws move too fast for this delicate process, although it took many hours to hand-file and sand the new rosewood bridge to shape, plus another four hours to fit the new bone saddle into not only the new bridge base but the old one as well, in case I reinstall the adjustable ebony saddle at a later date. Luthier Don Teter once told me to dig out the bridge adjustment nuts in the top and take out the old bridge plate; since the bridge adjustment nuts in this instrument were sunk slightly below the top, I decided against both courses of action and chose to leave the nuts in place and keep the existing bridge pad. I cut a solid piece of maple for an extension of the bridge pad underneath to match my cardboard template and saved the bridge adjustment nuts in case I needed them in the future.
I began volleying ideas back and forth with Don Kendall of Bridge Doctor fame. I had returned my Bridge Doctor after deciding it wouldn’t work under the cluster of 12 bridge pins [Photo 5]. Initially, I thought of making my own modified Bridge Doctor with two dowels going down to the guitar’s butt and a suspension strap at the end of the dowels to keep the pressure transferred to the endblock inside the guitar. This seemed to work, but I had to carefully countersink the “all-thread” into the outer edge of my new bridge without coming through the top, since I had determined that the feng shui of the bridge would be unbalanced if I had inlaid rosewood or pearl dots over the new bolts. I thought about the same bolts going through my soon-to-be-added spruce top braces for additional strength and then began thinking about what this would do to the flutter capacity of the top.