A small crack and pickguard replacement on a vintage Martin

We have a beautiful-looking and sounding 1968 Martin D-28 on the workbench this month. When you consider that for the last 42 years this flattop has been out on the playing field and not sitting in a museum, it has aged very gracefully. It came to us in need of a common neck reset and pickguard replacement. Other than a three-inch crack alongside the pickguard that needed repair, this rare gem was structurally sound.

Over time, this D-28’s original black celluloid pickguard had shrunk and curled up on the edges. Sometimes a guard will let loose as it shrinks with age, but typically it will stay bonded to the spruce top. As the guard curls up and pulls, it causes stress to the top. The spruce top usually cracks along the grain line to relieve the stress, and that’s what happened here. The underside of this particular pickguard was glued directly to the raw, unfinished spruce top, and that concerned me. (A Martin rep told me the company began attaching self-adhesive pickguards to pre-finished tops in 1984.)

Warranty Versus Non-Warranty
When it comes to repairs like these, if you’re the original owner of your Martin guitar and have registered the instrument with the company or still have your original purchase receipt, you’re in luck. Martin offers one of the best warranty programs in our business. Martin, in general, will cover the cost of any repairs as long as the instrument shows no sign of abuse or negligence on the owner’s part. For these repairs to be covered under Martin’s warranty, they must be done by an Authorized Martin Service Center.

If you are not the original owner, then this becomes a non-warranty repair, which means you’re responsible for the cost. Of course, you don’t have to use an authorized facility for Martin repairs. As long as you’re comfortable with the shop and the repairperson is experienced with this type of restoration, you should be in good hands.

The Restoration
A hair dryer and spatula work very well for removing most guards. We were able to get clean results by applying a mild dose of heat and gently separating the guard from the top with a knife spatula.

Next, we needed to level and glue up the three-inch top crack before applying the nitrocellulose seal and multiple top coats. The crack ran parallel with the grain lines, and fortunately the wood sat fairly level on both sides of the crack. (Sometimes cracked wood needs to be moistened and manipulated with clamps to flatten it out.)

We used 1/8" Scotch plastic tape to seal around the crack before applying thin Super Glue with a drop-fill toothpick. For this procedure, I also like using the Whip Tip, a 1 3/4" precision gluebottle nozzle extension. I used wax paper to protect the top from any glue splatter.

Drop-filling the crack with thin Super Glue.

After the glue was dry and I had leveled it with a razor blade and 600 wet/dry sandpaper, I was ready to apply nitrocellulose finish to the raw spruce surface where the original pickguard had previously been glued. Nitrocellulose works as a protective sealer and surface leveler, and provides a prime surface for attaching the replacement guard. We wet-sanded the fresh finish up to 1000 grit and leveled it to the original surrounding finish.

Size Matters

Martin offers two sizes of pickguards—standard and oversized. The standard pickguard worked perfectly after I trimmed and duplicated the cutout around the rosette. For referencing, I used 1/8" Scotch plastic tape, as it is very flexible for shaping a radius. I did the initial shaping with my belt sander, going back and forth and checking the guard to the guitar top until I got a perfect fit. Then I rounded the edges with an X-Acto knife to match the look of the original. Using masking tape to reference the final fit, I applied the pickguard to the guitar.

Shaping the Martin replacement pickguard on a belt sander.

The finished replacement pickguard and filled crack.

You can buff the finish before or after you apply the self-adhering pickguard. But if you choose the latter, you need to be extremely careful. I personally like doing it this way, but if you’re not thinking or watching the direction of the buffing wheel for one quick moment, you can melt and rip the guard right off.

The following supplies I used for this restoration are available at stew-mac.com (item number in parentheses):
  • Bridge/fingerboard removal knife spatula (4464)
  • Thin Super Glue (0010)
  • Accelerator (5984)
  • Drop-fill toothpicks (3110)
  • Whip Tip (1161)
  • Lawrence-McFadden nitrocellulose lacquer (2200)
  • Lawrence-McFadden lacquer thinner (2202)
  • Guitar buffing arbor (2080)
You can buy these other items at your local hardware and paint supply store:
  • 1/8" Scotch plastic tape (3M)
  • 600 and 1000 grit wet/dry sandpaper
  • X-Acto knife
  • Wax paper
  • Hair dryer
Keep those chisels sharp and thanks for your kind emails and feedback!

John Brown
John Brown, of Brown's Guitar Factory, is the inventor of the Fretted/Less bass. He owns and operates a full guitar manufacturing and repair/restoration facility, which is staffed by a team of talented luthiers. He is also the designer of guitarmaking/repair tools and accessories that are used today by instrument builders throughout the world.

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