Martin Reynolds

Luthier

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Guitar Restoration
Afri-Can Guitar
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My customer bought this while visiting South Africa. Made from materials at hand, the Afri-Can guitar has a 5 liter oil can for a body. Hand carved, the two octave neck is made from some local equivalent of maple. The bridge is locally machined from scrap metal. Those hand wound pickups are impressive, good output and a nice warm, fat single coil sound. Pickup covers are cut from an oil can turned inside out, bent and soldered over the coil and magnet. Volume and tone knobs made from beer bottle caps. The tuners are factory made, as are the pots, jack and switch.

Minnesota Winters tend to be rough on guitars made in much wetter climates. The neck of this one became so dried out that the fingerboard shrank and the whole neck "S" curved. The fret ends stood proudly off the fingerboard edge, very uncomfortable to play.

The first thing to do was hydrate the guitar so it went into the hydration chamber for a few days. Humidity in the chamber is usually 50-55%. I will leave the story of my hydration chamber for another time but it is a tool I use all winter long.

After humidifying, the neck relaxed and the fingerboard swelled to almost original size. A bit of filing on the fret ends took care of what little metal still stuck out. At this point I could string it up and adjust the action but the guitar had one more problem. The electronics were dirty and cutting in and out. On most guitars I could just lift a pickguard or remove a back cover to gain access to the control cavity but the Afri-Can is made quite differently.

To make an Afri-Can, one takes his oil can and cuts a hole to install the body end of the neck, but first you cover the inside along what will be the back with fiberglass cloth. Then you pour in glass resin and allow it to cure. This stiffens the back of the rather bendable can. That done, install all the electronics and then insert the neck with a good amount of silicon glue on it. See the problem? No way to get to the electronics once the neck is installed... and removing the neck would do damage to the can.

The logical solution would be to cut an access hole somewhere and I probably would have done so. Had it been in the back of the body I would have run into that great mass of fiberglass, which I did not know about as of yet.

I waffled about this for a few days, not sure where the best place for the hole should be. Enter my buddy, Master Luthier Terry Kennedy, who suggested using a particular type of can opener. This opener cracks the seam instead of cutting through the thinner metal parts. It leaves a nice ledge that allows the end to be put firmly back in place.

Once open, fixing the electronics was easy. All I had to do was hot glue a block of wood in so I could secure the end in place with a screw.

Repairs & consultation by appointment • Call or email: 763.398.9918 • mnluthier@gmail.com

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