Restoration of a guitar by Domingo Esteso, Madrid 1926

A description and photos of this guitar were published in issue N° 38 (August/September 2007) of "Guitare Classique"; some time ago, this instrument went through an important but risky restoration. The author of the article, Bruno Marlat, did not mention this intervention, so we thought it could be interesting to tell about the strategy we used for the restoration.

When the guitar was brought to us, it was in terrible conditions :
. 13 cracks more or less old and very dirty all over the top
. a hole under the rose, underneath the E & A strings had been tapped in a very inappropriate manner from outside
. the neck and the fingerboard were starting to sink in the box - as the breaks left and right of the
fingerboard show
. the top, abandoned with its numerous accidents, was very deformed
. the back also showed many cracks, the cover joints were opened
. lastly, the instrument had been glued in different places with a black glue too obvious for this nice clear box; the glue spread on the inside and the cracks needed to be unglued before they could be cleaned, closed and glued again.

The greatest difficulty regarding the restoration of Spanish guitars is opening the instrument. As a matter of fact, the numerous cleats forming the counter rib of the back do not really stand the opening of the instrument through the back, and it is almost impossible to unglue properly the voluminous top-block on the back without taking considerable risks for the back. Cypress wood, independently from its acoustic qualities, can break easily and does not resist well to shocks. After keeping the back purfling in form to be able to glue it again afterwards, and after having unglued as precisely as possible the back of the ribs, the lower block and the bars from their wedgings, we cut the strong upper block or when it was not possible, we sawed it with a japanese saw. The cut was about 1.5/10th of a mm, therefore did not waste any material. This allowed to work on the back without risks. Once the back was free, we could work from inside to unglue the rest of the block left on the back and glued it immediately to the other part remaining on the body, then pegged the whole, so the block would re-gain its initial mechanical qualities and volume. The restoration of the back did not present major difficulties: after having cleaned the breaks and traces of the old glue, we glued them again, and added small cleats; the "cover joints" were glued again or substituted when they could not be replaced.

Regarding the restoration of the top, the strategy was a little more complicated: before glueing back anything, it was necessary to correct the deformations. We made a mould; in the case of this Spanish guitar, it is like a supporting block cut out according to the size of the top, in which we left space for the fingerboard. We added a sulphuric paper to prevent any unwelcome traces of glue on the varnish. Then, we noted the various bar positions and made corresponding "blocks" of the spaces left between these bars. After having cleaned the fractures and removed the apocrypha piece underneath the rose, we placed the top on its "rest" and glued the bars again. The top was left in this position for a few days.

Once the top was formed again, we glued strong cleats around the rose to maintain the neck-fingerboard in a correct position and prevent any new "sinking" and applied to the cracks - cleaned and glued - small cleats not interfering with the vibrations. We applied a new small piece of epicea to fill the hole on the top in a wood more similar to the one selected originally by the maker, and as requested by the customer, we applied two satinwood veneers on the top to protect the delicate zone that could be damaged by the fingers. After having checked each cleat of the counter ribs and substituted those that had been damaged during the opening of the back (almost impossible to avoid!), we prepared the instrument to be closed again.

It was a delicate operation because the sound quality of the instrument depends on it. We "blocked" the guitar in its optimum position with a "rest" to prevent the instrument from moving thus preserving the playing area, its "playability". Once the instrument positioned and held in place, we glued the back in its position, and in a second time, the back purfling was placed in its original place.

A new cleaning was necessary before we could touch up the varnish and add patina to hide as much as possible traces of our intervention. As a matter of fact, if remissibility of any intervention is recommended, the restorer's work should be as discreet as possible and serve the author's work; the term "invisible restoration" often being bragging about, a restorer's fantasy, the "more discreet" remains the rule to follow to restore in an instrument not only its original appearance but also its function and own personality.

We are sorry that the photos are not up to the quality of the guitar they illustrate. They are workshop photos taken quickly more than 15 years ago, like notes to remember guitar infos, each author's bars, set up and own particularities, as well as noting the restoring strategies we used in each case.

Since our intervention, this guitar has been unfortunately again dammaged and it is our colleagues Eric Pierre Hofmann and Thomas Norwood who made the new restorations.

We are glad that this guitar goes on in its career under the clever fingers of Pedro Soler, and that this instrument will still play..long after us..!

Another beautiful guitar by Domingo Esteso with a rosewood box restored in 2005.