Watch how Willie Nelson's half-century-old guitar gets repaired


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I really adore master craftspeople! Thanks for this post!


I bet the ASMR people will have a field day with this. This guy’s the Bob Ross of guitar repair.


New soundboard, new fretboard, new frets, new head, new bridge, new sides, new base, new strings - soon be as good as new. Have you heard about my grandfather’s ax I’m still using?

Though there’s always this approach, which I came across years ago on a reliability engineering course:


I saw that video a few days ago and it’s really fascinating. And for sure there’s no pressure in keeping Trigger going, i admire Willie Nelson sticking to his instrument as a gauge for when he should retire. I sort of doubt he’d really give it up but it definitely creates an interesting challenge maintaining the guitar.


*Terrible movie. Great book.



The guitar of Theseus?


I think this is the real challenge…what can you replace without turning it into something new. I have an ex with a 300-year-old instrument that she plays in concert regularly that has been turned inside out a few times. In fact, the luthiers we’ve gone to talk about the changes across the continents and they know the revision histories of how things have changed. I’ve been surprised when we’ve brought other people’s instruments in for evaluation to the master in the field and he’s been able to tell us where it’s been and identify craftsmen by changes based on the technique. I was amazed at seeing how throwing in a fiber optic cable he was able to identify that a change was made at a specific time based on the type of lamination technique.

So pretty much, other than the layman, the actual artists know the history and know that the changes are as important as the origin.


Though this is utterly off topic and may indeed be overly intrusive, are the two things connected?


“New soundboard, new fretboard, new frets, new head, new bridge, new sides, new base, new strings - soon be as good as new. Have you heard about my grandfather’s ax I’m still using?”

I’m assuming that you are throwing out a quote that is a joke about how this is the same instrument despite completely being remade. I’m simply stating that musicians REGULARLY do this. And they know the histories. And the histories are amazing. And beyond this, there is no feigning surprise about the replacement of parts nor confusion as they are rebuilt over the years?

Or am I misunderstanding the question? Or your original intent?

I haven’t played in years, but I still stop by lutiers I know simply to see them work. And to see history. To me, and as a lover of Americana, seeing Nelson’s guitar woul have made me much happier than some of these others…but still…history can be seen and is amazing.


Not pictured: first the scrape out all the resin and get HIGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH


It’s a shame Willie’s only got the one Horcrux.


You are taking me entirely too seriously. If you read the Oliver Wendell Holmes I linked - the tale of the wonderful one-hoss shay that ran for a hundred years to the day - you may get my point. But it probably isn’t worth the effort.


I took it as a tongue in cheek joke. The reference to the Ship of Theseus paradox points that he was joking, or at least that’s how i read it.


I got that part. But the point was that it isn’t a paradox to anyone but the layman.


did your granddad play electric??


Cards on the table.
I am a retired product designer - I used to call myself a technologist rather than an engineer because the latter term is often misunderstood, but it’s safe to say that I have managed chemists, metallurgists and engineers.

I cited the wonderful one hoss shay above because it actually represents the perfection of product design - a product that works throughout its entire design life without needing anything but the easy maintenance of parts subject to wear, and as few of those as possible. I could go on about this at length but it would rapidly become tedious.
From a design point of view, classical musical instruments are failures. Important parts wear out, there is no proper control of materials, no proper documentation. In fact, there isn’t even a specification. Looking at investigations of 18th century violins, for instance, I don’t think we know whether the metallic traces found are preservatives or intended to produce a certain tone (I suspect the former). Yet a whole cottage industry has grown up around preserving them at vast cost and they command extremely high prices.
We don’t really know for certain what they sounded like when new and we don’t really know how composers felt about the noises they made. One thing we do know is that 18th and early 19th century musicians were much less precious about various aspects of performance than classical musicians tend to be today.
If classical music was really about performance quality then instead of preserving antique instruments, new ones would be developed using modern technology. Oh, they are! Japanese manufacturers produce violins which are robust, reliable, designed for long life and which cannot be distinguished in true double blind tests from antique instruments.
I have no problem with people who want to play antique instruments and who want to maintain a Veblen goods market in them, but pretending that this is about musical quality is surely pure snobbery (and keeping the wrong, i.e. lower class, people out because they can’t afford instruments that meet the requirements of orchestras, even amateur ones.)
Of course I can be dismissed as an ignoramus, and my comments as uninformed ramblings. But during the period I was teaching, I was at schools which had something of a musical tradition - one associated with a major cathedral - and the staff of the music departments had rather robust attitudes to “antique” instruments, regarding them as an amusing affectation like people who restore old cars. I can’t help wondering if the reverence for the old has held back the development of better, more robust instruments that go out of tune less readily, and whether modern CAD and FEA wouldn’t lead to things that had generally better and more consistent response. I’m not talking electric guitars here, for instance, but the use of new materials and material testing to produce better acoustic ones.

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