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Restoration of a badly damaged Capritaurus


Les Tate
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In late 2014 Howard Rugg of Capritaurus made a couple of 22" VSL pilot model short scale dulcimers, then decided future ones needed to have a 23" VSL. He later named these the Wally. He told me that he didn't start making those until 2015, however the damaged one I bought had a Capritaurus label signed by him and dated 12/12/2014. After seeing the photos I sent him, which included one of the label, he remembered it and sent me two January 2015 photos showing it ready for lacquering. He also provided some interesting facts about it. It is made mostly of solid redwood from an 1850s water tank that he'd salvaged. The redwood top, sides, and bottom near the nut and headstock are black-brown from weathering, then fade to dark brown further down the body. It has a flat lacewood headstock, koa fretboard overlay, redwood burl end pieces, rosewood nut and bridge, and Grover chrome button open tuners.

I knew it was pretty damaged when I bought it, but the extent wasn't readily apparent. I had paid only $75 for it, including shipping, thinking I might be able to fix it or at least use it as a learning experience. It arrived well-packed, but upon removing the wrappings it looked as if someone had sat on it. Two breaks on each side of the top's upper bout and one under the lower end of the fretboard, two breaks on back, and the middle of the top could flex about 1/4" below the fretboard on both sides. It took me couple of hours to determine how to begin and that step worried me.

The first several photos show the "before" condition. The next one is where I had carefully sawed the fretboard completely off between the headstock and the outside of the bridge using a thin pull-saw and some thin tape (not shown) that I placed on the top to prevent scarring. The removed fretboard was almost perfectly flat with only a small repairable crack on the side near the nut. The next photo shows the installation of six 1/8" x 1/4" fir braces under the top using luthier's fish glue and long external strips held in place with tightened twist-ties to keep the top flat as the glue dried overnight. The next day I installed four similar braces on the bottom using the longer strips set at angles through the top and under tension to hold the braces in place as the glue on them dried. Next, wood glue and clamps were applied around the top and bottom edges where it was evident they had separated from the sides. The fretboard was reinstalled using books for weight and plenty of fish glue (which dries almost clear) to fill voids, with any excess being wiped away using a damp cloth. After thoroughly drying I applied a few coats of clear guitar spray lacquer to the body and removed any dull spots caused by overspray with auto rubbing compound on a soft damp cloth. Installation of new strings completed the restoration.

The final photos show that some evidence of the breaks remains slightly visible, but the top and back are now well-reinforced from further damage, the beauty of the woods has been restored, and, although you cannot hear it, the sound is wonderfully bold and resonant. 

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Edited by Les Tate
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