View Full Version : Is it worth it to fix?

12-09-2011, 04:21 AM
Hello all,

I thought this might be the best place to ask this. About 5 or 6 years ago I got an old Regal ukulele. I picked it up at an antique shop for maybe $50, knowing it had some issues. Even with the issues it sounds very bright, plinky and actually rather loud and I have always liked this ukulele. I think I might like to get it fixed up by a luthier but really don't know much about that sort of thing. The ukulele has a few things going on. First it has two cracks next to the sound hole. Based on the pattern of the two cracks my guess is someone dropped something on it. One goes vertical and the other is at a 45 degree angle from the bottom of the first. I'd like to get those fixed. Also the back is coming off in a few spots and will need to be glued down. Finally the bridge must have popped off years and year ago and someone glued it back on with about a half bottle of wood glue. When they glued it on they glued it in the wrong place so now it is a little catawampus. It could also use a decent set up while I'm at it. What should I expect to pay for this sort of work? Second is it even worth it? I like this old uke but if it is going to cost me an arm and a leg I'm sure I could find another solid wood Regal on ebay. The reason I'd like to fix it up besides the old timey sound it has is because solid wood ukuleles are kind of expensive these days. If I can save one from being relegated to wall hanger status I'd be very happy. If anyone would share some advice I would really appreciate it :)

Best regards,

Rick Turner
12-09-2011, 05:20 AM
It's impossible to do any kind of accurate estimate on repairs over the Internet, particularly when no photos are included. That said, I think you're in at least $100.00 for proper work, and that does not include anything in the way of attempted finish touch-up work which can take more time than the basic repair if you're looking for a real restoration. You're likely to have a noticeable mess around the bridge area no matter what.

12-09-2011, 06:21 AM
kind of depends on the uke. regal made a lot of cheapies and some real nice customs. post some pictures, I want to see it.

12-09-2011, 07:55 AM
Hi guys,

Sorry I should have attached photos. I took these with my cell phone so the quality isn't great but should give you an idea of what I'm dealing with. This is an older Regal I think but not a great custom. It is birch and it has the brass frets in the neck. It also has some stenciling around the sound hole. This isn't some awesome great uke but I do like it. If I could get away with $100 I think I would do it but I can't see spending too much more on it. I have tried my hand at building a cigar box and a Grizzly Kit, maybe I should try my hand at some repair work? Makes me a little nervous. I always rather have a pro work on antiques and older things.


12-09-2011, 07:56 AM
One more of the open seam in the back. There is another small one on the bottom just like this one.

Thanks everyone for the thoughts and for reading :)30829

12-09-2011, 08:30 AM
OK Chris, for what it's worth, I wouldn't spend a lot on repairing that uke. If it were mine, I would do the repairs myself, especially the cracks and the seam. It is not a valuable uke, but something you want to play and those aren't serious cracks so having professional quality work on them isn't really necessary IMHO. Just do thoughtful work on it and love/play it as it is.

It you really want to play it a lot, then you may want to take the bridge off, clean off all the old glue and set it right. If anything, get help from a pro to do that as it will impact intonation and playability if it is not done well.

Rick Turner
12-09-2011, 08:39 AM
If that is something like Elmer's glue, then you could use "DeGlueGoo" to soften it and remove it without much damage to the finish. I would not move the bridge, but if the intonation is way off, then fill the saddle slot and recut it.

It's a good lutherie learner project uke. There's probably nothing you can do that will reduce it's value short of major destruction, and yet repaired, it might be a fun uke.

Do fixes with hot hide glue if you really want to learn.

12-09-2011, 08:58 AM
Thanks guys. That is sort of what I thought but wanted to check with some experts first. Hide glue huh? I'm always game to try new stuff. Should I try to remove the back first or should I just wedge a little of the glue in there and clamp it up? Also, how do you fix cracks? Is there an online video that shows how to do it? Sorry for the dumb questions but I just don't know enough about the subject.

Thank you!

12-09-2011, 09:22 AM
Also while I'm thinking about it... I just read if the wood starts to get like corduroy it is too dry and needs serious humidity (this one is dry). Would normal instrument humidifiers be enough? Or would there be another treatment to give it?

12-09-2011, 10:15 AM
Chris, if you don't know who Rick Turner is in the instrument building world is, let me just say it is awesome to have someone like him responding (as opposed to a shlub like me)!

One thing I can tell you is that a regular instrument humidifier will be fine.

I have a solid birch regal made uke of the same vintage and mine too is a great little player. I am glad you are bringing this old uke back to life.

12-10-2011, 09:41 AM
For the seam separations I'd just work a little hot hide glue into the openings and clamp immediately. You don't need heavy clamping pressure (or you'll make more cracks!), but enough to close the gap and hold all in place.

For the top cracks, assuming they are not worse than in the photo, I'd work hide glue into the cracks and then cleat underneath (cleats are small pieces of wood about 1/16 inch thick, maybe 1/2 inch x 1/4 inch and glued across the crack - probably two cleats per crack, one near the soundhole and one half-way to the end of the crack). For these you can just hold them in place with finger pressure for 2 mins until the glue sets.

What you need to know about hide glue is here: http://www.frets.com/FRETSPages/Luthier/Data/Materials/hideglue.html

The bridge is the hardest,especially as we can't see the problem clearly. If it's horrible-looking and badly-positioned then it needs to come off - heating with a domestic iron through an old towel and gently sliding a blade underneath will probably work. Then you need to clean up the old glue and re-attach; I'd suggest re-posting at this stage if you go that route. Otherwise just clean up as best you can.

If Rick posts more, do that. He knows!

Rick Turner
12-10-2011, 10:38 AM
This is one of those, "How far do you want to take it?" things. As a lutherie learner project uke, it's really great, so your time in on it is not going to be time in on the uke; it's time in on learning how to do repairs and restoration. As that, the ultimate value of the uke is totally unimportant; the value to you as this being a learning tool is immense. And that said...what the hell, go for it on removing the bridge and putting it back right. And yes, the HHG stuff on frets.com is utterly fantastic info.

This uke was built with HHG, and therefore you can reconstitute the old glue in the repair process. Use a hair dryer to gently warm where you're gluing beforehand. It will make everything go much easier. BTW, you can carefully heat up the glue in a microwave oven...just don't exceed about 145 degrees F or the proteins in the glue will start to break down.

12-10-2011, 03:04 PM
Thank you everyone for all of your insight. I'm going to try to pick up some hide glue and try it out. It seems like if I mess up I'll just have to heat it up, clean it off and start over again. I appreciate anyone's help from a schlubs to the guys who make instruments that will forever be out of my price range and I can only drool over and everyone in between. I've only built a Grizzly kit and a cigarbox ukulele so this is going a little beyond. On the cigarbox I did make a new top out of walnut so I guess I developed some limited skill. Let's see how well I do this. When I get done I'll post some updates or some more questions :)

12-11-2011, 01:24 PM
Okay this project didn't go far before I started to have questions. I noticed that the bridge is too close to the sound hole for the scale (which is why the strings are likely so high up... hey that Grizzly kit work has paid off!). I used a hot iron through a towel set on low heat and I was able to pop it off. It turned the old glue into a soft rubber like material. The problem is there is now a white filmy substance on the top of the soundboard. I'm assuming some very fine steel wool (0000) will work that off? If it doesn't I was thinking of refinishing the top. I think this would destroy the stenciling but then I found the stencil pattern sort of ugly anyway. Even if the steel wool works there is the area under the bridge. The bridge needs to be moved down about 3/4th of an inch and slightly to the side another 1/4th of an inch to even be in the right place. That leaves a nice bare wood area. When I pulled it up it took the finish with it. Can anyone recommend a method of refinishing that area (or maybe the whole top) and get a close match to that red-ish brown finish it has?

As for the gluing and cleats, would it be better to wait until the instrument has been re-hydrated or should I do it when it is dry and then re-hydrate so the wood swells a little, pushing the crack tighter?

Thank you everyone again for all of your help!

Rick Turner
12-11-2011, 03:54 PM
Please triple check those measurements! 3/4" and 1/4" are huge dimensions when regluing a bridge to a different spot, especially the 3/4". The saddle should wind up with the front face of it being exactly twice the distance from the face of the nut to the center of the 12th fret.

DeGlueGoo for removing any water based glue residue. It's a gel form of acetal acid, and it should not affect the finish. You could try vinegar.

12-12-2011, 04:48 AM
The saddle should wind up with the front face of it being exactly twice the distance from the face of the nut to the center of the 12th fret.

Surely twice distance from nut to 12th PLUS about 1/8 inch for compensation? But measured to the peak of the saddle, not the front face. Otherwise this uke will only have about 1/16 compensation, which I don't find enough for a soprano. Looking at the pictures, I can't believe the bridge needs to go back 3/4 inch.

I'd remove the old glue first, then decide what to do about the top. It strikes me that you might be best to gently wire wool the entire top (without removing the stencil) and then use the wire wool more aggressively around the bridge area to feather the existing finish edges to the exposed bare wood. Then you could apply clear shellac (Liberon do a clear French polish which you can brush on) over the entire top - this wouldn't be perfect but could leave your repair fairly unnoticeable. You can check what colour the bare wood would go by damping it with alcohol or white spirit (mineral spirits in the US?), and go ahead if it's similar to the existing finished area. Then measure up for your bridge, put masking tape around the outline, scrape back to bare wood where the bridge will go, using a sharp chisel held vertically. Finally you'll need to devise some clamp to hold the bridge in place when gluing, but the masking tape will stop it sliding around.

If you hate the stencil you can take it back to wood and then finish with Tru-oil or shellac.

So far as the cleats are concerned I'd rehydrate first, then glue and cleat.

Rick (and others more experienced) - does that sound sensible? Or might Tru-Oil be easier (I know it will stick to some finishes but don't know whether it stays attached.)

Vic D
12-12-2011, 06:40 AM
I'd rehydrate it before attempting anything.

Couple of interesting vids on rehydrating.



I'd also run my finger inside the uke along the crack that originates at the sound hole and see if that brace has seperated from the top.

Rick Turner
12-12-2011, 08:35 AM
All makes sense to me.

12-12-2011, 11:01 AM
Hi everyone good catch on the bridge. I was measuring from where the neck met the body not the 12th fret. That makes a big difference. From side to side however it was still really off. When it was strung up the G string was almost even with the side of the neck while the A string was really far in. It might not be exactly 1/4" but it is pretty close. I am going to re-hydrate the heck out of it before I start any gluing. I'll hit it with some very fine steel wool and see what happens to the finish too.

12-12-2011, 11:40 AM
Ok to hydrate my ukulele I got two measuring caps that come on cough syrup (each one holds about 2 tsps. of liquid) and filled them up 3/4th of the way. I then added tissue paper wads to it so if it got knocked over water wouldn't just spill inside. I dropped them in. I then put a piece of plastic over the sound hole and put a small can over it to keep it closed. I'll check back in a few days and see what happened.

12-20-2011, 03:04 PM
Hello all,

Thought I'd give my progress report. So first I hydrated this old ukulele as I stated above. The wood inside had a grey ashen look to it before, it was also rather corigated too. After hydration for a few days the wood has regained a reddish hue and the corigation isn't as bad (but still there). I got a piece of birch about 1/16th" thick and made some small cleats with it. I used hot hide glue to cleat it up. That was a process. The glue turned into a rubber cement from heck pretty quickly but once it set it was really cool. It has a lot more give than Gorilla glue but it is still very tight. It has allowed for some flex in the top without any weakness. I like it. I also closed the seams up. The bridge was a bit off, it was about 1/4" to one side and a little less towards the sound hole. I triple checked it and it is now in the right place. I scraped the old glue and finish off of the area under the bridge so it had a clean surface for the glue. I got a Minwax stain marker in red mahogany to cover up some of the bare wood. It looks okay, I'm happy with it. I also gave it a light buffing with some 0000 steel wool and cleaned the frets up a little. The only two concerns I had I don't think I can do much about. The first is there is a whitish film over the area I used heat on to lift the bridge. I have a feeling the heat messed it up a little, and I can't seem to get it off. The stain marker didn't do anything either. The other area of concern was that the strings are a little high on the saddle end. I don't know what I can really do with out some serious alterations because the bridge and saddle are a single piece. Oh well, it sounds pretty good if I stay close to the nut (where I play most of the time anyway) so it's not big deal.

I've attached photos too. 312753127631277

I didn't do much for the looks of the instrument but it plays a million times better and it sounds pretty good for what I paid and a little elbow grease.

Thank you all for your advice and insight! Please let me know what you think and if you have any other ideas.

Best regards,

12-20-2011, 03:47 PM
Glad you updated this Chris, I was wondering how it has been going.

You say the action it too high now? Higher than it was before? That puzzles me since it is the same bridge. I will be curious what the experts say about it, and about fixing the white areas. Have you tried any light abrasive type of polish? I wonder if you might want to strip and refinish the whole uke now?

Anyway, good job!

12-21-2011, 12:30 AM
Opps sorry to confuse. The action was high before and it is still high. The only thing I could have thought to do was sand the heck out of the bottom of the bridge, but then I thought that might have been a little extreme so I just left it as is. I thought about striping it but I think I'll leave it as is for now. We'll see what I feel like doing when summer hits. I would be curious to hear what people suggest for the white film.

Best regards,

12-21-2011, 04:49 AM
Give us a picture of the bridge taken from the side. Can't see from these exactly how it's made.

From your description you may not have used the hide glue properly. You have to get the parts together *before* it gels. Then it sets rigid. So your cleats might fall off. No problem if they do - clean off any blobby glue with a warm damp cloth, reapply hide glue and immediately press cleat into place. Hold there for 60 - 120 seconds, release.

The white bloom on the top looks like heat damage. Try polishing it out with your wire wool, maybe using a little oil (olive, salad, baby) as a lubricant. Wipe the oil off afterwards! Next year's job might be to refinish the top - wire wool until you have a flat surface and have removed the bloom, then apply several coats of Tru-oil (buy the small bottle).

12-22-2011, 06:53 AM
Thank you for the continued support! You are right at first I was using the hide glue wrong or rather I wasn't using it fast enough. At first it was like a nice honey (that smelled bad) and it would hold within a min. or two. After it got a little cooler it became like rubber cement and quite worthless. It was a trial and error process. I did figure it out though and the cracks and cleats are very solid but a different kind of solid compared to other glues, if that makes any sense? It moves more like wood rather than other glue which seem to turn into a more solid plastic. I will be building up another Grizzly kit with a few upgrades (a new top and a fretboard from Mainland and maybe some better tuners) and I want to use the hide glue for that.

I tried the steel wool and oil (olive oil and tru-oil) and it didn't really help the whitish film. I think I'll have to either leave it as is or refinish. I'm leaning towards leaving it as is. It isn't pretty but it sounds pretty good now so why mess with it? We'll see how I feel once I get some more time after the holidays ;)

I've attached a photo of the bridge/saddle as well as one of the side so you can see the action. I really didn't want to sand away most of the bridge to lower it so I guess I'm stuck with higher action on this one. I have a feeling those bridges and saddles Regal made were designed for their ukuleles that had a fretboard, this one has the frets set into the neck. I found another one just like this one on ebay that I won. It has a different finish but the same stencil and no cracks just a few loose seams. I'll try my hand at fixing it up as well and also compare the bridge and saddle set up on it too.

Thanks everyone for reading and your help!

Pukulele Pete
12-22-2011, 07:22 AM
You didnt say if you tried this or not but your hide glue will stay usable longer if you keep it in a bottle warmer. I have an electric heated coffee cup I fill with water and keep the hide glue in a glass bottle that sits in the cup. I keep a thermometer in the water to be sure its at the right temps.

12-22-2011, 09:48 AM
Haven't seen a bridge quite like that before, but it looks as if it's all one piece of wood. If so, this is how I'd lower the action.

1. Measure the distance from the top of the 12th fret to the bottom of the C string. For a uke like this I'd be aiming at 2.5mm to 3mm (and 3mm is safest, at least to start with).

2. To lower the action at the 12th by 1mm you need to take 2mm off the top of the saddle. Mark a line and carefully remove wood until you reach the line. You could use a chisel if you're practised with one, but if not you could make a sanding stick - a piece of wood around 1/2 inch square with a 3 or 4 inch strip of coarse sandpaper glued to one surface and trimmed off in line with the sides (this will be useful later). Re-string and try it out. If the action is still high, remove more wood in the same way. It's important to keep the saddle top level, thus the need to mark a line each time (a pencil line is hard to see, so scoring a line with a sharp knife point might be better).

3. Once you have the saddle at the right height, you need to restore the break angle of the strings over it. With your sanding stick, take down either side of the saddle until it has a similar height to what you started with. Put one string on and check the angle. If it's too shallow, gently bring the string slot closer tothe saddle with your knife and check again. Once you have this right, make all the other slots equal.

4. Sand with finer sandpaper on your stick to remove sanding marks and take the sharp edges off the saddle. Use your Tru-oil (4-6 coats) to refinish the sanded surfaces.

12-22-2011, 11:11 PM
I'd like to confess something - I adjusted a bridge similar to this. While doing it I posted pics on my blog, and actually got emails from people who told me to stop. but my friend Robert was very clear that he wanted his uke to be playable, not necessarily in mint condition. The proper way would have been to release the back from the heel down to the waist, increase the neck angle and glue the back back on to hold the new angle. Sine the back covered the heel I think this would have worked very well.

But instead of doing that, I lowered the bridge. I had to lower it so much that I risked going into the holes under the string slots. So I cut out a piece behind the saddle and converted it into a string through bridge. Pics and links:

If you think I made a huge mistake, please don't tell me.

12-23-2011, 01:21 AM
I saw/played this at Hollesley - nice job Sven, and the action was great.