My Lazarus Guitar
I own a Ro Ho custom-built jumbo 12-string guitar. Had it almost 35 years. I’ve had plenty of Taylor 12-strings and all have bitten the dust except for one. I’ve had Guilds and Martins, too, but the brand didn’t matter. The huge tension of twelve steel strings on their necks proved too much for all of them. But this old Ron Ho, it’s been through a thousand venues, decades of service, and never once failed me.
So you can imagine how I felt when, after a flight back from Boulder, I discovered that its neck had snapped at the
headstock, even though I’d loosened the strings as always. Frankly, I was devastated and fell into a mild depression. Or at least a guitar depression, if that makes sense. In order to do shows, I had to rely on an Alvarez 12. No fun at all. No resonance, no bass, no crispness. This went on for a while until I said to myself, “I can’t stand this. Bodkin, you’ll never have another guitar like this. Why not try to fix it?”
I took wood glue and watered it down to a runny liquid, and slowly dripped it in between the sharp shattered needles of wood after prying it open a little, letting the waterish glue soak into the injured places for a couple of hours, then I topped it off with thicker glue. Thinking, “Well, this will either work or it won’t,” I tightened three wood clamps onto the neck and head just so and left the poor thing standing there in the kitchen for a few days, dreading the test.
The thing I’d always loved about this guitar was its action—that is, how low the strings sit above the fret board. It had always felt like butter, even at the 12th position. For a 12-string, which is hard enough to bear down on in the playing, that’s heaven. Even a riser made of one thin sheet of paper inserted or removed under the bridge can make a huge difference.
Anyway, the test. That’s when you put on fresh strings, tighten them to pitch and then play, listening for buzzes and intonation problems. It’s nerve-wracking, because if it’s too low, it will buzz somewhere, and if it’s too high, you have to take off all twelve strings and make adjustments, then tighten them all again for another test.
As I put on the strings, I could see the scar on the neck. A thin crack, filled with dark. Still, they say wood glue is tougher than the wood around it, so I strung it and gingerly tuned it to the open E flat I usually play in, expecting the neck to explode off any second. I did all this at arm’s length. 12-string necks experience 400 pounds of tension.
So imagine my relief when it held. It felt and played just the way it always had. Same resonant boom. Same super-low action. It really was as if nothing had happened. Truly, it had come back from the dead. My Lazarus guitar.
This was about ten years ago now, and it still lives