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The rescue of a 1964 Framus 5 / 1 “Amateur” Acoustic Guitar

 It was a sad fifty-year-old guitar, loaded with spider webs, dust, grime, and rust.  Sitting up on top of some old tires in the garage for some 20 years.  Strings – one missing – in the stratosphere.  It looked destined for the dump.

Kevin asked me to take a look at it.  Can anything be done with this?

WOW. What an unusual little guitar!  A “Framus”.

Framus was a mid sized West German instrument manufacturer that existed from 1946 to bankruptcy in 1975.

This guitar is an example of their entry level instruments.  An interesting mix of design elements including those that helped keep the cost down, but still a nice box overall.

The list of weirdness go like this:

  1. An “Electric guitar neck” on an acoustic guitar:  To start with, the first big cost savings is the bolt-on neck joint.  Most acoustic guitars have either a Spanish Heel as in Classical guitars, or a Dovetail joint as in a Steel String Flat Top acoustic guitar.  The style of bolt on in this case is like the bolt on that you will find on solid body guitars such as the Fender line of electric guitars.  From a manufacturing stand point, this is the easiest to produce with the least skill required.  This neck also takes the least material since it is produced out of a one-inch thick flat board.  The headstock being parallel to the neck also eliminates a complex scarf joint or conversely cutting the neck out of a much thinker chunk of wood (most headstocks slope back).  One problem with this kind of design is the lack of down pressure at the nut, but a metal pull-down bracket compensates for that.  However, the look of this head is weird and sort of distracting while playing the guitar.  A good point is that the neck is easy to remove and reset.  This neck on this guitar is made from a very high quality straight grained Mahogany, and while the guitar is now 50 years old, the neck is in perfect condition.  A bit unusual also is a mild “V” cross section.  Of note is that a lot of entry-level guitars built during this time period had poorly shaped necks, while this one is very comfortable.
  2. A classical guitars fret board: All guitars but Classical have a convex shape across the top of the fret board.  This makes it easier to play, and especially to form a “Bar-chord”.  This fret board is perfectly flat like a Classical guitar but narrow like and electric.
  3. A “Zero fret”:  Most guitars have the strings pass over a carved bone or similar material “Nut”.  There are slots cut into the nut that hold the strings to the proper height above the frets, the correct lateral string spacing, and must be set at the proper distance in order to allow the guitar to play in tune.  A less expensive way to set up the guitar is to instead position a fret where the nut would have been, thus the term “Zero Fret”.  Also, the term "Zero fret" is not interchangeable with "First fret".  You can't just count "1 then 2 etc. from the first fret seen.  You have to note the position of where that bit of metal is located to know if it is a zero or first, since the term, “first fret” has a specific musical meaning to fretted instrument players.  Next, the string spacing is then set by a false-nut further towards the head stock that still has slots cut to the correct spacing but the depth does not have to be exact as long is it is deep enough to allow string contact with the zero fret.  There is still debate over which system is better, but most guitars are actually built with a proper Nut.
  4. The arched back of an Arch-top guitar:  Guitars known as Arch-top guitars are made in a similar way to how a violin is made.  Both the top and back are carved from a think plank into a bowl shape.  The carving process takes an immense amount of skill with the final wood thickness under an eight of an inch.  A more economical way to make a similar looking product (but not as good sounding), is to press a thin laminate into a mold.  That is what was done for this guitar, also eliminating all internal bracing for the back.   This guitars outer layer of the laminate is an incredibly beautiful book-matched quilted Maple.  As a side note, the sides of this guitar are also a laminate, but with a stunning Maple veneer on the outer layer showing medullary rays giving a “lace” quality to the wood.
  5. A floating Bridge and trapeze tail-piece: Almost all flat top guitars have the bridge glued to the top plate of the guitar with the strings passing through the wood in some way, commonly set with pins in the case of steel strings.  Arch top guitars function in a way similar to a violin family instrument and therefore also have a similar violin style bridge and tail-piece arrangement.  Normally this type of gear on a flat top guitar will not allow the instrument’s top plate to reach it’s full sonic potential.  On the other hand, there is less stress on the top and therefore the internal structure of this guitar was built with a much lighter than normal “ladder bracing” system, regaining some of that tone.
  6. No binding: The top and back of a guitar has a flowing shape that meets the sides of the instrument at various angles.  This means that the wood grain of the top and back also meets the air at various angles.  Since wood is constantly taking on or losing moisture with changing atmospheric humidity, and since the angle of the contact surface effects moisture transfer rates, wood splitting is a real and ever present danger to guitars.   Before the days of high tec finishes, the way to combat this danger was to laminate a strip of wood around the enter perimeter of the guitar, thus sealing the end grain of the top and back plates.  Using a strip of hard wood also helped to prevent dings should the guitar take an impact along the edge.  As a result, the practice of installing binding is continued to this day.  The binding is also a decorative addition when using contrasting strips of material.  This guitar however, relies on just the paint surface seal to protect the top and back plates.  There is a pin line painted to the edge of the top mimicking a binding.


The rescue…

I removed everything, tuners, trapeze, and everything, including taking the neck off.  Got out the Meguiars automotive polish, both heavy and fine cut compounds and started working through the grime and oxidization of the guitars surface.  I was pleasantly surprised to find very few dings.  The polish also removed a lot of the scratches. The body and neck came up gleaming.  So – WOW!   A promising start.

All the chrome parts had a lot of grime, and a film of rust.  1500 grit water paper and metal polish cleaned that.  The tuners were stiff, but a bit of oil solved that problem, and they were still in good shape mechanically with little lash. 

The neck pocket was a big problem.  As I said in the opening, the “strings where in the stratosphere”.  The down and dirty way to fix that is to fold up some paper to be used as a shim, sitting it at one end of the pocket, under the neck changing the angle, thus bringing the strings into a better playing position, (the action).  The problem with that is a lack of wood to wood contact along the pocket thus loosing sound through the instrument, and tone over all.  The better way to do this is to make a wooden wedge, also from a repair mans point of view, if you mess up, you get to try it again.  However, the best repair is to actually get in there with the chisel and cut a new sloped bottom to the neck pocket.  I crossed my fingers and went to work.  I cut out very small amounts of wood at a time, progressing very slowly as to not over-shoot the new angle needed.  Even though it took a long time to do, it was still a lot easier than doing this kind of job on a traditional neck joint.

The floating bridge was made of some nondescript wood dyed black, but the black was fading.  I used Indian ink and re-blacked the bridge.

The original non-compensated saddle was cheap plastic, with deeply worn slots (there should not be any slots on the saddle) throwing out the intonation even further.  I made a new bone saddle with compensated string contact points.  That represented two upgrades right there.  Making the bone saddle involves carving a bone "blank" with files and sandpaper, to simultaneously set both action and compensation, effecting playability and  intonation.  Finally polishing to a shine with 1500 grit sandpaper making it look like jewelry.  This is high end guitar stuff.

The original Famus logo was made of a copper/gold coloured metal foil but was pealing off the headstock, and also had bad creases and folds.  I tried gluing it back down but that didn’t work out very well.

I put the guitar back together.  The neck relief was actually set very nicely, the action was now good, and the floating bridge was easy to move to the proper intonation position.  Since there was a zero fret, there was nothing to do at that end of the guitar.

I installed new Silk and Steel strings.  These have less pull than normal steel strings.  This was done to help keep load off this lightly built guitar.

As I started playing, I could hardly keep myself from inadvertently pulling the high E string off the side of the neck.  It turned out the string spacing was not set correctly at the factory, with the high E way too close to the side of the neck.  I’d noticed this earlier but hoped that it would not be too bad.  No such luck.  The guitar needed a new nut.

Two strikes against…  I got on line and finally found someone in Germany marketing replacement logos.  I also pulled a graphite nut from my stash.

Once receiving the logo in the mail, I removed all the gear from the headstock again, pulled the remnants of the old logo off, had to sand, repaint, then apply the new logo, and refinish with spray lacquer, making the headstock look almost factory new.

The new graphite nut was also an upgrade to the guitar, since it is a much better tone propagating medium than the old plastic version.  The string spacing is now set properly form the edges of the neck, and also to account for varying string thickness maintaining even spacing between strings.  The depth of each slot is set to have positive pressure on the zero fret as well as the bottom of the slot increasing tone.  Note, this item was custom hand shaped, slotted, and polished by me specifically for this guitar, from a generic Nut "blank" .

Inspecting the condition of the frets revealed a bit of ware but well short of requiring a fret leveling and dressing, so I simply gave them a polishing removing the last DNA still hanging out on the guitar. 

A treatment of lemon oil on the fret board for both cleaning and conditioning, competed the work.

Putting new string back on the guitar revealed a wonderful little instrument with a clear even tone across all string, plenty of volume considering the small box, and great playability.

I’ve since had a number of player try out this guitar, and all quickly got a big smile on their faces while giving it a go.  This guitar is small is size, big in character!  I should have taken some “before” pictures.  As you can see from the “after” pictures, it’s a cool looking little box.  When you play it, it quickly gives you a feel and a tone all it’s own.  

Kevin, I hope you have your guitar lessons set up.


Ready for the next 50 years.  

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