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jriley

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Reply with quote  #1 
Hello all - After all the thrills and chills of restoring my 1914 Style U Gibson last year, I have been on the lookout for a new project. When this one-off Coulter appeared on ebay, I was able to grab it! Gregg had blogged about it last year, so I was already familiar to some extent with the instrument and the challenges it presented -- chiefly a broken sub bridge. My goals were to keep it as original as possible while still making it playable once again. I was also concerned about the state of the finish, which looked intimidating. Here is one of the pictures that Gregg posted:

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John Riley

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Reply with quote  #2 
The Coulter arrived in good shape, and first impressions were encouraging. The finish, while obviously damaged by time and poor storage, was still smooth and responded well to my favorite finish restorer - Virtuoso Premium Cleaner and Polish. I can't recommend this stuff highly enough, especially to owners of vintage instruments. Treatment of the Coulter gave it a good shine and a new layer of protection. I toyed briefly with the idea of "re-amalgamating" the finish on the sides and back, but ultimately decided to let her stay the way she was, bearing the scars of her life proudly!

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John Riley

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Reply with quote  #3 
Lookin' Good!

Keep us posted as you progress. I look forward to hearing and seeing it after your restoration!

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jriley

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Reply with quote  #4 
Coulter marched to his own drumbeat when it came to instrument construction. Some examples: Picture 1, a brace under the neck. Also note the positioning of the soundholes, many decades in advance of Adamas' designs. Coulter believed that the dual holes placed as he did increased the volume of the instrument.  Picture 2, instead of standard kerfing, Coulter used staggered-height strips of wood. Picutre 3, a soundpost, like is found in a violin! This serves at least two purposes: first, to transfer vibration from the front to the back of the guitar and increase volume, and second, to help bear the pressure of the harp strings upon the top of the guitar. I have read some comments on the internet that Coulter was a shoddy craftsman, but I see a lot of good and innovative work here.

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John Riley

jriley

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Reply with quote  #5 
On to the main problem -- the broken sub-bass bridge (Photo 1). The placement of the soundholes made it impossible to reach into the guitar, so the work has to be done with the aid of dental floss and jigs. Photo 2, a reinforcement plate is readied to be drawn into place. The notch is to work around a brace. Photo 3, the plate is clamped into place with the aid of a re-purposed clothes pin. Photo 4, the plate in place after drying overnight.

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John Riley

jriley

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Reply with quote  #6 
The hole is now filled with a strong wood filler (photo 1). After drying overnight, the snapped-off piece of the sub-bass bridge is glued and clamped. (photo 2). After another day of drying and curing, the cracks and voids in the bridge are then filled with black epoxy (photo 3). This was later sanded out after the epoxy cured.

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John Riley

jriley

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Reply with quote  #7 
Leaving the sub-bass bridge for a while, I turned my attention to the main neck, and strung it up for the first time in who knows how long! (Photo 1) The good news: the neck is straight, the action is OK (could be lower, but not worth a neck reset), and this guitar is LOUD! I guess Coulter knew what he was doing in that regard. The bad news: the friction banjo pegs are completely worn out and must be replaced (photo 2). Coulter used a novel combination of mandolin and banjo hardware to equip the headstock. But the use of friction banjo pegs for the G and D courses is a big mistake. The 1:1 tuning ratio would make them a pain to tune, and there is no way they can take the strain of the strings over the long haul. I made the decision to replace them with planetary tuners.

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John Riley

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Reply with quote  #8 
john, this is awesome.  keep up the good work with restoration and documentation.  I don't suppose that a trip to texas is in the future?
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jriley

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Reply with quote  #9 
Nate, thanks for the encouragement! In fact, I am driving to Texas in a couple of weeks -- moving my daughter to Texas A&M for school. But I think you were referring to the Gathering . I'd love to come to that, but I don't know if I can take the time. I'd have to drive out if I was going to bring any harps.....
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John Riley
jriley

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Reply with quote  #10 
Off come the middle strings so that the banjo tuners can be changed out. I feel better about replacing them when I inspect them closer (photo 1). The buttons seem to be plastic rather than bakelite, which indicates to me that they are not original. It makes sense that they've been replaced at some point because of the inadequacy of the friction pegs to hold tune. From the beginning they would have had to be cranked to maximum tightness, which would have worn them out all the more quickly. The plastic washers were completely crushed, and the metal casings were cracked on three of them.

Replacement means enlarging the holes from 5mm to 10 mm. I used a 5 degree hand reamer, available from Harbor Freight for under $5. Of course, the good folks at Stew Mac will sell you an official 2 degree luthiers' reamer for ten times the price of the HF tool, but in this case you can achieve the same result with either tool. I worked both sides of the hole evenly, and then removed the center ridge of material with a rat-tail file (photos 2 & 3). The result looks good and the top tuner missed the headstock logo, just barely (photo 4). Putting new inlay in the logo routing, by the way, will be the last step in this project.

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John Riley

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Reply with quote  #11 
What strings did you use?
jriley

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Reply with quote  #12 
The strings on the main neck are D'addario phosphor bronze lights. On the harp side, I will use Gregg's light / xlight set to start off with, because I am concerned about having too much pressure on the sub bridge, which seems to me to be under-engineered. If it pops again I am going to replace it with a much more substantial piece. But I want to keep it original if possible! It came with the last-used harp strings coiled up in the storage pocket. I measured them with a micrometer: .70, .70, .70, .70, .70, .60, .50. Gregg commented, "No wonder the bridge broke!" I agree that these were probably not the  gauges of the original set. Gregg also speculated that the originals were probably silk and steel, which these were not. They were quite old though, being of the loop-end type that are no longer common.
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John Riley
jriley

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Reply with quote  #13 
One of the joys of this project is that, once again, I have made some new friends along the way. I discovered Gregg and all of you when I undertook the Gibson restoration, and one of my new friends this time is the great-granddaughter of F.E. Coulter, Ms. Jane Sanford Harrison. Jane has kindly sent me some more information about her ancestor, a pdf copy of one of Coulter's catalogs (which Gregg also now has), and she mailed me this card from Coulter's shop, which equates to the modern-day hang tag. Thanks, Jane!

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John Riley

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Reply with quote  #14 
I install pickups in all of my instruments, because I want to be able to play them onstage and I hate being chained to a microphone. I've used all kinds of acoustic pickups across the years -- Barcus Berry, Martin Thinline, Seymour Duncan, Fishman Matrix and Ovation among them. For the Gibson project I used a Pickup The World system that sounds very good, but the constraints of this project precluded the use of a ribbon-type transducer. For the Coulter, the installation of the pickups would have to be done remotely through sound holes that are nearly 12 inches away from the saddles, using purpose-built jigs and a borescope camera. I needed something that would be compact and installable under these conditions, and still achieve excellence in sound!

Online I found a wonderful resource by guitarist Doug Young that you need to know about, if you don't already: http://www.dougyoungguitar.com/pickuptests/. At this site, Doug has done comparison tests of 64 pickups made by 26 companies, a total of 275 recordings. What a massive undertaking! Doug has digitally recorded the sound of the pickups directly, with no pre-amping or EQ, so that the native sound of the devices can be compared. After spending a couple of hours on the site, one stood out to my ears: the Dazzo pickup. Its natural sounding tones seemed to me to be a cut above all the others. When I went to the Dazzo website ( http://www.dazzopickups.com ), I was overjoyed to see exactly the kind of physical package I needed -- small triangular shapes that should be workable for this project. There was even a clever installation tool that I could use to exactly place the pickups where they needed to go.

This is when I made my second new friend, Teddy Randazzo, Jr., the inventor of the Dazzo pickup. Teddy took a personal interest in my project, and first through a dozen or so emails and then via several phone calls, Teddy walked me through the ways to make the best possible placement of the pickups in the Coulter. This was customer service par excellence! His pickups are used in a number of harp guitars, and are the preferred pickup in the Powell brothers Tonedevil line. If you are looking for some outstanding pickups for any of your instruments, I would encourage you to check the Dazzo out!

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John Riley

thetonedevil

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Reply with quote  #15 
fascinating project you have here. glad you found Teddy and the fab Dazzo pickup. they are great and we do plan to use them for the foreseeable future.  
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Anthony J. Powell
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jriley

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Reply with quote  #16 
Thanks, Anthony! I've been to your website and especially love your lyre mandolin. I've always been attracted to the "weird and wonderful" instruments, which is also why I love harp guitars.
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Reply with quote  #17 
thanks, yeah that weird thing was inspired by Orville Gibson's swan shaped lyre mandolins.
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Anthony J. Powell
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jriley

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Reply with quote  #18 
I've been using a borescope (photo 1) to explore the innards of the Coulter. The Coulter label (photo 2) is easily seen through the main soundholes of the instrument, but I found a second label using the scope that can just barely be seen through the f-hole of the harp arm. What is interesting about this second label is that it provides evidence that this 12-string version is indeed a one-off, because in the "number" section of the label, Coulter just inserted a dash (photo 3).

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John Riley

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Reply with quote  #19 
John,

Thanks for all that documentation!  I'd not heard of Coulter before, and am very interested to find a builder being that innovative in that period.  It was, of course, a great period of innovation in guitar-building/manufacture, but Coulter was obviously on the fringe.  Not that it all looks like great ideas (a sound-post in a flat-topped, plucked instrument usually doesn't help the sound, to put it mildly, although there are probably examples that would prove my assertion wrong!), but that's what innovation is about, at least partly....trying new stuff out. 

Good for you to take it seriously and get it back into playing shape.  I'd love to know how it sounds!

Fred

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jriley

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Reply with quote  #20 
Thanks for the encouragement, Fred! Looking at your incredible instruments, I think that you and Mr. Coulter may be kindred spirits, following your own muse. Gregg blogged about Coulter here: http://harpguitars.net/blog/2011/05/portland%E2%80%99s-premier-harp-guitar-builder/ and again here: http://harpguitars.net/blog/2011/07/third-coulters-a-charm/. When he wrote these, there was only one known Coulter harp in playable condition. I'm trying to increase that number to two!
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jriley

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Reply with quote  #21 
On to pickup installation. When I was working on the Gibson, I was strongly motivated to keep the appearance as stock as possible and didn't want to use a standard 1/4" endpin jack. Pickup The World offers a "vintage endpin jack" made by Tapastring that is a direct replacement for an endpin and provides a 1/8" jack. While I liked keeping the look and feel of an original endpin, I must confess that the 1/8" connection was not as robust as a 1/4" is. I find myself fiddling with it when I use the Gibson onstage, and in the back of my mind I worry that it will crackle / pop during performance. For the Coulter, I decided to go for the 1/4" that came with the Dazzos, so I bored the 1/2" hole required (photo 1).

The tricky part came in actually installing the pickups without being able to reach into the guitar. This might have been impossible without Teddy Rendazzo's installation tool. The pickups install in front of the "A" and "B" string pins, ideally slightly in front of the saddle line on the bridge plate. Putting the tool into the pin hole on top of the guitar allows you to set the needed distance from the pin to the saddle line (photo 2). Putting the tool into the pin hole FROM INSIDE allows you to check the pickup placement (photo 3). I found that a brace was in the way of an "ideal" installation, and after consultation with Teddy decided that they would be OK if they were slightly behind the saddle line. The pickups are held firmly by the tool, and after being pulled into place by my trusty dental floss, I used a purpose-built jig to press them into place (photo 4). The one on the right was my first attempt, and I got a little goopy with the adhesive. Good thing you can't see it without a borescope! The one on the left is picture perfect. A third pickup will be installed to cover the harp strings.

I plugged the guitar in to check the first two pickups. They sound great!

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John Riley

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Reply with quote  #22 
With the pickups in, it is time to string the harp side. Because Coulter used zither pins (photo 1), I had to strip the windings off of the end of the strings to get them started. The original bone saddle has survived intact, but the nut was broken and I had to make another using synthetic bone material (photo 2). I used Gregg's light / xlight set to minimize the stress on the repaired sub-bass bridge, plus one .42 to complete the set of 7. Tuning is a descending scale: D C B A G F E. After the stringing was complete, I slowly brought the strings up to tension, listening all the while for ominous creaking noises. The strings have been on for a week now, are holding their tuning well, and there are no explosions so far! (photo 3 & 4). The Coulter is ready to take its place in my harp guitar herd (photo 5).

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John Riley

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Reply with quote  #23 
Looks great John! I'd still like to see and hear it up close and personal. Hope you can find your way to HGG10!


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Reply with quote  #24 
Man, it's looks like a string's freak show!
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Reply with quote  #25 
has anyone else noticed that the inside of this instrument appears to have been finished with something?
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Anthony J. Powell
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