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Guitar Making and Repair/Rickenbacker -2 Finish Cracks

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Finish Crack 1:2
Finish Crack 1:2  

Finish Crack 2:2
Finish Crack 2:2  
Dear Mr. Wilczynski,

RE: My Rickenbacker 330, Aug 1989 Jetglo model

Thank you for the opportunity to ask you the following. I realize "sight-unseen & not in-person" may make this difficult; however, in your education, experience and expertise as a luthier of Rickenbackers, are you able to venture a guess if the "location, size, and pattern" of the two finish cracks in my attached images are of any significant concern or merely typical locations and patterns of 'finish cracks' in aged Rics? You may be able to "enlarge" the two hi-res images I attached(?). The finish cracks appear to be only surface finish cracks upon initial view and handling, as the guitar appears solid and strong. The guitar has had a few dings and knocks about. I cannot recall any direct hits in these two areas; but, that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Areas; 1) Lower "E" side of rear guitar and emanating from right side of neck heel joining at body top, 2) the front of the body around the narrower end of the cat eye sound-hole. With the exception of prevalent minor dings and scrapes at the base of the body and top of the headstock, the paint finish is uniform throughout and without any checking. Do you suspect the cracks are merely lacquer paint fractures or indicative / symptomatic of a deeper malady...structural? What may be the least and worse scenario that these cracks may indicate? Any and all commentary or advice you may be able to offer would be greatly appreciated. With best regards and sincere respect, Cheers, -Francis.

Answer
The finish cracks in the photos I have seen on more than a few late '80s 330s. In the ones that I have restored, the cracks were related to finish type, age, and environmental factors.

You mention "lacquer". You seem to be using this as a generic term, but Rickenbacker has not used actual nitrocellulose lacquer for over a half-century, and the finish on your guitar was acrylic lacquer for the color coat, and acid-catalyzing conversion varnish for the clear coats.

Some late '80s Rickenbackers seem to have occasional issues with a brittle and too-thickly-applied clearcoat finish, due to (I suspect) the particular formula of conversion varnish (clearcoat) used at that time, coupled with the technique of the person spraying the clearcoat on the guitars. There could be other factors, too, including reduction of the clearcoat before spraying (too much or too little), spray gun adjustment, or simply one or more bad mixes or batches of clearcoat. At this late date, it is impossible to pin this down exactly.

Rickenbacker has changed suppliers and formulas for their clearcoats a number of times over the decades. I am not privy to detailed information on who, what, and where, but the general facts are true.

You don't say where you live, but if it is in area with significant seasonal climate changes, that may be part of the explanation as well.

These cracks are, in my experience, not structural, and are merely the multiple cycles of wood expanding and contracting due to temperature and humidity, and encountering a finish that has turned brittle with time, and is no longer able to compensate for the expansion and contraction. Deep finish cracks result, especially in areas where may spray gun strokes overlap--specifically the neck heel, although it's possible that the area by the sound hole on your guitar received more clearcoat for some reason.

The cracks are cosmetic, and depending upon how picky you are, may bug you a lot, or you may see it as "patina". You can be sure it won't heal itself, and in many cases it may spread. I have seen cases in late '80s 330s where the finish in the area of the neck attachment has actually fallen off in large pieces, though this is rare.

This is about the best I can do from photos, Francis. An in-hand evaluation would be needed to be certain.

--Paul

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paul wilczynski

Expertise

Anything concerning building, tuning, theory of construction. Specialist in finishing (40 years' experience); extensive knowledge of Rickenbacker instruments of all vintages. Rickenbacker factory connection on personal level; ONLY licensed Rickenbacker luthier in the world.

Experience

Extensive. I build and restore electric and acoustic guitars (steel string and nylon classicals). I build all of Rickenbacker's acoustic instruments in my own shops in San Francisco and Healdsburg, CA. I write two online columns with a total of over 15,000 posts since January, 2005. Google my name or my screen name, "jingle_jangle".

Organizations
American Guild of Luthiers.

Publications
Mostly automotive and hobby (in the past).

Education/Credentials
Manage the University Department workshops(Industrial Design) in SF, also have taught and written design and fabrication classes for almost a decade. Have produced online classes, written curricula, syllabi, etc. Run an online forum for my students (500 in number).

Awards and Honors
Awards won for product, vehicle, and preschool toy design in the past.

Past/Present Clients
Rickenbacker International Corporation, Waterstone Guitars LLC, many Fortune 500 companies before I worked in guitars (I ran a design studio for 22 years). I have hundreds of individual--private party--customers.

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