1930s Unmarked Portugese Guitar

I've worked on a lot of Portuguese guitarras, but this is the first one I've had in a while. A local customer's grandfather (from Portugal) owned this and played it all the time. The subsequent generations never got the hang of it and it remained a wall-hanger for decades, it seems.

The owner came in to have the headstock re-repaired (these almost always break after a while) and a replacement tuner post fit. I did more, though, because I feel honor-bound to keep these instruments in service. They're somewhat rare over here and have a gorgeous sound. The condition of this guy (clean, with a good neck angle, and well-built if folksy) made the work a lot easier than it often is.

If you know these instruments, then you know how hard it can be to source tuners. I wound-up making a new shaft from a broken violin bow's frog adjuster and a soldered-on gear from an old tuner. It works just fine. The rest of the work was fussy setup stuff -- I had to pull-up and reseat all the frets so I could then level/dress them, added side dots, fit and compensated the bridge, and then laboriously restrung the instrument and set it up. It plays beautifully, now, with low 1/16" action overall at the 12th fret.

Traditional Portuguese tuning is modal D or C but I've restrung this with a set comparable to 12-string lights (46w-10) and tuned it up like a guitar with a capo on the 3rd fret -- "terz" tuning. This makes it immediately accessible to the owners and I'm hoping that it means it will get some good use going forward.

Materials are interesting -- it has a flatsawn pine top (as many of these do), fancy rope purfling and binding, mahogany sides, and a ply-something back. The neck is something unknown to me but it's quite sturdy under tension despite being sort of fragile when bumped (a bit like mahogany, that).


daverepair said…
Several weeks ago, I had the chance to play this charmer at Jake's: his tuning it like a 12-string guitar makes it it usable for us guitarists, and it was so much fun to play(would make a great travel guitar!). Jake's inspired repair to the broken tuner was brilliant. Way to go Jake!