Restoring a Yamaha SA30 – Serial No 10413

This was originally posted on before TheSupposedStringMeister blog existed.
Yamaha SA30 Super Axe Project
1 – Buying a dog…

Bought a late sixties Yamaha SA30 which had been exposed to some local excessive heat which had loosened and blackened the top cover under the pick guard. A large ugly white pick guard was fitted to hide the damage (obviously the original black pick guard had melted). The baffles had melted as well and some ugly tolex was glued in place. The original cherry red finish on the right hand side had obviously been damaged and, as I later found out, had been sanded back (very rough) to bare wood. They then painted all sides black as well as the front of the head stock…. The original bindings had all gone and an attempt was made to glue some white plastic in place. The ‘Bad Luthier’ had struck.I should not have bought it, but I did not know it was that bad. Here some picks showing it just after I got it.

B4 - Bridge pickup and F hole
Heat damaged bridge pick up and F hole
B4 - Close up of painted headstock & broken nut - 180329229_full
Close up of black painted head stock and broken nut
B4 - close up pickups & white pickguard - 180053107_full
Heat damaged pick ups and ugly pick guard

B4 - Pickup Close Up - P1120804 adj

Close up of the damaged pickups and white painted F holes (bindings melted)
B4 - Horns black side no bindings 180510342_full
Side painted black and no bindings on top, bottom ‘binding’ does not even
2 – What to do with the dog?
The person I had bought it from said it was working and all electrics were fine…. So I (not so quickly) cut a bone nut from a piece of cow bone (our real dog’s dinner), strung up the guitar and plugged her in. To my surprise she played very well. So I adjusted the action and intonation and it was a pleasure to play this dog! So a project was born!First point to note – these Yamaha pickups survived quite some heat damage and were still going strongly. Bridge pickup 8.4 KOhm, neck pick up 7.95 KOhm. Go Yahama!Picture showing the dog’s first set up for play. Note the home made bone nut… and the painted F holes… (I had already started removing the cherry red paint from the sides).
B4 - Playing but still a dog - P1120803
Playing nicely but still a dog…
3 – The challenge – To turn the dog into a pretty princess.
Princesses are always pretty? Aren’t they Shrek?I decided to go all the way:
• strip all the cherry red and make her a pretty natural blond
• put new bindings on
• fit an anti feeeeedback centre block
• make new pick up frames (from dark merbau timber to contrast with the blond)
• Put new tuners on, etc, etc, etcThere was only one problem. I had never done this before and had no idea what to do. The only experience I had was making some (nice) furniture. So I considered the dog was a vintage piece of furniture that badly needed some restoring… If it wasn’t gonna work out, all I would lose would be a few dollars and some wasted time. So off came the back using some blunt knives and a heat gun…Second point to note – seeing the inside, these Super Axe Yamahas are well made, even the inside is finished neatly! The next photo shows the body of the SA30 without its back cover.
Fx - Body without back cover - neck stripped and sanded - P1120864
Body without back cover – neck stripped and sanded
4 – New veneer layer for the sides

The side needed quite some sanding to get rid of the black paint and the nasty sanding scratches left by the ‘Bad Luthier’.First mistake, not enough space left to glue a new binding one. As I do not have a router I decided to add a new layer of veneer (0.6mm) to create some space for a new binding.Having found some nice matching coloured veneer it was cut to the right width and glued on. Easier said than done. Photos show new veneer in place up to the horns and then bend around the ‘sharp’ bit in the horn but not yet cut to length.

Fx - Veneer up to horn - P1120865
Gluing the veneer on and holding it in place with sticky tape
Fx - Veneer on one horn - P1120865
Nearly done, only the second horn left to do

Fx - Veneer done - P1120865

Done, veneer still sticking out along the neck but will be cut off once glue has dried

So far, so good. Still plenty to come and ample scope for failure…. (let’s hope not).

5 – Stripping the original finish – back to natural

A polished cherry red SA30 in good condition is a pleasing sight. A pity it had to come off. The photos show the stripping progress on the front panel. “Dad’s Easy Spray” paint stripper and some sharp blades make the stripping process relatively easy. Careful not to damage the nice top layer of veneer, especially where there are dimples.

Fx - Stripping Front panel 1 - P1120897

Bye Bye Cherry Red…


Fx - Stripping Front panel 2 - P1120898

Front panel stripped, still some sanding to do


6 – Gluing the top binding on

This was a messy bit of work. First time ever, so I had to be careful and think things through. As the cream plastic binding was too wide, I placed it between two straight pieces of timber with about 2 mm sticking out. Held in place by tape and wood clamps, I was then able to cut the bit that stuck out off. The theory was that it would save me a lot of sanding and the binding could be easier held in place on the guitar body with blue sticky tape. For glue, I used Araldite UltraClear which, after mixing, goes off after about five minutes. So I glued sections of about 100-150mm at the time (without breaking the binding).

Fx - Front panel stripped - binding nearly on 1 - 1120901
Top binding nearly done

Fx - Front panel stripped - binding nearly on 2 - P1120899

Top binding to be glued around the horns

7 – New pick up frames from merbau timber.

As the original plastic pickup frames were functional but very unsightly, I had decided to make some timber frames. Timber of choice – merbau, which is very strong, dense and has a beautiful dark colour. It is also a nice timber to work with. I used the original frames as a template and started to make the merbau frames. After a few hours work I ended up with had a couple of nice frames. One is perfect, I think I’ll redo the second one (in the distant future).

Photos show frames making in progress and finished units. No lacquer yet.

Fx - Making  of Pickup Frames 1 - P1120903.JPG
One frame cut, the other still in the making…
Fx - Making  of Pickup Frames 2 -P1120923.JPG
Old damaged plastic frames vs new merbau timber frames
Fx - Making  of Pickup Frames 3 - P1120910.JPG
Showing a new frame on the naked guitar – I think it is going to look good…
8 – Finishing the top binding
The first photo shows the binding sticking out above the top. I cut most of that off with a sharp Stanley knife and then sanded it back to be flush with the top layer. I don’t think I’ll use the Araldite glue again as it does not sand easy (the dust becomes sticky…)
I am not entirely happy with the result but at least it looks a thousand times better than before.

Fx -Binding on still sticking out - P1120906.JPG
Top binding on body but sticking out about 1.5 mm above surface.
Fx -Binding top complete bit more sanding yet - P1120911.JPG
Top binding sanded back to surface

A bit more sanding to be done once both top and bottom bindings are on.

9 – Gluing in a new centre block
As the F hole plastic baffles had melted away, the guitar would be more prone to feedback. So a centre block, just behind the bridge pickup, should stop or at least minimize the feedback. The theory is that such a block connects both the top and bottom plates, thereby ‘eliminating’ the vibrations causing feedback.Yamaha SA15, A30 and SA50 are all hollow bodies. The SA60 and SA90 are semi hollows with a centre piece through the middle all the way.
The SA20 (12 string) and SA70 (bass) are hollow bodies as well.

Fx -Gluing in the centre block - P1120918.JPG
Gluing in the centre block to stop or reduce feedback
10 – Stripping the back panel

The back panel had a bit of buckle rash and a few deeper scratches. So stripping these areas needed to be done carefully as I did not want to accidentally go through the nice veneer top layer. As the back panel was separated from the guitar body, it was a bit easier to strip. Still a time consuming process though.

Fx - Stripping back panel 1 - P1120915.JPG
Stripping reveals some buckle rash damage and some deeper scratches.
Fx - Stripping back panel 2 - P1120934.JPG
Panel completely stripped
11 – Admitting defeat

I tried to fit bindings to the F holes, but it turned out to be harder than I thought. I could have done it, but then this guitar was not going to be finished before Christmas. Boy, I wish it were possible to have a peak in the Nippon Gakki factory of the last 60’s to see how they made these guitars. They must have had some real good manufacturing processes in place. I look at my other Super Axes and the way they fitted the F hole bindings is just superb. I can’t think of a 60’s USA manufacturer that fitted F hole bindings to their entry level archtops (if at all).The photos show where I got to before I ripped it all out.

Fx -Binding F hole 1 - P1120933.JPG
Looks good but superglue is not the glue to use…
Fx -Binding F hole 2 - P1120932.JPG
Inside view

11 – Gluing the back panel back on the guitar body

Lining up the back panel on the body in exactly the right place, while gluing it on, was the hardest part. I figured out a process running a dry session (without glue) and then executed that process again with glue. Plenty of cotton, carton and timber padding was used between the clamps and the body to protect it. The photo shows it all… not exactly a professional setup, but hey, it does work. (Hmmm, did not realize how messy my workshop is…)

Fx -Gluing on the back panel 1 - P1120936.JPG
Clamps galore 1
Fx -Gluing on the back panel 2 - P1120935.JPG
Clamps galore 2, different angle
Fx -Back panel on again - P1120941.JPG
All in one piece again.

It has been a while since I lasted posted an update. Progress is a bit slow with family and work activities demanding an unreasonable amount of time… Anyway…

12 – Gluing the bottom binding on

This was a repeat of the work described in section 6 before. This time it went a little faster but it remains a messy and tedious bit of work. Photos show the binding held in place by blue sticky tape and the awkward end bits by some clamps, a screwdriver and a bit of round wood. Not very professional but it did the job. The next day I cut the excess binding off with a Stanley knife.

FX - Gluing on back binding - P1120946.JPG
Gluing on back binding
Fx - Cutting off binding excess - P1120954.JPG
Cutting off the excess binding
13 – Sanding the bottom binding flush with the body

Sanding back the binding was easy. Below a couple of photos to show the result. Note the centre block and also the missing mother of pearl (MoP) dot. Three MoP dots were at some point in the past replaced by filler and then painted white. I decided to remove the filler and put real MoP dots in again. I could not get the original 5mm size ones, so had to put 6mm diameter dots in.

Fx - Sanded body with bindings 1 - P1120994.JPG
Sanded body with bindings complete – note missing dot
Fx - Sanded body with bindings 2 - P1120996.JPG
Sanded body with bindings complete – note new center block behind neck pickup opening
14 – Finishing the body with a clear, water based polyurethane

Finally I have started with finishing the body. I used a high gloss, water based polyurethane that I brushed on. I don’t have spraying equipment and getting it done is too expensive. Yes, you can see the brush strokes if you look closely under certain light conditions, but I am still pleased with the result.Look at the beautiful stripes coming through! Here some photos. I am still working on the neck: frets, headstock so finishing that will be later.

Fx - Polyurethane finish 1 - P1130029.JPG
Three coats of polyurethane – note the ‘stripes’
Fx - Polyurethane finish 4 - P1130030.JPG
Also note the merbau pickup surrounds that I mounted for this shot
15 – Hand cutting the YAMAHA letters from a Paua shell

What’s a YAMAHA without the YAMAHA name?I wanted some nice inlays to re-introduce the brand name to the headstock as the original label came off when removing the paint finish. So I decided to start from scratch and see if I could cut/file/saw the letters out of a Paua shell (New Zealand abalone). I realized that the letters would never be perfect in height, width, colour, etc, etc but figured that would only add charm to this classic guitar. Many hours later the six letters emerged…. Here some photos showing the process and the end result. I have no idea yet how to rebate the headstock so the letters will fit in nicely. That’s something for later.

Fx - Inlays - Starting with letter A - P1130001.JPG
Starting with the letter A – seen from the inside
Fx - Inlays - Starting with letter A02 - P1130002.JPG
Starting with the letter A – seen from the outside
Fx - Inlays - Starting with letter A03 - P1130003.JPG
Letter A done

Continuing with the remaining letters…

Fx - Inlays - Starting with letter H 05 - P1130007.JPG
The letter H in progress…

And here the end result…
The Y was a pig of a letter to do. Needed three shots at it.

Fx - Inlays - Showing letters YAMAHA - P1130025.JPG
The letters sitting on a piece of Merbau

And the letters sitting loosely on their final resting place…

This is roughly how it will come out…

This weekend I hope to rebate the headstock for the letters to fit in nicely and then I can finish the neck. Here some photos of the paua inlays glued into the headstock after rebating it. Then the letters sanded level with the headstock followed by a a couple of coats of poly. Looks much better in real life.

16 – Keyhole ‘Surgery’

After a few more coats of polyurethaneI decided enough… let’s get this thing rocking again… I had already cleaned the fretboard and leveled and polished the frets. The truss rod was working fine and I set the neck to allow for a little relief. I had bought new CTS pots and resoldered everything as per the original wiring. The old soldering done by the Japanese manufacturing was top quality and all the original wiring was reused. The original pickup switch was in good working order and was not replaced. Feeding some strings through the holes back to the side cutout and tying them up to the parts so they can be pulled towards their position. Here a photo.

Fx -Keyhole surgery - P1130062.JPG

The dog (or princess) is ready to get dressed! Yippie!

17 – Dog or Princess?

Over to you guys now. Have a look at the photos and decide if Is it a dog or a princess?

She plays well and I hope to finalise this thread with some links to high resolution photos and some sound bites.

I hope you enjoyed my suffering….


Finished 01 - P1130066.JPG
Finished 02 - P1130067.JPG
Finished 03 - P1130071.JPG

More photos…

Finished 04 - P1130073.JPG
Finished 05 - P1130074.JPG
Finished 06 - P1130077.JPG

Last one…

Finished 07 - P1130078.JPG

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