●5 NECK FINISH
Micro mesh cloths are ideal for flatting back poly finishes, but mask off any areas that you don’t want to scratch
Before putting everything back together we decided to address one of the Ozark’s other issues. The sticky-feeling high-gloss neck finish – so un-vintage in feel – doesn’t do the guitar any favours. Plenty of players dislike these glassy modern poly finishes, and there’s no shortage of online discussions about knocking back the gloss. Some advocate fine wire wool or ultra-fine wet and dry paper, but these materials often leave telltale scratches that don’t look or feel quite right. What’s more, wet and dry paper doesn’t conform to complex curves and shapes particularly well, so it’s hard to avoid glossy high spots.
We prefer micro mesh cloths – easy to find online. They’re not cheap, but you can wash and reuse them. Make sure you get the correct coarseness; they’re not graded like wet and dry paper. We bought a sheet each of 4000 and 6000 grit micro mesh, equivalent to 1500 and 1800 grit wet and dry. These quickly knocked the finish back to a smooth satin sheen. Do mask off the body where it meets the sides of the heel because you don’t want the micro mesh to scratch the metal plating.
The Ozark biscuit was rough-and-ready, with a badly slotted saddle. The action is also on the low side, so we need a new saddle anyway. We obtained a Messer biscuit made from rosewood with a maple saddle (original National biscuits were maple with boxwood saddles). We drew the outline of the original onto the new saddle, allowing a few millimetres extra height, and marked the position of the strings. After cutting the new saddle we pushed it into the rosewood biscuit and made some shallow grooves for the strings using nut files. Again we marked the centre point on the new bridge and made a pilot hole for the screw. To ensure the best possible contact between the biscuit and the cone we placed a piece of 180-grit sandpaper on a dead flat surface and lightly sanded the contact surface of the cone until we saw an unbroken circle of scuffs. Be careful – this only takes a few seconds. Next we sanded the bottom of the biscuit in the same way, continually checking with a straight edge. You can tell when you’re done by placing the biscuit onto the cone and looking at the join in front of a window. If you can see daylight, you’ll need to sand some more.
This time the sonic differences weren’t as dramatic as the cone swap. We felt that the
●8 STRINGS AND SETUP
Originally our Ozark had a break angle over the saddle which was a bit shallow, but since we had decided to raise the action, the break angle was improved by default. This was fortunate, as otherwise we would have had to reset the neck – a job beyond the scope of most hobbyists.
Before doing the final setup we installed our strings – a set of Michael Messer National strings. Newtone (www.newtonestrings.com) winds this .015"-.056" set on round cores rather than hex cores. Round cores resist the build up of dirt so they last longer, and they tune to pitch at lower tension. The Newtones felt easier and had a noticeably smoother, more even response. They were still nice and bright, but the softer attack and reduced squeak produced a more vintage-style tone.
The saddle pushes into a slot in the biscuit. It was such a tight fit that we didn’t need any glue. Use the old saddle as a guide to rough-cut the new saddle
Before attaching the new biscuit to the cone, you’ll need to make a pilot hole for the screw
The new cone and biscuit installed . The saddle slots will be fine tuned and tidied up during the set up rosewood bridge softened the high end a tad, but also provided extra body in the mids and low end. This mod would be a matter of taste.
We fine-tuned the action by cutting the string slots in the saddle to the required height, then sanded the top of the saddle so that the tops of the strings were proud of the slots but still deep enough to remain secure. After re-attaching the biscuit with a bead of yellow PVA wood glue and wiping off the excess glue, we finally refitted the cover plate and strung up the guitar.
We had originally intended to carve a new nut, but the Ozark nut was bone and it didn’t need replacing. The slots were low enough to allow relatively easy fretting down the cowboy end of the neck and we got a clean slide action with 12th fret gaps of 5mm and 4mm for the sixth and first strings respectively. If you do need a new nut, try Allparts UK (www.allpartsuk.com) for bone blanks.
●6 CONE SWAP
The cone, of course, is the throbbing heart of any resonator guitar. We were pinning all our hopes on a replacement, and we managed to get hold of the same Continental-branded cone used in Messer guitars. As well as looking different to the Ozark cone, it also sounded very different. The Continental’s tap tone was three semitones lower and it sounded much purer and more defined, with a more even decay and longer sustain.
You need to punch a screw hole through the centre of the cone to fix it to the biscuit. We simply marked the centre point on the top of the cone then tapped a metal spike through with a cork placed underneath. The original biscuit was held in place by two screws, so we had to mark the centre of the biscuit then make a pilot hole for the screw.
We went for a centre screw arrangement because that’s what the original Nationals had. As you tighten up the screw, the centre of the cone will indent slightly, but don’t worry: it’s normal. Just tighten the screw until the biscuit is pulled against the cone all around its circumference; string pressure will do the rest.
We love it when guitar projects provide ‘wow moments’ and fitting the new cone certainly provided one of those. The Ozark sounded significantly louder, brighter, fatter, sweeter and more dynamic. We also found the extra sustain we were looking for and string-tostring balance improved. As an added bonus, all the buzzes and rattles were fixed too!
Don’t lose your old biscuit screws… you can re-use them
We used a metal spike to punch a hole in the centre of the new cone
Verdict Our luthier friends told us that upgrading a resonator is a relatively cheap and easy project, and that turned out to be the case with the Ozark. Continental cones cost around £30 and biscuits are usually around £10; National and Beard cones cost around double that, but it’s still cheaper than installing a set of handwound pickups in a budget Strat. The heavy and nonresonant Ozark body probably limits its upgrade potential, but we succeeded in making it sound remarkably good. There’s no reason you can’t do the same.
108 Guitar & Bass FEBRUARY 2012