Repairing Your Instrument Case by Bob Smackula

Yes, I was watching TV. A return of an animal show that we all watched as kids only because Walt Disney was on after it. Jim was wrestling with a giant anaconda while Marlin watched from a helicopter. I was wrestling with a decision on this Old-Time Herald’s instrument topic. Then it hit me – insurance.

What is the best insurance for your herringbone guitar, Tubaphone banjo, or Sears and Roebuck Strad copy fiddle? It is not necessarily a rider on your home owners policy. In fact, it is the case the instrument is stored in when you’re not playing.

Cases are quite expensive these days. Most hard shell cases sell for between $90 and $175. They are made to take abuse so your instrument doesn’t have to. With years of road use handles fall off, latches break, and cases come unglued. A few home repairs can get your case back into solid shape and keep your instrument safer than Marlin in the helicopter.

The easiest repair is replacing the handle. All of us have had to use shoe laces for a case handle at one time or another. By about the third month of saying, ‘Hey, I ought to get a new handle,’ the shoe lace will break. If you are lucky, the handle loops on your case will be perpendicular to the top and bottom of your case. (Illustration 1) If the new handle through the loop and back up through the buckle.

There are two types of emergency handles available: standard and steel reinforced. I highly recommend the steel reinforced handles for banjo and heavy guitar cases. If your handle loops are parallel to the top and back of the case (Illustration 2), you will need to dig out the old tool box and find a pair of heavy duty wire cutters or a hacksaw and a small ball pean hammer. First remove the pin that once went through your handle with the wire cutters and hacksaw. There are two types of pins that hold handles on. (Illustration 3) One is a they are, all you need is what is known in the luggage trade as an emergency handle. Such handles have buckles on both ends and all you need to do is slide the end of force fit with one serrated end. The other has a head on one end and a slight hollow that is peaned over on the other end. The serrated pin will need a little brute force to remove while the peaned pin will fall out easily.

Next, slide a new pin through the loop posts and your new handle. If your handle loops use the serrated pin system, slide the smooth end of the pin through the loop posts and handle first. Tap the serrated end with a hammer until the pin is in all the way. The peaned pin system is installed as follows. Slide the pin through the loop posts and new handle. Place a small block of wood on the head side of the pin. The block of wood absorbs some hammer shock and keeps the pin from bouncing on the floor. Tap the hollow end of the pin with the ball end of the hammer. This will flare out the pin, making it and your new handle a permanent addition to your case.

Latches are the second most abused part of instrument cases. If you forget to close a latch, it is easy to shear off the hold down. Start your latch replacement project by emptying your case. Next loosen the case lining around the area of the defective latch. Slide a butter knife between the padding and the shell. Loosen about 6″ to 8″ on either side of the latch. This will give you plenty of room to work the rivets. Removing the rivets that hold the latch down requires drilling the heads off. With a center punch or a nail, punch a little dent in the center of the rivet head. This prevents the drill bit from wandering when you drill. The bit should be a little smaller than the rivet head. With the rivet heads removed, the latch will fall off. Use a small screwdriver to push the rivet stems to the inside of the case. Throw the stems out immediately. Don’t take a chance on spare scrap metal scratching your instrument.

Your new latch should fit exactly in the same place as the old one. The hardware for all cases made since the ’60s is still available. Some times it takes a bit of searching, but it is out there.

 

If you decide not to use an exact replacement latch, place the new latch on the case where you want it and mark the new hole locations with the centerpunch or nail. Set the latch aside and drill new holes in your case using a drill bit the same diameter as your new rivets.

Split rivets are usually original equipment on cases. They make good replacements since they are fairly easy to install, require no special tools, and they are very strong. Always purchase a few more rivets than you think you will need. If you have exactly enough, chances are one will fall on the floor and roll down the heating register. The rivets should be long enough to go through the latch and the case with about 1/” extra sticking through the inside of the case.

Place the latch on the case. Slide one split rivet through a hole. A new rivet looks like “A” in illustration 4. Use a large flat-blade screw driver to start bending the rivet tines. Slide the blade between the tines so it looks like “B” in illustration 4. Most of the time you can tap the rivet tines flat with the ball end of a hammer. If you can’t quite get in between the lining and the case shell, loosen up a little more lining or place the blade end of the screwdriver on the tine and tap the screwdriver handle with the hammer until the rivet is bent over and firmly in place. It should look like “C” in illustration 4. A third hand is very helpful to hold a wood or metal block on the rivet end while you tap. This is the perfect time to let your spouse or the kids help you out in the workshop.

Once the latch is solidly in place, reattach the case lining by smearing white glue (Elmers is my brand) on the inside of the case shell where the lining was attached. Run a piece of masking tape up the fuzzy side of the lining, over the lip of the case and down the exterior of the case to hold things together while the glue dries. Remove the tape after the glue has dried overnight.

The last common case repair is regluing the case top or back to the sides. Go to a tire store and ask for an old truck inner tube. Instead of tubing down the river, cut the tube on a spiral to make the world’s largest rubberband. The width of the rubberband should be about 2 inches. You will want two lengths about 15 feet long. This is your clamp for gluing your case back together.

The preferred glue for this job is clear epoxy. It is a must that the epoxy is fresh. Glues have a shelf life. When glues get old they don’t behave the same way they do when they ace fresh. In the case of old epoxy, it will not fully harden. I use ChemTech T-88 (available from ChemTech, 4669 Larder Rd., Chagrin Falls, OH 44022) ChemTech epoxy comes in half pint containers for about $10. If you are not a frequent epoxy user, pick up some at the hardware store.

Five-minute epoxy is recommended. Long cure epoxy will give you the extra time you need to wrap your band around the case. Rub a little wax on the outside of your case in the area to be glued. The same wax you use on your car will be fine. Be careful not to get any wax in the seam separation. The wax prevents the epoxy from sticking where you don’t want it. Mix up the epoxy on a piece of cardboard according to the manufacturers instructions. Always mix up a little

more than you think you will need. Use a butter knife to smear epoxy into the seam. Wipe any excess off with a paper towel. Tie one end of the rubberband to the case handle. Wrap the band tightly around the area you are gluing. (Illustration 5) Go around the case as many times as you can. This will make for a better glue joint. Before you mix up glue, a “dry clamp” is always in order. This is sort of a dress rehearsal with the rubberband to see how it will behave before you get glue anxiety.

It is inevitable that you will get epoxy on your hands. Wash well with soap and water. Your hands will feel sticky for a while, but no harm is done. I also recommend having good ventilation when using epoxy. The fumes are not strong, but they are not good for you.

Let the epoxied case dry for a day. Keeping the case in a warm spot in the house will help the glue cure a little faster. When the epoxy is set, take the rubberband off the case. Any glue squeezed out can be peeled off, cut with a knife, or sanded down.

With this final job done, your case is ready for another 10 or 20 years of rough use in the wild kingdom of festivals and gigs. If you are not sure case repair is your calling, luggage shops, music stores with repair shops and some shoe repair shops will be able to do the job for you.

Contact Bob at bob@smakula.com

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