The Repair Shop-Restoration of a Portuguese Guitar

BBC The Repair Shop Portuguese guitar

It was a pleasure to be asked, for the second time, to take part in the BBC programme, The Repair Shop. The filming for this episode took place in the autumn of 2018. And for this episode I was asked to restore a 120 year old Portuguese guitar.

It was the first time I had had the opportunity to work on one of these instruments. And so I had to do quite a lot of research into the history, construction and tuning of the Portuguese guitar.

State of the guitar prior to restoration

The guitar had been stored in a loft for many years and was somewhat neglected, as you can see from these photographs.

The Repair Shop Portuguese guitar    The Repair Shop Portuguese guitar

The main issues for me were:

  1. The bridge was missing
  2. The tuning system was missing several of the string tensioners
  3. The back had separated from the sides
  4. The instrument was very grubby and had not had a new set of strings for maybe 50 years
  5. Other small parts, such as the nut and string body protector needed replacing

The Bridge

I knew from an imprint on the face of the guitar how long and wide the original bridge would have been. But I didn’t know the shape it of the bridge. However, once I had the guitar in my hands I was able to identify the instrument maker from a label found inside it. The guitar was made in Lisbon, imported into the UK and then sold by a company based in London. With that information, and after some research, I was able to find an image of a Portuguese guitar made by the same maker in Lisbon and with the same approximate construction date. That image gave me good information about the shape of the bridge. Armed with that information I was confident that the replacement bridge I made would be very similar to the original. It is made out of rosewood. Here it is:

BBC The Repair Shop    The Repair Shop

The tuning system

Portuguese guitars are traditionally fitted with a Preston tuning system. These are unusual tuners and, with regards to current usage, may be unique to Portuguese guitars. As you can see the tuners were not in a good state. Two of the tuners were missing and most of the others were immovable.

BBC The Repair Shop

If you watch The Repair Shop you will know that one of the resident experts is Steve Fletcher. Steve does the most amazing work. Next to Steve I feel like a total amateur! Anyway, I gave the Preston unit to Steve and asked him to make two replacement tuners. This is what he did with them. Brilliant!

BBC The Repair Shop

Bodywork, cleaning and assembly

Once I had re-glued the back to the sides, I then gave the body and fretboard a good clean and polish. I also replaced the damaged nut and gave the frets a light dressing.

Then came the joy of re-stringing the guitar! Portuguese guitars use double loop strings. You can buy strings with a single loop end, but you have to make the second for fixing each string to the tuners. With 12 strings this is quite a time consuming process. I also struggled to get the instrument to stay in tune. After all it hadn’t been played for maybe fifty years!

But here is the finished instrument.

BBCThe Repair Shop      BBC THe Repair Shop

After The Repair Shop episode was aired, Michael, the owner of this instrument posted this comment online:

“It was amazing to watch the show this evening, I will be forever grateful to you and the rest of the repair shop team for restoring something I should never have let get so neglected. It has pride of place in my home and makes me smile everyday. You gave me back a piece of my Nan and my childhood. Thank you again”

Michael, it was a pleasure.

Have a look at an earlier post in which I describe the restoration of the “Hot Chocolate Jazz Bass“. Again, this was for the BBC programme, The Repair Shop