|Frequently Asked Questions|
by R.M. Mottola
The Questions Column of American Lutherie receives queries all the time from musicians looking for sources of parts for their instruments. We rarely print these questions in the column as they are rarely of general interest to luthiers, but we do want to help you find the parts you are looking for and so have put together this FAQ. There are a lot of sources of instrument parts and how to proceed in your search depends a lot on what type of instrument you have and whether you are looking for restoration parts (that is, parts needed to restore a valuable and/or historically significant instrument) or simply for parts that will fit and do the job. I’ll try to cover all permutations in this FAQ. Info on obtaining restoration parts is found at the end of the FAQ. Please keep in mind when reading this that I am assuming that you have little or no lutherie experience, and that assumption informs much of the advice that is given here.
A quick Internet search for “violin parts” will turn up a number of suppliers of parts and materials for this family of instruments and we have listings for many suppliers in our links page on this website. We cannot recommend one over others. We suggest you may want to widen your Internet search to locate reviews of these suppliers. These may help you decide which one to use. Please note that with the exception of strings and chinrests and possibly end pins for cellos and basses there are no parts of violin family instrument that can be installed without specialized lutherie tools and experience. So, I would highly recommend that if you are looking for parts for one of these instruments that you locate a good local repair person and take the instrument to him/her. Our links page may help you here, too. Again, we can’t recommend anyone to you, but try asking around of local players.
All the same advice applies here as for the violin family instruments. With the exception of strings and possibly tuning machines, replacement of parts on these instruments requires lutherie skills and tools, so I can only recommend that you locate a good local repairperson to do the work you need. The tuning machines are possibly an exception. We do get requests for sources of machines and for tuning machine buttons and other parts. See the section below for more on that.
The parts that can be installed on such instruments without specific lutherie skills and tools are the strings, bridge pins, screw-on strap buttons, and tuning machines and their parts. For all other work I highly recommend finding a good local repair person to do the work needed. Replacements for these parts can generally be had from local music stores that sell these instruments or from one of the general lutherie suppliers. Try doing an Internet search for “lutherie supplies” or “guitar parts” to locate suppliers, and be sure to check our links page on this website. These places generally have a wide variety of parts available. If you can’t find what you are looking for at these places, try the manufacturer of the guitar. Some (but not all) keep good records and good inventories of the parts they use and used to use, so you can often get your parts from the company directly. If they can’t help you, get a list of their factory authorized repair shops and start contacting them. Some of these may not be willing to just sell you the part if they have it – they may want to do the work of replacing it. When you are talking to the manufacturer of the instrument, try to find out the name of the company that manufactured the part for them. Contact the part manufacturer directly and see if they have the part available. If all of the above fails you can always try eBay. EBay is always a good source of parts, but you’ll have to be persistent about doing your searches, searching at least once a week.
A note about tuning machines and parts for machines. Most of the tuning machines used in factory built instruments in the last fifty years are still being made. You can generally find machines in the lutherie supply places, from instrument manufacturers and from repair shops. One thing to consider is that the lutherie supply places generally do not have information about what machine was used on your instrument, so here you may want to contact the manufacturer first. If you just need a button but can’t find one, consider buying the whole machine – they are cheap. If you want all the machines to match in age and appearance, consider replacing all the machines. Again, relatively speaking, these things are cheap. If you just need a screw, you can get one from an online supplier of hardware such as McMaster Carr, but you’ll need to know your screws to order one. If you don’t, I’d recommend taking the instrument to a repair shop.
Pretty much everything that applies to acoustic guitars applies here as well, but there are other parts for electric guitars that can be installed by a handy person with the most basic tools. These include pickguards, string trees, control knobs and for some Fender solidbody instruments even the entire neck. Again, Internet searches for “electric guitar parts”, “replacement pickguards”, “electric guitar knobs”, “Fender replacement necks” etc. will probably locate suppliers for you, and plenty are listed on our links page. Note that there are a lot of reproduction parts available, even for instruments that were not that popular, but there are certain things that are not available as reproduction parts. In these cases I would highly recommend contacting the factory that made the instrument directly. Many of these factories have custom shops that specialize in reproductions of older instruments and they may be able to supply you with the part you need. And of course a good local repair person just may have that part in his/her inventory.
Although replacement pickups, tuning machines and electronic parts are readily available there are some parts for electrics that are just not that easy to come by. There are a number of bridges, particularly vibrato bridges, that are not made anymore and are not readily available. All the steps outlined in the section on acoustic guitars above should be taken to locate electric parts, too. About the best bet for locating a part which is no longer made is to track eBay for it. Note that by “track eBay” I do not mean to check once on eBay to see if anyone has one for sale. If the part is rare, you’ll have to check in on eBay for it at least every week. And if it is rare, don’t expect to be able to find just the subassembly (saddle, clamp, arm, etc.) you need – you may very well have to buy a whole bridge, whole set of tuning machines, etc.
Another approach is to have the part you need made by a machine shop. If you have the old part (even if it is damaged) it is very likely that a competent machine shop can built you a replacement. It won’t be cheap, but if the part you are looking for is that rare an original isn’t going to be cheap either.
Here we are really out of the domain of lutherie. The factory that made the amp is a good place to look first and a local amp repair person is also a good place to contact. Note that there are a number of parts for vintage amps such as transformers or trim parts that are not readily available. A good amp repair shop may be able to help here, but be prepared to pay dearly for these parts if they are available at all. All of the search steps outlined in the section on acoustic guitars should be taken.
If you are looking for parts to restore a vintage instrument we can only suggest that you try the search steps outlined in the section on acoustic guitars, and if that doesn’t turn up what you are looking for then find and work with a professional restorer of instruments. In cases like this where you are not looking to simply get the instrument back to a playable condition you really will either have to develop restoration knowledge yourself or trust someone that has it to do the work for you. Restoration is never inexpensive, so time spent in locating and evaluating the credentials of a restorer will be well spent.
Best of luck in your search.
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