A small cosmetic repair
Making a New Heel Cap
© Frank Ford, 10/14/00; Photos by FF, 2000

Here's the case for installing a strap button right into the heel cap. Sure, the guitar doesn't balance as well with the button in this location, but at least you can remove the button without a trace. . .

It's rare for a Martin heel cap to need replacing. Sometimes one might become unglued and get lost, but usually the reason for replacement is the removal of a strap button.

My favorite way to fix this hole is to inlay a little pearl dot. It can be done very neatly and cheaply, and it looks pretty good. But if you really want to do it up nicely, replacing the heel cap is the way to go.

First, I pry the cap off with a thin blade. These little guys can really be stuck in place, so I take it easy and work around all sides to avoid splitting the heel.

OK, ready to start. This is an ivoroid cap, so I'll look around for some matching .080" thick ivoroid.

With the outline traced on, I simply shape the new part about 1/32" oversize, so I won't have any problem gluing it on center.

To protect the finish from the solvent action of the glue, I press on some clear tape, making sure to get a seamless bond right at the upper edge.

It's easy to slice off the tape right at the very edge.

Some medium viscosity superglue.

To make sure the glue really "bites" into the ivoroid, I paint on just a bit of M.E.K. to soften the surface. Acetone would work just as well.

Then I press the cap in place a minute, until the glue sets, and remove the tape, along with any squeezed out glue.

Allowing overnight for the glue to cure fully, I trim the overhang. Notice that I'm holding the wide bevel of the knife flat against the finish of the heel. That way, I won't scratch the finish as I cut up and away at the heel cap.

I scrape the last micro bit of the cap with a razor blade, with its edge burnished and a piece of tape protecting the finish. Using this simple technique, I was able to level the edge of the heel cap without scratching the lacquered surface.

Martin heel caps are rounded at the edges to soften the lines. I accomplish this with a few file strokes,

followed by a gentle sanding with 220 grit.

My new ivoroid looks a bit starkly white in comparison to the binding because the finish on the binding had yellowed with UV exposure. I paint\ on a few coats of my special amber lacquer to get just the right color.

After a judicious bit of finish leveling and polishing, you'd be hard pressed to identify this as a new heel cap.

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