Installing A Golpeador On a Nylon-String Guitar
|It’s a damn shame Willie Nelson didn’t do this about 30 years ago. If he had, his old Martin classic guitar wouldn’t have all those extra holes in the top, caused by years of hard playing.
Classic guitar tops are very sensitive to pick marks and fingernail gouges. Out of the box, you need to play very carefully and not impact the top of the guitar, or else it will bear the marks of your enthusiasm.
This sad fact caused the gypsies of southern Spain, the creators of flamenco, a good deal of grief, as they consider the guitar as much a percussion instrument as a stringed instrument. A very common technique in flamenco is to tap the top of the guitar with the nails (most often the ring finger) as part of their rapid, multi-finger strumming (called rasqueados). The Spanish word for “tap” is golpe — and the technique destroyed the tops of many an axe in the old days.
Professional flamenco guitarists naturally wanted a way to protect their guitars from being scarred by their art, and when modern plastics became available, they soon enough invented the golpeador, or tap-plate — basically a stick-on pickguard made of a very thin yet durable plastic. Early examples were white, sometimes black, but these days transparent mylar is more often used.
My own playing utilizes a good deal of flamenco technique, and I have one guitar from the 70s which bears the scars of my fledgling experiments in the art. Many years ago, out of necessity, I learned how to properly apply a golpeador on nylon-string guitars. This article details my latest installation on a new Godin Grand Concert SA. NOTE: If you plan to pull this stunt on your own guitar, PLEASE read and understand the entire article before beginning!
Materials & Tools
A good place to pick up the mylar is from Stewart-MacDonald Luthier Supplies.
Prior to application, you’ll need to clean the guitar top extremely well, removing any trace of oil, dirt, dust and any other funk. Naptha can be used if the top is soiled, but on a new guitar a bit of Windex will do the trick. Use a soft, lint-free cloth, and keep it handy.
A 3 or 4″ length of half-inch dowel rod, sanded a bit round at one end and ground to a soft point on the other end, is useful for compressing the mylar.
A sheet of paper, pencil, ruler and sharp scissors rounds out your tool list.
That and a shot glass — but it’s not used in the typical fashion.
Making The Template
Remove the strings from the guitar.
Position a sheet of paper so that one corner lines up with the corner of the bass-side of the bridge. Carefully sketch out the shape you want the tap-plate to be (allowing for the soundhole, if any, and other characteristics of the instrument), and with your scissors trim the paper template so that it fits exactly. Take your time and get it right. In the pic you see the small shot glass I used to trace the rounded corners I wanted in the template.
Once you have the perfectly shaped template, take your sheet of mylar, turn it paper-side up, turn your template upside down on top of the mylar, position the template so the corners and edges are lined up, and carefully trace your template pattern to the paper of the mylar.
Now comes the actual shaping of the tap-plate. Using your sharpest pair of scissors, cut slowly, carefully and cleanly, always making the turns in a counter-clockwise fashion using short cuts.
When finished, do NOT remove the paper backing yet! Test it first.
Position the tap plate on the guitar and double-check the shape. It should line up straight against the base of the bridge, corner to corner at the bass-side of the bridge, and pretty much just drop into place from that position. Trim as needed so that the plate easily fits into place. A 16th of an inch of room around the neck and edge of the instrument is good, so the mylar will fit flat against the top.
When you’re satisfied with the shape of the tap-plate, set it aside for the moment.
Preparing The Top
Now it’s time to clean the guitar top. Using Windex (or naptha on older, funky tops) and a corner of the soft cloth, gently scrub the top, removing all traces of oil and dust. Use a dry corner to buff the top dry.
Set the cloth aside, and go wash your hands well to remove any oils from your fingers.
Applying The Golpeador
Now comes the hard part. Well, not that it’s so hard to do, but you need to be aware that the mylar, once applied to the guitar top, cannot be repositioned! Yes it can usually be removed (caveats follow), but this ruins the integrity of the mylar and you’ll have to cut another sheet.
OK. If you shaped your plate well, it should line up straight against the base of the bridge, with the corner of the mylar lining up with the bass-side corner of the bridge. Make sure you do the application with sufficient lighting!
Starting with that corner, carefully begin separating the paper backing sheet from the mylar, exposing the adhesive surface. Peel it only a couple inches where it will attach against the base of the bridge, rolling the paper back.
Do NOT remove all the paper at once, just enough to get things started, and do NOT touch the adhesive with your fingers!
This next step is most critical! You MUST position the plate well before you start sticking it down to ensure that it will fall into place properly!
Slowly lower the edge of the mylar to the top of the guitar at a somewhat vertical angle so that the adhesive doesn’t begin grabbing anything yet, and line up the corner of the mylar with the corner of the bridge, as you did during the shaping process.
When you are positive you have the plate properly aligned, slowly lower the angle of the mylar so that the tap-plate snugs up against the base of the bridge, and the adhesive begins to come into contact with the top. Double-check your positioning as you go.
When you’re ready to commit, take a finger and press the mylar down along the base of the bridge. The rest of the mylar should still roll up away from the top. The paper backing rolled back against the top will help support the sheet.
The trick to a solid, clean install is making sure you have no air trapped between top and mylar. You want to slowly press the mylar from the bridge toward the neck, a little at a time, working out any hazy areas in the mylar (which indicates air is present) as you go.
Take your pointed dowel rod, wrap it in a dry section of your soft cloth, place it on the mylar like a rolling pin, hold firmly and start pressing the mylar down, working from the bridge area slowly towards the neck. Work from the middle toward the edges, using short strokes of your dowel, examining your work in the light so you can see the hazy areas press out and become clear against the top of the guitar, which indicates you’ve pressed out all residual air.
Take particular care to get the edges well-seated against the top so they will resist curling later.
Proceed in such fashion towards the neck, gradually peeling the paper backing an inch or two at a time to give you more exposed adhesive to press.
When you finally reach the neck area with very little paper left on the mylar, you can remove it entirely.
Finish pressing the mylar onto the top, working out the air, taking care to firmly press down all edges and corners. The pointed end of your dowel is handy for getting up close to the bridge and neck areas.
When you’ve finished the installation, you should take your favorite guitar polish and clean the entire top of the guitar. At this point, go grab a cold one (or make more traditional use of that shot glass), and admire your work!
Restring and rip into it!
If you misaligned the tap-plate and need to start over (or simply want to remove it), carefully pull up a corner of it and pull it free gradually from the top, pulling as parallel to the top as you can to avoid ripping up the finish of the guitar. If you’re lucky, it will do no damage to the top of the guitar — but be aware that there are no guarantees in this regard!! I have seen removing a golpeador also remove finish from the guitar, ripping out chunks of wood along with it! This would require refinishing the guitar to fix, and is a very sad state of affairs, indeed. So be sure you want a golpeador before you do this, and please be very careful with the installation.
Copyright 2004 Jeff Foster. All Rights Reserved.