Guitar Specialist - Guitar repair and restoration services - Gretsch Restoration



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Restoration of a Gretsch Archtop

Recently a customer brought in a very elegant old Gretsch guitar.  He stated that it has already been to another shop in the area (who shall remain nameless to protect the not so innocent).

He initially brought them the guitar because of a small separation at the heel of the instrument - just about the thickness of a slip of paper.  The guitar had a few other problems - notably a two cracks in the peg head, his pickup didn't work, The action was quite high and it didn't play very well.

To make a long story short - they suggested a neck reset - a change to a more contemporary pickup, repairing the peg head, a re-fret, new contemporary Schaller style tuners, and a host of other things that would have cost a bundle.

They had it for almost nine months - not necessarily out of the ordinary for a major restoration. However, when he popped in to check on it's progress - they initially wouldn't show him the guitar - They said it was back it the shop and couldn't be moved - of course, for insurance reasons - he couldn't be escorted into the shop to see it.  After a few more months, more calls and failed attempts at seeing the guitar - he got quite angry (understandably) and demanded to see the guitar - they then handed the guitar back to him and proclaimed that the guitar was fixed - it was beyond complete repair but they had done the best they could with it and here's your bill.

He brought us the guitar and asked us if there was a way that it could be rescued from the work someone else had done - Now I am not one who is altogether to quick to criticize the diagnosis, work or reputation of another shop - BUT - the state that this guitar was given to the customer it was inexcusable.

Here is what we found and what we did to restore this guitar to it's former glory.

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Unfortunately, I didn't remember to start taking pictures until the instrument was disassembled. So we begin - "in progress". gretschneckreset001.jpg (114401 bytes)
Here is the instrument in question.  The parts have been stripped and the body has been wiped down with a Naphtha soaked rag.  You can see from the fingerboard that this guitar has seen quite a bit of use.
When doing a big job like this - I like to break things up into small jobs.  This way the instrument eventually gets done.  It seems easier to me to tackle a lot of small projects than one really big one.
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The first thing we will look at is the peg head.  You can see all the extra holes from the Schaller tuners that were installed.  The cracks and old tuner holes still remain.  Lets take care of the cracks first.
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Here is Sharon making the clamping cauls for the peg head.
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She traced the contour of the peg head onto a piece of tape and merely placed it on a block of wood.  Now she has a template to follow when she cuts.
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We want to be able to clamp the peg head along it's entire length.
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The cauls are marked left and right - but of course that depends on which side of the guitar your standing on and which part of the guitar is facing up isn't it.
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The cauls are lined with cork to protect the finish.
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This will ensure good even clamping pressure along the entire length of the crack.
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These mini Berna clamps are just the thing to hold things in place while I check the fit of the cauls.
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By the way - see what I mean about left and right.
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A few fairly thick feeler gauges hole the crack open nicely ...
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... so when glue is injected deep into the crack ...
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... it makes the job easier to do with one set of hands.
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We elected to inject the glue to make sure that we got way down into the deepest part of the crack.
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Here is a close up of the glue filling the crack.
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t Just a couple of small bar clamps will give us all the clamping pressure we need.
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Not much squeeze out here - a lot of the glue ran into the tuner holes and the screw holes.
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Here's a close up after cleaning up the glue squeeze out.

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Now that the peg head is glued let's take a look at the rest of the guitar.  Remember that game they used to show on Sesame Street .... gretschneckreset002.jpg (107118 bytes)
... which one of these things don't belong? Well take a look at these inlays. Does something strike you as being out of place here?
That was my first clue that something wasn't right.  I am not a big fan of seeing things "added" to a guitar for no apparent reason - there is always a reason - an it normally isn't good.
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So much for a neck reset.  According to the customer - this gap was smaller when he originally took it to the "Other Shop".
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I was curious about that "Extra Inlay" in the fingerboard - so I peeked in the pickup cavity - What's that me thinks I see? Hmmm a mystery.
I like mysteries.
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Now let's remove the inlay to find out what's really going on here.  To remove a dot inlay from a board - merely drill a hole through it - We already know what we are going to find - don't we?
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Well - look what we have here.  Why it looks like a screw head.  
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And I bet there is some sort of screw attached to it.  Neck reset ?
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Hmm - I wonder how long this thing is??
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I don't think I have to tell you that this was not the way to fix a loose neck joint on a guitar.
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That's a mighty big bolt - I guess they were afraid the neck might come off.

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Now actually re-setting the neck is possible
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We had to glue some wooden shims in the mortise to ensure a good - tight fit.
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Here is a good shot of both the mortise and tenon of the traditional dovetail joint.
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When I have a good fitting dovetail - I can proceed in gluing and clamping everything up
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I actually don't have any pictures of the trimming of the joint - I sometimes forget to keep taking pictures.  Sorry
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With a good fitting dovetail - you don't really need a whole lot of clamps.  One clamp will do - notice the long caul on the neck. - the small one on the back is lined with felt padding.
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The long caul spreads the clamping pressure evenly. 
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Notice the red band clamp.
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I don't think it is really necessary - but it maintains backward clamping pressure on the neck 
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Like I said - a good fitting joint doesn't need it - but I like a little insurance now and then.
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Notice the tight fit on the "cheeks" of the heel.
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Here is a good close up shot of the heel joint.
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All that's left to do here is clean up what's left of the squeeze out ...
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... and wait for it to dry.
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I always "test" my dovetail joints with heavy gauge strings to make sure everything will stay put before proceeding with the job.

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Now we have to figure out what to do about this unsightly hole at the 19th fret of the fingerboard. I certainly didn't want to put an inlay there to "cover it up". gretschneckreset011.jpg (93998 bytes)
There wouldn't have been an inlay at the 19th fret of this model guitar.
So we'll just have to "bury" it. The Idea here is to mask the damage to the guitar so it doesn't draw attention to itself.  If I can make it disappear - all the better.
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First order of business is to chisel out a cavity that extends to each of the surrounding fret slots.
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Then I can plug the hole with pretty much anything I want.
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I elected to use a maple dowel.  It was handy - It was left over from another repair we did recently and it was just the right size.
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Once that was glued into place, trimmed and left to dry - I cut a piece of rosewood from a scrapped fingerboard we had around the shop 
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The color was pretty much the closest thing I had - and the grain was reasonably the same.
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I beveled The edges of the cavity and my little insert to match.
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A little cyanoacrylate glue fills up the cavity and in goes my patch.
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Now that the patch in the board is glued in - I can get to leveling the board.
You can see that this thing was well played from all the deep pits in the rosewood.
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This took quite a bit of sanding - If I thought that I would run through the inlays - I would take them out and re-install them after the board was level.
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As luck would have it - I didn't have to - Most of the inlays had sunk down into their cavities - don't ask me why - maybe - they shrunk over time - maybe the glue underneath settled ..
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.. your guess is as good as mine - I am just glad I didn't have to take them out.  Still got a ways to go on this board. In this picture you can see the lip surrounding the inlays - These things were really sunk in there.
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Here are board is leveled  and ready for frets. Those inlays hardy got a shave.
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Here is a good look at that 19th fret where the hole in the board was - Not a bad disappearing act - don't you think?
Buy the way - that hole in the side of the board is to mount the pickguard.

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I decided to dispense with pictures of the re-fret, crowning, making of the new nut, tuner installation and re-wire primarily because there are plenty of other places on this site that you can see those procedures. Not to mention that my digital camera had to go back to the manufacturer for repair. Suffice it to say that the old pickup was fine - it had to have new leads soldered to it though.  We replaced the pots and other electric components because they were shot.  Before the guitar got re-assembled we compounded and buffed the finish to get it to look as good as we could.  Here is the final results.
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Here is a shot of the guitar - all done. Let's run through the details 
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Here is a shot of the heel joint - snug as the come.
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I strung the guitar with a set of .013's just to see how the neck would hold up. I had originally talked the customer into stepping up to .012's (he wanted a set of .011's)
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After setting up the guitar with .013's - I thought it played so well and the guitar spoke with such a bold tone - I just left them on there - It played so well he though they were a set of .011's.
 I eventually told him they we .013's
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Here we can examine the patch job with the frets in.
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Even upon close inspection - it is hard to tell that there was anything done here.
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Here - have a real good look at it.
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A quick shot of the new nut. I prefer bone above anything else for nuts. 
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Wendy Davis from WD Music Products rushed me this pickguard. I had completely forgot that we needed one (I was under the impression that we already had it) the guitar was done and I was about to set it up when I realized it.  The folks at WD really came through for me. She rushed me a Gretsch blank and I notched it for the pickup
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mounting the pickguard to the side of the board was easy - here's a peek.
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Here is the back of the peg head - no holes were they shouldn't be and the cracks are all but gone.
Now before anybody gets all bent out of shape - I KNOW that these are not the original tuners that would have come on this guitar - they were the customers choosing and the holes line up just fine - so who am I to argue? gretschheadstockdone02.jpg (63563 bytes)
I think they look rather nice though. It is hard to tell the peg head was in pieces once.
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It really is an elegant guitar don't you think.  The customer couldn't pick up the guitar for a few days after it was done.  I can tell you we all had great fun playing this one - wish he would have waited a few more days to pick it up.
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The original case was in worse shape than the guitar originally was - so we thought a new one was warranted. We want to keep this well protected.  The owner still has it - but I think he should carry the guitar in this one.  

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