We recently took in a nameless gypsy jazz guitar in desperate need of restoration. We inspected the instrument inside and out for any identifying logos or serial numbers and came up with nothing. The label inside the guitar bears the words “Jazz Cutaway Hot”, and the rest of the ink has fell victim to the perils of time (if you or anyone you know has information on this elusive guitar, please contact us). One thing we knew for sure was that this thing needed some serious love. The neck had become grossly underset and it needed the fretboard to be trued and re-fretted, among other things. Typically a neck re-set is no big deal for us, we do them all the time. But this guitar doesn’t have a typical dovetail style neck joint, nor a spanish heel, either. It has a flat neck joint typically found on a Busato jazz guitar or similar, which is good news for me because that means it can be steamed apart. The bad news is, like most gypsy jazz guitars, the back is covering the neck heel, so that has to come off first. Let’s have a look at what a job like this entails.
As you can see, it’s a cool guitar – definitely worth saving.
This straight-edge indicates how far underset the neck angle is. With the straight-edge resting on the neck, it should come to just a tiny bit under the top of the saddle – this one was underset by a whopping 6mm!
Here’s where things get tricky. The back of the guitar is glued to the back of the heel, so it’s gonna have to come off.
I began by applying a heat gun to the glue joint to soften up the glue and ease the removal of the back.
It just takes time and patience to get this thing apart.
The back came off pretty clean, and now we can get to the heel joint. There is some minor tear-out which can be easily fixed before the back is re-installed. Some people take this opportunity to shave down or replace the rather bulky cross braces to open up the sound of the instrument, but our client loves the tone of this guitar, so we left that alone.
Before the neck can come apart, the fretboard tongue has to be loosened. This is done with a heating pad and a pallet knife.
The next step is to inject steam into the neck joint using our handy Mobile Steam Unit.
And voila’ – the neck is off!
This is a test fit of the re-shaped neck. I didn’t get a get a photo of re-shaping the heel (I needed both hands!), but this is done in a similar fashion to any neck re-set. In this case I removed 1.5 mm from the back of the heel without removing any material from the front of the heel which creates a triangle of removed wood to pitch the neck back to the desired angle. This is done with chisels and sanding blocks (we have other blog posts on neck re-sets if you’d like to see photos of the heel re-shaping process).
…and then there was glue.
Getting ready to put this thing back together.
…and then there were clamps. A lot of clamps. We love clamps. A lot.
Now it’s time to get these old frets out so the fretboard can be trued. Again, using heat to soften any glue in there to prevent wood from ripping out with the frets. In this case, a hot soldering iron.
The neck jig doesn’t lie.
A fresh rosewood surface for the new frets.
This guitar got stainless steel frets, which are a lot more work to install, but totally worth it. This will probably be that last re-fret this guitar will ever need. Also, notice the flat fretboard on this instrument. Most guitars have a radius fretboard, but classical, spanish, and gypsy jazz guitars generally have a flat board.
The new frets are installed and ready to be leveled. As you can see, I’ve started making the new nut at this time as well.
Here are the gleaming, freshly leveled, crowned and polished frets.
The new bone nut is finished and installed. Notice the zero fret on this guitar. It’s actually a pretty good idea, and I’m surprised more guitar makers don’t do this.
And there you have it. This cool old gypsy jazz box lives to fight another day!