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Jul 30 2016

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Rebuilding a vintage Gibson acoustic guitar

We have the greatest job in the world: we play with guitars all day, and oftentimes get our grubby mitts on vintage instruments that we wouldn’t ever get to see as mere mortals. Occasionally we see vintage gear that looks almost brand new, but most times when an older instrument comes into our shop it looks like it’s been to hell and back. It’s especially bad when it’s riddled with poorly done repair work, as was the case with this vintage Gibson acoustic guitar. (We think it may be an L-0 or L-00 from the 1930s – we’re not sure, as we don’t consider ourselves historians.)

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This instrument had been through the ringer: a poorly done neck reset, lots of broken and poorly repaired braces and cracks, and a truly horrific fret job. The top was severely bellied, the neck was grossly underset, and the fretboard had been planed down so much that there was barely any wood left. We also discovered that the frets were completely in the wrong place (a common issue with older Gibsons). This poor guitar needed the full meal deal: we reset the neck, made and installed a new fingerboard, removed the bridge and debellied the top, repaired the bridge plate, fixed lots of braces, and fortified a ton of cracks. We were pretty much rebuilding the guitar – but we made every attempt to keep it as vintage correct as possible, and left the distressed look intact. We didn’t want to turn an old guitar into a new guitar: we just wanted to give an old guitar a new lease on life.

Needless to say, this was a YUGE job, and it was impossible to document every tiny little step. We did take a ton of pictures, and we thought that we’d share as many of them as possible. A picture says a thousand words, so we’ll keep our descriptions brief (none of that TL;DR business). Bring on the pics!

Removing the fingerboard with heat and specialty knives:

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Removing the neck utilizing steam to soften the glue in the dovetail joint:

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Note the marks in the neck – whoever planed the board and refretted this made the fingerboard so thin, that when they cut the fret slots the went all the way through the fingerboard and into the neck!:

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Installing a new fingerboard (which we had CNC’d to the exact scale for improved intonation):

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Rough cut to size:

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Pined, glued, and wrapped in surgical tubing:

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And clamped for good measure:

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New fingerboard installed and ready for carving and sanding to fit the neck:

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Aaron showing off his carving knives and his lady-killer smile:

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Laying out, drilling, and installing side and fingerboard dots:

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Removing the bridge:

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Debellying the top with heated aluminum cauls:

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Mating the bridge to the new, flatter top shape:

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Regluing one of many loose braces:

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Checking the new neck reset for accuracy before gluing. We always do our neck resets under string tension.:

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Gluing an angled shim under the fretboard extension. Oftentimes this is required on neck resets, so that there isn’t a steep drop off as the fingerboard is glued down to the body:

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All glued up:

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Leveling the fingerboard under simulated string tension, on one of our custom designed and built neck jigs:

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Installing frets:

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Making a new bone nut and compensated saddle:

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And done! It’s beautiful!

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Wow, that was a lot of work! Now it plays, sounds, and intonates better than ever! Huzzah! On to the next one!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.strangeguitarworks.com/rebuilding-a-vintage-gibson-acoustic-guitar/