It’s been 12 years since New Orleans was forever scarred by the high-water mark of Hurricane Katrina. As the flood waters receded, abandoned artifacts representing about $81 billion in damage emerged. An estimated 800,000 housing units, over 200,000 cars and trucks, and an immeasurable number of personal belongings were among the wreckage. Most of what flooded was lost forever, only to exist in the form of memories and countless stories for years to come. This lefty 1970 Gibson SG is one of those Katrina stories, but not as an exile to memory. This is a survivor.
Ray Lambert had been looking for a shop to restore this guitar ever since the storm, but he was met only with not-so-optimistic damage assessments, prohibitive cost estimates, and he was ultimately discouraged from fixing it, until now. This isn’t the first time we’ve restored a guitar damaged by Katrina, and we stand by our opinion that things like this shouldn’t be completely re-finished or have every rusty part replaced. We think these guitars should wear their battle scars with pride, so we worked out a deal with him – we’d get the guitar back into service by doing only what needed to be done in terms of structural and electrical repair, clean it up as well as possible without replacing it’s major components, and send it back into the world to make music.
The guitar was in pretty bad shape when it came in. The neck had separated due to it being attached with water soluble glue, the frets were rusted along with every other bit of metal on the guitar, and all of the electronics were completely frozen solid. Even some fur from the case was stuck to the back of the body with it’s own melted adhesive. Of course, the Chiquita banana sticker on the headstock remained perfectly intact.
After disassembly of the hardware and the electronics, the initial task is to glue the neck back on, which first requires us to completely remove it as it was still partially attached after the flood. The neck joint had also cracked in a couple places. Those cracks have to be repaired before the neck can be re-attached.
Here is a shot of the cracks being glued and clamped. I like to keep all of the parts organized and near the project to prevent anything from possibly getting lost in the process.Once all of the old glue is cleaned up and the wood is re-surfaced, the neck can be glued and clamped.
If you look carefully you can see a structural crack that had to be glued and closed before the neck could go back on.
Once the structural work is done, the next thing to focus on is the replacement of all of the electronics. Everything was destroyed, except for the pickups, believe it or not. They checked out just fine. As you can see, I’ve also taken the opportunity to completely shield the cavities with electronic shielding paint. Now’s the time to re-install the hardware so I can string up the guitar and see how the neck looks under string tension.
The tuning machines have been cleaned up and liberally oiled and are working perfectly.
Remember how nasty those frets looked before? Well, Ray wasn’t interested in immediate fretwork, since the neck was in surprisingly good shape. With a little elbow-grease these frets are gleaming and the rosewood fretboard is conditioned. Luckily for him, fretwork can be done another time.
And there you have it! This is one killer guitar, and a true survivor.
And here’s the man himself, reunited with his 1970 Gibson SG. This is the best job in the world, rebuilding New Orleans, one guitar at a time.
UPDATE: This story made the news!