Restoring Mike Campbell’s Vintage Gibson Dove

Our primary focus at the shop has always been to service the local New Orleans music community. Being gigging musicians ourselves, we’ve put a lot of stock in the symbiosis of the music scene here, and it’s been very important to us to do our part in helping it thrive and to develop meaningful relationships with our clients. Even during a global pandemic, musicians are still finding a way to create their art, despite being sequestered in their home studios doing livestreams, and we’re still here keeping their gear working. But as time has elapsed we’re getting more and more calls and emails from people out of town asking if they can ship their instruments to us to fix – a notable example being an email we recently received inquiring about restoring Mike Campbell‘s (from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) vintage Gibson Dove. We asked ourselves, “Even he doesn’t have a local shop to fix his stuff?!”

We began to reassess our prior reluctance to take on shipped-in work and figured if people value what we do and appreciate our dedication to the craft, why shouldn’t we open our doors to them, too? So, we finally started saying yes. This post is about restoring a remarkable guitar for a remarkable musician, but that doesn’t mean this is an exclusive club. There is no job too big or too small for us to take on and it doesn’t matter who you are or what size stages you’ve played on. We treat every guitar with the same level of care and every client with the same degree of respect. That said: check out this gem of a specimen I brought back to life!

1968 Gibson Dove complete with hand-inlaid pearl doves

This is a rare bird, indeed. This cherry sunburst dreadnought style flat top acoustic guitar was made right at the cusp of a lot of changes at Gibson. The Norlin era was on the horizon and would usher in an emphasis on more automated production and less precision craftsmanship. Around this time they were transitioning from Brazilian rosewood to ebony fingerboards, moving to over-engineered bracing, and away from the hand-inlaid pearl doves. The double pickguard is the truly rare feature here. These guitars are very hard to find on the vintage market. Thats said, it was in pretty bad shape and virtually unplayable when it arrived. It needed help.

After a half-century of punishment from 200 pounds of relentless string tension, the neck angle was egregiously underset, the heel block inside of the guitar was collapsing, the Tune-O-Matic bridge had broken, and the neck itself had a tremendous amount of forward relief. Luckily, all of this can be repaired if one is willing to disassemble a collectible antique… which I am more than willing to do.

Before removing an acoustic guitar neck, we take precise measurements and make exact calculations for how much the neck angle needs to change, but this can’t be done until the bridge saddles are where they’re supposed to be, so we ordered in a brand new Tune-O-matic bridge and I modified it to match the factory bridge Gibson would have sent this guitar out with.

Keeping the stock saddles was important to Mike, so we re-used them. [intonation not yet set]

With the bridge properly functioning, I strung the guitar back up to pitch, made my calculations and started the disassembly process.

We use dry heat rather than steam, to melt the glue in the neck joint without finish blushing.

While the glue around the neck joint was still soft, I reset the heel block to the correct position, added some fresh Titebond wood glue and clamped it up. I also glued some spruce cleats inside of the guitar to reinforce the cracks that had formed in the top.

A good amount of material had to come out of the heel to reset the neck angle.

We do the bulk material removal with chisels and sanding blocks, then switch over to a pull-sanding technique to fine tune the neck angle and centerline.

Once I was happy with the angle, I shimmed and fit the dovetail joint to ensure a tight mechanical fit before gluing it back together.

All glued up!

With the guitar back together and the neck in the proper state of relief, I was able to ascertain that instead of re-fretting the instrument, I could get away with PLEK leveling the original frets. This, in addition to being able to keep the original nut, was great news for the guitar’s originality.

The guitar is restored, polished up and playing better that it probably ever has!

And now, a testimonial from the Heartbreaker himself:

“Thanks to Strange Guitarworks in New Orleans for making my vintage Gibson Dove play and sound so much better! It’s purrfect.” – Mike Campbell

Thanks, Mike! Come see us anytime!

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