It’s amazing to think that almost 10 years after Hurricane Katrina forever altered the city of New Orleans, I’m still fixing up guitars that were damaged by the storm. Recently my buddy John Lisi brought me an old Teisco Del Rey EV-2T that had spent a few weeks floating in the flood waters that destroyed his home in the Lakeview neighborhood in New Orleans. He’d been sitting on it for all these years, and he finally decided he wanted to bring it back to life. John’s only instruction to me was to “make it awesome”. It required a ton of work, but it was totally worth it – it’s completely awesome now. Check it out:
First, here’s a couple of shots of the guitar as I received it and began taking it apart. Just about everything was a disaster – the hardware was a wreck, all the screws were rusted through, the neck looked like a banana, and the electronics were toast. Yuck! Even worse – several of the screws snapped as I was removing them, and were frozen into the wood. Fantastic.
I decided to start with the electronics – since the pickups weren’t something that could be easily replaceable, it made sense to deal with that first. Miraculously, the pickups were still reading around 7.5kΩ – so it was possible that they actually were still working. I hooked them up directly to a jack, and sure enough, both of them were functional, although a bit microphonic. Removing them from the pickguard was a little tricky – the retaining screws had locked up, so I had to cut them out with a Dremel.
To eliminate the microphonics, I dipped each pickup into my potting wax mix (80% paraffin, 20% beeswax) for about 10 minutes – the wax would permeate through the pickup’s coils, and would essentially function as a glue to prevent the coils from moving and creating unwanted noise.
While waiting for the wax to cool, I shielding the body’s electronics cavity and pickguard, using conductive paint and aluminum tape. Since John is a busy gigging musician, I’m sure he wouldn’t want any stray electronic noises mucking with his signal coming through his guitar, so shielding is pretty much mandatory.
Then I completely rewired the whole thing, using new components throughout. I rigged it up a little differently than how it was originally: the switch on the bottom was a tone circuit, which would instantly make the guitar sound super dark and muffled. John ain’t that kind of guy – so I set up that switch as a blower, which would bypass all the electronics and send a pure signal straight to the jack. So when John needs that extra little push off the cliff, he can throw that blower switch and really go for it. (The switch was labelled “R” and “S”, which we decided stood for “Regular” and “Super”.)
Of course, in my line of work, ain’t nothing ever easy: the old aluminum knobs wouldn’t fit on the new pots (which were of a much higher quality than the originals). So I had to drill out the knob holes ever so slightly so that they’d fit on the pot’s shafts, but not so much that they’d fall off. Easy does it!
Now that the electronics were a go, it was time to deal with the neck, which was a substantial challenge. It was pretty severely warped (a term I don’t use lightly), so I began by heat pressing the neck, in hopes that it would come back to some reasonable degree of straightness.
The neck improved a little bit – not as much as I hoped, but it was a good start. The neck needed to be planed flat – but first I needed to get the neck back on to the body, so I could work on the neck under string tension. Unfortunately, 3 out of 4 neck screws had broken off, and those would have to come out before I could proceed. Ain’t nothing ever easy. To get them out, I bought a screw extractor bit, made a plastic drill bit guide, and carefully cut away the wood around the broken screws. This worked out pretty well, methinks.
Next I filled the holes and drilled new holes. Easy peasy.
Once I got the neck on the body and strung it up, I discovered yet another problem: the truss rod didn’t work. It wasn’t broken or anything – it’s just that it was merely decorative (Teisco guitars aren’t exactly known for their quality build and design.). So, in order to end up with the proper amount of relief in the neck, I was going to have to carve it in by hand. How to do this? Enter the neck jig:
Not only does the neck jig allow me to simulate string tension on the neck with the strings removed, it also allows me to anticipate and alter the final neck shape. In this case, I backed off the jack under the headstock by about .10mm, which would backbow the neck ever so slightly, and cause the leveling beam to take out a tiny bit more out of the middle of the neck. This essentially builds relief into the neck, giving it the perfect shape to allow for string vibration without buzzing. Truss rods? Who needs ’em?
The next step was to refret the neck – again, ain’t nothing ever easy. The fret slots were super wide, and my modern fretwire tangs were much too narrow to fit snugly. This won’t do – I can just have frets popping out of the board. I ended up having to use every trick in the book to make these frets seat properly, including crimping every single fret tang to grip the sides of the fret slots, and wicking glue under each fret to help insure they stayed down. It was a lot of extra work, but I’d rather take the time to do it right the first time than to have this guitar come back.
I was almost finished – all I had to do was put the neck back on, make a nut, and set the guitar up. Or so I thought – ain’t nothing ever easy! Turns out that the electronics cavities were about 2-3mm too shallow, and the modern output jack I had installed was bottoming out inside the guitar. Because of the shielding, this was causing the signal to ground out – no sound at all. Of course, I didn’t discover this until AFTER I had put the entire guitar together and attempted to plug it in for the first time. And of course, all the hardware installed ON TOP of the pickguard, which meant I had to remove EVERYTHING just to take the pickguard off. Fantastic.
You can see here where the jack was rubbing on the bottom of the cavity:
I set up my router, taped off the finish, and removed about 3mm of wood off the bottom. I had to be super careful with how I set the router: the body was super thin, and I could very easily blow through the back of the guitar if I wasn’t paying attention. I only took off just enough wood to allow for clearance for the output jack and not a millimeter more:
Ok – NOW I was done. I put the whole thing together, made a nut, and gave it a complete setup. The verdict? Totally awesome, just as John requested. Huzzah!
There were lots of other thing I did with this guitar that I didn’t document (fixing cracks in the body, securing the binding, etc.), but let me assure you this thing was a TON of work. I’m really happy with how it came out, and I’m glad I had a hand in rescuing a vintage guitar from the trash bin. Ain’t no hurricane got nothing on me!
You can see this guitar in action with John Lisi & Deltafunk at various venues around town and at Jazz Fest. Go get ’em, John!