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Breathing Life Back Into a Nighthawk


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Hi all! I have something that might be of interest and I wanted to share it here. I am going to give some life back to a beat-up, ebony 1994 Gibson Nighthawk SP3. Some time back, I won this guitar in an auction for a very inexpensive price. It came with everything except tuning machines - which I ended up addressing with some gold vintage Kluson tuners. The pots and switch were garbage, so I have good replacement pots and switch now. The input jack was in good condition, so that was salvageable. Pickups came 100% functional with signs of wear, but not too awful... As a matter of fact, the reason I wanted this guitar was mainly so I could take the original pickup out of this guitar and replace it in one of my other guitars - a Nighthawk obviously. I also have a Seymour Duncan JB59 I want to keep in this SP3 because this pickup is real hot and it sounds damn good next to the stock pickup - which is also sort of hot little puppy. The pickup rings and bridge are pretty worn and have become more silver-like with gold tint now... I might look into (gold) re-plating the HW sometime. Either way, I plan to strip the body bare, to the wood and trying to maintain an entirely natural wood look when I'm done. No crazy stuff here, just going to look at a simple piece of mahogany and adore it when it's done. I don't know what I will get... I also want to find some way to clean up the crack on the headstock too (in the "usual" location). It's repaired well, but the crack is visible. I guess now's the best time to address this one... Aside from that, the neck can be made straight (no twists either) and the nut needs replacement as well - which you can see I have knocked out already - so I want to replace with something nice - like bone. I could go with a TUSQ, but I might want to give this something more archaic (like bone) to me I guess you'd say. And to add to this, the frets are OK, but they are a bit too low for comfort... The neck isn't bound so that should make it easier to re-fret one day which I am going to do as well when I absolutely have to. I have already scraped down each fret on the board to get rid of the grime and scratches that came on it. I cleaned it up real nice, and it's a nice looking piece of rosewood. Inlays even look a little better too after a razor blade scraping session.

 

Overall, I hope to complete this project and share the progress as I move through the paces. I just stripped this guitar down of all it's HW and electricals a little while ago, and I am starting the journey. I've been wanting to get this done for a while now, because it really needs some TLC... It's a great piece of wood, so it can be made to look good again. I hope to share some progress soon enough. I am looking forward to seeing what happens myself. I look forward to going through the process(es). I welcome commentary on this if you so choose to add something to this. This will be my first guitar refinish job. Hoping I don't screw this one up, but the price was right to get the opportunity to learn something about luthier skills... and on an interesting specimen at that. Wish me luck please!

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What an absolutely fabulous project to have - especially knowing your partiality to the model.

I doubt you will need much in the way of luck, Chris; just common sense, due patience and attention to detail.

 

I look forward to reading about the progress made as-and-when.

 

msp_thumbup.gif

 

Pip.

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Wow.. Cool...

 

I refinished a Gibson once.. It was my first step in to becoming a luthier... (well trying to be anyway).. I only had to re-finish the top but it was a cherry red one so I had to colour match with the back which is a bit harder. And it came out well (I can show pics if you want)... I had no experience at all previous to that and I still have and love that guitar.

 

As I have some experience a couple of things come to mind. I know this is obvious.. But when you sand it down get a proper face mask.. Not a cardboard one but a proper one with filters that fits tightly.. Nitro is pretty evil stuff, you really don't want to breathe any of that in, they arnt that expensive to buy and worth it.. How do you intend to finish it? With more nitro or oil or something else?

 

My last thought and this is cos I genuinely don't know what to expect. But being a solid colour does make me wonder how many pieces of wood the body is made from.. Not cos I think it makes any difference to the guitar but it will make a difference to the look if they didn't bother matching the grain knowing it will be painted over anyway... It will be really interesting to see whats under there.

 

So yes, I will follow this with interest too [thumbup] If you ever have any questions of course always feel free to ask.

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Hi Rabs. I am planning on first seeing what’s under this finish as you were thinking as well. I want to see what I’m working with. Ideally I want it to look as natural as possible which I think will be pretty cool looking if it can be pulled off. So probably going with oil to unlock the wood’s potential so to speak.

 

With regards what I’ve done this morning is I took this to my uncles place and he has suggested I use this stripping agent. Forget what it is called but it does a great job so far. We sampled it today on a section of the body and it went cleanly down to the wood without any issues. So next step is to start using this to strip all the nitro and finish away to see what’s underneath. Not going into sanding yet but will take advice on the mask when I start smoothing what needs to be smoothed out.

 

Overall project is in the stripping phase. I should know more soon once I get the time to do this for the entire body of the guitar. When I find out what that chemical is I’ll share it. It worked great on the sections we applied it to and this was very encouraging to continue.

 

Anyhow thanks all for the support. I cannot wait to share pics of the next steps that illustrate progress.

Edited by NighthawkChris
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  • 3 months later...

Hi All,

 

Finally had some time to attend to this matter. I stripped off all the black finish down to the bare wood, and the maple cap looks great and of course the mahogany no issues. When I got the guitar as I may have stated, the neck was cracked, and the guy who auctioned this to me repaired the crack fine, but left it unfinished, so now I can do some touch up to hide the split. It was only a crack, not a clean break, but there was a lot of adhesive material in the crack - even in the truss rod cavity. I scraped all of it out of course and the truss rod worked - the neck could be made straight. Anyhow, I hope by the end of this weekend, I get this completed finish-wise and from there, I need to do the other jobs like getting the electronics back in, reset the hardware, and re-glue the nut. Once this is all done, I string her up and enjoy!

 

...

 

FINAL FINISH SPOILER ALERT!

 

...

I am simply having the wood stained all natural - no bursts, colors, etc. The grain on the cap is real nice looking. Not flamed or anything like that, but it is some nice looking maple that has some nice grain patterns. When I used a damp rag over it to see what the wood would look like finished, it looked good... I cannot wait to share some pictures of this as this will be my restored workhorse guitar.

 

Anyhow, wanted to update this thread to keep it alive. But man, once you work all the time and take care of a family, it takes time away from things like this that I can do. Of course, my priorities are in the right place as I enjoy my family more than my music, but it is nice when you have something like this laying around you can get into. It's a nice hobby to take care of guitars. This is my most intensive experience with that, and I enjoy it. Hard work pays off most of the time so we'll just see...

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Attached are images of the 1994 SP3 stripped down. I have a damp wipe on the bare wood that looks like a smear on the front and back as this is what it will look like entirely clear coated. The fretboard was scraped a bit to get all the gunk off - figured why not, the experiment has gone this far, haha! Took off a very thin skin layer with a razor blade. No "carving" lines made doing this task, just took off a very thin skin layer on the fretboard carefully paying attention to the radius of it. Still some pretty healthy rosewood under there msp_biggrin.gif. Nothing done in the cavities as you can see - I want to clean these out before finishing. But a great bulk is done getting the old stuff off. At least we know what the wood looks like underneath the previous solid color ebony finish. Smooth as a baby's bottom right now too all around as some real fine sandpaper has been applied.

 

I also can show well the neck crack. It is filled in with some pretty tough adhesive and that headstock isn't going anywhere... But as structurally sound as this is, the crack is visible. I mean, I had this playing before I decided to strip the old finish off. Mind you, this guitar was won off an auction as a partially repaired NH for around $300 with all the HW - except tuning machines... Thanks StewMac for the right vintage style Kluson tuners. They function just like the original 90's NHs and fit like a glove when I screwed them in the headstock. Were real cheap too for tuners... I mean, they're not the awesome locking style which I greatly prefer, so you might not expect these to be too expensive. Either way, the crack I can clearly show everyone what I was working with here. I might think of a way to hide this somehow and keep the wood natural looking at the same time.

 

 

The cap looks very good I think. There are a couple places where a gouge was done, but I'll try to use my soldering iron and steam the wood to get the dent out. They are small little black spotted dings near where the bridge screws into if you reference the attached photo - and if the image is still uploaded. The ding on the right side of the photo just above the bridge (and nearest to the bridge pickup) might get covered by the pickup ring... I don't know yet, but either way, these things aren't a big bother right now. I think a straight up clear coat over the wood is nice. Very simple and won't take a ton of time to get this playing.

 

I really want this to be a guitar I take out to play and not worry too much about it. I have the Seymour Duncan JB slanted pickup replacement, and it sounds great. They sound a lot like the original pickup which was sort of a hot pickup itself, but with a little more output - so this is something I look forward to using. Great for cutting leads. I tried the other replacement by SD - the 59 - and I don't like it at all. It is too weak sounding for me, even when the pickup is practically raised to its max; I have tried a few things here and just couldn't get to liking it. But no issues with the JB whatsoever. The JB's are awesome pickups IMO.

 

I'm having fun with this. I guess as I get time - like I did in the late evening to get this far FINALLY, I will keep going. I even have an 90s NH OHSC I bought on Reverb for $100, so it will live when it moves about as it snugly fits this unique shaped guitar. The gold HW is pretty faded that I am going to put back on it when the finish is done, but that's fine with me honestly. It all works - just looks like very faded gold HW. I did think about replating it for a moment there, but why bother... It's only going to get back to this state later on... but that would be the way to go if someone wanted to do this for their gold HW I suppose. Whatever - it isn't going to happen, haha!

 

Hope you all enjoy the pics. As this thing comes along, I'll be sure to post the final product here. Thanks!

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Are the dark blotches where you’ve wet the wood or part of the grain?

 

Edit: just reread your post and you clearly said that right in the beginning. My apologies.

 

One tip: try using mineral spirits or naphtha instead of water on the raw wood. Water can raise the grain, then you sand, then the wood dries and shrinks back down and you have reverse sanding scratches which appear under the finish

Edited by Dub-T-123
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Are the dark blotches where you've wet the wood or part of the grain?

 

Edit: just reread your post and you clearly said that right in the beginning. My apologies.

 

One tip: try using mineral spirits or naphtha instead of water on the raw wood. Water can raise the grain, then you sand, then the wood dries and shrinks back down and you have reverse sanding scratches which appear under the finish

 

Thanks for the tip, I appreciate it. I have some mineral spirits around, but not naptha. I will give it shot for sure!

 

The body's color isn't as nice natural as I might want though... The more I look at it, the more I want to modify it a bit. It is a good block of mahogany no doubt, but nothing I find too appealing about it. It's a darker wood and sort of ordinary whereas the maple on the top looks more appealing to me, so I think I want to stain it dark red or brown - it's what I'm feeling on this thing. IMO, it will look better if it were a darker color. I think I want to change my mind on the top a bit too... I want to think about what I really want to see here. I want the grain to stand out whatever I do as I think it looks nice enough to feature. What else... oh, I am going to work on respraying the headstock veneer to make it glossy again. Seems like I am making more work for myself here, haha! It's fun though, so I don't mind going through this. In the end, hope I have something nice looking and plays very well. As I was saying, while I make progress, I'll continue to post some crap up here. If there are any suggestions, if I haven't completed this as I probably won't for a little while, I'd love to hear them about what to decide on what finishes may be a nice choice here. Much appreciated!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Nice grain on the face piece,,Id clear coat it as is,,or maybe tung oil it.

 

Thanks man, appreciate the feedback! Anyhow, to update on this, I have decided that I don't want to screw this up as I have never refinished a guitar before, so I have sent this to a luthier that I have worked with before that I know does great work. Lets me walk around his shop and is very personable which is a plus. Anyhow, we are doing the top natural no doubt (clear lacquer coating). The mahogany on the back and neck are going to be a dark tobacco like brown which looks real cool on the sample area of the guitar he showed me. Will do a better job of hiding that neck crack repair too. He noted that it is in good shape - neck alright, truss rod works (which I knew already, but nonetheless...). He also is doing a re-fret on this as they are REAL low, so I'm looking forward to this guitar when he finishes it up for me. This will probably take a couple months at the minimum as one could expect. He guarantees me that it will look like a new guitar - and I believe him. He did nice work on my other guitars, so I have no reason to doubt him on this. I'm just excited because I want to hear this bad boy with my JB slanted SD humbucker and a JBE mini-humbucker in the bridge. I have the original pickups, but I have a few other NH's anyhow, so this will be unique to the rest of the pack. I'll just hold on to the original pickups somewhere else. Oh, he also is refinishing the cavities with the conductive paint which these guitars apparently were assembled with. Learn something every day I suppose... Put a multi-meter on the cavity surface in the controls area and what do you know - continuity...

 

Overall, guitar in good hands and I cannot wait to see this bad boy when it is finished up and singing at the gig! Of course, I'll share the finished product with pics for those interested in the results. Just need to wait - IMPATIENTLY!!! msp_biggrin.gif Stay tuned...

 

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