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Leonard McCoy

Extensive Gibson J-50 Repair

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Part 1 was painful to watch. I had most of this same work done on my ‘57 J-50 by Marcus Engstrom in Bozeman - came highly recommended as a vintage Gibson guy. I am about to watch part 2, but I think I’ll have a few fingers of bourbon first.

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I'm already into the third video, having become absolutely mesmerized. As you say, it has been painful. Sort of like watching orthopedic surgery. As my friend the orthopod says "it ain't pretty, and it ain't delicate."

 

I've been surprised at some of the things this repair guy says and does as part of these repairs. I'll hold those thoughts until I get through the last installment.

 

What I can say is that different luthiers have significantly different approaches to some of these problems.

 

My "new" 1950 J-45 is going in for some of these same repairs next week. The good thing is that no one has ever tried to "repair" anything on the guitar in the past, so it's as it came from the factory, for better or worse.

Edited by j45nick

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Cringeworthy IMO. Cut the fretboard extension off because he didn't have his steam holes out on the shoulders of the dovetail tenon, beating on the heel to loosen it, no radius on the bridge plate and pressed the radius out of the top to glue it "flat", banging the edges of the soundhole to death with his clamps.

I think I'll join Dan at the bar before round two!

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Part 2 was painful too. A bit too much “by gosh and by golly”. I am glad I did not witness the surgery on my guitar.

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Part 2 was painful too. A bit too much “by gosh and by golly”. I am glad I did not witness the surgery on my guitar.

I am going to guess that yours and Nicks upcoming repair will not resemble this in any way.

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I am going to guess that yours and Nicks upcoming repair will not resemble this in any way.

 

I learned a lot from the videos, but some of the techniques and materials surprised me, particularly the use of titebond in the neck joint. He fitted the joint really nicely, so maybe the glue is less important. One reason to use hide glue is that it dries hard and brittle, which is good for transmitting sound. Titebond has a bit of flex unless it is a near-perfect wood-to-wood fit.

 

Trying to flatten the top was a bit of a surprise, since J-45s are built with between 1/8-3/16" of transverse dome at the bridge, and a similar amount longitudinally. (You can buy the construction plans at Stewmac.) It looked like the guitar actually ended up with about the right amount of crown, which is to be expected since the braces are carved to that, I believe.

 

I would not have wanted an oversize bridge, and have no comment to offer about the big bridgeplate he put in.

 

He seemed uncertain about what the original tuners would have been, which suggests he doesn't work on a lot of Gibsons. Old-fashioned tuners have a fair amount of lash in them, and don't hold until you bring the strings up to pitch, but those tuners seemed unusually "lashy". Unless the owner is wedded to those keystones, I would have suggested they be changed back to three-on-a-plates, but the holes in the headstock looked a bit oversize, so conversion bushing will probably be required.

 

I will try some of his cleaning techniques. I use Flitz for a lot of things, but had never though to use it on a nitro finish. It claims to have no abrasive in it. The use of water and a bit of detergent to clean off grunge makes sense, and I will try it. The idea of waxing the finish, as he did, strikes me as anathema.

 

Interesting that he never appeared to touch the truss rod during the entire process.

 

All in all, there's more than one way to skin a cat, so all's well that ends well.

Edited by j45nick

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The list goes on and on for me.

First do no harm! To clean it or do anything that the customer hasn't asked for is reckless. To try to fill the nicks in the back (which are down to bare wood obviously) with a clear "experimental" substance? Trying to press the radius out of the top and cracking braces when bridge plate and bridge should have the radius sanded into them. C.A. glue under the loose brace, look at that mess every time he turns the guitar up (hide glue returns to liquid between 145-165 degrees). Carbon paper in the mortise? All you have to do is wet it with a rag, slide the tenon in and the high spots are marked by dampness. That entire procedure was unnecessary. The fretboard extension was already hacked off, just correct the geometry and cut shims to slide in beside the shoulders of the joint. Then to cut a wedge for the top of the joint (the purpose of a dovetail is so that it can be disassembled) good luck to the next guy that's trying to find the neck pocket! I didn't finish watching all of #3 but it looks like he completely missed on the neck angle with as much saddle as I saw sticking up. I agree there's a lot of different ways to accomplish the same task but this was terrible!

For anyone interested in how this should be done, I highly recommend Frank Ford's FRETS.COM.

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The list goes on and on for me.

First do no harm! To clean it or do anything that the customer hasn't asked for is reckless. To try to fill the nicks in the back (which are down to bare wood obviously) with a clear "experimental" substance? Trying to press the radius out of the top and cracking braces when bridge plate and bridge should have the radius sanded into them. C.A. glue under the loose brace, look at that mess every time he turns the guitar up (hide glue returns to liquid between 145-165 degrees). Carbon paper in the mortise? All you have to do is wet it with a rag, slide the tenon in and the high spots are marked by dampness. That entire procedure was unnecessary. The fretboard extension was already hacked off, just correct the geometry and cut shims to slide in beside the shoulders of the joint. Then to cut a wedge for the top of the joint (the purpose of a dovetail is so that it can be disassembled) good luck to the next guy that's trying to find the neck pocket! I didn't finish watching all of #3 but it looks like he completely missed on the neck angle with as much saddle as I saw sticking up. I agree there's a lot of different ways to accomplish the same task but this was terrible!

For anyone interested in how this should be done, I highly recommend Frank Ford's FRETS.COM.

 

 

You should have watched to the bitter end.

 

The neck angle came out fine when all was said and done, but as you say, good luck to the next guy working on it. We don't know what the instructions from the owner really were, so we can't be critical about the amount of cleaning and finish "repair" that was done without knowing the scope of work specified.

 

Ross Teigen has now worked on a half dozen of my guitars, both acoustic and electric, including one major job on my "old" J-45 not that dissimilar to the amount of work done in the J-50 in these videos. I always write out a scope of work description with as much guidance as possible, and we go over that list in detail. Because he works on a lot of old Gibsons and Martins, he pretty much knows how they were built and what their quirks are, so I trust his judgment on what he's looking at. He calls or emails if something comes up that might cause a deviation from the agreed scope of work, and I appreciate that.

 

It's almost a four-hour drive from my house to his shop, but it's worth the trip just to talk face to face about any major job.

 

The "new" 1950 J-45 I am taking to him is special because it is completely unmolested, down to the shrunken tuner buttons. The only thing non-original are the bridgepins, the endpin, and the strings. The strings that were on it when I got it were Gibson Mona-Steel from the 1950's or 60's. The string packets with spare strings (B and high E) were in the accessory compartment of the chipboard case. The original bridgepins are too shrunken to use, and the original black plastic endpin had crumbled, which is common.

 

This means that the work done needs to be consistent with maintaining that originality as much as possible, which can be tricky, because I want this guitar to become a primary player, too.

 

Ross understands that. He has done restoration work on nearly priceless pre-war Martins, but he gives the same attention to a humble 1950 J-45. If you go on his website (florida-luthier.com), there's a photo of a pickguard being re-glued on a pre-war D-45. There's another pre-war D-45 sitting on the bench next to it.

 

I love this from his website: "From routine jobs like neck resets to the unexpected like spilled paint or domestic disturbance, we are equipped to handle the challenge."

 

Ha! "Domestic disturbance." I guess that means your estranged wife smashing your favorite guitar to pieces.

 

After watching all those videos last night, I didn't sleep well. You really do have to know and trust anyone doing significant work on your vintage guitars. I'll stick with the guy I have now.

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...some of the techniques and materials surprised me, particularly the use of titebond in the neck joint... One reason to use hide glue is that it dries hard and brittle, which is good for transmitting sound. Titebond has a bit of flex unless it is a near-perfect wood-to-wood fit.

 

 

I love the stuff I learn here. The knowledge you all have is unbelievable...

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My "new" 1950 J-45 is going in for some of these same repairs next week. The good thing is that no one has ever tried to "repair" anything on the guitar in the past, so it's as it came from the factory, for better or worse.

 

Nick,

When I changed the strings on my ‘59 reissue J-50 yesterday, the nut slid a bit. It’s my first Bozeman guitar with an unglued nut. Same with your ‘50 J-50?

It’s possible that the nut on mine was replaced by the original owner I guess.

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Nick,

When I changed the strings on my ‘59 reissue J-50 yesterday, the nut slid a bit. It’s my first Bozeman guitar with an unglued nut. Same with your ‘50 J-50?

It’s possible that the nut on mine was replaced by the original owner I guess.

 

I'm pretty sure the nut is glued on all my Gibsons--new and old--as there is nothing that would otherwise hold it in place. Very often these seem to only be held in place with a very small amount of glue, so they can be easily removed.

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You have a rough idea of when you'll get this 45 back home nick ?

 

Not a clue. First, I have to take it to him.

 

In the past, major jobs have been in his hands for three months or more, which is not unusual for a guy in high demand. You have to take a somewhat zen-like approach to the schedules of these guys. They all seem to be like that: over-committed, but dedicated to what they do.

 

It's not like I don't have other guitars to play in the meantime.

Edited by j45nick

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Not a clue. First, I have to take it to him.

 

In the past, major jobs have been in his hands for three months or more, which is not unusual for a guy in high demand. You have to take a somewhat zen-like approach to the schedules of these guys. They all seem to be like that: over-committed, but dedicated to what they do.

 

It's not like I don't have other guitars to play in the meantime.

My last repair took 4 months and I’ve had them take longer. If you have someone that is good and you trust, it’s worth it.

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Not a clue. First, I have to take it to him.

 

In the past, major jobs have been in his hands for three months or more, which is not unusual for a guy in high demand. You have to take a somewhat zen-like approach to the schedules of these guys. They all seem to be like that: over-committed, but dedicated to what they do.

 

It's not like I don't have other guitars to play in the meantime.

 

 

You haven't even gave him it !!?

 

You must be busting

 

Is it playable at all as is ?

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You haven't even gave him it !!?

 

You must be busting

 

Is it playable at all as is ?

 

 

Yes, it is playable, but just barely.

 

I've been working out the country for much of the time since I got it, plus he only meets with customers by appointment. I hope to meet with him late next week. It's a long, full day to drive there and drive back home.

 

Frankly, I wanted to get to know it before giving it to the luthier, so I can identify what I want out of it. He knows I am anxious to get it to him.

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You should have watched to the bitter end.

 

The neck angle came out fine when all was said and done, but as you say, good luck to the next guy working on it. We don't know what the instructions from the owner really were, so we can't be critical about the amount of cleaning and finish "repair" that was done without knowing the scope of work specified.

 

Ross Teigen has now worked on a half dozen of my guitars, both acoustic and electric, including one major job on my "old" J-45 not that dissimilar to the amount of work done in the J-50 in these videos. I always write out a scope of work description with as much guidance as possible, and we go over that list in detail. Because he works on a lot of old Gibsons and Martins, he pretty much knows how they were built and what their quirks are, so I trust his judgment on what he's looking at. He calls or emails if something comes up that might cause a deviation from the agreed scope of work, and I appreciate that.

 

It's almost a four-hour drive from my house to his shop, but it's worth the trip just to talk face to face about any major job.

 

The "new" 1950 J-45 I am taking to him is special because it is completely unmolested, down to the shrunken tuner buttons. The only thing non-original are the bridgepins, the endpin, and the strings. The strings that were on it when I got it were Gibson Mona-Steel from the 1950's or 60's. The string packets with spare strings (B and high E) were in the accessory compartment of the chipboard case. The original bridgepins are too shrunken to use, and the original black plastic endpin had crumbled, which is common.

 

This means that the work done needs to be consistent with maintaining that originality as much as possible, which can be tricky, because I want this guitar to become a primary player, too.

 

Ross understands that. He has done restoration work on nearly priceless pre-war Martins, but he gives the same attention to a humble 1950 J-45. If you go on his website (florida-luthier.com), there's a photo of a pickguard being re-glued on a pre-war D-45. There's another pre-war D-45 sitting on the bench next to it.

 

I love this from his website: "From routine jobs like neck resets to the unexpected like spilled paint or domestic disturbance, we are equipped to handle the challenge."

 

Ha! "Domestic disturbance." I guess that means your estranged wife smashing your favorite guitar to pieces.

 

After watching all those videos last night, I didn't sleep well. You really do have to know and trust anyone doing significant work on your vintage guitars. I'll stick with the guy I have now.

 

 

I did finally watch the end..I am not sure which he said it about, the nicks in the back or cleaning, but clearly said that he was not asked to do it. I also heard "my buddy Randy says that's just DNA". Didn't I hear the name Randy several pages back? I think he was the other "luthier" that specializes in breaking the heel block on neck resets.😀 No harm meant to Mr. Rosa but he learned how to make YouTube videos before he learned to work on guitars. He makes me glad I work on my own instruments!

Good luck on your upcoming repair Nick! That's a beauty of a j45. In unmolested condition is getting harder and harder to find. It sounds like it will be in capable hands.

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I did finally watch the end..I am not sure which he said it about, the nicks in the back or cleaning, but clearly said that he was not asked to do it. I also heard "my buddy Randy says that's just DNA". Didn't I hear the name Randy several pages back? I think he was the other "luthier" that specializes in breaking the heel block on neck resets.😀 No harm meant to Mr. Rosa but he learned how to make YouTube videos before he learned to work on guitars. He makes me glad I work on my own instruments!

Good luck on your upcoming repair Nick! That's a beauty of a j45. In unmolested condition is getting harder and harder to find. It sounds like it will be in capable hands.

 

Randy was the guy who indeed cracked the j45 at the block and claimed Gibson broke it when they were making the guitar and cleated it, EVEN THOUGH, the guitars from the 90s had that reinforcement for volume and tone controls.

Edited by Dash_Starkiller

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Randy was the guy who indeed cracked the j45 at the block and claimed Gibson broke it when they were making the guitar and cleated it, EVEN THOUGH, the guitars from the 90s had that reinforcement for volume and tone controls.

 

Well, that explains a lot.

 

I did try his technique of using a damp cloth with a spot of dishwashing liquid on it to remove gunk. It does work.

 

The good thing about those videos is that they spell out how thorough you have to be in defining your expectations when you take a guitar in for major work.

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Randy was the guy who indeed cracked the j45 at the block and claimed Gibson broke it when they were making the guitar and cleated it, EVEN THOUGH, the guitars from the 90s had that reinforcement for volume and tone controls.

 

 

I found that video you're talking about and watched it, and just about got physically ill. I don't know what all was going on--without seeing the guitar first hand you can never know with certainty--but if there was no visible evidence of that rim crack before the neck was removed, it suggests some sort of accident at some point. There's no way that big rim crack would not have shown both inside and outside the guitar. It suggests to me faulty technique in removing the neck, but in fairness, the lower part of the neck seemed to already be loose in an earlier video on this guitar.

 

Seeing two repair techs in a row who are big on videos but maybe lacking in some key skills sort of freaked me out.

 

I don't know anything about the history of that doubler inside on the rim next to the neck block, so perhaps someone could explain it more thoroughly. Anyone have any pictures of the arrangement you are talking about? I'm not familiar with it. I did see the image of it on the video, but am trying to get a better understanding of why it was there in that period in the first place.

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Those videos scare me.

My luthier always sends me pictures when working on my guitars.

Here's a couple from the banner J45 when he reset the neck and made a new bridge.

 

 

19959306_742734365929352_1429261688772324807_n.jpg?_nc_cat=108&_nc_oc=AQnw95CMrvW_XkVcQBR9aAfcjkEZnAU7Tf3yjCdDn1G_gIozQn2vNoR2dC5TtLeE_Z5n7kO9Zf0SVrVGZ4VLwXJf&_nc_ht=scontent-ort2-2.xx&oh=8b27007b6b9a1958f39d68a5460ae951&oe=5D0C441F

 

 

 

20046606_742734395929349_2144806111766158775_n.jpg?_nc_cat=106&_nc_oc=AQkFuJFSiIWMGinjlfKogNlcVVzKm1uTyY3OPWWDsmZ474AqBiW9LylVbweY9dTDnAy1XqZaM9uyeETEuz4xduRV&_nc_ht=scontent-ort2-2.xx&oh=7afcabd501a473f1938e0645e2d10520&oe=5D08CC92

 

 

19958905_742734549262667_8465296952995428728_n.jpg?_nc_cat=106&_nc_oc=AQml8BtoRDe3f59ldqgY4NYKbru9sK_Qeqd4flRz6Y0x2TWyCmaBD4sJT4F8r07jaBFdmLKP2En66WZBYSfkPonI&_nc_ht=scontent-ort2-2.xx&oh=7d712c040e4713a61577ab7778addd6c&oe=5D1EF26A

 

 

19989310_742734592595996_9172111418078619098_n.jpg?_nc_cat=110&_nc_oc=AQnGHhU-qsciKJQmBZhh02xfynirf1iqwIZKHfXwlCaaIrokojVDW3AMm4ruEknhq87Qg53B_CIdXMRmZUs03EK5&_nc_ht=scontent-ort2-2.xx&oh=56348037fa355f8c653ec38a1da8d7a2&oe=5D21F1D3

 

 

20031659_742734629262659_437986790106278242_n.jpg?_nc_cat=105&_nc_oc=AQkGJBkbPSLbX7QYP_uTUrosMPVXMmuzYPev7hACa6FN1phZRL50AMPOpmkpjYgC3a2DojSiivfz4lInDMlaQ0bL&_nc_ht=scontent-ort2-2.xx&oh=b70efebdea65e6ada5974e2c554b6ce4&oe=5CDAB70F

 

 

 

19961484_742734445929344_4267343303885101510_n.jpg?_nc_cat=108&_nc_oc=AQkwQvwYUkl70Wz9g0fYbaMcYDJDFRWTZ7NT8CrCmcUETBMv7oWnFzOVo6jAoGuXpudoolJ80LvuGnVx_T-5YhjT&_nc_ht=scontent-ort2-2.xx&oh=ba3f3a34cba3117b77d4882931ded3d1&oe=5D24B499

 

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I found that video you're talking about and watched it, and just about got physically ill. I don't know what all was going on--without seeing the guitar first hand you can never know with certainty--but if there was no visible evidence of that rim crack before the neck was removed, it suggests some sort of accident at some point. There's no way that big rim crack would not have shown both inside and outside the guitar. It suggests to me faulty technique in removing the neck, but in fairness, the lower part of the neck seemed to already be loose in an earlier video on this guitar.

 

Seeing two repair techs in a row who are big on videos but maybe lacking in some key skills sort of freaked me out.

 

I don't know anything about the history of that doubler inside on the rim next to the neck block, so perhaps someone could explain it more thoroughly. Anyone have any pictures of the arrangement you are talking about? I'm not familiar with it. I did see the image of it on the video, but am trying to get a better understanding of why it was there in that period in the first place.

 

I’m all for people trying repair work on their own guitars, I’ve done a “neck reset” on a harmony sovereign and it was a learning experience. But it was a $300 guitar haha. But paying someone to do some work in their garage? Yea idk. I’d need to know they have a good reputation.

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