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Sunset Player

Gibson acoustic luthier recommendations

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Hi folks,

I recently squeezed the trigger on my first vintage guitar, a 1950 J-45. It's had some prior repairs, cracking to the player's side lower bout, and some type of work around the heel of the neck. What it may need is a neck reset, definitely a complete refret and maybe a bridge plate replacement. As well as a new bone nut and saddle installed. (And of course cleating any cracks that are found)

I live in San Francisco and cant afford to pay Gryphon Strings or SF Guitarwork's high rates for the services my new (old) guitar may need. There's also the fact that these shops are always very busy and have long waiting lists.

 

I was wondering if I could ask you all for recommendations of Gibson repairmen that you have personally used or can vouch for. I can send this to any state, I don't mind that, my primary concern is quality work that I can trust. Preferably someone who specializes in Gibson Jumbo repair.

 

Any thoughts or referrals I'd be grateful for.

 

Thanks much & god bless

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I’m sorry to be the stick in the mud, but why did you buy a guitar that needed that much work, knowing that you couldn’t afford (or simply don’t want to spend the money) for the work needed to made it playable and do it justice? Never really understood people who buy old guitars, vintage amps, etc., who either don’t factor into the budget the cost of bringing the guitar back to life or don’t want to shell out what the item needs to make it usable/functional/playable.

 

I’ve had Gryphon do a neck reset, refret, plane the fretboard, fix a couple loose braces, new bone nut and saddle, and made s new pick guard to the tune of $1,200 on an old Martin D28. Without the work done the guitar wasn’t playable. After the work was done the guitar was a dream to play. I ended up selling the guitar and breaking even on what I bought the guitar for and what I spent on the work done to it, and thought I was a great experience.

 

Either way, dare I say if you try to cheap out and try to save a few bucks you could really be disappointed in the end, and potentially end up spending more having to pay someone else to fix the problems the cheaper shop made, or didn’t do properly, when you could have just bit the bullet and spend the money getting it done right the first time. You’re actually asking for a “Gibson specialist” but don’t want to spent specialist rates to fix a vintage guitar? Good luck.

 

A wait list is usually a good indicator that they are a busy shop because they do good work. I waited 3 months for Gryphon to be done with my D-28. It’s like tattoos...the reputable guys who do good work are going to be in demand, and worth the wait for something that’s going to be on your body forever. Or would you rather get something from a guy in a shop who has no clientele just to get it done right now?

 

Also, shipping and insuring a guitar isn’t cheap, and you run the risk of the guitar getting damaged, lost, stolen, etc. in transit not once, but twice given you have to send the guitar to he shop and then hey have to send it back to you. Jut the rush of it getting damaged in transit kept me from sending the D28 out to a shop in another state, and preferred to just drive the hour-plus each way to Palo Alto or deal with the he bridge traffic and take my other guitars to Gary Brawer.

 

Yes, Gryphon in Palo Alto or Gary Brawer in San Francisco are expensive, and they have a potential wait list, but there’s a reason, and these are arguably some of the best around and well worth it. It also takes time to steam off a neck, refret a guitar, etc. These aren’t repairs that can be done over a day or two. Have patience. I’d go to Gary Brawer any day of the week before I took my guitars to SF Guitarworks. They specialize in and are also an authorized Gibson repair shop, and I’ve taken a lot of guitars to them and have nothing but wonderful things to say about that shop.

Edited by sbpark

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I play the 'stick in the mud' role a lot. It's part of my makeup and personality, probably nurtured by my dad, but as they say, the truth shall set you free.

 

Owning and restoring my sweet '50 J50 is a bit of an ongoing process that includes more than one luthier. Steve Kovacik will end up dealing with the final, most challenging aspect, sound hole ring replacement. Another, guitar builder, Tom Lieber, did a beautiful job with a couple cracks and reglued the orig bridge snug to the top, and my Mom and Pop store guy solved my annoying tilting saddle issue. Granted, I had to spend some time not being able to play it, but it reduced the cost a bit and gives me the desired result, all within an hour's drive.

 

You could put off the neck reset, if it's playable, and work up to it. In a densely populated area you're likely an hour's drive from more than one skilled repair person.

 

Good luck. Take your time.

Edited by jedzep

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The good guitar repair guys usually have long waiting lists, and they aren't cheap.

 

Generally, undoing poorly-done previous repairs is the hardest part of rejuvenation work on vintage guitars. You want someone who knows what he or she is doing. They don't give their services away, for good reason.

 

You might have better luck looking into the local guitar-playing community for info on this. There are several forum members here that live in the general SF area, so maybe someone local will respond.

 

You seem to have identified some issues with the guitar, and that's a start. But the guy who works on my guitars doesn't want to see my list before inspecting the guitar himself, as he said owners rarely correctly identify all the issues a guitar might have, and don't necessarily know how to prioritize needed repairs. He wasn't being rude: he was just stating it as a fact.

 

As others have said here, buying a vintage guitar in need of work without having a proper budget for repairs is generally a mistake. Those needed repairs should always factor into the price you pay.

 

Good luck on this.

 

What is the FON on your 1950 J-45? If you've identified it as a 1950, the FON should be ink stamped on the neck block inside the guitar. There are a number of those owned by people on this forum. I have two myself. They can be really good guitars.

 

A friend who is a vintage guitar dealer says the most common needed repairs on J-45's from that period are neck re-sets, brace re-glues, bridge re-glues, and bridgeplate repairs. Sometimes a bridgeplate can be conserved rather than replaced if it is only tear-out between the pin holes and wear around the holes. Those are the types of decisions that a really experienced repair person can make, as opposed to saying "replace the bridgeplate."

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For me the key was to find a repair guy not associated with a large music store. The last guy I used was abut 2 1/2 hours away from me and worked out of a shed next to his house. He restored my 1942 J50. He is a second generation luthier whom the vintage Martin guys call "Doc." After moving, the guy I now use started off as just a repair shop in the early 1960s The current owner is a former employee. They do sell guitars but only those they build themselves while with the booteek Huss & Daltons and such up in their "loft" are provided by another store. They do make a really fine version of a Gibson AJ and an L00 being copied from originals that have come into the shop for repairs. To put it in context, my first guy charged $300 for a neck reset while my new guy charges $350 (he has done two old Harmonys for me). Easiest way to find these kinds of guys is to ask other players or the small Mom & Pop stores which do not do their own repairs

Edited by zombywoof

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A friend who is a vintage guitar dealer says the most common needed repairs on J-45's from that period are neck re-sets, brace re-glues, bridge re-glues, and bridgeplate repairs. Sometimes a bridgeplate can be conserved rather than replaced if it is only tear-out between the pin holes and wear around the holes. Those are the types of decisions that a really experienced repair person can make, as opposed to saying "replace the bridgeplate."

 

As has been said "No Gibson is Glued Enough." I know it is just luck of the draw but in all the decades of playing old Gibsons (including two early 1960s B45-12s) I have never had one that needed a neck reset. Even my Banner which was close to a basket case when I stumbled across it, having an open back seam, four other gaping back cracks, loose braces, and such did not need one.

Edited by zombywoof

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The OP's situation is similar to the reminder that is served up when an econo guitar needs repair- the services of a quality repair person will be the same, regardless of the guitar's value. The attractiveness of the "get in" price of a project guitar is often hard to resist, but your old J-45 deserves a repair worthy of it's value.

 

The neck heel damage/repair is something that has potential to be costly. A previous neck reset that went badly, or a slipped neck block inside of the guitar, or . . . ? A few photos of those areas would be interesting to see (hopefully, you use imgur, or another off-forum image hosting site to directly embed). Hope you can find a good (and recent) recommendation for a shop within a reasonable distance from you. The guitar took a long time getting to the point of needing this work, so having it away for a while would be patience rewarded.

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Spend the money and get the best possible luthier to do the work. You'll never be happy if you cheap out on it. The bottom line is that you have an elderly, exceptionally well made guitar...why cut corners on having work done to it? All that's happening, in effect, is you're selling the instrument itself short and costing yourself MORE in the long run.

 

I mean all this with no judgement or unkindness. I know how hard it is being a musician without an endless budget...I'm in the same club! But, if you have a GREAT vintage guitar like yours, case it for a bit and save up the money to get the job done as well as the people who built the guitar 60+yrs ago would have done it.

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The OP's situation is similar to the reminder that is served up when an econo guitar needs repair- the services of a quality repair person will be the same, regardless of the guitar's value. The attractiveness of the "get in" price of a project guitar is often hard to resist, but your old J-45 deserves a repair worthy of it's value.

 

 

When initial cost is a concern with an old guitar the key, of course, is to find an instrument with the sort of issues that lowers price while not diminishing utility. My goal has not necessarily been to score a "bargain" (although that is always nice) as much as to when all is said and done, come away having spent no more than a guitar not having the issues would have run me. Even though your bargain has lost its luster, you do OK.

Edited by zombywoof

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When initial cost is a concern with an old guitar the key, of course, is to find an instrument with the sort of issues that lowers price while not diminishing utility. My goal has not necessarily been to score a "bargain" (although that is always nice)as much as to when all is said and done, come away having spent np more than a guitar not having the issues would have run me. Even though your bargain has lost its luster, you do OK.

 

Exactly!

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Well, you asked for recommendations and said you're willing to ship, so I recommend these guys:

 

https://stpaulguitarrepair.com

 

These folks have worked on every guitar I've owned since 1994. (Ron and Michele used to work in Charlie Hoffman's shop in Minneapolis, then started their own shop a couple of years ago.) I know them and they are great people and do great work. If Jeff Tweedy can ship his guitars from Chicago for them to work on, they're good enough for you....

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Well, you asked for recommendations and said you're willing to ship, so I recommend these guys:

 

https://stpaulguitarrepair.com

 

These folks have worked on every guitar I've owned since 1994. (Ron and Michele used to work in Charlie Hoffman's shop in Minneapolis, then started their own shop a couple of years ago.) I know them and they are great people and do great work. If Jeff Tweedy can ship his guitars from Chicago for them to work on, they're good enough for you....

 

And I’m sure their prices reflect their reputation, which is justifiable. OP is looking for cheap prices with high-quality, speciality service. Ain’t gonna happen. Plus, the price paid to ship back and forth would pretty much cancel out any possible savings sending it to a part of the country where prices are a little lower, and you have to worry about the guitar getting lost, damaged, etc. during shipment.

 

Another thing to consider when shipping a guitar out for repairs, is if you get the guitar back and something isn’t to your expectations or needs tweaking, fine-tuning, etc., you’ll have to shell out to ship the guitar back to the shop again.

 

Basically there’s no free lunch here. Pay now, or pay later.

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And I’m sure their prices reflect their reputation, which is justifiable. OP is looking for cheap prices with high-quality, speciality service. Ain’t gonna happen. Plus, the price paid to ship back and forth would pretty much cancel out any possible savings sending it to a part of the country where prices are a little lower, and you have to worry about the guitar getting lost, damaged, etc. during shipment.

 

Another thing to consider when shipping a guitar out for repairs, is if you get the guitar back and something isn’t to your expectations or needs tweaking, fine-tuning, etc., you’ll have to shell out to ship the guitar back to the shop again.

 

Basically there’s no free lunch here. Pay now, or pay later.

 

 

Assuming you already have a good shipping box, you can expect to pay $75-$100 to ship a guitar each way within the US, so as sbpark says, add that to the cost of repairs if you can't deliver the guitar to the repair facility yourself.

 

I feel reasonably lucky in that I drive 3 1/2 hours each way to the guy who works on my guitars. He does great work, and prices it fairly.

 

You can pretty much judge the expected quality of the work you will get by looking at the quality of the guitars being worked on when you visit in person.

 

There's no free lunch, as sbpark says.

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I’d also like to add, given the OP lives in the Bay Area, he’s lucky enough to have some amazing shops nearby. As already mentioned, Gryphon, Gary Brawer, Eric Schoenberg, etc. you just cannot beat The reputation and quality of work these shops are known for.

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I am going to ask that special kind of stupid question but have any of the repair guys actually given the guitar a going over, including the neck heel that was previously "worked on," and provided you with a detailed estimate? Other than when it comes to structural stability, sometimes you can do things in stages. Sometimes you can put off repairs by doing some judicious tweaking.

 

Personally, when it comes to guys like Schoenberg (I used to see him play when he was on the coffee house circuit in the 1970s - scary good stuff) it is like getting the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. And while I do not want to come off as an arse, you could rack it up to a learning experience. If you are going to avoid the big sexy vintage dealers you have got to be able to spot issues and put an estimate together in your head of what it will run you to take care of them. And do not lose a minute of sleep worrying about overpaying for the guitar when your investment is added up. It is not about that. What it is about is making something do once again what it was built to do. True story. My wife bought an early 1950s Kay Bass. She took it into a shop thinking it only needed a setup. Turns out the sucker has some serious issues and we are looking down the barrel at an $1100 repair bill. Yikes. But the choice came down to having an unplayable instrument that looked really cool sitting in the corner or one that was perfectly playable and which will provide us with a whole lot of fun and the gift of music. So the bass is being repaired as we speak. But believe me, if we based everything on value, nobody in their right mind would ever have a Harmony guitar restored. 9 out of 10 times you know going into it that you will end up underwater. And at least for me, 9 out of 10 times, I do not care.

Edited by zombywoof
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I am going to ask that special kind of stupid question but have any of the repair guys actually given the guitar a going over, including the neck heel that was previously "worked on," and provided you with a detailed estimate? Other than when it comes to structural stability, sometimes you can do things in stages. Sometimes you can put off repairs by doing some judicious tweaking.

 

Personally, when it comes to guys like Schoenberg (I used to see him play when he was on the coffee house circuit in the 1970s - scary good stuff) it is like getting the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. And while I do not want to come off as an arse, you could rack it up to a learning experience. If you are going to avoid the big sexy vintage dealers you have got to be able to spot issues and put an estimate together in your head of what it will run you to take care of them. And do not lose a minute of sleep worrying about overpaying for the guitar when your investment is added up. It is not about that. What it is about is making something do once again what it was built to do. True story. My wife bought an early 1950s Kay Bass. She took it into a shop thinking it only needed a setup. Turns out the sucker has some serious issues and we are looking down the barrel at an $1100 repair bill. Yikes. But the choice came down to having an unplayable instrument that looked really cool sitting in the corner or one that was perfectly playable and which will provide us with a whole lot of fun and the gift of music. So the bass is being repaired as we speak. But believe me, if we based everything on value, nobody in their right mind would ever have a Harmony guitar restored. 9 out of 10 times you know going into it that you will end up underwater. And at least for me, 9 out of 10 times, I do not care.

I get this. I played a song at a friend's funeral, and the next day, his wife called me up, and asked if I would take his guitar (free) and play it on occasion in his memory. I told her I would be honored. When I got the guitar, it was just unplayable. It is a Fender Catalina, and never was worth a lot of money, and I knew it never would be, but it really needed to be playable. So I bit the bullet. New bridge, new saddle, and new tuners, as the originals were just "gross". Fortunately, the neck was intact. It has a tenor sound that makes me long for my Hummingbird when I play it, so like she asked, I play it "on occasion". The cost to make it playable had nothing to do with the value of that guitar in the long run, but it is mine now, and will likely never leave the family.

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Take your guitar to all of the local repair guys and get an estimate from each.

Save the money on shipping and insurance both ways and that can be put into your repair.

If the cost of a professional repair is prohibitive then sell your instrument.

Or trade it as is for a functional guitar.

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