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Leonard McCoy

Video: Replacing a Plywood Bridge Plate on a Gibson

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I have mixed feelings every time I watch one of this guy's videos. He has a great shop, with a lot of very clever fixtures, and he knows how to use them.

But he also shows disappointing ignorance about some of the instruments he works on. Maybe that's part of his shtick.

The guitar is obviously a J-50 from about 1964-67.  That Martin-style bridge footprint was only used on the J-45/J-50  for a couple of years in the mid/late 1960s. If it had been '68, it probably would have a screw-on pickguard. By 1969, it would have been a square dread. You would think that a starting point for any repair on a vintage guitar would be an understanding of what the guitar actually is.

The bridge he was replacing on the guitar was not original. When he got it off, the plugged holes from the original adj bridge were visible, and problematic when it came to removing the bridgeplate.

The ply plate was clearly original, and was what Gibson was using in that period. Although the material he used for the replacement plate was unusual, it made sense, although when I had a similar plate replaced, I went with maple, which would be traditional for that instrument.

I don't know why he didn't go to the original slope-J drawings to determine the proper bridge height it he wanted to replicate the original, but he ended up in the right place.

I am not a fan of over-sized bridges, even to cover cosmetic issues. Moving the position of the pin holes away from the back edge of the bridge and closer to the saddle was a win-win decision, giving a better string break angle and slightly better structural properties for the bridge. He could have done that with the original bridge footprint.

At the same time, he did a good job on the repair, even if he over-complicated it in some ways.

He's the kind of guy that I would give my guitar to  for work, but only with a very complete written understanding of how the work was to be executed. No freelancing allowed, no changes without owner approval.

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I find with Jerry that he is an excellent woodworker, great mandolin builder, and a competent jack of all trades as a repair guy. However, some repair jobs, especially those requiring very specialized tools and skill sets (finish and restoration work, work on specific models), are best left to those who specialized in that particular brand of instruments, repair type, or field that is at issue. But those guys are hard to find and don't necessarily take on the job.

Any luthier that keeps the camera rolling as uncut as Jerry does is under intense scrutiny. Frankly, I would probably not return to my local luthiers were I to review the video footage of their repairs. Repairing guitars is the most difficult field to get right because it is so wide, requires an extremely wide array of skills, jigs, and tools, and you are always working under tight restrictions (time and/or money) — oftentimes much more so than when "solely" building stringed instrument.

That being said, I would probably not bring my Gibson or Ovation guitars in to Jerry for repair work.

Nonetheless, I find those videos above to be very instructional. It is not every day that you see a botched bridge plate made of plywood causing deformation in the top, that that the problem was correctly identified as such and then painstakingly fixed. Bridge plates, being at the very center of the construction and tightly glued as such, are a pain, and sometimes outright impossible, to remove with access only through the soundhole and without causing major damage.

Edited by Leonard McCoy

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That's a pretty good summary. 

The guy that works on my guitars specializes in vintage Gibsons and Martins, and the guitars in his shop for repairs always blow my mind.

He understand how they were built, and how to keep them working. He says he spends the largest percentage of his time un-doing poorly-done previous repairs, and I believe that.

He was really happy to work on my "new" 1950 J-45 earlier this yer, largely because no one had ever touched it. It was exactly as it came from the factory (plus about 70 years of wear).

Because bridgeplates can be so traumatic to the guitar to remove, he saves them whenever possible, preferring to conserve rather than replace when practical. For example, he merely filled and re-drilled the worn pinholes in the bridgeplate on my "new" J-45.

However, the 1968 plywood bridgeplate on my "old" 1950 J-45 had to go, and it wasn't an easy job getting it out

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