Some examples of the restoration work carried out here in our workshop…
'59 Tele body restoration
This real ’59 ash Tele body arrived in our workshop from Nashville having lived a hard life. It had been stripped and refinished at least twice and had at one time been a sparkle colour with black binding. When we received it had been stripped of the finish and binding and there had been an aborted attempt to replace the binding with maple. All of this work had taken its toll and the body outline had changed slightly and the top and back were far from flat. After an email discussion with its owner - Nashville musician Jake Bradley – where we briefly e toyed with the idea of a blonde finish or even losing the binding altogether and making it non-bound – we went with Jake’s preference – if it were possible - to return it to a double bound sunburst. A challenge for certain but one we accepted... Jake chose a three-tone ‘burst that I had painted on one of my own guitars a few years back – a deep orangey ‘burst into a black edge that would also help disguise some of the upcoming surgery a little! We began by flattening the top and back and also squaring up the rounded edges. We lost a little wood in the process but not enough to be an issue but importantly returned it to a state where we could re-rout and tidy up all the binding channels. With the new channels all clean and square we fitted new white plastic binding which once the glue had set was scraped level and then the whole thing was sanded and pepped ready for lacquer work. She was already looking good – maybe better than I could have hoped to be honest but there was still a lot to do. First up was grain-filling of the open pore ash. Then we sealed the whole thing, sanded it flat, re-sealed and worked her until ready for the nitro sunburst. Once the sealer was thoroughly dry (and using pics of my own build as reference) we applied the three-tone ‘burst and then began the clear coats. Once the whole thing had hung to dry for a month, she was wet sanded and polished. We used various compounds to polish and also add the right type of patina to the finish and once reassembled is really looking the part. Next step is some subtle ageing to better match the original neck and she’ll be making the trip home...
’61 Strat Restoration
This old lady had been through the wars over her 53 years of musical life. At least two body refinishes had been performed and an estimated four re-frets. The body was in reasonable shape beneath the layers of paint but the neck hadn’t fared so well. The fingerboard in particular had been worn away partly by years of playing and also some over vigorous filing and sanding along the fingerboard edge during re-fretting. It was at its worst between the 2nd and 5th frets where the neck had been misshapen and thinned to the point where it simply couldn’t be made to play comfortably.
Gray had the option of retiring the neck and keeping it for posterity but after some discussion and lots of thought he decided to have a new fingerboard fitted and the body refinished to return it to its original fiesta red nitro – Gray is a very fine player and wanted to use the guitar for what it was built for so it would be gigged and to do so it needed some surgery...
The body was stripped and refinished using nitrocellulose primer, colour and lightly tinted top coats and once thoroughly dry it was aged to incorporate many of the original battle scars and dents that Gray had inflicted over the years - we kept the nitro thin so it will continue to age in a convincing manner. The old fingerboard was very carefully removed and then a new piece of Brazilian Rosewood sourced by Gray was slotted, shaped to slightly oversize and then fitted.
Lots of careful filing and shaping followed to return the full fingerboard width without damaging the maple portion of the neck. We set a 9.5” radius rather than return it to a 7.25” as Gray prefers the flatter ‘board feel and only once we were happy with the shape and feel of the neck did we install the frets. After reassembly and a thorough set-up she now plays like a dream and has a whole new lease of life...
’79 Strat Salvation!
This ’79 Strat has been owned and played by Steve Roux for probably longer than he cares to remember! At one time his go to guitar, it had been semi-retired due primarily to its ungodly weight and lack of resonance. Originally a hardtail it was modified very neatly for a vibrato at some point in time but Steve still couldn’t quite fall back in love with it. He brought it along to the workshop with the intention of having us make a new and lighter body, but being total gluttons for punishment, we suggested an alternative. Late ‘70s Strats are renowned for being some of the worst ever built but quite often there can be a great guitar lurking beneath the thick poly paint and sloppy neck join. A quick inspection and measure showed that although the body was made of (common for the period) extremely dense and heavy ash, it was also thicker than it should be and the tummy and forearm contours were way smaller than Fender ever carved in the ‘60s. The forearm chamfer in particular was possibly the smallest and most ‘Friday afternoon...’ that I’ve seen. Rather than bin the body I suggested to Steve that we could strip the very thick paint, thin the body down and introduce some full sized contours – if nothing else it would reduce the weight and keep the original body and neck together. It was worth a try. We disassembled the guitar and discovered that the body alone weighed almost 6.6Ibs without hardware. To put that in context, a really good lightweight Strat can weigh as little a 7.5Ibs in total! This thing was a beast! With the paint removed (thanks Rossi!) we began the process of slimming her down to the correct 44mm depth. A Strat body is too wide for even the largest available planer thicknesser, so we did it the hard way by hand. It was worth the effort though as the scales told us that we had removed over half a pound in weight from the body in the process... Next we extended the tummy contour and carved in a nice deep forearm chamfer. The body had been routed for humbuckers in the past so rather than fill and re-rout for singlecoils (which would have been the preference for a normal restoration) I decided to deepen the routs as much as possible to maximise weight loss. Ultimately we shaved off almost 1.5Ibs in paint and unnecessary wood which was quite an achievement. The body is still on the weighty side but a whole lot more pleasant to hold and play – plus it looks like a Strat should too. As we had the body stripped we also attended to another infamous area that so many late ‘70s Strats suffer from – a sloppy neck join. A couple a shims were glued into the sides of the neck pocket and we then routed it out to the right size for the neck. We also improved the micro-tilt system by removing most of it! The end result is a much snugger and secure neck to body join which should equal better resonance. The neck was also stripped of its poly finish (the headstock face was era correct nitro) and we added a new section of logo that the 14 year old Steve had removed in a moment of anarchy. With some tasteful lacquer blends it all looks and feels great again. Steve chose to stick with black for the body so the whole thing was grain-filled, sealed and then repainted in black nitro. Once dry and polished, Steve chose to have us re-introduce some wear and ageing to the paintwork to reflect that fact that it’s a mature instrument. We think it looks great but perhaps more importantly it now has vastly improved resonance and can be lifted by one person alone... Next up we may wind some bespoke pickups and upgrade the electrics but for now she’s going home to recover from her surgery. UPDATE: April 2016 - Steve recently returned the guitar for her electronics upgrade, new pickups and pickguard. We've started with a set of our Hot Rod 'Timeless' pickups and Steve is gigging those at the moment. Depending on how he gets on we may swap the middle pickup for a non-reverse wound/polarity unit as the tone may be a little dark in the mix positions for Steve's taste. We also went a little further with the ageing work just to blend the whole job in a little more now that the paint has been on for a year and is properly brittle (gotta love nitro!) and we think she's looking fab! ; )
'62 Strat restoration
A complicated refinish on a ’62 Strat owned by Ian Walsh (great guy, but no relation!) It had been modified and badly refinished at some point in its life, and was covered in a nasty thick pink paint. The finish was badly cracked and there was clear evidence of overzealous sanding which had slightly changed the body radius in a couple of places. The finish was also doing a bad job of hiding a couple of roughly filled routings for what I assume were additional switches – added and removed before the first refinish.
Ian really wanted a three-tone sunburst so the first job was to remove the nasty pink paint and see what lay beneath. The answer was an extremely thick layer of grey primer – the kind used often in the automotive industry to level car body panels before spraying. It came off slowly to reveal a few secrets: firstly, that it was a one piece lightweight alder body, still showing some signs of the original yellow stain that was used on sunbursts and solid colours alike of the era. The filler had been used to hide a multitude of dents and also the above mentioned switch routs. It had also penetrated the grain and was a real bugger to remove.
None of the original finish remained and although Ian really wanted a sunburst (a one-piece body would normally have been used for translucent finishes) there was a problem in the shape of an unsightly knot in the wood smack in the middle of the forearm chamfer. In the early ‘60s Fender would never have used a body with a visible knot for a sunburst so it must have been a solid colour. Ian agreed but he really, really wanted a sunburst. Could it be done?
After a lot of prep work to where possible straighten the edge radius and remove the grey filler from the grain, I decided that we could give it a go – if the result wasn’t to mine or Ian’s liking we agreed that we could always overspray the ‘burst with a solid colour. Alder doesn’t display the strong contrasting grain that ash does for example so after sealing the body I applied a very slightly opaque mixed yellow tinted lacquer to obscure the knot. It worked very nicely and the knot all but disappeared. The ‘burst was completed with the usual red and dark brown (with a little black in the mix at the edges) and after plenty of clear coats the body was hung to dry.
After polishing it looked great – if a little too shiny, so we decided to knock back some of the gloss and add in a little ageing work to match the original hardware and neck. Under the pickguard only the pickups were original and the mish mash of electronics were doing little for the tone so new CTS pots, a CRL 5-Way and all new cloth covered wiring and capacitor were installed to channel the excellent old pickups.
Ian will be collecting his baby in a few weeks and we may add some more wear once he has had the chance to see it in the flesh but for now I’m really happy that we’ve managed to ditch the pink for a sunburst worthy of a classic guitar...
'63 Jazzmaster restoration
The body and neck had been refinished sometime in the '80s in a horrid thick polyester finish. I stripped the lot and painted the body in Sherwood Green Nitrocellulose which will age gracefully. The fingerboard had been almost destroyed by some poor fretwork so I pulled what was left of the frets, planed the 'board back to a true shape and then installed Dunlop 6105 frets - a little higher than the originals would have been but much more comfortable to play on. A new bone nut was also installed and the neck was stripped and refinished in a tinted nitro including an accurate repro logo. Most of the electronic components were sound but the original wiring had been replaced with some plastic shielded rubbish so I also rewired it using cloth covered and shielded hook up wire... She now looks great and sounds fantastic.
'58 Les Paul Junior Restoration
This late ‘50s Les Paul Junior had seen some serious action and some abuse. Refinished at some point in a thick poly red, the refinish had done little to hide some of the modifications that had been carried out in the past. The body had been routed for two pickups and four controls, the bridge had been refitted in the wrong place a few times and the headstock had been snapped off also at least twice. But despite all this it sounded killer! Its owner decided that he’d like it semi-restored and finished in TV Yellow – one of the trickiest colours to do of course. The neck had also been off and re-glued in the past – the neck angle was a little extreme but as the join was solid and it sounded good at that angle we decided to leave it alone. Once the red paint was off it revealed the full extent of the damage to the top – there was no way TV Yellow could be applied to a top with all these extra doweled holes so I decided to remove around 5mm off the top and fit a new mahogany cap which could be blended in and look seamless under the finish. Luckily a friend of mine owns a pin router and he took the top down and also fitted the new cap, so after plenty more prep work the finish could be applied. The TV Yellow was built up using the original methods and as we were going for an aged appearance a few extra tinted coats were laid down to mimic how the clear coats would look after many years of use in smoky clubs... Some reasonably light relic work, a new wrapover bridge positioned correctly this time, a bone nut and some new high quality electronic components made sure it would play as well as look good. We may add some more wear in the future and a tortoise shell pickguard is on the list too.