November 2017 | “Come on, Dave, Gimme a break!”

San Francisco Guitarworks

The first electric guitar I owned was a cherry red Peavy Patriot, which played like a steaming turd compared to my guitar instructor's black Gibson LP Standard. From the first strum of the LP, I was enamored with Gibsons. As luck would have it, in this case (pun intended), the Peavey was stolen. Thanks to insurance, I was able to buy a 1984 Gibson ES-335 custom shop dot neck, which I still have. I'd had my eye on the flame top, tobacco burst beauty at Peaches Music in Norman, Oklahoma, and I got it for a song at the height of high hair, Floyd Rose and pointy guitars.

I continue to be enamored with Gibson's iconic designs, but from a guitar repair perspective they are notorious for two structural weakness in the construction of the instruments. The first is the Gibson headstock – they break.  This is due to grain run-out on the back of the headstock. The second is the ‘60s SGs are notorious for having weak neck joints—they also often break. If the break is minor, glue can be worked into the joint for a fairly easy repair. However, in an extreme case such as this ’62 SG in for repair, the wood had splintered into many pieces. It needed more than a quick glue-up to ensure that the repair would remain stable. 

The best course of action was to rebuild the neck joint using fresh wood. Because the guitar came to me with the neck still attached, I needed to break it off. Luckily, it wasn’t too difficult.

With the neck separated from the body, I noticed several cracks running from the neck joint all the way through the body. There was also extensive damage to the control cavity. I came up with a game plan and went to work.

The first step was to rebuild the neck tenon. In order to do this, I used a hand plane to bevel the neck heel after which I attached a fresh mahogany block to the beveled area. With the new tenon glued up, I shaped it to match the original that was destroyed.

With the tenon rebuilt, I moved on to the cracks in the body. I filled the three most prominent cracks, running from the neck heel into the pickup cavity, with glue and clamped the guitar with ratchet straps to ensure a tight bond.

After I glued up the cracks, I determined how much cracked wood needed to be removed in order to get to solid mahogany in the body. I made a plexiglass template of the area being removed, and used the template to make a mahogany block.

 

 

I used my neck pocket routing jig to route the cavity for the new block.

After some careful sanding, I was able to fit the block perfectly into the recess. Using Titebond 3, I glued the block into the recess and moved on.

 

Next, I needed to rout the neck pocket so I could glue the neck into the body. It was critical that this step was done with utmost accuracy, as it is imperative that the neck aligns with the centerline through the body so the strings align directly over the poles of the pickups. Also, I needed to make sure the neck angle would be correct once glued. When the neck angle of a guitar is off, the bridge will either sit too high or too low. In either case, problems with action arise.

To accomplish the necessary routing, I again used my handy-dandy custom neck pocket routing jig that I designed for my own builds. The jig is a little hard to explain, but the basic gist is that you build a frame around the neck with the jig boards, remove the neck, then use the boards to guide the router, leaving a recess in the body that exactly matches the neck.

 After routing the neck pocket, I popped the neck back onto the body – it was a perfect fit. Before my final gluing of the neck into the body, I installed the tailpiece and bridge, strung up the guitar and checked to make sure the strings would not only align with the pickup poles, but also sit evenly spaced over the neck. Luckily, this all came together without a hitch.

I glued the neck into the body, let it dry for a week, then did the final shaping and sanding. We decided to leave the repair with just an oil finish, as it would be basically impossible to match the checked and aged original finish. That work can always be done in the future. Once I was confident that the repair was solid, I put it in the PLEK, leveled and dressed the frets, reinstalled all the electronics and performed a setup. 

With the guitar back together, it was time to give it a run-through. The sustain was much improved due to the restoration of the neck joint. This combined with the neck angle correction and Plek, the playabilty was amazing.

There's just something about these old SG's. I think the lack of mass in the neck joint, the routing for all three pickups and the light mahogany make for an airy tone that many guitars lack. There's a saying in the classical guitar world that the best sounding guitars are built so lightly that they're on the verge of collapse at all times. Maybe Gibson had it right with the design and construction of these things. Maybe the best sounding guitars just aren't made to last forever. At any rate, this one should be good for another 60 years, and maybe that's long enough.