Make a Gibson Great Again
Things seem to come in waves around the shop. On my bench recently, has been a series of vintage archtops—a few 40’s Synchromatics, an original Loar L5, and some D’Angelico’s. Recently, this beautiful 40’s Blonde L5 came in. When repairing rare, high-value vintage instruments, you need a clear vision for the final outcome, and also to be a few steps ahead mentally at all times. This is both to avoid mistakes, and to ensure the job will turn out great. I always have a great result as the goal, but the pressure seems a bit greater on instruments with significant historical and monetary value. Although a refret may seem pretty routine, I had to use all my tooling and tricks to get the result I wanted on this one.
This L5 is an amazingly well kept and beautiful guitar, but the fretboard and frets were in sad shape. The prior refret was done poorly, and I could tell by looking down the neck that the fingerboard was wildly out of spec. That’s to be expected on an old guitar that has been worked on, but this guitar had a few additional challenges.
To confirm my visual assessment, it was time to scan it in the Plek. With the scan information, I can see exactly the fingerboard condition, both in the relief curve, and in the radius. With this info, which shows me exactly how much material I will plane off the board, I can decide if the inlays are too thin, or the side dots too high, to allow the needed amount of removal.
The scan showed that the first fret radius was around 8″, with the 12th fret radius at 11.5″, and the body end of the fingerboard on the low E had a large kick, combined with a hump mid neck. With the side dots almost at the top of the binding, I couldn’t take any material off the bass side of the neck, and the inlays were of unknown thickness, making it impossible to perfectly true the board.
With this in mind, I decided to go old school and bust out the neck jig. I felt that since I wasn’t going to be able to make the fingerboard perfect, the jig would be accurate enough, and it would allow me to monitor my progress very closely as I trued the board.
I rounded the ends and polished the frets. I love new, shiny frets. The last step was to fill a few gaps under the ends. The binding was so rolled over that, even though I hammered the ends down, some of the ends didn’t quite conform. I used white medium superglue and filled the few gaps, leveled the fill, and buffed it smooth. After a setup, the guitar played and sounded great.