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This gorgeous instrument is an early one (1940s). It needed a neck reset and a re-fret. There was enough break angle over the bridge and the neck pitch was fine. The problem was that the stock pickup was too tall and non-adjustable. I tried to remove it to sneak a little material off the bottom, but this pickup is a juxtaposition of separate parts sandwiched together by the cover. Age has shrunken some parts together while others are still loose. This created a scenario that severely endangered the bobbin. Because I did not want to destroy this great sounding pickup, I slowly retraced my steps and reassembled the unit. The only solution was a neck reset.

The dovetail was very close fitting and there was hardly room for my steam needle in the joint. It came out well enough after a bit of persistence. I changed the neck angle by re-carving the cheeks and dovetail and re-glued the neck. A complete re-fret was then carried out. The instrument gained even more volume from the enhanced pitch and played beautifully

This guitar came in the shop for some repair work. It’s a nice Harmony Archtop, probably from the 1950s, but what makes it truly special are the numerous illustrations by some of the comic world’s most beloved artists. On the top side is a dinosaur by William Stout, there is also a “franken-monster” by Albert Feldstein (editor of Mad magazine), a curious creature by John Rush, a haunting female face by Ted Naife, and a Mariachi dude by Sergio Aragones.

The owner of this guitar kindly provided us with a complete listing on all the artists featured on his guitar. They are: Bob Burden, Alex Ross, Adam Hughes, Basil Gogos, Thomas Blackshear, Dave McKean, Mike Dringenberg, Mike Mignola, Dan Brereton, Arthur Suydam, Mark Carter, Ted Naifeh, Al Feldstein, Mark Brooks, John Rush, Dan Henderson, Barron Storrey, Steve Lieber, Tony de Zuniga, Paul Guinan, Sergio Aragones, Terry Dodson, Doug Klauba, Mark Schultz, Eric Joyner, Gary Amano, Ruben Martinez

Believe it or not these two Epiphone guitars are actually the same model: The Mighty Epiphone Olympic. The 1940s instrument on the left came in for a full restoration that required a neck set with a substantial revision to the neck geometry in order to get the bridge elevated enough to elicit some of the monster tone lurking within this box. This is prickly business with the traditional dovetail neck joint (still my favorite regardless).

Once the neck was set, it was completely re-fretted. The trapeze attachment plate had also exploded and needed to be re-fabricated. To do this, I unfolded the broken parts until they were flat and then made a new template.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I then cut the parts out of a sheet of brass and folded it and rolled it back up using the subtle persuasion of an anvil, a few small blocks of hardwood, and a ball peen hammer. Next I fabricated and fit a new bridge. It all went together well and once the instrument was setup it produced a great volume and gorgeous sonority.

We may never how the three on a side headstock morphed to a bat wing headstock on the more modern instrument on the right. This instrument had an unfortunate tuning machine replacement and had some chip-out on the headstock face which I drop-filled and buffed out so that vintage-style tuners could be re-fit.

This old Silvertone archtop guitar was purchased for the owner by his mother when he was a boy. A while ago one of the long internal top braces popped loose, rendering the instrument prone to collapse. Luckily, the strings were loosened and no serious damage was incurred. The brace was still bouncing around inside.


Normally, a repair of this nature would supersede the value of the instrument, but the sentimental attachment and the fact that it is such an early Silvertone (and a beautiful round shouldered jumbo cutaway) prompted the owner to have me proceed with the repair. This meant that the back had to come off so that the brace could be glued back on. The neck also needed a reset. Someone had attempted to repair the neck with a drywall screw and putty at one point. I gouged out the putty and managed to remove the screw. The neck was then steamed out and the real work could now continue.

First a body mold needed to be made to keep the body from potato chipping when the back was off. I really like the shape of this instrument so I didn’t really mind making a body mold for later use. I used two single edge razor blades as sharp little wedges to coax the binding off. One was oriented vertically and the other horizontally. This slow and painful process took an entire day.

Now the seam of the back joint could be separated and the back removal complete. Inside I found a veritable Tut’s Tomb of various hair balls and insect specimens from an era gone by. I felt like I was trespassing into a hidden place.

I used my bow clamp fixture to glue the brace back on. While I was inside I took the opportunity to fortify a variety of other somewhat dubious looking joints.

I realized when it was time to reassemble the guitar there was no way I would be able to register the back and binding separately. This meant the binding had to be glued to the back BEFORE the back was glued onto the guitar. Fair enough, this could be done. Then, to my horror, I realized that far from potato chipping, the body had corseted! It was too narrow at the waist. I would need to put a spreader bar inside if I was to get the back to register properly with the sides.

With plastic wrap around the ends of the spreader bar to prevent potential glue drips from making it permanent, I tied a length of string to it and fed it through an f-hole, hoping I would be able to remove the bar after gluing the back on. I was lucky and everything went back together well and the spreader bar came out easily enough. From this point it was just a straightforward neck set.

The instrument sounds and plays wonderfully. Another old war horse brought back from the grave.

This guitar is owned by a well-known music photographer (he took the album photo from John Hartford’s Aereoplane). I think it originally started life as an Ibanez Roadstar. Over the years, the owner has come back repeatedly to have us further lighten and amputate various appendages from the guitar body—we have drilled as many holes as can be drilled to honeycomb the body wood. It has also been set fire to several times (not by us). When this guitar is in the shop, it never fails to attract stares of disbelief and amazement.

This is from a recent Advanced Guitar Workshop. A student brought in a Venetian bowl backed mandolin with some cracks in the top. Bulbous objects are difficult to clamp, so we made a custom cradle that allowed us to flush-up the cracks in the top for clamping and gluing. This type of improvised procedure is common at Specimen.

Another perfect use for the “Wind Up Rubber” technique (as mentioned in the Dec. 17, 2009 post).

This bass had incurred a terrible stage calamity. As I understand it the concert was of a hardcore punk nature. The crowd got a little rowdy and were “body surfing” a large rolled up carpet around the room. Enough velocity was attained to actually vault the carpet up onto the stage where it collided with the bass player. This Gibson bass bore the brunt of the impact, probably saving the players life, but shattering the neck joint in the most horrible way.

I first used black epoxy to glue the neck pocket back onto the body with the emphasis on placement, not adhesion. Then two slots were cut with a razor saw to accommodate carbon fiber splines. This time thorough impregnation and complete fill were the goals. After a full cure, all was sculpted back flush for a completely fortified neck pocket repair. Note the little piece of metal window screen that came stock with these basses from the factory to help keep the neck aligned in the sloppy neck joint. A nice little Gibson/Norlin touch.

Very often headstocks get broken. Very often I must fix them. I have probably repaired over a thousand and not a single one has come loose, ever.

One little trick, instrumental in closing the glue joint, is the wind up rubber technique. As a youngster I became intimate with wound up rubber strips from building model airplanes with rubber motors. I used a crank driven hand drill with a hook in the chuck to stretch and wind the motor carefully stepping forward as I monitored the tension. This would often result in magnificent flights of extreme duration. One day I was having trouble closing a particularly shattered headstock fracture when it occurred to me that I had a good-sized box of old bicycle inner tubes that could serve as a stretch clamp. Utilizing the skills obtained in my youth, I was able to close the joint perfectly and obtain a gratifying amount of glue squeeze out.

I remember when you couldn’t give these things away. Today, this guitar represents a comparative rarity from the Norlin-owned era of Gibson that proves there actually were some engineers employed there that were awake, sort of.

Lots of controls manipulate an exotic (for the time) low impedance pickup system. In contrast to the Electar amp, this piece has all the bells and whistles, whether you want them or not, all in a fashionable mahogany peanut butter finish.

This amp looks like it has been in a time capsule. I would guess it is from the early to mid-1940s. Anybody out there have a clue? The tubes are unfamiliar and the socket pin count is squirrel-y, with extra cap connectors on some of the tubes. Each tube also has a three piece “man in the iron mask” shield that clasps around it.

The construction is so bullet-proof that it is no wonder it survived. It has a field coil speaker that predates the common use of permanent magnets. This field coil also doubles as a power supply choke. Ingenious! Beautiful simplicity, and it sounds terrific to boot. Gutsy, yet open.

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A student of ours inherited this exceptional guitar from his grandfather in France. Inside the body it is labeled Guitare “Gelas” 192?.

Essentially, it is a guitar within a guitar. There are two intersecting tops that create an angle that force a negative pitch. It uses loop-end strings that attach to a tailpiece at the end of the body and descend down one plane where they meet a double saddle that arrests the strings. They then ascend along another plane and over the sound holes, that’s right, TWO sound holes— two guitars in one! The strings are actually pulling upwards on the sound table like a harp.

This guitar is truly an amazing piece and I am convinced that it played a part in Mario Maccaferri’s creation of his Selmer guitar designs. The sound hole rosette is super multi-ply colored stripes just like a Maccaferri.

The guitar is due back in the shop in several weeks when we will begin restoration work. I can hardly wait to hear it strung up.

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