Thursday, December 11, 2008

1943 Gibson southern jumbo restoration

Several weeks ago I mentioned working on this old southern jumbo. This guitar was left to my client by her childhood friend and I understand her father bought it in a pawnshop in Lubbock TX in 1945. I was able to date this guitar to 1943 because of the maple walnut neck, 4 piece top and poplar blocks. During the war spruce was used in airplane props & components and the whole country was running on limited supplies to help with the war effort. As an aside I once restored a 56' J-45 that belonged to a Vietnam veteran. He grabbed the guitar during the pullout and it had U.S.M.C stamped on the back. I guess he figured he earned it and he probably did!

The southern jumbo had seen better days when it first arrived. The fingerboard, bridge & finish were not original or even close to correct replacements. The top had been sanded under 2mm and someone tried to correct the terrible top distortion by throwing a tailpiece on. Ouch!

I made a form to hold the sides in true until I had the new top ready to go. Then I removed the fingerboard, neck & top. I made a new top out of some Adirondack spruce that had been rejected by Martin decades ago. I was not to worried about the less than perfect bookmatch as during the war they used what they could and I wanted to keep that piece of history, although this top had great taptone. I replicated the bracing to match the original top then glued it up.
After binding and final plate tuning I was ready to spray. I tinted the lacquer to give the binding that vintage appearence.

The folks at Gibson, Montana were nice enough to provide a set of matched inlays. I used Brazilian rosewood for the fingerboard and bridge. After fretwork and set-up she was ready to go. This was a great project. The owner was very emotionally connected to this guitar. She felt that it should be returned to Texas, were it belonged so she flew down there and presented it as a gift to Texas songwriter Eric Taylor

I hope this guitar will bring another 50 years of music and memories. I know Eric is just the one to help, if your not familiar with his music give it a listen. His latest release "Hollywood Pocketknife" is a masterpiece of American storytelling and song.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Hey, that's not a guitar!

Well this week finds me working on a large restoration project. From time to time I take on projects that are not guitar related and this one is particularly interesting. I am refinishing a gilded walnut hutch that I am guessing is between 200 to 250yrs. old though I can't be sure. When I first saw this piece the owner asked me if I could strip it to raw wood and finish it clear as she did not care for the look of the patina on the gilded finish & it was badly cracked and damaged. The first thing I did was try to talk her out of altering the original finish but she was not dissuaded. The next thing I did was let this piece sit in the corner of my shop gathering dust for two years. Luckily she is a patient and understanding women! Well this piece as it turns out presents some very interesting challenges as well as some life lessons. My previous restoration work has involved pieces that had lacquer, shellac or varnish finishes which respond well to chemical strippers or alcohol. Alas upon attempting to strip this large and intricate piece I discovered that these techniques did nothing but make a mess. I discovered that using dental picks, scrapers and patience I could fake the old finish off quite nicely but this is VERY time consuming. I was fortunate enough to discover the work of Nancy Thorn of (gold leaf restorations) in Portland, Oregon. She was kind enough to help me determine that this piece could be stripped with stripper made for water based finish, as the gilding is on top of a sizing or undercoat of gesso. This sealer coat consists of rabbit hide glue and calcium carbonate so it will respond to hot water & strippers used on latex finishes. Having said this I am still having better luck flaking the old finish off by hand as it leaves behind a nice burnished clean walnut without any mess. I plan on proceeding with a combination of approaches and it looks like I may be at it for a while. Pieces like this reinforce the need to live in the present moment as I can only work on one small part at a time. If I think too much about the whole picture I can become impatient and loose sight of the goal. I will come back to this piece as more progress is made.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

ascthetics & evolution of design

I have been thinking lately about how my tastes have changed since I started out in the early 90's When I built my first guitar at a workshop in Saskatchewan with David Freeman I wanted to build the fanciest, flashiest guitar I could imagine. I chose highly figured woods and wanted to learn all about cutting inlay etc. Recently I was flipping through a magazine and everywhere I looked there were pictures of guitars made out of this exotic figured such & such with custom inlays and new designs etc. I can honestly now say that I am a traditionalist! What I appreciate more than anything are clean lines, great sound, good set-up and clean craftsmanship. A well executed simple design is timeless and will continue to be appreciated more as time goes on. People are really trying to push the envelope with guitar acoustics and design but the results, more often than not are just plain ugly to my eye. I don't think they sound any better either. There is nothing quite like a really well played old guitar, you can see the songs and stories in the ding's and worn finish. I have been lucky enough to work on some real treasures and these are the instruments I learn from. I am currently restoring a 1943 Gibson- southern jumbo that some previous repairman brutalized. I had to replace the top, fingerboard, and bridge as well as refinishing the whole guitar. It had been stripped of its original sunburst and the top was sanded way to thin. Having said that, this is a guitar with stories to tell. I can't wait to string it up next week, just like christmas morning to a 9 yr. old. I will post before & after photo's if I can figure out how.