Restoring a Gibson Electric Guitar



Introduction: Restoring a Gibson Electric Guitar

About: Retired software engineer. Like the outdoors, canoeing, camping, hunting and fishing. I’ve built 3 cedar strip canoes and 2 cedar strip kayaks and use all of them. I built 3 acoustic guitars and play all of ...

I restored this 1965 Gibson Melody Maker. It was a real piece of junk when I recieved it, now it looks good and plays good too.

I have a 1965 Gibson Melody Maker electric given to me by my mother-in-law. The Gibson was a project. It had no strings, no bridge, the controls were corroded, the finger board was severly pitted and worn as were the fret wires and the finish was in pretty poor shape.

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Step 1: What Do I Have

The first thing to do was to figure out what I had. I knew it was a Gibson Melody maker so I Googled for images to find out what exactly was missing and to get an idea of what it should look like when I finished.

The first step was to remove all the hardware, pick guard, electronics, tuners. Then figure out how to remove the finger board.

I ordered all the parts I needed from:

Step 2: Removing the Fret Board

Some online research gave me method that worked. Some suggested using a steam iron and an old T-shirt to loosen the glue bond and then gently pry off the finger board, a fraction of an inch at a time. Another suggested a heat gun. That is the method I chose.

Step 3: Removing the Finish

Next I need to remove the old finish. Here again the heat gun worked well along with a scraper and putty knife. I removed as much as possible being careful not to burn the wood. The majority of the old finish came off fairly easily. I just heated the varnish till it started to bubble up then scraped it off. I left the original finish in the recess for the electronics.The head of the guitar was painted black with the original Gibson logo.

Step 4: Sanding

Sanding was the next task. I figured this would take a while but surprisingly the remaining finish came off quickly. I started with a random orbital sander and 80 grit paper. This may have been a bit aggressive since the wood is mahogany and fairly soft. I finished with 120 grit paper on the ROS and also hit the hard to get at places by hand.

Step 5: Installing the New Components

I decided the next steps should be in this order: cut and fit the finger board, inlay the pearl dots, apply finish to the guitar, glue there finger board to the neck, set the fret wires. I was worried about sloshing stain and varnish on the finger board so that is why I finished the body and neck next before attaching the finger board.

Step 6: Stain

I had some difficulty finding a stain to match the originall cherry finish. So....I made my own with Cherry Tomato oil based paint from Sherwin Williams cut 50/50 with paint thinner.

Once the stain dried I hung the guitar body by the holes in the head and applied several coats of polyurethane.

Step 7: The New Fret Board

I laid the finger board next to the old one to measure it's length since the bottom fret area needed to be cut off. I then clamped it to the neck and traced the neck outline on the back of the finger board to size it's width to the neck, making sure to allow for the nut at the top of the finger board. I cut it down with a Japanese pull saw then sanded it to get the best fit to the neck as possible. Once I was satisfied with that I proceeded to mark the positions of the large pearl dots on finger board between the frets and of the small pearl dots on the side. I ordered 1/4" dots and used a 1/4" forstner bit in a drill press. I just eye balled the depth, but only drilled out a tiny bit at a time testing the fit as I progressed.

Step 8: Fret Wires

Next I glued on and clamped the finger board and the nut. After allowing the glue to set thoroughly and after some final finger board sizing with sand paper and a file, I proceeded with setting the fret wires.

I used a plastic hammer and some watered down wood glue. I found that bending a slight curve in the wire (so it forms as arch when laid in the slot) worked best to ensure the ends of the wire stayed down. The finger board has a slight crown.

Step 9: Electronics

This guitar has the electronics, including the pickup mouted to the plastic pick guard. The pickup I had was smaller than the opening in the pickguard and the mounting holes did not align. I decided to make a spacer and mount the the pickup to the wooden body instead. I then wired the pots, jack, and pickup following the instructions that came with the pickup. Next I polished the pick guard with Mothers Back-to-Black auto trim revitalizer and attached it with new stainless screws. I attached the tuners, but had to sand out the holes in the head slightly to make them fit. Then I attached the strings to see if it plays.

Step 10: Play It!

I made some adjustments in the bridge height and I have been making music (more like noise to some) ever since.

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