Before and after, Pt. 1

To me, the most interesting aspect of cheesy guitar collecting is the process of restoration. In a way, this is reverse snobbery on my part, but I happen to like the idea of NOT spending a ton of money on a guitar and still ending up with something cool and unique. What can be more fun than taking a piece of somebody's discarded guitarbage and turning it into something that will make people turn their heads and go "wow"? Remember that old TV show in which they pulled homely girls off the street and gave them a complete beauty makeover? They should have a show like that for guitar makeovers. I always enjoy comparing "before & after" shots of various guitar projects, because some of those transformations can be truly amazing.

Here's a perfect example. I found this 1965 Gibson Melody Maker at a junk shop. Not a single part on this guitar was original. It had cheap EMG Select pickups badly installed in a warped, cracked aftermarket pickguard, a corroded Badass bridge, a mismatched and sloppily installed set of cheap tuners, and an ugly chiseled hole in the body where a switch was installed beyond the outline of the pickguard. The screw holes from the original Vibrola looked like the unit was torn out by force without the benefit of a screwdriver. To top everything off, it was re-finished in "classic" rattlecan black, and the paint was peeling off in layers. It was also unbelievably filthy. Fortunately, I had bought other items from this guy in the past, and he was inclined to give me a fair deal on this one. Why did I buy it? Because under all that crud was a beautiful solid mahogany body just begging to come out. I stripped the guitar down to bare wood and did most of the prep work myself. Then I gave it to my friend Ted to refinish. Ted, a furniture restorer and a big fan of junk guitars, knows his work well. He did a great job, especially with matching up small chips of antique mahogany to plug the holes in the body. He couldn't make the patches disappear completely, but considering the extent of the damage, it came out pretty good. While the guitar was being refinished, I searched for parts, including the pickguard, the bridge, the tuners and the original Gibson pickups. This project took me almost a year to complete, but eventually I found all the correct Gibson parts and assembled the newly refinished Melody Maker. It was well worth the wait. After giving it its first set-up in who knows how many years, I was blown away by how great it played and sounded.

Here's another amazing "before & after" transformation. This 1958 Supro has literally returned from the dead. It had been rotting away in a damp garage for so long, it had literally crumbled to dust. This is probably the worst case of guitar neglect that I have ever seen. A chunk of the body actually separated at the original joint due to all that moisture, and got lost. The fretboard came off the neck. The original copper finish faded away to nothingness. And everything else was simply moldy and corroded to death. This guitar was too far gone even for me… but not for my fellow Supro fan and luthier, Jamie Chivers. Jamie had this thing up and running in no time, with all new parts and a snazzy gold metalflake finish. Stunning! Yes, folks, this is the same guitar.

Here's another one of our projects. The previous owner of this Harmony archtop made a new back for it out of a piece of plywood wall paneling, and attached it with a staple gun. Lovely! To most everyone, a cheap guitar with such damage is nothing but garbage. But I knew someone who would appreciate it, and sure enough, Jamie transformed this one into a winner too. I suggested turning her into a thinline version of the Harmony Catalina, and here she is. Cut down to a thinline, given a cutaway and a new back, totally refinished including the fretboard, adorned with a piece of blue agate drum covering for the "Catalina" two-tone effect, fitted with a Bigsby and electrified. This former piece of junk is now a rockabilly tone machine to die for!

This Hondo Fame tele had belonged to some doofus who wanted a Stratoid arm cut, a stoptail and two humbuckers. Reasonable enough, but not the way this "genius" went about it. He sanded the top down right through the binding with a belt sander, butchered the pickup holes with a dull kitchen knife and drilled right through the body while trying to install posts for the stoptail. He also put the bridge in the wrong position and made a mess of the wiring. Then the guitar got covered with marker graffiti, white paint drips and sticker residue. In short, the guitar was destroyed and absolutely unplayable. Nevertheless, this is one of the better Hondo models, with a nice solid ash body and maple neck. Not bad for a $30 flea market find, and certainly restorable. I decided to go for the rough, rustic, "distressed" look here, because otherwise I would have had to sand half the body off to level the damaged top properly. The chopped-up pickguard came off and stayed off. The back and sides got sanded off, along with the remaining binding. The edges got rounded, more Strat-like. A hardtail Strat bridge went on, plus two crème old stock Mighty Mite humbuckers, over a light coat of clear lacquer. She turned into one hot little blonde, actually, and the rough finish only gives her more character. Unlike all those factory fresh "relic" guitars, this baby earned all her battle scars and wears them proudly.

Speaking of Hondos… A while back I sold this stripped 1970's Hondo II lefty P-bass on eBay, because I was swamped with other projects and had no time for it. Not only did its new owner locate all the correct parts and restore it to 100% original condition, he was also nice enough to send me a picture. What a great little bass it is now!

Got some cool "before & after" guitar project pics you'd like to share? Send them to junkguitars@earthlink.net !


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