Before And After, Part 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
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!
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