DIY Guitar Repair
In the day and age of the internet it's easy to find advice on how to do just about anything including endless articles and videos on DIY (do it yourself) guitar repair. These sorts of things can be a source of concern for the professionals who are tasked with fixing any conceivable problem with a guitar, bass, mandolin or other fretted instrument. Those of us who have been repairing guitars professionally have seen many, many instruments with damage that easily could have been avoided. This blog post is simply food for thought and hopefully some of you will find the information useful.
One reason vintage guitars have grown in value is because they become more rare every time one is lost to time, acts of nature, negligence or ignorance. Some modifications and alterations have actually been done by professionals as methods of repair have evolved and, what is considered acceptable thirty years ago is no longer acceptable today.
So here are some points I feel should be made:
- Do you understand what is required to do the work?
- Do you have the tools to do the work?
- Are you willing to risk the value and functionality of the guitar, not to mention the aesthetic?
- Do you care if the project goes horribly wrong?
- Do you have the money for someone to repair your work (usually at twice the normal cost)?
- Do you really believe watching a few videos or reading an article gives you the skill to do the job right?
Believe me when I say "I get it", working on your guitar sounds like fun, it sounds appealing and perhaps it even sounds easy. I remember my junior high shop teacher stopping in his tracks to ask me; "Do your parents know you're doing that?" as I enlarged the cutaway on an electric guitar. I assured him they did but.....no, they had no idea.
Next let's consider the majority of vintage guitars today began as a product of industry and few people could have predicted the growth of vintage guitars even thirty years ago. It can be argued, we do not know which instruments being produced today might become valuable collector instruments in the future. It is difficult for me to imagine mass produced beginner level instruments today being valuable in the future but then again, who would have guessed some Harmony guitars in a Sears catalog fifty or sixty years ago might fetch four figures today? One significant difference (now versus then), is the output of modern manufacturing. Millions of guitars are produced every year which was not the case up until somewhat recently.
The instruments we know and love will last 200 to 300 years if taken care of properly so I usually have a conservation mindset around this topic. Rather than believe we "own" these guitars, consider they will probably be around long after we are gone. So...
Do we really own these instruments or do we pay to possess them for a period of time?
There are few things which destroy an instruments value faster than stripping the finish even if a person knows precisely what they're doing. In actuality, those people would probably never strip the finish. In Figure 1 you see a vintage 1958 Fender Precision bass that suffered this very fate. According to the Vintage Guitar Price Guide 2015 the value of this bass prior to the owner stripping the finish would have been $12,000-$15,000.00. When the owner told me "If I had just changed the pickguard I would have been fine with the original sunburst". It wasn't clear if I should laugh or cry but either way he destroyed the value of this classic bass.
Whenever I've been asked to refinish a perfectly good guitar I simply pass on the work unless someone has already ruined it as was the case with this P-bass. My mindset is much more about preservation and restoration and the original finish is just as much a part of the guitar as any other component. When it comes to a vintage instrument the finish should be left alone in nearly all instances.
I stumbled upon a 1953 Gibson Les Paul on Reverb and the person selling it was kind enough to send me the original pictures he took of the guitar as an estate find. He was clear that the butcher job was not done by him. If this Les Paul had been left alone by the person who was in possession of it (at the time of the crime) it would be worth $19,000-$24,0000.00 today. Looking at these pictures try to imagine how this "project" may have started, what the person was trying to achieve and what must have been going through their mind as the gave up on the project. This guitar is quite simply a tragedy.
The Les Paul shown above might seen like a rare example of DIY guitar repair gone wrong but it isn't. For those of us that work on guitars it isn't always this bad or a guitar that could have been so valuable but DIY gone wrong is a regular occurrence.
As a teenager I was compelled to leave my mark on a few guitars myself. One particular guitar involved an orbital sander some dollar bills and spray adhesive. So if a person is compelled to work on their own guitar there's nothing we can do to stop them. I completely understand this reality and just about anyone who has gone on to work in a guitar shop or has their own guitar repair business, usually got their start tinkering on whatever was in front of them. America is a nation of DIY thinkers and it's part of what has made this country a success.
Currently the guitar market is being saturated with massive amounts of instruments to a point where people are rightly concerned about the future of the guitar market. There have never been more inexpensive, readily available guitars which is great for a player and perhaps my concerns are overblown, but if you are interested in working on guitars here are a few final thoughts for your consideration.
- Start out small with minor adjustments like string action.
- Do little things that are not permanent modifications.
- Save original parts "just in case".
- Do your research, invest your time into the project ahead of time.
- If the bug has bitten you hard get some formal training. There are lots and lots of resources at your disposal, try your best to see through the hype and marketing shenanigans.
- If it is something you want to pursue as a career get the best possible education your time and money can justify.
- Never hesitate to contact me if any of this has struck a chord with you.