This month on my bench we have a late 1960’s Gretsch Anniversary guitar. Some unique features include factory installed left-handed Bigsby vibrato tailpiece, no Anniversary plaque on the headstock and no pickguard. There aren’t any holes for guard mounting and old photos of the original owner with the guitar show no pickguard.
This guitar came to me in pretty bad shape. It barely played and the electronics were very intermittent. The neck was reset some time ago and the repairman used epoxy glue which was very popular to use in the 1970’s. I definitely had my work cut out for me.
After my overall assessment it was time to get crackin’!!
Here is the overall condition of the guitar when it first arrived in my shop. Notice the incorrect bridge which will be replaced with a tune-o-matic type for more accurate intonation.
You can see that a previous repairman cut slots in the binding when it was refretted some time ago.
It may be difficult to see in the photo but the fretboard extension has a sort of “ski jump” shape. It is not level with the rest of the fretboard making it impossible to play at almost any point on the neck. There is plenty of “binding rot” which is common on old guitars that have celluloid binding.
After slowly heating the dovetail joint the epoxy finally softened enough to remove the neck. The neck came out of the dovetail intact and it was a very clean removal. This preserves the shape and structural integrity of the dovetail joint.
With the neck separated from the body I removed the frets. Fret removal was clean and the previous fret removal by another repairman looked clean as well with no chipping. Luckily the fret slots were not widened from the previous refret.
Next step was to remove the binding and fabricate a sort of wedge to make the fretboard extension level with the rest of the fretboard. I actually removed the maple part of the fretboard extension and glued it in better alignment with the rest of the fretboard. After rebuilding the fretboard extension and getting the fretboard as level as I could I planed it to be straight and true for the new frets.
Before fretting I installed the new binding. It’s stark white but I will age it later in the process. Now the neck is starting to take shape and this project is starting to turn the corner!
Another shot of the fresh new binding. The small hole at the 15th fret is where I injected the heat and a little steam to loosen the glue in the dovetail joint. I filled this hole with a rosewood plug I made, then sawed through it for the fret slot.
Fresh frets!!! Now the neck is back to square one.
Another shot of the frets. The new owner wanted stainless steel frets because he plays a lot. Stainless frets don’t really wear and they have a very smooth feel when bending strings.
I actually transplanted the red side dots from the original binding. The current production readily available red dot material is a little too big as compared to the original dots. I thought this was a nice touch. The next step is to set the neck paying close attention to the alignment and neck angle. If there is too much angle the pickups will be too far away from the strings (the Hi-Lo Tron pickups don’t really have a height adjustment). If there is not enough angle then the action will not be low enough. This step takes time and patience to get it right.
Here the neck is set into the dovetail and clamped. I’m using two strings for alignment and neck angle.
Another clamp shot. I will plug the hole in the heel where the wood screw attaches the neck to the body as one of the last steps.
The neck is now set and solid! Frets are also leveled & dressed at this stage.
The base of the bridge was shaped to the contour of the guitars’ top. This provides good contact for tone and sustain (very important!).
Here is a close up shot of the new bone nut, transplanted side dot markers and aged binding.
Another view of the new bone nut, transplanted side dot markers and aged binding.
Aged binding and new stainless steel frets ready to rock!
Here is the guitar 100% complete. I am a right handed player but the lefty owner says it plays really great! This was a fun but challenging project and I’m very happy with the end results. Old Gretsch guitars are very cool and I’m glad this one is back to life and performing again with it’s new owner!!
Billy Penn is the owner of 300guitars Shop in Toms River, NJ. He has over 30 years of experience repairing, restoring and custom building guitars & tube amplifiers. Along with being an expert technician he draws upon his experience as an I.B.E.W. electrician and musician. For contact please visit www.pennalizer.com. 848-218-0362