Like you, I got a kick out of the February “Classics” feature on Chuck Panozzo being reunited with his Gibson ES-125TC, which had suffered water damage and was literally coming apart at the seams.
The feature couldn’t dig into how the guitar was repaired, but the work was done by my good friends Doug and Sharon Proper, a husband-and-wife repair tag-team who own Guitar Specialist, in Bedford Hills, New York.
Doug and I spoke about the job, which was a challenge – just the sort of thing I love to hear about. Fortunately, he took photos of the work in 2017-’18, and we thought you might enjoy a look behind the scenes. Doug provides the narrative…
1) The neck block had separated, except from the top. And to make matters worse, the top had buckled, which pulled the neck forward about 30 degrees. That’s not all, though; the sides had separated from the top and back across the lower bout. We started by cleaning the neck and shoulder area.
2) Often, the most difficult part of a repair like this is determining the best approach. I thought about removing the neck, but decided that might make things worse. So, I once again borrowed Frank Ford’s “rope clamp” idea, which has served me well for more than 30 years. I’ve often said that there are no real trade secrets in this business – we’re all armed with a collection of tricks borrowed and purloined across centuries.
3) With the neck face-down, the rope is tied at each end of the guitar, then tightened by twisting it with a screwdriver, pulling with the perfect amount of force, applied smoothly. Once located, I locked the screwdriver against the neck-clamping board and let the guitar sit for a day or two, then gave the screwdriver a couple of turns every couple of days. After a few weeks, the top was coaxed back into shape, and the neck and heel block settled into position.
4) This is a full look at the clamping setup we devised (and practiced with a number of times). In addition to the rope, we eventually used five other clamps and shaped cauls. During the final practice, I injected naptha in the joints, then quickly clamped it; the squeeze-out showed exactly where the glue needed to go.
5) After drying overnight, it was ready to glue. I used Titebond original, which is strong enough for any joint of this nature but gives enough “open” time to adjust clamps if things don’t react as anticipated. No matter how many times you practice clamping on dry wood, something different happens when things get wet, and you’ve got to be prepared to adjust. We tweaked the clamp setup after our practice runs.
6) Here’s what the joint looked like after cleaning the squeeze-out. Even though TiteBond sets within hours, I left it clamped for 24 hours, and after the clamps came off, we let it sit for two weeks to see if anything would move. After we strung it up, it sat for two more weeks.
7) Next, it was time to move to the lower bout. Here are the sides, clamped and being coaxed into shape.
8) And here’s the back, clamped and waiting for the glue to dry. To ensure both front and back seams fit properly, we glued one at a time.
9) After fixing the structural issues, we shifted to the fretboard, which had warped. We leveled-off a fair amount of material to make it true, replaced most of the dot inlays, and re-radiused it to 12″ with help from one of my favorite tools – a 35-year-old Waverly neck-relief gauge.
10) I installed vintage Jumbo fretwire (in the ’60s, Gibson called it “wide oval”). Given the conditions the guitar was stored in for so long, I installed every other fret, then checked the neck for straightness (or lack of) each time. This helped control the effect of fret compression on the neck.
11) I didn’t have to take off much to level the frets because, as Dan Erlewine told me 40 years ago, the better your fretboard prep, the less work you’ll have to do once the frets are in. My neck jig holds the guitar (and fretboard) under playing tension, supports the body on one end, and fastens the peghead on the other. While leveling the tops, I support the neck with one hand and can even pull down when needed.
12) With frets done, the guitar spent a few weeks in the finishing room. Several areas had lacquer blushing, where the finish lightens or turns foggy, as well as some flaking. In cases where the customer does not want a large finish restoration, we touch-up only the areas where we’ve worked. Here’s the neck joint after color matching and touch-up.
We finished by doing basic stuff such as installing a new bone nut. The original bridge studs and thumbwheel height adjusters were still good, but we had to make a new bridge base and saddle – from Brazilian rosewood, as Gibson would have done it. We were also able to keep the original pickguard, tailpiece, tuners, pickup, pots, and output jack, though we did have to rewire the circuit. After being strung and set up, it was ready to go back to John and Kathy.
This article originally appeared in VG’s May 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.