Blake Burkeholder, a repair expert in my shop, has always wanted a Gretsch. So, when he found a ’56 Duo-Jet fixer-upper at a reasonable price, he grabbed it. Like other old Gretsches that have passed through here, it had severe neck-joint issues – maybe the worst I’ve seen. But, Blake knew he could return it to glory. It’s a great reminder that even a horribly neglected vintage guitar can be made to play like new… or “old.”
1) The neck was held in place with three wood screws – long one in the center, two shorter on each side, all hidden under plastic “wood.” Injecting hot water and steam made it easy to remove the neck…
2) …which revealed the ugliest dovetail repair we’ve ever seen on a neck – drilled and doweled vertically and cross-wise.
3) Blake chiseled all this ugly stuff down to a 3/4″ piece of maple inset on the heel; the original dovetail was mahogany glued onto the maple, but it had been removed for the earlier repair, then glued with two small dowels. After removing the bad stuff, the maple core remained. Notice Blake’s pencil marks, which show how off-center it is! I can’t imagine the same person who did all the bad work would’ve been able to fit the maple so well. It’s really odd. Perhaps it was installed by Gretsch originally and built-up on center at the factory?
4) The body mortise was equally horrible!
5) After the maple was machined away, Blake filled half of its length with mahogany glued in with epoxy. He milled a slot 7/8″ wide and half the depth of the heel clear through, preparing for the next step…
6) …machining a block of mahogany to fill the gap and create a new dovetail that he’ll shape by hand to fit the mortise in the body.
7) The new block, epoxied and clamped in place.
8) While that dried, Blake filled the gaps of missing wood in the body to create a new (slightly oversized) mortise.
9) Blake machined the area of the heel where the screw holes had been, leaving the outer cheeks, which will help hide the repair.
10) He was then ready to start re-carving the heel and fill it with grain-oriented mahogany, which looks great.
11) Once the heel carving is done, Blake will laminate a new cap.
In the July issue, Blake will fit the neck to the body, touch up the finish on the heel, install the neck, string the guitar, and adjust the action.
Dan Erlewine has been repairing guitars for more than 50 years. The author of three books, dozens of magazine articles, he has also produced instructional videotapes and DVDs on guitar repair. From 1986 through his retirement in late 2019, Erlewine was part of the R&D team, and company liaison for Stewart-MacDonald’s Guitar Shop Supply. Today, he operates a repair shop in Athens, Ohio, as well as building replicas of the guitars he made for Albert King and Jerry Garcia in 1972. This column has appeared in VG since March, 2004. You can contact him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in VG’s May 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.