Dan’s Guitar RX: Reviving a ’56 Duo-Jet, Part Two

Ugly, But An Oldy
Dan’s Guitar RX: Reviving a ’56 Duo-Jet, Part Two
Blake Burkholder with his teenage dream fulfilled – the beautifully restored ’56 Duo-Jet.

In the March issue, I introduced you to my apprentice, Blake Burkholder, and the restoration he was doing to a ’56 Duo-Jet. Blake, who operates Peach Ridge Guitars, in West Virginia, called this a “big-boy repair” because it was a complex job.

Complex is right! Last time, we showed the poor repair work that had been done to the neck heel, dovetail, and body mortise, and left off with Blake nearly finished with the woodworking. Here’s how he handled the big-boy tasks of installing a new heel cap, final-sanding the bare wood, and touching up the finish on the neck heel.

1) The original heel cap had been removed years ago, then nailed back on (see the May issue). Blake made a new one and shaped it to fit the rebuilt neck heel.

2) With the cap installed and trimmed and the heel final-sanded, it was time to touch up the finish. After pore-filling the wood, Blake asked me to do the coloring. I used a cotton swab and a blend of StewMac’s ColorTone stains – Vintage Amber, Golden Brown, and Cherry Red.

3) Blake then taped the binding, heel cap, and exposed wood joints. The heel looked too new, so he dinged, scratched, and dirtied it up, antiqued it with a light coat of Aged Clear lacquer, then finished with several light coats of Clear Gloss.

4) The neck, ready to join the body.

5) Our glue of choice? Freshly mixed hot hide glue, just as Gretsch did so many years ago.

6) Blake’s neck fit was so tight that he needed only one clamp to hold it while the glue cured.

7) We were surprised the original tuners still worked well, given all the other issues with the guitar.8) Blake ordered a replacement Gretsch Melita bridge and a used vintage Gretsch Bigsby vibrato to replace the original trapeze.

9) The Dynasonic pickups have height-adjustable pole pieces that use spring-loaded machine screws. Their sound is killer.

10) This guitar sported a couple different tailpieces on its journey. Blake plugged the holes before drilling new ones for the Bigsby.

11) The electronics are original and worked well after a little cleaning; the upper cutaway has the master Volume, the lower treble bout houses two Volumes and one Tone pot. We’d never seen a stacked/ganged Tone pot like we found here, and didn’t know if it was working properly. Seeking wisdom, I called my friends Lindy Fralin, Jason Lollar, and Tom at TV Jones. Lindy told me he’d also never seen one like it, but guessed, “Since it has two capacitors, each pickup must have has its own Tone pot.”

“I don’t know that particular Gretsch wiring, but I suspect its like the dual-cap Tone pot that National used in the ’40s,” Jason added. “When it’s turned halfway on its throw, it gives a neutral sound where the caps are bypassed. If you roll it one direction, it’ll sound a little brighter; roll it past middle, treble is cut with a larger-value cap going to ground. It’s strange.”

Tom didn’t add much about how they function, but told me, “When I’ve worked on old Gretsches for Brian Setzer, he’s always had me take those out and replace them with a standard Tone pot.”

With the pots cleaned and working smoothly, Blake was finished with the project. He had always wanted a Duo-Jet after first seeing and hearing one as a teenager. The opportunity to buy a project like this, then use his expertise to bring it back to life, was a dream come true.

Dan Erlewine has been repairing guitars for more than 50 years. He is the author of three books, dozens of magazine articles, and has produced instructional videotapes and DVDs on guitar repair. From 1986 through his retirement in late 2019, Erlewine was part of the R&D team for Stewart-MacDonald’s Guitar Shop Supply; today he remains involved with the company, offering advice to the department and shooting video for the company’s website and social media. This column has appeared in VG since March, 2004. You can contact Dan at danerlewine@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared in VG’s July 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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