Dan’s Guitar RX: Finding An Old Friend

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Dan’s Guitar RX: Finding An Old Friend
This ’58 ES-335 recently returned to Dan Erlewine, who is returning it (as close as possible) to original specs.

I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I learned to play guitar during the folk boom that, for me, started with the Kingston Trio in 1959; their music led me to all the great folk and blues musicians that came before them.

In ’63, I started playing electric guitar in bands and for the next decade owned, sold, and traded many great ones including a Cherry Red ’63 ES-335 that I bought at the Herb David Guitar Studio (where I worked) and used in a rock-and-roll band called The Spiders. I fell behind on payments and had to return the guitar, so I borrowed a Harmony Rocket that I played for a year before The Spiders morphed into the Prime Movers and my brother, Michael, and I bought matching NOS ’63 Jazzmasters from Carty’s Music in nearby Ypsilanti.

In ’65, the Prime Movers became a blues band. After watching my friend (and hero) Michael Bloomfield play his ’54 Les Paul goldtop in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, I traded the Jazzmaster to a friend for his ’59 Les Paul Standard.

In ’67, Michael asked to trade my ’Burst for his goldtop and $125. I couldn’t refuse, but I missed the humbucker sound and within a year sold the goldtop to buy a ’58 ES-335. Soon after, I had to sell it for rent money; my good friend and neighbor, Al Valusek, gave me $225 and promised that if he ever sold it, I’d get first crack.

I moved from Ann Arbor in ’75, but Al and I kept in touch. “You ready to sell, Al?” I’d say, and he’d answer, “Not yet, buddy, but I won’t forget you.”

Sadly, Al passed away earlier this year, and I was surprised to learn that he left the 335 to me in his will! Being the experimental type and knowledgeable about guitar electronics, he did a lot of modification including removing the pickup covers, splitting the coils of the bridge pickup, drilling a hole in the top for a coil-tap toggle (which required replacing the original “long” pickguard with a short one), moving the output jack to the top, installing a master Volume, and installing a Varitone. Wanting to return it to original specs, I went to work.

1) The bridge-pickup mounting ring was cracked, warped, and one of its screws was rusted to the body. It was unusable, so I nipped the plastic and put a dab of Tri-Flow on the screw shaft and let it trickle into the hole. After heating it with a soldering iron, I was able to remove it.

2) After removing the knobs, hex nuts, and switch washers, I pulled out all the electronics. The gold “speed” knob was lightly crusted with mold and oxidation, but cleaned up nicely.

3) Removing the electronics was easy because Al had routed a hole in the bridge-pickupcavity while installing the Varitone and its choke.

4) My friend Kris Blakely sent this photo to help me remember how the rear rout should look. Originally, leads ran through a hole in the cavity and electronics were installed through the treble-side sound hole, then pickup leads and Volume pots were pulled through the f hole

5) Later 335, 345, and 355 models had a larger hole in the bridge cavity like this one, from 1960. The large hole allowed the wiring harness to be installed through the opening, which was especially helpful for the 345 with its Varitone, and the large dust-cover cans on its potentiometers.

6) I wasn’t sure if I should fill the hole with wood or leave it for easier work in the future, but I wanted to clean, flatten, and square the rough routing job. I put the guitar on the milling machine and used a deep-cutting end mill.

7) I made wooden fillers in case I decided to use them in the hole, but friends in the know say I should leave it as-is.

8) The treble-side binding was loose, so I carefully removed it and spent more than an hour scraping old rubber cement from an earlier repair. Rubber cement isn’t a good choice for this type of repair. I use fish glue, which works well bonding celluloid to wood and is easy to clean up.

9) The glue side of the binding also needed cleaning, which I did with a smooth-mill file. The leftover brown is stain leached from the rosewood fretboard by the solvent in the glue; the binding itself is clean.

10) As with the bridge-pickup rout, I was unsure what to do with the hole for the coil-tap toggle. My choices were to fill it with wood and airbrush it with lacquer or fill it with a pearl dot, like Gibson used to do in in Kalamazoo. I went with the latter, and our intern, Ceil, took the idea a bit further by putting a brass bushing with a pearl center on the lathe and press-fitting it into the hole. It looks classy! Next month, we’ll finish the job.

Dan Erlewine with the Prime Movers in ’65 (top left), circa ’66 onstage with his (later Michael Bloomfield’s) ’59 Les Paul Standard, with the ’54 goldtop he got from Bloomfield in trade for the ’Burst, and in ’68 with the ’58 ES-335.

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, and builds 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 danerlewine@gmail.com.

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

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