Old Gretsch repair project

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Lou G., Nov 10, 2017.

  1. Lou G.

    Lou G. Junior Member

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    Hi everyone, I picked up this Gretsch New Yorker for 50.00. Based on the serial number it was built between 1945 and 1947. It has certainly seen better days.
    I thought this would be a good opportunity to work on a vintage guitar without the stakes being too high. I have some experience building, but I have never attempted a repair like this. Any advice would be welcomed and much appreciated!

    image.jpg image.jpg image.jpg image.jpg image.jpg image.jpg image.jpg image.jpg image.jpg
     
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  2. w666

    w666 Senior Member

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    Nice!
     
  3. jkes01

    jkes01 Senior Member

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    Nice score, looks like a fun project. I’d give ya $50 for it :)

    First thing I would do is fix the headstock then yank that nasty deteriorating pickguard off it and make a new one from the StewMac tort. Might order some binding while your at it if that stuff is a crumbly as it looks.

    Keep us posted.
     
  4. Lou G.

    Lou G. Junior Member

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    Thanks jkes01. Yea the headstock is in sad shape. It’s got a piece missing, several cracks, and it’s cupped. I’m guessing it will probably need a neck reset as well. Most of the binding is still there but it has shrunk, and much of it has come loose. Also there is a long crack emanating in both directions from where the end pin once was. I have never attempted any of these repairs before so it should be interesting. I hope to get started next week. I’ll keep you posted.
     
  5. w666

    w666 Senior Member

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    The long crack along the end pin suggests that the tail block has cracked. Since the binding is off anyway, I would remove the back for a closer look at everything. There's also a suspicious looking crack forming at the head block. Definitely the neck should come off (easier to work on, and it will need to be reset/re-glued anyway). I don't remember the math for calculating the neck angle on an archtop, but try that google thing). If you can carefully remove the headplate (heat, patience, and maybe a few drops of water from time to time) then you can restore the headstock, and the reinstalled headplate will hide most repair. It's curious to see a glue line down the center of the headstock (rear view). It makes me wonder if the neck is glued up from two or more pieces.

    This guitar seems like it was baked in the trunk of a car, or someone's attic for a long time (as opposed to moisture...there's only normal rust on the tailpiece or tuners). Good idea to let it acclimate at 45% - 55% humidity for a while before you start to work. I have found that when guitars like this start to dissemble by themselves that it's wise to consider re-gluing almost everything. This is a great project...I have envy!
     
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  6. Lou G.

    Lou G. Junior Member

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    Thanks for the tips, I need all the help I can get! You are correct the neck is two pieces. The glue line you see in the photo actually goes from the headstock all the way to the heel of the neck. It has opened up enough that I can slip a feeler gage in. In a few spots i can get it down pretty deep. I took off the binding as well as the headplate, pick guard, and tailpiece. In the next day or two I am going to attempt to remove the neck. I suspect this thing is going to keep me busy for quite some time!

    5BB37B3F-5480-4326-AE5A-A9E87A0932A7.jpeg 61752944-B15D-461A-B427-07AC77F2A464.jpeg 92025942-7D30-4A6F-A8D2-E12EC1DC7488.jpeg 7E48C8CB-07FE-40C7-8E34-D102C92D1B50.jpeg 33BD1EE3-1F75-41A1-8A3B-AEE5EB785076.jpeg 94C53341-0D07-4E7A-97C8-8BA37B01AD9A.jpeg 89F053E5-F156-429E-9FC9-7CCE6C1A07CD.jpeg 96B36F69-E3E0-4280-865A-827B004D303D.jpeg
     
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  7. Lou G.

    Lou G. Junior Member

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    Today I built my steamer for the neck removal. I picked up this beauty for 5.00 at the locat thrift store. 2E4F007D-4A59-4D00-8D92-F04B0969D8DF.jpeg with some stuff I had around the house I came up with this 7813FEB2-8552-46B8-8E5D-2BD24C73B813.jpeg Ready for action!
     
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  8. Lou G.

    Lou G. Junior Member

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    I was getting ready to remove the neck today and I noticed the fretboard has some chips from the 14th fret through the 20th. It also looks like the 15th fret slot is cut completely through the board and the 14th slot is very deep as well. The 15th fret popped out so easily that I decided to remove 14-20. I think the only thing holding them in was some glue.

    7116951E-95F0-49CF-8406-003806D81090.jpeg B1B5CA8B-CF92-4DB9-A331-D6CCAF097781.jpeg View attachment 275292 I then heated the fretboard and worked a knife under the small area of the fretboard extension that is in contact with the body. I didn’t want photographic evidence of what I was doing with my wife’s iron so no photos! B9DDD982-E7EA-4AD4-BACE-55A13D77F85B.jpeg I drilled a few holes in the fret slot. It took me four attempts to hit the void in the neck pocket twice. I then cranked up the espresso machine and when the steam started flowing I inserted the needle. I had the guitar in the vice at an angle so any water from the steamer wouldn’t run all over the inside of the guitar body. After some steaming, struggling, and lots of cursing...


    861C30EB-41D1-4263-94D6-B38C6D045692.jpeg Success!
    The glue at the bottom of the joint didn’t want to let go. I think a needle longer than the basketball inflator I used would have been helpful here. That was it for today. I decided to quit while I was ahead. Tonight I will celebrate my small victory with a taste of this! EFB68355-29BB-41DD-9D27-4A4ACDD4AD6E.jpeg
     
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  9. WhiteEpiLP

    WhiteEpiLP Senior Member

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    Well deserved.
     
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  10. LtDave32

    LtDave32 Sua Sponte Super Mod Premium Member

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    Well done Lou!

    I knew you would have to steam that neck off, but I was skeptical that it would come off in one piece at the FB extension and under it.

    Them damn Gretsches have all manner of monkey-business going on at the neck-body-FB area. Even on later ones.

    Enjoy that single-malt.
     
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  11. LtDave32

    LtDave32 Sua Sponte Super Mod Premium Member

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    I see that one thing that hasn't changed much from the 40's to the 60's is that thin walnut stringer between the neck halves..
     
  12. ARandall

    ARandall Senior Member

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    Yeah....good job for quitting when you did!!!

    Patience will be your key virtue here. But if you are able to follow through I bet this will be a cracking project and a great finished product.
     
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  13. Lou G.

    Lou G. Junior Member

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    Thanks LtDave32!
    I was really happy it came apart as cleanly as it did. If you have any suggestions on how to approach the repairs to the neck I am all ears. I am definitely punching out of my weight class on this one!
     
  14. Lou G.

    Lou G. Junior Member

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    Thanks, I am trying to be very mindful in my approach. No deadlines here.
     
  15. MooCheng

    MooCheng Senior Member

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    your a brave guy to take that on,

    its a nice old guitar worth saving, wishing you every success
     
  16. WezV

    WezV Member

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    I love this kind of work.

    Clearly there have been humidity issues in the past, so you really need to take your time and let it stabilise at each step.

    I think I would be tempted to totally dismantle and rebuild the neck. On my own50’s archtop I ditched a brw fretboard because it was more important to get it playable than keep it original... I added cf reinforcement under the new fretboard
     
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  17. LtDave32

    LtDave32 Sua Sponte Super Mod Premium Member

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    Lou, building new is one thing.

    Repairing old damage is another matter entirely. -And that ain't me.

    There are guys here that are really good at the latter. Walt (w666) really knows building. Freddy G is another fine luth. So is Barnaby, and a few others.

    Any one of those guys won't steer you wrong. And there's more guys in this forum as well. That's just a couple to start with.

    There's so much "special work" going on under the FB extension on a Gretsch that I wouldn't feel comfortable advising.

    I wanted to build a Duo-Jet (old style), and that's the one area that scared me off. Bigger Gretch's like 6120's and the like have a dowel pin going sideways through the heel, I've seen.

    Then they have more of that "floating" FB "tongue" that gaps over the top. I ain't ready to take that on yet.

    But you're already on your way here. And it looks like you've got a good handle on it. You can do this.

    it looks like you're going to have to carefully piece in some mahogany in a few areas under the FB, and as well flatten the humps in that FB on the top. Or steam off that board and replace it altogether. Tricky stuff. Tricky, because you either need to keep and improve the integrity of the wood under it, or fashion new pieces to take their place.

    The headstock is a no-brainer. You can do that. cut it down, add new, add wings.. Good thing that overlay came off nicely.
     
  18. LtDave32

    LtDave32 Sua Sponte Super Mod Premium Member

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    If you can stand discarding the old neck, you could probably find it easier to make a new one, using the old as a pattern and example.
     
  19. lowatter

    lowatter Senior Member

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    While I applaud you for the effort, I don't envy your journey. I imagine that if I had taken on something like this I would be sweating bullets. This old Gretsch is in good capable hands. Looking forward to the end results.
    A few years I took in a Harmony Truetone archtop a friend purchased locally that had a really bad bow in the neck(no trussrod) but the neck joint was stable and not sunken into the body(thankfully). I was able to slowly heat the neck while moistening the fretboard with a lot of lemon oil and clamping the neck to achieve a much more playable neck without doing any damage(thankfully). This took days. I think he recently resold this guitar and I hope that the new owner can appreciate what was involved for me to get it much more playable again if he knew what it was like before. Again, this was a 50's/60's Harmony and not a Gretsch. I don't think that I would've even considered attempting what your doing here. "Carry-on".
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2017 at 3:27 AM

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