Here, we have an Orville Les Paul that will be getting a resto-mod type of a job. These were made in Japan, in cooperation with Gibson in the 90’s. This one has been around, used and abused, but is not ready to be firewood yet.
It has no real structural problems, but has lots of cosmetic issues and some playing wear. First, the neck looks like the finish was striped by the angry chipmunk. The entire neck was chipped up like this. I don’t know how you could play this and not get splinters in your thumb.
There are bashed out chips on the top, the back, the rims and a few extra strap button holes. But despite all this, it will still be better to touch up rather than refinish, as the rest of the black poly finish is fairly good and this stuff is thick and tough.
There is also some fret wear present that would need addressed, which was the original reason the owner contacted me. He had an idea of what a refret would cost and also wanted the worst of the finish damage repaired. So, he figured he would get an estimate on replacing the existing rosewood fretboard with ebony at the same time. This would also include replacing all the hardware, rewiring and setting up the instrument to play. So after stripping the guitar, it was time for the fun to begin.
First up, I will remove the fretboard. There are many ways to do this. I don’t like a clothes iron, as it does not sit well on a curved fretboard. To actually get the heat into the wood, and eventually the joint, you should pull the frets. I dislike a heat lamp because it is slow and I am on someone’s clock here. The fretboard is a relatively thin piece of wood and the joint underneath can be softened rather quickly with a heat gun. Normally, there would be much more prep work, but since there is no finish on the shaft of the neck anymore, I only need to deal with the fish between the Fretboard and the body. I heat up my exacto blade on my heat gun and make a cut through the finish around the end of the fretboard. Heating the knife will allow me to cut into the thick poly finish as cleanly as possible.
Once that is done, I lay out my heat shields on the top. These are nothing more than thick, corrugated cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil. They will shield the top from the heat. Underneath, I have laid out some blue tape around the perimeter of the fretboard extension. I have my heat gun set on low fan at 550 °F. I hold it about 2-3“ from the surface and start working it up and down trying to heat up a 6” or so section of the fretboard. The rosewood will start to sweat oil as it heats. That’s how you know it’s about ready to start to work on the joint.
Now, I start to work into the joint with a stiff putty knife, being very careful to stay in the joint and not bite into the mahogany of the neck. The best way to do this is to work completely through the joint from edge to edge. It is much harder to catch the grain of either piece, but it is still possible, so care is needed. I work slowly up the neck, heating a section and working the knife through behind. As I approach the other end, I must be extra careful, as it is easy to snap the last few inches off rather than to separate the joint, causing damage to the neck.
I select a new Ebony fretboard blank and slot it. The inlays chosen are the SG supreme style in gold MOP, so they are cut and then transferred to the blank to be cut in.
The fretboard is then radiused at 12” and tapered. The inlays are glued in and then the bindings are applied. I have a simple little jig that allows me to glue both sides of the fretboard at once.
The bindings are scraped flush and then the side markers are installed. To drill the holes square to the tapered edge of the fretboard, I save the little wedges I cut off when tapering and tape them to the other edge of the board. Now, it is square with my drill and I can drill the holes and glue in the markers.
The inlays are scraped and sanded level with the surface. Now I am ready to install the new board. I align and clamp my ends with a few small F clamps and then use large rubber bands to bind down the rest. I used a few temporary clamps lightly in the middle to be sure the board was fairly tight to the neck before clamping down the ends, ensuring the joint will be as tight as possible.
The big finish dents are prepped and filled. I used a black burn in stick because sometimes you get lucky. Not here. This is not basic black, it has a touch of violet to it. It also has a yellowed and aged post-cat lacquer of some type over it, adding to the color. To get a good match, I will need to mix up some paints and make some spot repairs.
I prep the neck with a few coats of high build sealer/filler and sand it out. I apply a coat of black with violet to each small repair and the neck. I then go over that with a yellow amber toner to replicate the aged finish on the surrounding area. Blending the toner over the spot repair and into the surrounding finish is a critical job. Do it wrong and it will look awful after the clear coat. I also apply this toner to my new bindings and blend them in with all the originals. Then, I give the neck a few coats of acrylic urethane and also apply some over each spot repair again, making sure to blend out the edges to help avoid halos in the finish where the new poly meets the old. Here is what some of those same areas look like after the repairs.
The fretboard was finished off with gold EVO frets that really set off the new inlays and go well with the gold hardware. A new bone nut and some Seymour Duncan’s setup for coil taps and this axe is ready to rock some more!
Originally published in Brian Howard's Guitar Building & Repair Blog.