Guitar Repairs London: 1968 Gibson 335 Headstock Repair


On the workbench a 1968 Gibson 335.


A phone call from a distraught Stage Tech. This guitar was slowly losing its headstock!

The guitar belongs to Richard Oakes, the guitarist with Suede.

This is his beloved guitar which has had the headstock broken and repaired once before. The Stage Tech had resorted to binding the headstock with Gaffer Tape in the hope that it would last a little longer until the end of the band’s tour.


Once on the bench it is clear that the repair is substandard and slowly coming undone.


All it takes is a little tug and the whole repair comes apart.


This particular break is a bad one, it’s a shear break. The headstock has broken from the neck at 90° to the grain of the wood.


This makes for a challenging repair confounded by the fact that it has been repaired once before. All remnants of the old glue must be removed before a new join can be made. Fortunately there is no damage to the end of the truss-rod.

A shear break makes for a difficult repair because it is impossible to rejoin and glue the end grain of a section of wood to another end grain. Reinforcement strips will need to be inserted.

It is important that any repair work should be discreet and invisible.


The Process

Fortunately the head veneer is still in one piece and undamaged. The break has occurred just underneath the top nut. So it is decided that the head veneer should be removed and replaced once the repair inserts have be added.

The head veneer is clamped under a piece of perspex to keep it flat until needed later on.



The Repair

The idea is to join/re-glue the neck to the headstock (as best as). And once this is done reinforcing inserts can be added.

A jig is made up to hold the guitar and headstock in place whilst the glue sets.


Once rejoined, the neck and head are routed to except the inserts. Brazilian Mahogany and ebony inserts are made up and glued in oversized to be trimmed down to shape once dry.





The head veneer is then re-fitted, conveniently hiding the Ebony inserts

And the back of the neck/headstock is refinished to disguise the work.


A few other jobs around the guitar are carried out i.e. fret work and a new bone nut.

All in all a successful repair.

I believe the guitar will now only be used for studio work. It is regarded too highly for the rigours of touring.


Electric Guitar Repair: 1968 Gibson Melody Maker


Luke Crowther from The Rifles dropped by the workshop a few days back. He was collecting his Gibson Melody Maker.

Melody Maker

On the Bench

This lovely old guitar was made in 1968 and has been cherished by Luke for many years until it was worked on by an over enthusiastic guitar tech and was never the same again. After that it didn’t play very well and the intonation was hopelessly wrong.

A possible reason was identified immediately

Wrap Around Tailpiece

The wraparound tail-piece was never a great idea in the first instance and this one was also tipping forward quite acutely. This type of bridge/tailpiece relies on a raised pattern to fix its intonation. Quite a crude idea which only allows for fine adjustment via two small grub screws hidden in the back end of the wraparound. This allows adjustment forwards or backwards ( or  ) and typically never gives enough movement to permit accurate intonation. 


Tailpiece Pull up

This has been modified at some point as it still shows the remnants  of the old tremolo system. And removing the scratchplate reveals some crude routing out for the humbuckers. Certainly not factory spec!

Open Cavity

It’s hard to say definitively but it appears that this guitar had a fixed bridge and fixed tremolo as well as single coil pickups. And at some point a previous owner has carried out all these mods.


Time to put it right

First thing is to remove the wraparound assembly and trem remnants.

Tailpiece removed

A modern wraparound is bought in to be fitted. This system has separate saddles similar to the Tune O Matic bridges. This will allow the intonation to be set accurately.

New Tailpiece/Adjustable Bridge Assembly

The threaded inserts that are buried into the guitar body are slightly smaller than the originals. Therefore the holes are plugged and re-drilled. To achieve this two Mahogany plugs a turn down on the lathe, inserted and drilled out.

Posthole MeasurementHole Plugs in Lathe12.85mm in Mahogany

With the scratchplate removed a few of the scratchplate screw holes are repaired.

Breakout in cavity

Scratchplate Off Plugs Drilled

With the new wraparound bridge installed and the scratchplate secured correctly the guitar is ready to be set-up.

There is some fret wear which is honed out and the frets re-profiled. The fingerboard is cleaned and oiled and the guitar is re-strung with 10-46 gauge strings.



Luke checks out the guitars new set-up

Yes he likes it, one very happy Rifleman.


Luke Playing a Few Licks

Luke Standing


Check out the band on Facebook



Gibson Guitar Repair : 1969 Southern Jumbo

The owner of this lovely old Gibson SJ thinks it doesn’t have the sound projection that it should have.

My suggestion is to fit a GPL Saddle Insert to replace the existing adjustable bridge saddle.

Adjustable bridge saddles of this type were used by Gibson and Epiphone on their acoustic guitars during the 1960s. This adjustment gives the player the opportunity to set the action to the required height to suit the player’s style. However, when the saddle is set to a good playing action the saddle makes no contact with the soundboard; this is the down side to this system. This lack of contact is due to the saddle being suspended on two adjusting posts. These posts are screwed into two threaded inserts that are housed into the soundboard. Therefore the transmission of sound vibration from the strings to the soundboard is via two metal adjusting posts. This is not an ideal situation for producing good volume or tone. Simple logic would dictate that the more contact the saddle has with the bridge or soundboard the more transmission of sound, therefore producing more volume and more tone.

View Forum discussion here...

What is a GPL Saddle Insert ? A GPL Saddle Insert replaces the existing adjustable bridge saddle found on vintage Gibson and Epiphone guitars. It’s a non-invasive modification and can be removed if necessary. It’s an idea that I’ve used on several vintage guitars in the past which has enhanced the volume and tone and brought out the true voice of the guitar.

The Process

  1. The adjustable saddle is removed
  2. A GPL Saddle Insert is custom-made from matching woods to fit the slot
  3. The insert is glued into place
  4. The saddle position is marked out
  5. A saddle slot is routed into the insert
  6. A bone saddle is custom-made
  7. The string height is set for optimum playability

The GPL Saddle Insert is glued into place using high quality Hide glue. The remarkable thing about Hide glue is that it’s reversible. With most synthetic glues when it’s stuck it stays stuck. Not the case with Hide glue because it’s an organic material that softens with heat and moisture.  Therefore, by using a little heat and moisture the insert can be released and removed. Consequently, if the old saddle system needs to be put back into place it’s a simple job to reverse the above process and re-install the adjustable bridge saddle.

The Dilemma

Meanwhile the debate still rages on about the rights and wrongs of upgrading any aspects of a “vintage” guitar. Many owners of instruments that are of a certain age are reluctant to change any element of that instrument because it would no longer be origin. In a nutshell, if you have a guitar that’s 30 plus years old, making upgrades or changes to it could make it worth less than if it remained unchanged.

View a recent poll discussing the pros and cons of vintage guitar upgrades here…

The GPL Saddle Insert cuts across this issue because it is a non-invasive change that can be removed when required. If you have an old vintage acoustic that’s not living up to its potential contact this workshop and ask about the GPL Saddle Insert.

Update 23.01.11

An email from the SJ owner, shortly after collecting from the workshop

…………………………… it doesn’t show a lot of play wear and this might have been because it didn’t respond well and as a result, it never got the play for it to break-in and open-up since there was no vibration getting to the soundboard.   Now that the vibration is connected to the soundboard for the first time in its life, it might open up and get much better than it has ever been; wishful thinking or rational reasoning?  Even playing it last night warmed it up and as the evening wore on it seemed to sound better. I do have to say that it now does have a mystical kind of sound that is quite beguiling when one becomes familiar with it. As you can see, my enthusiasm has returned for the old SJ.

Guitar Repair London: Gibson Les Paul Conversion

Emails from Ascension Island

A while back I received an email regarding a Les Paul conversion. It was from someone stationed in Ascension Island. I immediately reached for my atlas to remind myself that Ascension Island is a remote island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Well to make for an easy blog, I have enclosed the email verbatim.

Hello sir,

First things first… your website is amazing!!

This e-mail is coming at you from sunny Ascension Island.  It’s a British island floating between South America and Africa.
I really hope you can help me with this.  I’ve searched the internet for months for someone to do some work on my prized Gibson Les Paul Special.  Ok, it’s not the grandest of the Gibson’s, but it’s the last guitar my father saw me play before he died.  I saved for months to buy a PRS Custom 22, which plays like a dream, but I can’t connect with it like I do this one.
I totally understand that this whole idea may be too adventurous.  I’m not a guitar builder, so please feel free to slap me with reality here…
Here’s the work I want done…

Body and finish

I was going through a spell of home-sickness a few years ago when I was working in Oxford.  It was my first time outside the south Atlantic (apart from vacations).  I foolishly carved the word “home” into the body of the guitar.  I hated it the very next day.
I’d like to remove the horrible carving.  It’s less than 1mm into the finish, so it might be easy just to sand it down and re-varnish it (???).  That’s my second choice.  What I would really, really love is a flat maple top.  The Gibson Special is pretty much a flat plank, so it wouldn’t need any carving. The only catch is that I’ve screwed a pendant between the pickups.  My father gave me the pendant after a trip to Canada in 1989.  If possible, I’d like to have a hole cut roughly to the shape of the pendant and then have it sit down in the wood.  Is that possible?  I’ve attached some pictures so you can see what I mean.


I upgraded the guitar to Zakk Wylde EMG’s a few years ago.  I’ve found them too harsh for the sound I want.  I’d like to downgrade to the Gibson stock pickups and install a Fishman Tune-O-Matic powerbridge.  The power-bridge would need a powerchip to control the blend, but I’d like to re-wire the pickups to 1 – tone / 1 – volume and have the other two pots dedicated to volume and blend of the Fishman.
I hope I’m not asking anything impossible, but please let me know if I am.  I feel really guilty for what I’ve done to this guitar and now I just want it fixed.  I’m not too worried about the cost or how long a project like this would take.  We have access to the UK post system here, so mailing to and from you should be pretty easy.  Failing that, I can always hand carry it over on a flight and then have a friend in the UK collect it when it’s done.

Thanks for your time.

Barry Francis
Ascension Island

Barry enclosed 3 photos

After several email exchanges and a few phone calls I accepted the challenge and the guitar was shipped over to the workshop. Work started soon after.

The Guitar was stripped down and the end of the fingerboard removed

The old top surface was removed

The new top was selected and joined

The new top glued to the body

Cavities routed, shaped and cleaned up

The purflings and bindings attached

The top and bindings on the side edges were lacquered using a Polyester undercoat and a Nitrocellulose top coat for a high gloss finish

Barry and I exchanged a few more emails to finalise the correct wiring configuration:

Hi Barry

With reference to the electronics, I think that your proposal is a
very good idea and a practical use of the space available and
switching possibilities.
Just to repeat so as to understand you correctly:
The front two controls are the Volume and Tone for the
Humbucker p/ups (Volume at the top – Tone at the bottom) , with the
3way selector to switch between them.
The back two controls are the Fishman powerchip at the top and a 3way
mini toggle  at the bottom that switches thus:

Position 1         SD Humbuckers only

Position 2         Humbuckers and Fishman

Position 3         Fishman only

The progress on the guitar is coming along nicely. The new top is in
place and at present I am adding the edge purflings and bindings. As
soon as this stage is completed I can start spraying.
Best wishes

With the spraying completed the electronics were assembled and wired up.

Several other jobs were also carried out.

  1. A fret hone and refrofile
  2. A B.F.T.S. top nut
  3. A complete set-up

Barry flew to the UK to collect his newly converted Les Paul, a few weeks later I received this email:

Hi Graham,
Well, my guitar played its first gig last weekend.  It performed brilliantly!!  The sound is outstanding and it really does play like a dream.  Activating the peizo was a great way of finding out who played guitar in the crowd… just look for the people with jaws down to their knees!!  I ran it through an acoustic simulator pedal and an EQ pedal with a touch of delay.  It sounds so similar to my Takamine plugged… FREAKY!! I love it!!  The magnetic pickups are so smooth.  I can create so many tones on this guitar without actually touching my amp or effects rig.  I’m spoilt for choice.
Besides the tonal difference, the sycamore top makes the guitar vibrate more when I’m playing it.  It’s like I can FEEL the guitar sustaining when I play.
Thank you so much for the work you’ve done.  All of my friends want this guitar (even a couple who can’t actually play!!!)  My PRS is now my backup guitar!! Haha!
Have fun and take care,

Later in 2009 I received this email from Barry

Hi Graham,
It’s Barry from Ascension here.
I just wanted to say that the work you did on my Les Paul still turns heads.  It’s not a Les Paul anymore.  I don’t think Gibson had anything like this in mind when they designed the Les Paul SL.  It’s no longer a budget guitar with mid range pickups and basic finish.  It’s now a one of a kind guitar with a combination of aged Humbuckers and Acoustic Piezo’s with a custom shop finish.
I’ve been using a stereo cable for the Fishman signal.  The blend of PA acoustic alongside a Vox AC30 (original I scored from an old relative for £200) is amazing!! I’m getting the tones I need directly from my amp and PA without the need for stomp boxes between. Well, apart from my trusty Crybaby. As for the pure tone of the Humbuckers, it’s slightly glassier than a standard Les Paul.  It’s really bright with the volume knob backed off a quarter turn.  Wack the volume up to 100 percent and it beefs up like old brawler.
Another perk to the work you did was the new top you installed.  I played a deluxe high-end Les Paul just the other day and I couldn’t believe how lifeless if felt.  My guitar resonates so much that i can feel the vibrations through the body.  It’s a nice feeling when everything is loud and obnoxious.  Every guitar should feel like this.
Thanks for making my budget Les Paul a masterpiece.  I never thought I’d call my PRS Custom 24 a backup guitar.
Take care,