Fender Bass Repair : 1969 Fender Precision Bass Truss-Rod Repair

On the workbench is a 1969 Fender Precision Bass with a problematic playing action. The action is high and the bass is very uncomfortable to play.

It was bought through a popular online auction and was brought into the workshop for an assessment after the new owner had tried various adjustments but failed to make the bass more playable.

It had spent most of its life in its case inside a closet. This is confirmed by its amazing condition. The finish is bright and clean with very little markings or lacquer cracks. The hardware is all original and unusually the bridge and pickup covers are still present. I suspect that it was put away and forgotten about because it is such an effort to play. This would account for its immaculate condition.

Click image to enlarge

Fender Truss-Rod

On all early Fender guitars the truss-rod adjuster is at the body end of the neck. Upon inspection it is apparent that the truss-rod is not working as well as it should. Any adjustment has little effect on the neck.

Upon testing the truss-rod, it appears that the adjusting screw reaches its limit before any changes to the neck are effective.

The prognosis is that the truss-rod is either broken internally or that the adjusting nut is ineffectual in some way.

The remedy is to replace the truss-rod.

This is a problematic job as this would require the rod to be removed without removing the fingerboard. It is not possible to remove a Fender style fingerboard without changing the nature of the neck beyond all recognition. This would detract for its originality and drastically devalue the guitar.

A Fender truss-rod is made from a piece of round section steel with a “T” soldered onto one end (the truss-rod fixed point )and a thread tapped onto the other end to accept the adjusting nut. Once fitted into place, and when the nut is tightened, the adjusting nut pushes against a fixed internal washer which is part of the inner channelling that the truss-rod sits into.

It is decided to create an opening in the fingerboard directly above the truss-rod fixed point and expose the “T”.  Once exposed, the “T” can be severed and the rod extracted via the body end on the neck.

A magnet stack is used to locate the end of the truss-rod

A section of fingerboard is scribed through and removed thus revealing the “T” fixed point

The “T” is drilled through and severed

The rod is extracted through the body end of the neck

Testing the truss-rod once it has been removed, it is apparent that the adjuster is ineffectual. As the adjuster is tightened it has the effect of ejecting the screwdriver (very frustrating).

Click image to enlarge

A new rod is made up using a piece of silver steel and a different style of adjuster. This is inserted into the headstock end of the neck and fixed. Silver steel is a tougher material and more likely to allow for extra torque that may be needed on final adjustment.

The fingerboard piece is replaced

The area smoothed over and cleaned up

Frets 1 & 2 are replaced and a new bone nut made and fitted.

The Conclusion

I am pleased to report that the truss-rod works well and has made a vast improvement to the basses playability. The initial cost of a repair such as this is easily justified due to the overall value now put on this fully functional  ’69 Fender Precision bass – all original and in excellent condition – in short a splendid bass.

The bass is now permanently out of the closet and enjoying its new lease of life by its new owner.

More on P. Basses here

Vintage Martin Acoustic Guitar Restoration : Martin 00-17

Here’s a rare guitar on the workbench, it’s an old Martin 00-17 made in 1949.  Bob Dylan used this model back in the early so called “Coffeehouse Days” more info on Dylans guitar’s Here…

This little gem has some all too familiar problems; it has severe soundboard bellying, the neck is loose giving a high playing action. All of which has probably causing the bridge to lift.

Other issues

There is a small hole in the rib

Initials have been scratched in the lacquer on the back

It has been fitted with inappropriate machine heads

Click image to enlarge


With all bridge-lifting or bellying issues the first thing to look at is the internal structure of the soundboard.

Using lights and mirrors to scrutinise the internal bracing it is discovered that the bridge plate is a little loose and not glued at its edges.

By removing the bridge and bridge-plate the soundboard can be returned to its original flat shape.

With very little effort the bridge is removed.

The bridge-plate is soaked overnight. The next day, with a little heat, the bridge-plate becomes detached very easily.

With this area of the soundboard in a “damp” state, the soundboard is clamped into a negative bow and left to dry out for a week or so. This will help the soundboard regain its correct shape.

Once completely dry a new bridge-plate is made up from Indian Rosewood and glued into place. Hide glue is used because it is reversible, this will make the plate easier to remove in later years if necessary.

With the soundboard still in its negative bow the new bridge-plate is fitted, clamped up and left to dry overnight.

The bridge footprint on the soundboard and the underside of the bridge are cleaned up and with the soundboard still in its negative bow the bridge is glued into place.

Hide glue can be diluted to such a viscosity so as to be used in a syringe. Using this method the issue of the loose neck is easily solved by injecting Hide glue into the join and clamping overnight.

The hole and initials are patched up and cleaned up so as not to look too “over worked”. This is quite often a good way of resolving damage to a finish that is already distressed from years of use.

Suitable replacement machine heads are not available at the time of stringing up this old Martin. This will be done when appropriate tuners become available.

Glenn of Glenn’s Guitars plays the changes and checks over the  finished results.

More Martin 0017 photos on Flickr

Vintage Acoustic Guitar Repair : Harmony Sovereign H1260

Here’s a ’60s Harmony Sovereign H1260 on the workbench.

Vintage Harmony guitars have become a popular choice for collectors and often fetch high prices on auction sites. The H1260 was produced between 1958 – 1971.

The Harmony Guitar Company became the largest producer in the U.S. They sold 250,000 pieces in 1923 and 500,000 in 1930, including various models of guitars, banjos, and mandolins. The company peaked between 1964 – 1965 selling 350,000 instruments, but low end foreign competition led to the company’s demise 10 years later. In the years from 1945 – 1975 the Chicago firm had mass produced about ten million guitars. More info on The Harmony Guitar Company here…

The Harmony Guitar Company ceased trading in 1975 and sold the Harmony name. The name is now used by an unrelated company based in Illinois that imports guitars from Asia. More info on vintage Harmony guitars at Harmony Database

* From Wikipedia

As previously stated these old 1260s are becoming collectors items and owners are forever looking for ways to bring out the best in them. This 1260 belongs to a regular customer and a frequent visitor to the workshop.

It originally came into the workshop to have a pin through bridge fitted. Whilst it’s on the workbench I had an opportunity to give it a thorough workbench assessment and I did’t like what I saw.

It had a high playing action and on closer inspection I could see that the neck had been refitted. This had been badly done and left me with the impression that this old Sovereign had been the victim of abuse in the hands of an inexperience repairer.

There was a strange veneer line that ran the length of the neck under the fingerboard. It appeared to (have been) be a piece of Maple veneer, but why was it there? This didn’t look like Harmony spec. but it suggested that the fingerboard had been removed at some point in its life.

Click image to enlarge

After talking over the potential problems with its owner we came up with a plan to save this old jumbo.

A Renovation Plan

To remove the fingerboard from the neck and body

To remove the Maple veneer from the top of the neck.

To remove the neck from the body and reset at the appropriate angle for a good playing action.

The fingerboard was (to be) assessed after it has been removed to ascertain if it could be reused or replaced.

All binding around the fingerboard was to be renewed including the edge dots.

A small heat blanket was used to heat the fingerboard. For ease this was done in several stages.

With the fingerboard removed it was a simple job to steam and remove the neck.

More info about removing and resetting a guitar neck here…

The body, neck and fingerboard were set aside for a few days to dry out and settle.

The Fingerboard

Fortunately the fingerboard was removed cleanly and without damage. The frets were removed and the fingerboard cleaned up.

I took this opportunity to refret the fingerboard as this makes for a very easy job with the fingerboard removed from the neck.

The fingerboard was fretted and new bindings attached.


The Neck Reset

It’s clearly visible in the photo (below) that the dovetail is badly broken. This is quite common when a neck is removed. Generally speaking all the broken parts a gathered and pieced back together. However, in this instance there are no broken parts to be collected. This means that these parts were omitted on the last neck reset!

The dovetail end was cleaned up as best as is practical and the neck reset.

More on neck resets here…

The edge bindings were trimmed to size and the fingerboard reattached to the neck.

Why bother changing the bridge?

As previously mentioned owners are forever trying new ways to bring out the best tone in their Harmony guitars. A pin through bridge is an efficient way of enhancing the bass and mid range tones. This is partly due to the increased break angle of the strings from the saddle to the pin hole and partly due to the 90° angle of the string through the bridge and soundboard. Another beneficial factor is the direct contact of the string’s ball end with the internal bridge plate beneath the soundboard.

Making the Bridge

A purpose designed and made metal block was heated to approximately 400°F. The heat transference was enough to soften the glue holding the bridge.

The new bridge design was based approximately on the same shape and dimensions as the old bridge. The new bridge has an extended front to allow for correct saddle position and therefore accurate intonation.

The footprint of the old bridge was cleaned up and a soundboard patch installed. This ensures that the new bridge will stay stuck.

The new pin through bridge was fitted and glued into place.

The guitar was strung up and tested.

Some strings were choking around the 12th fret area. This was a bad sign and suggested that there was a slight hump in the fingerboard around this area. The only course of action was to defret the guitar and reshoot the fingerboard. This is unfortunate as this had already been refretted at the start of the restoration. However, my optimistic thinking was that it could work out fine and there was very little lost in doing the earlier refret when the fingerboard was loose.

Fingerboard Reshoot

The frets were removed and the guitar was prepared for the reshoot. This entailed using a jack plane and cabinet scrapers to smooth out the hump in the fingerboard.

Some of the inlays were lost.

With the slight hump removed new M.O.P dots were inlayed the fingerboard was refretted.

A new nut was made and fitted along with a new scratchplate.

The back of the neck was refinished to disguise a multitude of chips and breakouts around the binding area.


This short video clip shows the transition of this instrument through restoration.

Restoration has transformed this instrument 

If you enjoyed reading this blog please give some feedback by clicking the like button below.

Thanks GPL

Soundtrack: Aloha Uncle Lawrence by Jim Kimo West

Vintage Bass Guitar Repairs : 1963 Fender Precision Bass

Here’s a piece of history on the workbench. A fantastic Precision Bass made by Leo Fender in 1963, two years before the company was sold to the mighty CBS Broadcasting Inc. Its age makes this instrument a fascinating, valuable, and classic piece of music industry folklore. Leo Fender/CBS history here…

It also has an interesting ownership history as it was owned and played by Richard McCracken who was the bassist in Rory Gallagher’s band Taste. The bass can be seen being played by Richard on stage here… at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. More festival history here…

The current owner bought the bass sometime in the 1970s from a well known music shop in South East London. It enjoyed a busy playing life for a few years but eventually got put into storage. And there it has remained until now. The owner has decided to start playing again and needs his bass back.


After an extensive workshop examination it was decided that the bass should remain fairly unchanged if it is to retain its authenticity and value. With vintage guitars this workshop prefers to adopt a “less is more” work ethic.

The good news is that the guitar has very little wrong with it. The pick-ups and electrics are in working order. The truss-rod, bridge-saddles and machine heads still work properly. The only work required is for a few frets to be replaced, two new speed knobs, new strings and a set-up.

The neck angle is a little shallow, causing a high playing action.  This is easy to adjust with this type of bolt-on neck.

The factory date stamp verifies the age of the neck. The prefix “C” indicates the neck profile type ~ Frets 1 – 11 are showing signs of heavy wear

The frets are gently heated and removed. The fingerboard is lightly sanded and the fret slots slightly enlarged

The following video clip shows the partial re-fret in Fast Mo

Meet the owner Jim, he’s the man with the bass (and the shades)

More enlarged photos here…

Soundtrack: Bass Instinct 5 by Chris Norton and Frank Mizen

A week or so later I received this email from Teresa, Jim’s partner and instigator of the restoration work.

Hi Graham,
I just wanted to drop you a line to say thank you for the work you have done on Jimmy’s guitar.  He can’t believe it’s the same instrument, the magic you have worked on his baby is unbelievable.  Great service, from your initial advice on the phone, for recognising that it is a rare vintage guitar and for your sympathetic restoration.  We really appreciate your less is more approach to work carried out on this type of guitar.  You have managed to improve the playability yet retain the character of this wonderful old beast.  We had not realised how important it was to retain as much of the originality of an instrument from that era, and your knowledge and expertise was greatly appreciated.  Your passion in your work is something very rare in this day and age. The additional research you did, finding a YouTube clip of the guitar being played at the Isle of Wight festival was very impressive.

Having looked at the piece about the guitar on your web site we thought you might also like to know a little bit more about the missing years.  Jimmy played in a band called Michael Robinson and in several pub/club bands in the 1970’s and 1980’s in the South East London area.  The Michael Robinson band even had a single (Rich Man) released on President Record label which had airplay on Radio 1 and was slated by Tony Blackburn. At which point Jimmy decided to join the ‘establishment’ and get a proper job!!!!!!

When we dropped off the guitar another one of your clients was just leaving and his passing comment to us was, “it’s in good hands” and he was right.  We would recommend your service to anyone with a guitar in need of some love, care and restoration; because we know that’s what any instrument left with you will receive.

You will be pleased to know that Jimmy has now bought a guitar stand is about to invest in a case…..lol!!!!

Best wishes,

Teresa and Jimmy

1968 Gibson Dove: Logo Repair

This amazing old Gibson Dove dates back to 1968. It’s a clean guitar with few bumps and knocks; it’s amazing to see a guitar of this age without any splits or cracks.


However, there is one nagging issue and that’s with its logo, half of it is missing!

It was made in the days when Gibson, in their wisdom, inlayed a M.O.P. plate into the headstock, attached the logo stencils and spray-painted the negative space.  After many decades the paint has begun to flake off.  I wonder how many more of these from that era are out there with similar peeling logos.

The remedy is quite straightforward. A logo stencil will need to be created. Care must be taken in masking off the area around the stencil because of the fragile finish.

A positive logo is made up and attached. The remainder on the head is masked-off


Numerous coats of nitrocellulose lacquer must be applied to build a suitable thickness

This is the result after many layers

The new logo is carefully cleaned-up and cut-back
The logo and headstock is treated to several coats of shellac to seal,  protect and help with the aging effect.



London Luthier: The Ergonomic Guitar

This article was first published in the trade journal “Soundings” Aug 2009. This is a biannual publication  produced by The Institute of Musical Instrument Technology I.M.I.T.  It received lots of attention at the time and I have been persuaded to reproduce the article as a blog.
Although this type of ergonomic guitar has limited appeal for a lot of guitarists I think that most readers will find an interest in the manufacture and construction techniques.
Some of the images/diagrams have been uploaded direct from the original article,  apologies for the quality.

The Ergonomic Guitar

Early 2008 a regular customer to the workshop and a Steinberger Guitar enthusiast approached me about having an electric guitar made.
On closer enquiry I soon realised this was not to be the regular “run of the mill” design.

The specifications were to be as follows:
•    Headless neck
•    Hollow body (jazz guitar style)
•    Unusual body shape
•    Made from lightweight material
•    Carved top (jazz guitar style)
•    Silver  binding
•    Unusual neck profile
•    Ebony fingerboard
•    2 octave neck
•    Stainless steel frets
•    Silver neck position side markers
•    2 pick-ups with 5-way switching configuration
•    Countersunk strap buttons
•    Black finish

Although some of the above is standard form, the shape and overall appearance was to be quite dramatically different. The construction methods needed to complete this job were to lead me away from the norm.
The customer, who has a background in graphic design, was soon able to supply me with a full size card mock up of the shape and approximate size of the guitar.
I was then presented with the problem of translating the card mock up into a working drawing and making it work, as a guitar, on paper.
Over the course of a month or so the hardware needed was researched and acquired. The hardware is vital if an accurate and successful drawing is to be produced.
Over a few weeks, and when time would allow, a full size orthographic drawing was created and all constructional problems ironed out. If it works on paper we can build it!

During 2006 I had acquired some reclaimed Brazilian mahogany from a furniture maker friend, Dan Burrough http://www.tree-fish.net/, (based in Wiltshire).
The reclaimed mahogany was taken from two very large panel doors (12’ x 6’) that were being replaced in a 1930s Water Authority Pumping Station. The mahogany was structurally sound and would have probably ended up in a skip or on a bonfire if it had not been for Dan.
After taking out the usable wood, and too small for any significant furniture making use, it was to prove just right for this project. It was lightweight and there was enough thickness in the door panel for a two piece back and carved top.
Part of the frame of the door was to become the neck.
The ebony fingerboard was to be from stock.
The edge binding for the body was purchased from a silversmith in the West Midlands.

Constructing the Body

From the full size drawing relevant templates were made up.
Two sections of the mahogany were joined together (50mm in thickness). This made up the back and the sides of the guitar.
The body was hollowed out using a router, 45mm deep, thus creating a 5mm thickness back and 20mm wall around the shape.

Constructing the Top

3 (already joined) pieces of mahogany from a door panel (approx 18mm thick) made up the top.
The top was shaped and carved using brass thumb planes. This is the same technique as used in violin making. The unusual shape of the guitar top dictated that this same shape be “echoed” in the contour.
The centre of the shape was finished to 15mm and the edge of the shape was finished at 5mm.

Top glued to the body

The Edge Binding

The next process was to cut a rebate for the silver binding. Traditionally guitar edge bindings are either wooden or celluloid. This guitar’s binding was to be solid silver. I didn’t know how well this would work. After a few test pieces I decided that an epoxy resin would be the safest glue to use.
A line of silver binding was glued into place followed by a line of ebony (approx 1.5mm thick) which would become the finished bevelled outer edge. When finished the silver line would appear to be embedded into the top.

Edge Binding Test

The holes and slot for the electrics were then cut into the top

The Neck
Upon completion of the body and binding, work started on the neck and fingerboard.
Most players prefer their guitar neck profile to be as thin and as “slinky” as possible. This usually makes for a comfortable hand playing position. However, in some circumstances it benefits the player to have a rounder neck profile. This is generally so when the player has a problem with their fretting hand due to injury or muscle problems. The client had suffered for several years with thumb tendonitis brought on by over extending the hand whilst playing.
As part of the design spec the profile of the neck was to be unusual. That is, to be round in shape rather more like a baseball bat than the normal shape of a guitar neck. The fingerboard would be ebony with stainless steel frets and silver neck side inlays.
The 10mm channel was routed for the truss rod (the adjustable steel rod that runs the length of the neck underneath the fingerboard).

The Fingerboard

With the two major components made the next stage of the build is to create an opening in the body to house the neck.
The rake angle of the neck is inclined at 3° to the horizontal. This angle (common on many Gibson style electric guitars) gives a good final string high and string tension needed for optimum playability.

A jig was made up to allow a router to cut an opening 25mm deep, the width of the neck and at an angle of 3°.
Once the neck channel was completed, the neck was glued into place. Using a G-clamp it was clamped up and left overnight to cure thoroughly.

The neck and body were united for the first time

All that remained of the woodwork was to clean up and sand down the grades finishing with 320 grit garnet paper.
The fingerboard was masked off and the guitar was now ready for the finish.

Translucent black on mahogany

It had been decided to finish the guitar in a translucent black so as to reveal the brown of the mahogany rather than a solid colour.
3 base coats of polyester were applied then followed by several coats of diluted black nitrous cellulose. It was then finished with a nitrous cellulose satin clear top coat. This gave the guitar its stylish modern look.

All that remained was to add the hardware and set the guitar up.
•    The electrics were assembled and installed
•    The pick-up covers were fitted
•    The bridge system was fitted
•    The frets were honed, profiled and finely polished
•    The intonation and string height was set
After a few hours fiddling and a few tweaks the guitar was all set and ready for that phone call to the customer. “Hi, your guitar is finished and ready for collection.”

The Ergonomic shape explained

1. High bout allows easy and comfortable grip under the right-hand arm

2. Straight line at end of guitar enables it to stand without aid.

3. Tuning and string anchorage system here helps to balance the guitar in the playing position

4. Curve design to fit into the shape of the player’s leg when seated.

5. Headless Neck, no need to support with the playing hand

Total weight 3 kilos

1.                      2.                         3.

1. The upper solid section to support the neck.

2. The centre solid section support for the bridge

3. The lower solid section to support the fine tuning hardware