1969 Gretsch Anny

Lachlan’s Gretsch Anniversary, 1969 model

This is a project that I’ve been looking forward to since before Christmas…the complete restoration of a favourite old Gretsch.

Lachlan bought this guitar well over ten years ago and I’ve done various tasks on the guitar over a number of years. The guitar was refinished in acrylic lacquer some 10 years ago and the paint wasn’t a particular success because of adhesion problems.

So this time, I’ll completely strip the acrylic finish and use a more appropriate finishing system…

First, however, the action adjustment is as low as it can go and the string height at the end of the fretboard measures about 3mm.

Now it would be possible, I suppose, to reduce the height of the bridge base, but that won’t rectify what’s happened- the slight distortion of the body over the last 40+ years that has changed the neck angle.

In this photo, it can be seen that the neck actually sits on the body instead of clearing it, hence the poor action.

The guitar has to be completely dismantled anyway, so that’s a good place to start…

I imagine that a Gretsch neck removal won’t be all that simple but apparently there will be a dovetail under that fretboard extension. A bit of research on the net throws up an awful amount of mis-information- soak the neck overnight…!-but the dovetail looks as though it’s under the fifteenth fret. And there is also a large screw in the heel that has to be removed first.

The wooden plug is drilled out so that I can get a screwdriver onto the screw…

…and now I can proceed to the neck removal process.

The 15th fret is removed and a series of holes drilled to determine the end and depth of the dovetail…

…and a length of guitar string tells me I’m in the right place.

The neck removal jig is fitted and I can start introducing steam into the fretboard holes and the screw hole at the neck.

The neck starts to move after a few minutes…

…and then loosens and slides out.

Usually, the fretboard extension isn’t glued to the top of the guitar, but in this case, it was and this could only have happened at the factory, in 1969…

Judging by the amount of glue that has to be removed,  I’m also inclined to think that the main means of attaching the neck in the old days was that big screw with the dovetail’s role only secondary…

Introducing that much steam is likely to loosen more than is required, so I’ll put some clamps on other things that have loosened and let the moisture dry out.

With everything now ready for reassembly, I’ll determine just what has to happen for the neck to be reset.

I’ll remove the old glue and while the body and neck are separate, I’ll remove the old finish.

Removing the finish is a combination of scraping and sanding.

With the paint removed, I’ll set about rectifying the neck dovetail. Some wood had broken away and I’m fixing that with the judicious application of polyester filler.

Some of the original binding has also been replaced and the ill fit of the dovetail can be rectified with some shimming.

A trial fit suggests that this is all that’s going to be needed to allow the neck to be refitted at the correct angle.

Glue is applied…

…and the neck is replaced into the dovetail.

Because the dovetail is again an appropriate fit, I can clamp the neck into place…

…remove the clamp and check that the angle is correct…

…and that the alignment is also correct…

…before re-installing the clamp and checking that any excess glue is wiped away and allow to dry.

Now Lachlan and I spent an entertaining day in the big smoke on Friday attempting to determine the correct colour for the refinish. Lachlan had tracked down an old Cadillac colour chart from 1958 with the colours, but the colour card had yellowed that much that matching the colour just wasn’t possible.

The colours are Arcadian Green for the top and Versailles Green for the neck, back and sides. But if the colour chips are on what was originally white paper…

So we did the next best thing- we borrowed a 2006 Japanese made Anniversary from Guitar Emporium- thanks Darren and Ben…-and took it to Mirortone where we could exactly match the Gretsch colours to Mirotone’s colours.

So the top is going to be Cucumber Cream and the rest- Beancounter…

Anyway, while I’m waiting for the paint, there’s still a bit to do. The dowell is replaced after the screw is reinserted and the heel cap glued into place.

All small dents and nicks are appropriately filled, including all the holes that have been drilled over the years for the Bigsby…

…and, because the guitar has been previously resprayed, the numbers are made a bit more visible.

The simplest way to spray the archtop is to use this purpose-made device for allowing complete access to the guitar.

A block is fitted into the pickup cavity and screwed into the rails that run either side of the pickup rout. The spray handle(?) screws onto the block and when fitted into the stand, it allows total access to the guitar being sprayed. The knob on the top allows the friction on the holding device to be varied and the guitar can be fixed into any position I want.

Yes- I will mask off the fret board before I spray…

Sanding sealer is applied and then sanded back.

And today, I picked up the paint for the job. Looks to be a better match to the original Gretsch colours than the paint that’s been removed…

On with the painting…

First, the top is painted the lighter green…

…and after masking up the binding and the top, the back and sides are painted the darker green.

When the paint has hardened sufficiently, the masking and tape are removed.

The top edges of the binding are scraped…

…but the bound F-holes present their own unique challenge.

To get a consistent result on the forty year old binding in the f holes, I had to invent a new tool.

To get a good result on cleaning the paint off the binding, a sharp blade is essential. Around the body, a snap-off knife works well. But in the f-holes. the ideal tool  is a scalpel blade.

I made this tool using a couple of pieces of aluminium with two holes tapped for a small screw above and below where I wanted the blade to be held.

But so I don’t end up with cut fingers on the surgically sharp blade, the edge is ground off most of the blade.

And because the blade is somewhat wedge-shaped, the projection of the blade is controlled by lifting or lowering the blade which actually pivots in the holder…

I should patent that…

Anyway, after the binding is cleaned up, a number of clear coats are applied and allowed to harden while I have a short Easter break.

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And after a suitable lapse in time, the Anniversary is ready to be rubbed back until uniformly flat using a couple of grades of wet & dry paper…

…and then buffed to the final finish.

I’m really pleased with our colour matching with the new Anniversary that we borrowed- the colours look absolutely spot-on!

Now to put it back together again…

Archtops present unique complications because they don’t- as a rule- have control cavities that pots, switches and wiring can be installed into. The electrics have to be installed via pickup routs and f-holes.

I suppose we develop our own ways of doing that and this is the system that works for me…

I’ve threaded a couple of plastic tubes through the pot holes and brought them out through the back pickup cavity.

This guitar has been “hotrodded” by removing the individual volume controls and the aptly named “mud switch” so the pots and front switch are only there to fill up the holes…

The tubes fit onto the pot shafts like so…

…and the pots can be guided through the pickup rout and the tubing gently pulled through the relevant hole, bringing the pot with it. The washer and nut are then dropped over the tubing and tightened.

The same process is used for the switches.

For the output jack, I use this handy item…

…a jack firmly attached to a length of hydraulic tubing.

To fit the wiring harness, I lay out the components like this…

…making sure that wires don’t become entangled when everything is placed into the guitar body.

After the electrics are in place, the pickups aren’t put in place just yet because I need to align the pole pieces with the strings. So in the interim, this stops the pickups from damaging the newly painted top…

Now, as luck would have it, even though everything worked as it should before I put the electrics in, the front pickup didn’t work…

A natural assumption was the switch and sure enough, there was a very dodgy looking connection. The connections rectified, the switch was replaced and all was good.

The Bigsby is replaced and the Sperzel machineheads refitted so that the strings could be installed and then I can align the pickups under the strings.

But…

Even though the front and back pickups worked as they should, the tell-tale nasal tone clearly indicated that the pickups were, in fact, out of phase in the middle position. So the strings are removed and the front pickup removed.

My thinking here was that the back pickup is a brand new Filter’tron so the fault has to be with the old front pickup.

Now, I know about Gretsches, but I didn’t know that this was the pickup I was dealing with…

Lachlan tells me that this pickup has been rewound but for some unknown reason, the polarity was reversed.

Fortunately, reversing the polarity is simply achieved and the pickup was again installed and the strings replaced.

This time, all good.

This has been a project that I was really looking forward to and after fairly major surgery, the old Anniversary is back to better than its old self.

As I have said more than once, I just love old Gretsches!