’63 Hummingbird

Yet another old Gibson for restoration for Fletcher…a 1963 Humming Bird. Or should that be Hummingbird?

Anyway, this guitar is, by and large, in sound state with only a couple of relatively minor issues to rectify before it has its finish redone.

The heavy scratchplate often results in splitting of the top alongside the fret board and at the back of the sound hole, on the edge of the scratchplate, caused by the scratch plate shrinking over the years.

Another interesting one is a mangled truss rod adjuster, even though the neck itself has no adjustment issues.

The nut seemed to be frozen and no adjustment spanner I had would grip that nut. Tapping the mangled nut with a centre punch only loosened several of the fret board inlays!

The solution to this issue was to grind the nut off using a small grinding stone in the Dremel and then fitting a new adjuster.

The bridge and scratch plate have to be removed to properly refinish the top and the bridge is removed…

…to show that it’s not the original. The original bridge was an adjustable one that is often replaced with the style of bridge just removed, because the adjustable type bridge is considered to be detrimental to the guitar’s tone.

And while I’ve got the heat gun out, the scratch plate is also  taken off.

As luck would have it, the sound hole inlay came off as well…

The scratch plate is made of plastic that is glued down using, I suspect, acetate cement and it has adhered more securely to the plastic inlays than the wood of the top.

However, the remnants of the inlay could be easily removed and I’ll just reglue them where they came from.

Addressing the splits, I’ll reinforce the front crack by cleating under the damaged area with a piece of spruce like so…

…and another around the sound hole appropriately shaped so that it can’t be seen from outside the sound hole.

I’ll do the same at the back of the sound hole.

On to the fret board…

…and the over-sized frets are pulled out and the loosened inlays are replaced and some of the divots resulting from a previous regret are filled.

The fret board is re-profiled, levelling the filled areas.

And while there is no binding, I’ll recut the fret slots…

…before the missing binding is replaced.

And after attaching a length of binding- I’m not happy…

No, we can do better, I think.

At some stage, a previous owner felt that a slight reshaping of the neck might make the guitar better…and sanded through the binding on the fretboard!

To get the new binding to sit as it should, I’m going to have to redo that binding ledge either side of the fretboard and I’ve been pondering on the best way to do that.

What I have decided to do is to recut the bottom of the ledge by hand, using a new scalpel blade and a steel ruler.

With the ruler held in place, I can run along the bottom of the ruler with the scalpel blade…

…and using my best sharp chisel, recut the ledge with sufficient depth.

When done, the new binding is glued in and allowed to dry.

While I’m waiting for that to happen, I’ll address another little issue- a depression in the top behind the bridge caused by some past, unknown accident.

The ding isn’t structural, it’s merely cosmetic, but I’ll try to minimise it, if possible.

The technique is to dampen the ding and then apply a hot soldering iron onto an absorbent cloth over the damaged area and hopefully steam out the damage.

After about 30 minutes of this process, the depression is certainly minimised to the extent that it may be possible to almost sand it out. We’ll see when I get to the sanding, but the discolouration means that it’s never going to disappear…

The binding on the fretboard is levelled…

…and the new, correct size frets are installed.

I’ve also made and fitted a new bone nut.

Now for the sanding. I’m going to be fairly cautious on the sanding because the old Hummingbird has already been sanded back and refinished once and I don’t want to create any complications by sanding through the body binding or losing serial numbers…

In some places, scraping off the finish is the go…

The binding on the Hummingbird is, however, quite substantial and I want the new binding on the neck to match the body binding and I’ve gone to some pains to scrape the body binding back to its original white…

But on scraping off the old brown finish, I did find this…

Now this is what I didn’t want!

There seems to be a bit of variation in the material used for Hummingbird sides and I found this statement on a the Wikipedia Gibson Hummingbird page…

“Some Hummingbirds produced in 1965 had their sides around the neck and at the end pin painted black to hide where Gibson over-sanded the body, and sanded through the top layer of the mahogany laminated sides.”

And perhaps that’s what has happened here, either originally in the factory or perhaps more likely, when the guitar was repainted by a previous owner…

However, because the sides are all mahogany laminate, the darkish red that I’ll use will in all likelihood cover the sand-through most effectively. Time will tell.

But it is the hazard of refinishing guitars that have already been refinished…

Anyway- the guitar is fine sanded and the fretboard and headstock face are taped up and the bridge position also is masked.

Even though the bridge has been removed for the refinish, I thought that I’d check that the bridge was in fact in the correct position.

And surprise, surprise- no, it wasn’t…

The bridge is a replacement of the original adjustable bridge that Gibson used in the day. It’s a genuine replacement Gibson bridge but it had been placed according to the pin holes, rather than the measured position.

The saddle needs to be about 3mm forward of the original position and that’s where I’ll put it. The original outside pin holes are visible in this pic.

The  brads are to locate the bridge in its right place when it’s glued back down after the painting is complete.

The bridge position is transferred to the masking tape…

…and then the mask is cut just inside the lines and the excess is peeled away.

The guitar is ready for painting in my spray room and the first coat of sanding sealer is applied.

Well, that was last week…now it’s Wednesday of this week before I’m at the colour stage.

Anyway, I have another old Hummingbird that I can match the colour to and it’s quite a deep red that’s needed.

The colour is tried against the original and it’s pretty close.

And I’m surprised just how thick the original nitrocellulose finish is…

Interestingly, the shrinkage of the scratchplate on the second Hummingbird has also caused its top to crack in identical places to the one being restored.

But the colour on the restoration Hummingbird is looking pretty good…

…and after several coats, the colour is building nicely.

I’ll let the paint dry overnight…

…and next morning, I can peel off the tape masking the binding and then over the course of the day, apply a number of coats of “vintage clear”…

And this morning, I’ve brought the guitar inside to allow it to hang in the warm for a few days to let the paint harden.

In the meantime, I’ve taken the better scratchplate that I have on hand and being mindful of the heavy plastic’s propensity to warp, I’ve removed all traces of old glue residue from the back and heated the scratchplate…

…and then placed it under a piece of laminated chipboard weighted down with a sizeable piece of railway line, for several days.

Having left the nitrocellulose lacquer for as long as possible, yesterday I set about rubbing back the finish in preparation for buffing.

But because time is running out- I promised that the completed guitar would be returned in two days- the front only was buffed and the bridge installed to allow the glue 24 hours of drying before stringing up.

After checking that there is sufficient height at the bridge to produce the necessary action, the bridge is glued down.

The guitar spent last night in a comfy chair in our lounge room and this morning, the glue was well set…

The rest of the guitar was buffed this morning and the result is pretty good…

…and with the replacement scratchplate installed,  the truss rod set appropriately and a new bone saddle made and fitted, the guitar is strung up.

As would be expected, the guitar sounds and plays like it did in 1963…

Interestingly, this guitar was always destined to find a new home and Chris contacted me as a potential new owner asking my opinion of the Hummingbird…

Chris’s response…