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1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Sun Sep 10, 2017 4:39 pm
by Rob Carty
All -- A friend of mine has asked me to fix up some electricals on a highly modified 1954 Gretsch Country Club. He also wants me to adjust the truss rod if possible. (He bought this instrument from Jesse Dayton years ago!)

Anyway, having carefully investigated the truss-rod situation on this 63-year-old bit of Americana, I'm seeing something that gives me pause. Initially, I saw that the nut wasn't protruding 100% straight -- it was slightly angled. It also looked like it had been awhile since the adjustment nut had seen any action, so I dabbed it with penetrant a few times before I even touched it.

I thought I'd back off the nut first to give me a chance to inspect the condition of the nut and threads. I put the socket to the nut to loosen it, and it turned counterclockwise, no problem. But then it came to a sudden halt. A bit of careful torque yielded no further turning.

I looked again, and upon closer inspection, it appeared that the whole rod had rotated along with the nut. I turned it the other way, clockwise this time, but again, after 1.5 turns, it stopped. I went back and forth a few times and noticed I could hear some faint squeaking coming from under the 12th-fret area, so I have no doubt that the entire rod is turning all the way down the neck.

Looking again at the nut, it almost looks like the rod is tacked or peened to it, but I'm just guessing -- it's a little to junky for these old eyes to see. FWIW, the nut is 3/8".

All of this begs the question: What kind of truss rod am I dealing with here? Is it a double-action rod? Is it just broken? Is it something else altogether? I want to proceed very carefully here. Keep in mind, this guitar has been modified quite a bit over the years, so I wouldn't be surprised if the fretboard and truss rod aren't original. In fact, you can tell in the first picture that the fretboard binding looks newer, than the headstock binding. And are those headstone-shaped fretboard inlays original?

Another possible clue -- and it may be meaningless, which is why I'm asking the brain trust -- is that the neck has a bolt at the heel. I've attached a couple of pics to show this. You can see the bolt protruding inside the guitar body where the neck joint is. Outside, you can see where an apparent hole has been plugged. Seems odd to me, but we're talking 1954 here and who knows how many mods.

All thoughts welcome and appreciated!

Many more pics available at https://is.gd/1954GretschCC.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Sun Sep 10, 2017 7:30 pm
by David King
I'm going to guess that the bolt was an add-on.
I don't think that the rod is double action but more likely that the threads at the headstock are galled onto the nut. The far end of the rod was probably screwed through the anchor and peened on the far end to keep it from coming unscrewed.
I'd try heating up the nut with the penetrating oil in there and then unscrewing to where it stops turning. I'll use a big soldering iron with a bit of fresh solder on the tip to conduct the heat into the nut and wait until you get some smoke out of the end of the rod. Try to mark the visible end of the rod and the edge of the nut to see if you can crack them apart. If you get a 1/4 turn and the nut and rod alignment marks are still in the same locations then stop to reconsider your options.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Sun Sep 10, 2017 8:13 pm
by Bill Raymond
Humpblock fret markers would be normal in a pre-1957 model. The neck would have been fastened with a wood screw through the heel and it looks like someone removed the screw and replaced it with a bolt and nut through the head block. I think David is correct in his analysis of the truss rod problem.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Sun Sep 10, 2017 8:41 pm
by Rob Carty
Wow, thanks for the quick turnaround! I'll try to do that this week and report back. Cheers, y'all.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Mon Sep 11, 2017 11:28 am
by Barry Daniels
Another cranky Gretsch truss rod in the Houston area. Rob, did you see the one I am dealing with? Totally different truss rod though. A few years ago I rebuilt a Gretsch Anniversary that used a simple, Gibson style, one-way truss rod. It looked similar to yours.

http://www.mimf.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=5183

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Mon Sep 11, 2017 11:33 am
by Barry Daniels
How is the neck? If it is pretty straight, you might just want to leave the truss rod alone. Relief could be dealt with by fret leveling. Fixing the truss rod would probably require fretboard removal, which is what I am going through. Not an easy task.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Mon Sep 11, 2017 9:55 pm
by Rob Carty
Thanks, Barry! I hope you weathered Harvey okay. We got some water in the street, which made us more than a little nervous, but it all flowed away as designed. Not so for the people in the other section of my neighborhood, north of Briar Forest near Buffalo Bayou. They were all mandatorily evacuated and had their power shut off. For days, I could hear the airboat rescues from inside my house. Sad.

The neck has some relief without strings on it. If that's how much relief it has when strung (too much to ask, I'm sure), then it would be okay. I told him that a fret job would be easier than the spinal surgery that is fretboard removal. This guitar has been all over the world with Jesse Dayton, and has the scars and sweat stains to match. It was also played by none other than Brian Setzer. Pretty cool that I have it on my bench now. More to come!

Boy, that Gear-O-Matic. In my head, it sounds like a great idea. Alas ...

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Mon Sep 11, 2017 10:02 pm
by Barry Daniels
We were very lucky, Rob. Similar to you, we were fine but nearby areas were flooded. Thanks for asking.

Cool history on that guitar.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2017 11:35 am
by Rob Carty
I did the penetrating oil/soldering iron thing, but so far, no luck. But I'm not giving up that easily and I'm in no hurry. I thought I'd try soaking the nut in PB Blaster, but of course you can't just dunk the headstock into a vat of the stuff. It so happens that my kids have these oversized drinking straws that fit perfectly over the nut. So I stuffed a rolled-up paper towel into the straw, soaked it with PB Blaster, and pushed the whole thing over the nut with a little foil just as a protective barrier. (See the pic ... looks kinda illegal, but I assure you it's 100% legit.) I'll leave it there awhile and see what happens, and will continue doing the heat thing until I'm convinced it's futile. I have thick skin.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2017 11:43 am
by Barry Daniels
Do you think the PB Blaster will melt the straw? Some plastics do not hold up to solvents well.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2017 11:53 am
by Rob Carty
Good question, LOL! But luck appears to be on my side this time. Left it overnight and still stout.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2017 1:02 pm
by David King
If that gets you nowhere then I'd connect the nut to an electric impact driver with the torque setting as low as possible and see what gives first. If the rod snaps just behind the nut you can go in with the Stewmac thread restore kit or equivalent and get the rod working that way.

If the rod unscrews the rest of the way from the anchor you can probably insert a new rod with the same threads and the tip sharpened to a point with thread locking compound and as long as you measure the length carefully and add a washer or two under the new nut to give the nut something to push against you should be all set. Don't be surprised if the old rod is 5/32" dia with 8-32 threads and the channel is straight instead of curved. A straight channel can be drilled out to 3/16th" and even a curved one can be if you can find a long enough drill bit.

If the rod snaps at the anchor you can still locate the anchor and try to extricate it either through the heel or the fingerboard or the back of the neck without pulling the fingerboard. Then again some fingerboards will pop right off so worth a little effort so see if you can lift a corner. Make sure the neck grain bias is angled towards the fingerboard as you push the parting knife in. I would assume that it's been glued with HHG so a little isopropyl introduced into the joint can help it release. Aliphatics are susceptible to heat.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2017 1:08 pm
by David King
An alternate strategy would be to locate the back of the anchor and bore a small hole so you can grind off the peened section of the rod and unscrew it from the headstock.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2017 1:18 pm
by Barry Daniels
Your Gretsch is probably old enough to have a solid fingerboard. The Gretsch I am working on is from the 1970's and I didn't know that the ebony fingerboard was only 1/8" thick and laminated to a piece of basswood. I got about 1/3 of the board removed cleanly, then it basically fell apart and broke into several pieces. I would try David's suggestions first.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2017 1:38 pm
by David King
Veneered fingerboards were the norm up until the 1880s.<g>

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2017 2:56 pm
by Rob Carty
This fretboard is solid rosewood ... about 3/16" thick at the crown.

Also, I can't thank everyone enough for this guidance! :D

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Tue Sep 12, 2017 8:30 pm
by Barry Daniels
The thing that surprised me was that the basswood layer was not visible anywhere; even at the upper end of the fretboard which was exposed when I removed the nut. The binding covered the other three edges, of course.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:05 pm
by Rob Carty
Quick update ... no real progress on the nut. I've heated, I've cooled, I've lubed. I've used PB Blaster, I've used melted wax. I've used clockwise torque and counterclockwise torque. I've even considered trying reverse psychology on the thing. It hasn't budged. I've still got a few tries left in me, but I'm looking ahead at the next step.

One option I haven't seen is cracking or cutting the nut. This is something I've done in other contexts like auto mechanics and plumbing. Space is tight here, so feasibility certainly may be an issue. But it just seems to me that sacrificing the nut and replacing it later would save having to remove the fretboard. Anyone have any insight into whether that's possible, and if so, how?

Thanks for helping me think this through.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Tue Sep 19, 2017 11:22 am
by Barry Daniels
You might be able to get a dremel cut-off disk to score the nut but that would only be on one side. And you probably wouldn't be able to cut all the way through the wall of the nut. Trying to crack it further would likely damage the neck. That is a big honking nut. Obviously not the original. So cracking it is probably not realistic.

I believe at this point you have the same two options that I presented to my client on the Gretsch I am repairing in another thread;

1) pull the fingerboard, remove and replace the truss rod, or
2) leave the frozen rod in place and deal with relief/neck curvature by removing the frets and planing the fretboard flat.

Obviously, option 2 has no ability to provide future adjustments if anything moves.

Sorry, probably not what you wanted the hear.

Re: 1954 Gretsch Truss Rod & Neck

PostPosted: Thu Sep 21, 2017 5:03 pm
by David King
I agree that the dremel disk is an option and I wouldn't hesitate to pop the string nut off and cut a slot into and through end of the fingerboard to accomplish it. Even if you sliced into the tops of the rod's threads to get the nut out of there it wouldn't be the end of the world. Filling the FB slot later with veneer would be quick enough and mostly invisible.
You can also go at the anchor end of the rod through the board. Locate the anchor (if it's steel) with a tall stack of neodymium magnets through the board.
If you get on well with your dentist they can snap a digital Xray or two of the heel. Most dentist's offices love a little distraction like this at lunchtime which costs them next to nothing with digital film.
With any luck the anchor will be under a fingerboard dot and you can operate through the dot or from under the heel on a glued in neck.
You can also pull the frets over the heel and drill down the center of each slot to probe the TR and the anchor location.