Repair of 1975 Gibson J-45

If you have a string instrument of any kind that needs fixing, a mistake you made in building a new instrument that you need to "disappear," or a question about the ethics of altering an older instrument, ask here. Please note that it will be much easier for us to help you decide on the best repair method if you post some pictures of the problem.

Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Barry Daniels » Sun Sep 16, 2018 12:01 am

I also want to show a photo of how I ran the carbon fiber rods into the truss rod recess. I took them about as far as possible into the peghead in order to minimize future neck breaks (aka: Gibsonitis). The exposed ends of the rods will be covered by the truss rod cover when complete.

I am going to let the neck sit for a week or two to see if it wants to move. Then I will pull it and do the neck reset.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Barry Daniels » Sun Sep 16, 2018 12:10 am

Gordon, thanks for the questions.

My first jig used a guide bushing but it was impossible to place the slot accurately with this setup. I could not find a way to accurately judge where the slot would be. The new jig with the edge guide allows very precise alignment and the plunge base on my Colt router provides more accurate depth control.

I am not sure if the heat made much effect on the area of possible delamination. To be quite honest, I am not sure if there was much delamination to start with. The joint was well closed and if it was delaminated, it wasn't a very long section. But the carbon fiber slot removed most of the joint and replaced it with a new one. I believe this was the best possible solution. I tried to seep some CA into the joint at the bottom of the carbon fiber slot but it would not penetrate so I may have been wrong about this joint actually being loose. But I know it is tight and secure now.

Thinking about this some more, it may have been that the weakness I was feeling in the neck was solely a result of the fretboard being poorly glued and loose at the upper end.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Bob Francis » Sun Sep 16, 2018 12:55 pm

This is a great thread!
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Barry Daniels » Sun Sep 16, 2018 12:57 pm

I recently got a MacRostie Binding Trimmer to use on this project when I get the binding replacement phase. I would previously size plastic binding by hand scraping and using feeler gauges to try to keep the thickness consistent. This was always fussy and time consuming and the results were never perfect. So out came the credit card and another tool added to the quiver. I used the trimmer to size those maple filler strips and it worked so well that I give the tool my highest recommendation. The device is basically a small router table with a precision controlled fence and spring loaded vertical and horizontal hold downs. I was able to quickly size the wood strips with a precision of nearly one thousandth of an inch. For the work I do this thing is a game changer.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Barry Daniels » Sun Sep 16, 2018 12:59 pm

Thank you Bob and Mark.

Overnight I was thinking about the neck some more and I think what I may have been seeing was glue creep of the parts instead of delamination. The excessive compression of the truss rod nut and washer may have made the center lamination creep downward and the truss rod filler strip move upward. So the problem may be minimized a bit but the restoration work does not really change. However, I really try to understand what is going on so that my efforts don't get misdirected. A call out and thank you to Gordon for prompting more exploration of this issue.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Mark Swanson » Sun Sep 16, 2018 2:38 pm

That's very good work Barry! Nice. I am not so sure about it being a 1968, it may be newer, but it is a Norlin era Gibson. Those are the ones with the double X-brace and the huge bridge plate. Have you considered doing anything with that? Since you have to fix the binding, you might be able to pull the top and re-brace it, after that it would be an outstanding guitar.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Barry Daniels » Sun Sep 16, 2018 4:28 pm

Hi Mark, I am glad you weighed in here. The serial number dating site sort of chocked when I input the serial number. But it states that in 1970 they switched from orange labels to white. So this orange label guitar indicates it is pre-1970. But it does have the double-X and large bridge plate.

The strange thing is that someone did some really funky work on the bridge. Please look at the following pictures. There is an inset around the bridge pins that looks like black plastic and it is the size of the adjustable saddle monstrosity. And the photo of the bridge plate indicates that the bridge pins were moved and the old ones were plugged. It is a mess and I am not sure of the best direction. I can't remove the bridge plate due to the double-X brace butting up to all sides. I at least need to use a Stew-Mac bridge saver and try to restore the damage around the pins. I am also considering replacing the bridge. The existing bridge is really thin (.2" thick) and the saddle slot is poorly cut and too shallow.

Didn't most of these J-45's have reverse belly bridges? Could someone have taken the bridge off and turned it around which resulted in all these weird things? This is an area where I really need some advice from those more knowledgeable about Gibsons.

Your idea to pull and rebrace the top is intriguing but I am not sure my client is willing to go that far. But the bridge issue is still up in the air.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Barry Daniels » Sun Sep 16, 2018 5:44 pm

This 1970 J45 on YouTube is a very similar looking guitar although I can't tell if it is an orange label or not. It does have the bridge in the normal belly down position like mine.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDQeOaHmwaI

It could be that someone routed out the area around worn bridge pin holes to install that piece of black material. And that somehow necessitated moving the pin holes slightly. One other piece of evidence that indicates that the original bridge was belly down is the foot print on the top which shows no sign of a belly up orientation.

The more I think about it the more I want to pull the top and rebrace it. Now would certainly be the time since the binding will be removed. Darn you Mark! ;-)
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Mark Swanson » Wed Sep 19, 2018 10:58 am

That is truly a mess under there! The bridge doesn't look like it ever had a different footprint, as far as I can see! but, the old adjustable bridges were sometimes made of plastic and they were bolted to the top with no glue, and so maybe that is what the original one was... when the new one went on there wasn't much finish marking from the old one.
I hate to say it but it would be a shame not to do the whole deal to this one, at this point! The stock bracing and bridge plate holds these back, a lot.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Barry Daniels » Wed Sep 19, 2018 9:34 pm

My client has approved pulling the top and re-bracing it. We will wipe the Norlin stink right off this thing. I will be really glad to get rid of that bridge plate. I will be replacing the bridge too. Someone in the past cut some humongous string ramps. Several of them look to be a 1/4" long. I tried to take a picture of that with a flashlight in the guitar. The bridge pins are in place so the light you are seeing is just the string ramps. Also, a couple of the ramps were cut off vertical by about 20 degrees. So I will also have to plug the top a bit even after removing the bridge and bridge plate.

Thank you Mark for steering me in the right direction on this.

Many years ago I replaced a couple of those plastic bridges on J-45's with a solid wood bridge and it made a HUGE difference in the tone and volume. I hope this one has a similar improvement.

This photo shows an impression in front of the bridge that could have been where the front of the plastic bridge sat. I hadn't thought of this possibility before but it makes a lot of sense.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Thu Sep 20, 2018 12:06 am

Those string ramps are certainly evidence of someone getting carried away!

Can you show pics of the removal of the top when you do that?
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Barry Daniels » Thu Sep 20, 2018 11:31 am

Absolutely. I am on vacation for a few days so there will be break in progress but will get back to it real soon.

Here is a link to a long discussion over at the Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum that provides many photos of Gibson bracing that I have been studying in order to recreate vintage bracing for this J-45.

https://umgf.com/vintage-gibson-bracing-library-t1364.html

Can't wait to get back into the shop.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Brian Evans » Fri Sep 21, 2018 10:10 am

since the sub-forum is "practical and political issues", I have a political question. After you've re-made the neck, re-braced the top, replaced the bridge, reset the neck - will it still be a Gibson? I struggle with these questions. When does repair become restore become rebuild become remanufacture? A guy on another forum was talking about his quasi-vintage Telecaster, wherein he had made it a custom body, replaced the electronics with aftermarket upgrades, and changed the neck (seriously). When in that process did it stop being a Fender Telecaster and become a parts-caster? Presumably it has the stock bridge - he didn't mention that...
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri Sep 21, 2018 12:20 pm

This is a great question and one that us repairers face every day. My approach is that guitar playability is a priority over originality, but sacrificing originality should not be done unless absolutely necessary. A guitar can be totally original but if it is unplayable then it is just a guitar shaped object.

Now if you look closely you will see that I am attempting to save the neck which in my mind was VERY important for maintaining collectability. I was only going to replace the neck if my repair work could not get it into proper shape.

In regards to the neck reset that is just a repair that many old guitars need and it takes nothing away from them, rather it makes the guitar playable again so I see absolutely no downside to that.

Replacing the bridge is a necessity due to the inappropriate alterations in the past. The original is just not salvageable. But I will be using real brazilian rosewood and will be shaping it like an original except for one major thing. I will not be installing an adjustable saddle with all the metal parts. So in that regards the bridge will not be original, but I believe this alteration is an accepted approach that makes the guitar better for the player. So many vintage Gibsons have had this alteration that it is not an issue as far as I can tell.

Now to the one issue that some may have differing opinions, the re-bracing of the top. From a tonal standpoint there is no real question. The original double-X brace and the huge honking plywood bridge plate that Gibson started using during the Norlin years was a huge (and I believe mistaken) departure from their older guitars. The story is that this was a directive from the Norlin management to the Gibson factory in order to reduce warranty issues. But the unintended effect was to rob the great tone from these guitars.

So I see the re-bracing of this guitar as taking it back into the more desired vintage years where they were loved by so many. I am sure that there may be some collectors out there that see this last step as wrong, but I have read that the Norlin guitars are not that collectable anyways, so re-bracing the top will not be comprimising a highly collectable guitar. It will, however, be making this particular guitar more desirable to guitar Players. And that is the market I like to work for anyways.

Will this J-45 be totally original? Of course not, but it will be close. More importantly, it will be truer to the desired vintage J-45's from a few years prior. I am still trying to verify the date of construction, but it looks like this one is very close to the cusp when Gibson changed over. So if had been built a couple of years prior it would have had vintage bracing. One other thing to note is that when Gibson reissued the J-45 they built them with vintage bracing. I am certain that they would like to erase the Norlin era from their history if they could.

In summary, I think it boils down to whether you want a completely original guitar and damn the torpedos, or if you want a vintage guitar that you can actually play. I know there are times when originality is important. One extreme example is Buddy Holly's guitar in a museum has the strings on it that he last played on. The strings cannot be brought up to pitch so it is completely unplayable but that does not matter because it is strictly an exhibit.

Additional things that I will be replacing on this J-45 include the tuning machines, pickguard, bridge pins, and I will be installing a K&K true mini pickup. Of course there are all not original but they will make the guitar more playable. I will be giving my client a baggie with all the original parts in case someone wants to put the guitar back someday.

When done, the guitar will look original (with the exception of the saddle), will play well, and will sound better. I believe this is appropriate.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri Sep 21, 2018 1:08 pm

Brian, I think the guy with the Tele is misdirected. Changing out the neck, body and electronics? What is left? And why was this done? Were the original parts broken and beyond repair? The old parts could be restored and then he would have two guitars.

I don't think what we are doing with the J-45 has anything in common with that approach. We are trying to save the original parts and fix them, and only replacing things that are beyond repair. And replaced parts will be made identical to the original or vintage ones (with the exceptions previously discussed).
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Brian Evans » Fri Sep 21, 2018 2:45 pm

Barry, I'm with you on this one, I think what you're doing is completely appropriate. You're taking a wall ornament and giving it a new life. At some point it changes from the Gibson J-45 to the Daniels J-45, though, and I don't know where that is. I think, as an aside, that those few guitars that got re-necked by D'Angelico and D'Aquisto are cool as heck, and have a vintage vibe of their own. This guitar is going to be kind of like that. Great looking, great sounding cool guitar with a story to tell.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri Sep 21, 2018 5:22 pm

Yes, I think we are on the same page here.

If the neck was re-made or if I had to replace the top with a new one then it would definitely be seriously changed. But since only the bridge and the top braces will be replaced the originality is not nearly as compromised. Someone will have to get a mirror and light inside to see the real changes. And when they see vintage bracing I don't think they will be disappointed. Now if they look up the date and see that it is a Norlin era guitar then they could determine that the braces were replaced, but in a good way.

I know of some violin restorers that place a small repairer's label inside the body to identify what work has been done. I may do something like that but place it in an inaccessible area so that only future repairmen will see it.

In my opinion I am sort of changing this from a Norlin/Gibson J-45 to a Gibson J-45. Although the true heritage is a bit questionable since it is still a Norlin era guitar. And I cannot change that because my way-back machine is broken. But in the end it is a real Gibson and it will hopefully sound great.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri Sep 21, 2018 5:29 pm

This issue is also true about replacing the original compression truss rod with a modern dual-action rod. It had to be done to save the neck and make it playable. It is not true to the original but it will turn the guitar into one that can be played. And it will only be noticeable to knowledgeable repairmen and the few collectors who obsess over these details. I think the repairmen will thank me. I don't really care what the overly obsessive collectors think. Hope I am not sounding too defensive.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Steve Sawyer » Fri Sep 21, 2018 6:14 pm

I believe many of the really obsessive collectors don't play the instruments, so playability is not an issue. That seems sacrilegious to me. My brother has a friend who is a collector. They just hang on the wall and get dusted occasionally.
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Re: Repair of 1968 Gibson J-45

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri Sep 21, 2018 8:32 pm

It is a shame that a lot of the really nice vintage guitars are not played and that they are over-priced for real musicians. Once again I go to the violin people for inspiration. Some institutions and meusems that own strads have good musicians come in periodically to "exercise" these instruments so they don't lose their voice.
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