Stuck Stuff: Removing tun-o-matic Bushings

It’s occurred to me that a lot of a guitar repairer’s time is spent removing things from guitars. Sometimes that just involves unscrewing some screws but, other times (often?), some additional effort and knowledge is required to safely remove something.

Like various ‘bushings’.

Removing tun-o-matic bridge and tailpiece bushings - tools and DIY

Woah, slow down there Poindexter… What do you mean by ‘bushing’.

Glad you asked. In the guitar repair context, a bushing is a metal insert that’s installed somewhere in the guitar. Sometimes, the bushing is to protect and strengthen the (relatively softer) wood and to provide a harder surface for something to ‘bear against’. This is the case with some tuner bushings — the tuner shaft passes through a bushing on the front of the headstock.

Example of bushing - tuner headstock bushing in this case

Often, the insert has a threaded hole to allow a bolt or threaded post be screwed into it. For example, the tailpiece on a Gibson guitar is held by two posts, each of which screw into bushings inserted into the body. That’s the bushing you can juuuust see, inserted down there in the body.

Threaded busing to accept bridge tailpiece post

The posts for many tremolo bridges are screwed into bushings fitted in the same way.

How bushings are fitted

There are bushings with external threads that you can, essentially, screw into wood. These aren’t used too often in guitar making (although you’ll sometimes get them fitted (usually retro-fitted) in bolt-on necks to accept bolts.

The main type you’ll come across, though, are press-fit bushings. It’s this type of bushing we’re going to talk about today.

The clue’s in the name. Press-fit bushings are installed into a hole that’s just a little too small. The wood ‘gives’ and compresses somewhat and allows the bushing to insert with a tight fit. This ‘interference fit’ keeps the bushing in place.

That’s great until you want to get it out.

Removing guitar tailpiece bushing

So how do you get that thing out?

Well, you definitely don’t want to go ‘prising’ or levering at anything. That’s a good way to damage stuff. No, the easiest and safest way is to pull it cleanly up and out.

And, since you’re not going to yank this out with a firm grip between thumb and forefinger, you’ll ideally want a tool.

Bushing puller (and cork pad for cushioning)

A guitar bushing puller is really handy for this. This is mine. You’ll notice a rather crudely cut hole in the side of it. That’s actually really important because, as you start to remove a bushing, it can often pull on lacquer or even wood around it as it lifts. That can cause nasty chipping.

That ugly hole lets me see what’s happening as I go and, if something looks like it’s chipping, I can back things off and do some work to make for easier bushing exit (usually involving scraping finish with an exacto-knife so it’s not covering the bushing).

Of course, Stew Mac makesa bushing puller. In fact the recent ones are great because they’re transparent. No need for ugly holes.

Using it is pretty simple.

Insert the tailpiece post into the bushing. Slip the bushing puller’s slotted metal part over the post head and begin tightening the nut on the top of the puller.

As the nut tightens, the post is slowly pulled upwards which brings the bushing with it. Go slowly and keep checking for any chipping around the bushing.

Bushing puller in action. Watch out for finish chipping as you go

Closer view of bushing puller. You can see how it extracts the bushing.

I like to cushion between the puller and guitar with a piece of cork. All going well, you should have a nice clean hole in your guitar and a bushing in your hand.

Quick and dirty DIY bushing removal

If you don’t have a busing puller and you don’t want to buy one just for one job, you can try a DIY method of removing a bushing. This doesn’t always work — it depends on the type of bushing — but it might do the trick.

Assuming your bushing has a hole all the way though (i.e. you could poke through the hole and contact the wood of the guitar) it might be possible to insert a small bolt or bar into the hole.

The bolt should be small enough to fall down through the bushing and sit on the wood below but long enough to reach maybe halfway (or more) up towards the surface.

I haven’t had to do this in ages, so here’s a drawing instead of a photo:

Bridge bushing removal without a 'bushing puller' tool. 

If you screw in the regular post on top of the inserted bolt, it will butt up against it and, as you carefully tighten the post, it should begin to push the bushing out.

Now this isn’t without risk so be really careful. You’ll need a screwdriver that fits well and seriously, you really don’t want to slip with that screwdriver so take it easy.

If the guitar repair gods smile upon you, the bushing will push up far enough for you to pull it free relatively easily.

Gripping tremolo posts for bushing pulling

Oh, one last thing… Trem posts probably won’t have a ‘head’ for the bushing puller to grab. You’ll need to find a regular old bolt that you can screw into the bushing instead. Insert a bolt, grab its head with the bushing puller, and there you go.

So, that’s that. Tailpiece bushing removal.

Tune in next week for more stuck stuff.