Safely Remove Tuner Bushings

Removing a tuner bushing from a guitar headstock can take a hunk of lacquer with it. 

Taking out the tuner bushing on this guitar chipped the lacquer around it

Same applies to those little ferrules on the back of your Tele, or those big ferrules on the back of your bass. Or anything else that has little or big ferrules or bushings. The lacquer can adhere to the bushing and when you remove it some of the lacquer comes too. Grrrr!

The trick is to get the lacquer to let go. 

Heating the tuner bushing softens the lacquer underneath and helps prevent chipping when removing.

Do that by heating the bushing. Just hold a soldering iron against it. You don't want it to be red hot or anything, but a bit of heat evenly through the bushing will soften the lacquer under it. This makes it a safer job to remove the bushing. 

Out and safe. 

Bushing safely removed with no chipping.

Good for installing too

By the way, this also works when you're installing new bushings or ferrules. Heating them as they're pressed in can soften the finish and help prevent is chipping as the new hardware is forced in. 

Headstock Repairs - More on Reinforcement

So we've looked at a neck repair with an overlay for reinforcement. Let's have a look at the other main method of reinforcing a broken headstock: Splines. In guitar repair circles, splines are long (relatively speaking) narrow pieces of wood that are glued into corresponding channels to provide additional strength.

Failed, previous repair

Nasty glue residue on failed repair

The first repair is the important one.  

Remember these wise words. If the first one fails, it usually complicates any subsequent repair. This guitar arrived in the workshop with its headstock flapping about, held on by only some gummy bits of glue. There was a LOT of residue to clean up. Too much, really. Any glue I apply to repair this break needs to make a good contact with the wood. New glue, trying to grip a film of old glue is a recipe for a poor repair.

Even after cleaning up much of the earlier stuff, I felt some reinforcement was necessary to ensure a sound and lasting repair.  

Determining the truss-rod location with a magnet

Glueing up the peghead before splines

As it happens, the diamond-style volute on this instrument provided me with the perfect idea for reinforcing things. I can rout a channel through that and carve the spline to the same diamond shape. Nice and discreet. Splendid.

First up, I have to keep the truss-rod in mind. I don't want to accidentally rout into a hunk of metal. The magnet on the back of the neck tells me where the rod ends. I note that and get on with getting things back in one piece.  

Diamond volute to be 'splined'

Inset, rough-cut spline

You can see the diamond volute pretty clearly above. I'm not going to take the whole diamond—I'll effectively rout a channel through it and farther along the neck (past the break). 

It's an easy job to shape a piece of mahogany (the spline) to fit this channel. Then a little carving will replicate the original shape. Clean up, slap on a bit of lacquer and we should be able to avoid any more strings of gummy glue.

Spline reinforcement on guitar neck break

Maiden Lucan

Customised West Ham Steve Harris Iron Maiden bass

This is just a quick post (mainly because I think this is cool). I seem to have a lot of finishing work on lately which has made for a reasonably time-consuming run. There's quite a bit of work in finishing, especially in refinishing or doing cool little custom things like this. 

Steve Harris West Ham Bass

This one needed paint-on 'binding'— and believe me when I say that was time-consuming (I envy the skill of those pin-striper guys you sometimes see on the car-customisation shows). Then a Hammers decal was applied and lacquered over. 

Since I spent much of my formative years with Iron Maiden cranked on the stereo, it was really, really, fun to Steve-Harrisise this bass. 


I like candy—Refinishing

Candy-apple red refinish

Candy-apple red has been a Fender staple for a long time. These candy colours are achieved by spraying a clear lacquer that's been toned with a coloured dye over a metallic finish. It's a great-looking finish and I love it.

And I'm not alone. Which is why I'm refinishing the front of a P-Bass headstock to match the candy-apple finish on its body.  

Refinish - stripping original finish

Regular old P-Bass headstock. Nothing special. Let's get to work. First up, stripping. A liberal application of elbow-grease helps me to sand off that original finish and we're back to pale, raw, maple. Preparation is important at this point as we'll be putting down a metallic finish on this and that needs a flaw-free surface.

A couple of coats of sealer/lacquer next. These are sanded down flat before I apply the metallic. In most cases, I'll mix my own metallic finishes by adding bronzing powder (essentially tiny particles of metal) to clear lacquer. 

Metallics are tricky. I've got to be careful as any imperfections or runs mean removing the finish and starting again—it's not possible to hide any 'fixes' in a metallic. 

Candy apple finish and logo decal applied

Time for candy.

Some dye added to clear lacquer. By mixing and altering ratios of different coloured dyes, it's possible to match the colour on the body. Matching can be tricky and, once matched, it's important to remember that if you have to add another coat, that will shift the colour. Even clear coats can change how the colour looks. 

And let's talk about the clear coats. With a headstock, I have to apply some decals first, though. These will be covered over by a number of coats of clear lacquer. These coats will seal everything in and will give me enough 'build' to sand and buff at the end. 

That 'end' may be a while off though. Finishing in this way requires time. These finishes are evaporative which means they cure or harden as the solvents in them evaporate. That takes time. How long can vary with different finishes and even weather conditions but don't expect it to be less than ten days and a fortnight or more is safer. The final result can be compromised by rushing this. 


Candy apple bass refinish

Note: As I'll likely spark some extra refinishing enquiries with this post, it's only fair for me to mention that refinishing isn't an inexpensive process. There's certainly a place for it but it might be hard to justify purely because you're not keen on the colour of your guitar. Of course, if that's enough for you to justify it, brilliant. Give me a shout.  ;-)

Les Paul Neck Removal and Repair

les paul broken neck heel

Yikes. If you've been reading my stuff for a while, you've probably spotted a few different examples of neck breaks. Most of these have been up at the headstock end as that's the more likely place for a break.

It can happen down the other end too, though. This Les Paul took a tumble and broke in a nasty way. The exterior damage is obvious but it's pretty certain that crack extends into the neck tenon too (the tenon's the bit that gets glued into the neck pocket in the body).

This neck needs to come out to be properly repaired.

It's not too often that I need to remove a Les Paul neck, which is lucky as it's a relatively involved job. With a strong cup of tea to steel myself, I set to work.

les paul heel repair frets
les paul neck removal

First up, a few frets need to come out. To remove this neck, I need to soak and steam the glue out and that means getting access to the internals of the neck joint. I do this by drilling small 'access' holes. These are drilled in the fret slots. When it's all done, I'll fill the holes with rosewood plugs and re-cut the slots. All of this is hidden by the refitted frets.

Your eagle-eyes will have noticed a little dot on each (numbered) fret. These frets will be refitted and the dot tells me which is the bass end.

Keeping fingers crossed, I take a look under the neck pickup, hoping for a long tenon. No luck. If I could have seen the end of the tenon, I'd know exactly what size it was so I could position my holes to accurately access the sides of the neck joint  (if it's not clear what I mean here, a photo later on might clarify things).

Since all of this tenon is hidden, I have to measure out the usual Gibson size and position for this guitar and hope that it's built properly to spec.

In the photo, above on the right, you can see the pencil marks I've used to plot out the tenon and the holes I've drilled to get access to the joint.

gibson neck removal
steaming off gibson neck

This one's a bit weird-looking, I'll admit.

In the left image, I'm using a syringe to insert boiling water into the holes I've drilled. I give it a few seconds and then suck it back up again. What comes out is cooler water with some manky-looking dissolved glue. I repeat this process a lot over the course of a couple of days. A Les Paul neck joint is a hell of a strong joint and doing this gives me a little bit of a head start before I hit it with the steam.

Which is what's happening on the right. That nozzle lets me get piping hot steam deep into the joint. The heat and moisture helps to dissolve more glue and, after some time and work, the glue eventually lets go…

les paul neck tenon
les paul neck joint repair

…Leaving most of the bloody tenon still in the pocket. D'oh!

The heel crack extended into the tenon as we thought. Now I have to keep working to get this piece out with pretty much no leverage.

More tea required, I think.

Some steamy swearing later and it's out. Now, in the side of that neck tenon, you can see the tracks of those holes I drilled earlier. We were right on the money with the positions too—nice.

gibson guitar neck tenon repair
les paul neck joint fix

And here's the jigsaw we need to get back together. You'll notice a small shim in the neck pocket. This was installed at the factory (it's not uncommon) and I'll reuse it for this repair.

All of the old glue is cleaned from the mortice and the tenon and then, the two bits of neck are glued back together. Again, the tracks of those access holes are clear in the photo on the right.

gibson neck tenon repair
les paul repair touch-up

Once it's sound again, the neck is reattached to the body. Those frets are reinstalled and all the frets are levelled to ensure clean playability.

Then, it's just some touch-up to hide the evidence. As the rear and neck of this Les Paul are black, the opaque colour easily disguises the repair.

It took a bit of thought, a lot of work and twelve buckets of tea but this job's a good 'un.

Inflation and Guitar-Making

IMG 2402

Yep. It's a party pack of wonderfully coloured balloons. Just the thing to brighten any small child's social function. What the hell do they have to do with guitar making, though?

Well, a balloon can be pretty useful.

I've picked a nice orange one. Pretty.

The thing is, when you're finishing an acoustic guitar, the last thing you want is to get stray lacquer spray inside the guitar. That looks really messy.

You could, painstakingly, mask off the soundhole with tape but remember, that has to be done on the inside of the top so you can get finish on the edges of the soundhole. Who has the bloody energy for that?

Nope. Far easier to pop a balloon through the soundhole and blow it up.

IMG 2404
IMG 2406

That's what the image on the left is. It's not some weird, guitar prolapse, it's a balloon poking out of a soundhole.

It's a good idea to cover the balloon with something (a piece of card covered with packing tape in this case) as the lacquer can pop the balloon and then you're straying into the realms of '70s sitcoms about guitar-making. Nobody wants that.

Incidentally, in the photo on the right, the guitar is held in my new Stew Mac Guitary-Holder-Thing. For all intents and purposes, it's just a bit of bent pipe and is definitely the sort of thing that wouldn't be too difficult to make yourself. It's also one of those things that you never seem to make yourself so I bought one. I like it a lot. It makes this sort of spraying a lot easier.

So there you go: Acoustic guitar finishing and balloons. Next week, pickup rewinding using the front axle of a Fiat Punto and some leftover sausages.

Refinishing Gibson Les Paul Custom

Refinish Gibson Les Paul Custom

You know when you paint your sitting room and you break out the masking tape to stick around all the bits you want to prevent getting covered in that weird green colour that's going on your walls?


Well, I'm certain you know the wonderful curvaceous ins and outs of a Gibson Les Paul.

Imagine having to fiddle about, awkwardly trying to mask off all that beautiful, curvy, binding on the top before you spray it? How much effort and time must that take in the Gibson finishing department every day?

Well, none really. Gibson don't bother masking the binding here before spraying that sunburst or that Black Beauty. It's just too much work. It's far easier to spray over the binding and then scrape it off again.

This Les Paul is being refinished with a black top. I spray solid colour (after some surface prep and sealing coats) over the whole top, let it dry a little (not too much, though) and then scrape the new finish off along the binding. It's actually pretty easy to use a blade, with a knuckle as a depth-stop, to remove the finish cleanly.

Custom refinish on Les Paul guitar
Binding on guitar refinish

With that done, I'll let some of the solvents evaporate a day or two before starting on the clear lacquer top-coats (including a little 'antiquing' for the binding). This bundle of top-coats then needs to cure before being sanded and buffed out to a gloss—a gloss that I'll actually knock back with some gentle relicing to get things in keeping with the rest of the guitar.

None more black. None more beautiful.

By the way, you'll notice that the sides are masked. It's a lot easier to mask here than on the top and, often (as in this case), you'll want to keep the top colours off the side.

Cross-posted to Guitarless