1957 Gibson L-5 Restoration
This Gibson L-5 came to us with a rather unique set of problems that needed to be addressed. We thought we would use the opportunity to show a more in-depth look at a full restoration than we have previously done,
The first major issue with this guitar is that a humidification device had burst inside the case. The contents of the device reacted with the finish, causing serious damage, evidenced by this grayish area on the lower side of the upper bout.
In addition to this damage (more of which can be seen on the back of the guitar here), there are also some cracks around the input jack and some chips throughout. The guitar had also been refinished at some point in it's life and the current finish was a bit off from the typical sunburst you would see on this style of guitar. In order to rectify all of these issues, we are going to refinish the entire body.
We started by removing all of the electronics and hardware from the guitar, and setting them aside, Extra care is taken in removing these parts. even though the guitar is being refinished, we don't want to create any deep scratches or dents in the wood itself.
Here we have the L-5 with all of the parts removed, ready to the restoration process. In addition to refinishing this L-5, we will also be doing a refret, which is what we will be starting with next.
During a refret, the fret board itself is sanded to ensure a consistent playing surface. This process removes a little bit of material from the fret board and inlays. After several refrets, the inlays can get so thin that you can see through them, as shown here. Along with the refret, we will be replacing the inlays to correct this.
Here, we have the new frets and inlays installed. The frets have not been crowned and polished yet but, this will be done after the finishing process is completed. This will leave a little bit of finish on the ends of the frets, just like they do at the factory. We will install a new bone nut before finishing the guitar for the same purpose.
The finish has now been fully stripped off and the guitar is ready for the next steps. Originally the owner had wanted to leave this guitar with a natural finish. This is a great look and keeps the cost down as well due to less time and finishing materials needed. However, there were several cosmetic issues that needed to be addressed for a natural finish.
We discovered that even with the finish removed from the guitar, there were still visible defects in the wood caused by the broken humidifier. While in some cases, this can be overlooked, this was the first sign that this guitar may need a sunburst finish the cover up these issues.
In addition to the damage that initially brought the guitar in, stripping the finish revealed that the thin veneer on the back of the guitar had been sanded through in several places the last time this guitar had been refinished (visible here by the darker, discolored patches). It is important to be careful when stripping and sanding guitars like this because these veneers are extremely thin and a little too much elbow grease can cause unwanted blemishes that are much more difficult to deal with. You can also see that the same thing had happened to the veneer on the back of the headstock - those lighter patches are the remnants of the original piece that would have been glued on. All of this has led to the decision that the guitar would have a sunburst finish again to cover these cosmetic issues.
This particular repair took quite a long time to complete as the primary goal was to refinish the guitar so that it masked all of the blemishes on the body. With this in mind, we had to take extra care to ensure that it also looked great. This made the finishing process take a little longer than a typical job but, the end results were worth the effort.
The back of the guitar also turned out really great. We did make the choice not to put a burst on the sides of the neck. This seems to be something that varied on guitars of the time but, the bursting on just the ends looks great and also allows the beautiful flame in the neck to show through. You can also see the finish on the back of the headstock, which was unique to that era, that we were able to replicate with great results.