RESTORING AN ORIGINAL
Black-Lighting a ’ 59 Fender
Have you ever purchased a guitar and
thought that the finish might have been
altered, but you just never knew for sure?
You’re not alone. There are a whole slew of
vintage necks and bodies floating around
that have had repairs with finish touch-ups, misleading many in the belief they’re
untouched and 100 percent original.
To get the best visual when black-lighting
a guitar, I prefer to work in a pitch-black
room. Black lights start at about $5, and go
up from there. There are some pretty cool
black light flashlights out there designed
with multiple LEDs.
To the naked eye, it can be extremely hard
to detect, but by using a black light—a tool
used mostly in the violin world—you can
uncover the hidden secrets about what a finish may have endured over time.
Here are just a few of the possible reasons
I’ve come across for why a finish becomes a
candidate for overspray or drop-filling with
lacquer: trying to hide the classic broken-headstock repair; rivet or metal wear from
using an old capo; neck wear from many
hours of practicing and gigging; patching up
miscellaneous body chips and dents; melting
in old and new lacquer when removing pick
marks; and freshening up the overall look of
the instrument with overspray.
On the Bench
At first glance, the face of the headstock
appeared to have the misty look of overspray to it. The spaghetti logo decal, in
silver with a thin black outline, had some
damage as well—a third of it was missing.
The date penciled in at the heel of the neck
showed the guitar was made in November
of 1959. The frets have been replaced to a
high standard of excellence. The sides and
corners of the heel have some non-factory
Fender color fused to them from the body
neck rout. The neck was removed from a
Tele-kit body, poorly made to look like an
original ’ 59 body.
Overall, this is a wonderful neck. The question is, why is there a very light, misty overspray on the face of the headstock? Using a
shop lamp, I couldn’t see any other alterations to the finish with the naked eye. We
shall see with the black light.
We were ready to light up the neck with a
neon glow. It’s not extremely difficult to take
readings, but it does take an eye—much like
a doctor reading an x-ray. I slowly moved
the black light inch by inch across the neck.
There it was—the neon glow brought out a
disturbance in the natural flow of the finish.
The treble backside of the neck had a milky,
blotchy appearance, much like when you see
a clear layer of finish separating because of
an adhesion problem. It seems to me that
after years of playing on the neck, the treble
backside of the neck naturally had some finish wear. Perhaps someone thought it would
be a good idea to tidy things up.
I slowly and carefully sanded with 2500 grit
3M Imperial Wetordry paper, removing the
non-original finish. The customer requested
to have this procedure done as long as it
would not alter the integrity of the neck, and
it would look as it did before the non-original
finish touch-up was done. A flexible eraser
works well as a sanding block when working
on the radiused portion of the neck. Before
sanding the misty overspray on the face of
the headstock, it’s best to first extract the
tuner bushings. I used the Tuner Bushing
Press from StewMac, which makes it smooth,
safe and easy. Once the overspray was
removed, I used black light again to make
sure everything checked out.
The decal was replaced after taking pictures
of the neck, emailing them to Fender, and
requesting a replacement decal. Fender is
really helpful with this—unless of course it
was fraudulently produced. The results were
very rewarding: black lighting again revealed
no trace of what was there, other than an
original, well-played 1959 Telecaster neck.
John Brown, of Brown's Guitar Factory, is the inventor of the
Fretted/Less bass. He owns and operates a full guitar manu-
facturing and repair/restoration facility, which is staffed by
a team of talented luthiers. He is also the designer of guitar
making/repair tools and accessories that are used today by
instrument builders throughout the world.