VINTAGE & UPKEEP > RESTORING AN ORIGINAL
REVIVING A 1965 GIBSON FIREBIRD BY JOHN BROWN
This 1965 Gibson Firebird is a very rare bird indeed. For starters, it barely
made it through a house fire. The temperature was so high, the guitar case began to
melt, yet amazingly, the case protected the
wood from turning to ashes.
Examining the guitar, I discovered that
before the fire someone had removed the
original finish and recoated the wood with
a urethane finish. This non-original finish
was now showing slight signs of melting and
bubbling from extreme heat. There was one
fretboard dot missing at the 21st position,
but otherwise the remaining dots and plastic
fretboard binding were in good condition.
But the fire was only part of the story.
This Firebird has the model’s original
“reverse” body shape, which was also paired
with a reverse headstock when the instrument
was introduced in 1963. What makes this
guitar special is that it has the non-reverse
headstock, but otherwise all the features of
the ’ 63 Firebird—the original model. The
transitional year for going to the non-reverse
headstock, as well as other design changes
intended to cut manufacturing costs (such as
flat body with a more conventional double-cutaway design), was mid 1965.
After closely inspecting the body cavities,
I concluded that the original factory finish
was in fact Gibson’s golden mist—a custom
color with a slightly yellowed clear overcoat
added to the gold base coat. For you Fender
fanatics, this acrylic lacquer is equivalent to
Fender’s shoreline gold.
The headstock on this Firebird had two
fractures that had been previously glued, but
had found a way to separate over time. This
is a common enough break for a 17-degree
pitched mahogany headstock. The big, long
protruding banjo tuners made for a neck-heavy guitar, and let’s just say if it takes a
fall, a vintage Firebird will not be as forgiving as some other guitars. Before re-gluing
the fractures I thoroughly cleaned them by
washing and flushing out dirt and old glue
with acetone. Once they were clean, the
seams clamped up nice and tight.
Inside the control cavity, I was surprised
to see chatter marks of whittled away wood
around each of the five holes. It looked like
a chipmunk had been stuffed into the cavity
with the backplate attached, and the hapless creature had then tried to dig its way
out by following the light shining through
the holes. Many times as I start a repair, I
1. Inside the control cavity, the holes all showed evidence of chatter marks and missing wood. 2.
Using a carpenter’s level to ensure the guitar is perfectly level to the work surface. 3. Replacing
the missing wood with clear, high-strength epoxy. 4. Drilling out the epoxy-filled control holes.
5. Inside the cavity, the holes are now surrounded with solid, cured epoxy. Some of the original
golden mist paint is still visible here. 6. This Firebird is now repaired and ready for refinishing. The
guitar’s reverse body and non-reverse headstock makes it a rare 1965 transitional model.
wonder just how and why a guitar got into
its particular condition, but then I quickly
catch myself and put my energy into solving
the challenge before me. What happened
here remains a mystery.
Often when I restore a guitar that has missing wood, I replace the missing material with
wood. But because of the way this guitar was
damaged and where the damage had occurred,
I decided to use a slow-setting clear epoxy
(item #5174 from stewmac.com). This high-strength, two-part permanent adhesive is activated when the resin and hardener are mixed
in equal parts. This is a gap-filling epoxy for
bonds that don’t require later disassembly.
From the outside of the guitar, I sealed off
all holes in the control cavity using binding
tape (#0677). With the body laying face down
on my workbench, I used my aluminum carpenter’s level with its bubble vials to make sure
the guitar was perfectly horizontal to the work
surface. Then I slowly and evenly mixed the
two-part epoxy to avoid any excess bubbling
and provide a strong, consistent cure.
Carefully, I applied the mixed epoxy to
the damaged areas, and let it settle flush to
the wood surface. Because the instrument
was level, the glue spread out to the sur-
rounding wood very nicely. Once the epoxy
had cured to full strength, I was ready to re-
tap the holes for the pots and pickup switch
using 3/8" brad point bit (#0339). To avoid
any tear out inside when the drill bit cut
through, I put a scrap of wood inside the
cavity for support. After drilling these holes,
I followed up with a 25/64" standard drill
bit to allow for a light finish buildup.
JOHN BROWN is the inventor of the
Fretted/Less bass. He owns and operates
Brown’s Guitar Factory, a guitar manufacturing, repair, and restoration facility staffed
by a team of talented luthiers. His guitar-tool
and accessory designs are used by builders
all over the world. Visit brownsguitarfactory.
com or email John at firstname.lastname@example.org.
62 PREMIER GUITAR JUNE 2012