Restoring an Electric Guitar

I have not posted in a while. New year resolutions? Big plans? Nothing special, really – other than Service Pack 1 of System Center 2012 has finally shipped (this is, in case you are one of my IT-related readers) and I got featured in a video about some of the great things that are in it.

For the rest of the folks who are not working in IT and stumbled here as friends or simply curious, then the rest of this post is for you. During the Christmas holidays I really spent some time on a fun personal project: I bought a cheap Stratocaster copy in a thrift store, and tried to bring it back to life (and was fairly successful in doing so). When I got it, it was full of stickers, scratches, dirt… basically, had been used to play Punk, I assume. Nothing wrong with punk, of course (heck, I have even had a mohawk hairstyle at one point in my teen years!), but it's just that I like to care for instruments better (I never even understood the whole guitar-smashing thing either, for that matter… regardless if Jimi Hendrix did it, it is still a cruelty and a nonsense).

So here is how this guitar looked when I got it:
Guitar Restoration Project - Before

The body was scratched and mistreated (no, don't mention people who "relic" their expensive guitars – I don't get it):
Guitar Restoration Project - Before

The frets were kind of OK (no major dent etc), just horribly dirty:
Guitar Restoration Project - Before

The scratchplate was… well, scratched :-)
Guitar Restoration Project - Before

And yeah, I had understood that the model of guitar ("Slammer by Hamer") was a cheap mass-production guitar series, but I figured that since I had never done any restoration, it would be worth to try on something cheap, first, before ruining something expensive. In the end it turned out a lot better than even I expected in the beginning.
So I started by unscrewing everything and collected all the pieces, screws, electrical pieces in plastic boxes (a lot of those cleaned separately with a variety of cleaning liquids, canned air, contact sprays, etc – but I didn't take pictures of that phase). So, with the "naked" body I started removing the stickers.
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 2

Then I used a chemical paint stripper. No matter how much I put on and how long I waited, and scrubbed… it really only helped removing the glossy varnish, not the paint itself, after 2 days. Still it made the paint a lot thinner.
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 3

After cleaning up the glossy varnish and the stripper, I attacked the body with sandpaper. Almost 4 hours of sanding with elbow grease (I didn't have a sanding machine – I just did it by hand with a sanding block) to get it back to clean wood…
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 4
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 4
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 4

Then I started filling up some dents in the body and some holes in the headstock: the headstock is actually in pretty decent condition so I didn't do anything to its wood, but a few screws that were supposed to hold the tuning pegs were loose, and dirt was accumulated inside the tuning pegs, so I removed those, cleaned them up, lubricated them, etc.
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 5

Then I started applying multiple coat of stain to the body, with a sponge.
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 8

While waiting for the first paint to dry, I cleaned up the electrical pieces.

I had roughly tested those earlier (with a screwdriver) and they appear to be functioning (at least, electricity is running thru them – but I am not sure of the quality). Anybody knows what kind/model of GFS pickups these are? They have black/dark blue wiring on the coil… probably some of those on this page guitarfetish.com/Neovin-White-Pickups_c_143.html but not sure which ones.

Anyway, this was a pleasant surprise, and I think they had been replaced earlier – and, albeit the way I found them mounted on the plastic board/cover was horrible (some of the screws were longer than they were supposed to be, which lifted the plastic of the cover and deformed it), it at least meant that the thing would not have sounded too badly (there are reports all over the internet about how bad/noisy the stock pickups in this guitar series is sounding).

Anyway, I planned on using what was there at first, hear how it sounds, and then if I am not satisfied I can always replace those later on.  They turned out to be not bad, in the end, but I only found out several days later. At the time, during the restoration, I just gave everything a good clean and used a contact cleaner spray in abundant dosage, and re-assembled the scratchplate.
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 9

Then, as the paint was getting more dry, I started wondering why this body was completely hollow, having the chamber of the pickups directly open towards the chamber on the back, which holds the tremolo system and springs – I imagine they would interfere with each other a lot and cause background noise. Therefore I have carved a small piece of scrapwood and glued it to the body to close and separate those cavities again. I will also be electrically shielding the chamber with the pickups later on.
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 10
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 10

In between the various coats of stain, I did a lot of gentle wet sanding with sand paper (600) to make it smooth and even.
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 11

After many coats of stain+wet sanding, I then passed many coats of laquer/finish and did even more more wet sanding! I have been busy with this process for several days. And man, this thing stinks – do it outdoor if you don’t want to die by intoxication:
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 12

Then, after a lot of coats of finish and a lot of wet sanding, I have used this product (which is used for cars!) that helps bring out the shine of the paint. After three passes of this product, the day after I wiped the surface and then applied wax to protect the wood.
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 13

Time to start assembling the pieces back together! First, I screwed the neck back in place and adjusted the truss rod position (not exactly, yet, but roughly – more adjustment later when strings need to go in place, as part of intonation…).
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 14

Time to screw the bridge back in place. I used wax on the screws before putting them back in place. At this point they are not tight.
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 15

Then you flip the guitar on its back and block the weight in place with a piece of scrap wood, to allow easier installation of the springs.
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 15

Installed the springs and the whole tremolo system. The guitar had no cover for this but I bought a replacement one. Once the ground cable was also passed in and soldiered (later on), this cavity has been closed.
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 15

Soldered the cables for the ground and the jack, and installed the electrical parts back in. I will be eventually be taking all these off again, at some point in the future, because I am planning to electrically shield/isolate the pickups cavity/room – but since the copper foil that I have ordered has not arrived yet, I'll give it a first try without shielding – to see if and how much noise these pickups make. So I will be able to compare later on the "before" and "after" the shielding. And this is how it looks, completely assembled (just missing strings at this point):
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 16
Quite a difference from how I found it! It almost looks like it’s worth something, now Smile

So then I put new strings on, and adjust the bridge/truss rod/string height and intonation.
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 17
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 17
And there you have it, standing next to my other guitar, a Yamaha RGX
Guitar Restoration Project - Step 18
What a difference!

And you know what? After I have been playing it for a couple of weeks, I also like the way it sounds – those GFS pickups aren't bad at all, with a lot of different tone variety, and not noisy as I was expecting them to be. All in all, I was very pleased with the result of this project!

Now, onto the next challenge – I want to build one from scratch! That will be another post, if I actually get to do it Smile

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