An accordion player by the name of Tom O’Brien came walking through my doors carrying a beat-up, average-looking guitar case with its outer plastic shell warped and bubbled up, obviously a reaction from being too close to extreme heat. Tom and I talked about accordions for a bit, as well as the beautiful town of New Ulm, Minnesota, where I grew up. You see, my life isn’t all about guitars; one of the very first instruments I took lessons on was the accordion. As a matter a fact, my father gave me one of his Excelsior accordions, which I still have today. If you’re ever looking for some old German beauty, authentic food and music, New Ulm is the perfect place to visit. Heck just to see the Glockenspiel (a musical clock that produces bell-like tones with mechanical figurines) in action is an event in itself.
After we finished our introductions, I opened the case and was shocked to see a well-taken-care-of 1966 Gibson L4C. Upon inspection, it was evident that it really needed a quality cleaning from years of dust and body sweat. It’s very rare to see such an instrument like this one that doesn’t have wood cracks or some form of major damage. It did have an aftermarket pickup—an authentic Johnny Smith—installed. From what I could tell, the installation took place in ’66 or ’67 and was done well.
I asked Tom where he found it, and he told me that he got it from his father-in-law, Van Crawford, after he passed away. Van played with Johnny Ketelsen & the Tom Owen’s Cowboys, appearing at the Surf Ballroom through the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Based out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, they were heard daily on WMT radio for twenty years. The Cowboys hold a record that will never be broken: they played over 6,500 live radio shows on WMT, the CBS affiliate.
Specs 1966 L4C specs: much like an acoustic, spruce-top version of the ES-175; pointed cutaway, pointed-end tailpiece with three raised parallelograms; laminated black pickguard; double-parallelogram fingerboard inlays and crown peghead inlay; 16"-wide laminated maple body, spruce top.
For this project I, wanted to try out the new Preservation Polish from Stew Mac. Ordinary guitar polishes shine by leaving a long-lasting silicone residue that’s very hard to remove. If your guitar ever needs a repair, the silicone will prevent glue or finish from adhering, making even simple repairs more difficult and costly. Preservation Polish gently cleans, polishes and protects lacquer and varnish finishes, with no wax or silicone residues.
Adam Meyer, a Brown’s Guitar Factory employee, assisted me in bringing back the guitar’s luster. After the pickup, pickguard, tuners, and tuner bushings were removed, Preservation Polish was applied with a clean cotton cloth. It leaves no wax or silicone residues, so there’s no cloudy film, stickiness or build-up—and it didn’t discolor the patina of the vintage finish. We ended up with a real, untouched natural result.
Before the very final stage of polishing, the fingerboard and frets were lightly washed with 0000 steel wool. BGF Guitar Elixir was then applied and left on for a few minutes while we used a drop-fill toothpick to help loosen the years of debris on the edge where the fret meets the fingerboard. A paper towel was used to absorb the dirt and Elixir, and then a second and final treatment was applied. I really like those handy, angled plastic toothpicks, as they have many uses around the shop.
After all of the hardware was reassembled, the inspection gloves went on for the final polishing stage. If we’re going to take the time to make things perfect, we want to let the customer be the first to leave his prints! These cotton gloves are a simple and inexpensive way to help keep new finishes and hardware looking new in your shop, and to protect vintage finishes, as well. I like using the gloves when we present one of our freshly handmade instruments to our customers.
The smile on my customer’s face confirmed my thinking that this Preservation Polish is the real deal.
For this restoration the following supplies, available at stewmac.com
, were used:
#3006 Preservation Polish
#1815 Cotton Polishing Cloth
#6063 Inspection Gloves
#3110 Drop-fill toothpicks
BGF Guitar Elixir fingerboard conditioner available from Brown’s Guitar Factory: brownsguitarfactory.com
John Brown, of Brown's Guitar Factory, is the inventor of the Fretted/Less bass. He owns and operates a full guitar manufacturing 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.