Last month, I walked you
through the evaluation
process that precedes any restoration
work I do. The subject
of our evaluation was a ’72 Les
Paul Deluxe. This time around,
we’ll begin restoring the guitar
based on our previous diagnoses.
(If you missed that column,
check out “Evaluating a ’72Gibson Les Paul Deluxe”
As you may recall, there was
an assortment of worn-out parts
and alterations to this Les Paul.
Knowing it had been heavily
played for several years, the new
owner did not have any delusions
about it being in mint condition
after work was completed.
He was enthusiastic about his
find and asked us to breathe life
back into the instrument.
frets had seen better days, and
they were extremely low and
flat, with some pitting. In this
condition, there is no realistic
chance of producing a properly
intonated and bell-like sustained
tone. Even the fretboard
binding nibs were mostly nonexistent.
Because the original
frets couldn’t be resurrected by
leveling and re-crowning them,
I needed to extract and replace
them with fresh fretwire.
Extracting the Frets.
the years, I’ve gravitated toward
an assortment of tools and
procedures for extracting frets
smoothly with minimal or no
tear-out to the fretboard wood.
The first step is to condition
both the frets and fretboard
before starting the actual extraction.
If you don’t take precautions,
there can be catastrophic
repercussions when the fret
barbs pull up against the wood.
I conditioned each fret by
placing a thin layer of water
over its top and sides and then
heating up the fretwire using
a soldering gun with a custom
tip. This tip consists of two
brass rods that are radiused
so their ends sit on the fret
crown. When the rods contact
the fretwire, the circuit is completed,
and this generates heat
between the rods throughout
the fret. It’s important to pay
close attention to the rods’ temperature,
because excessive heat
will melt the fretboard binding.
I use a special tool called
a Fret Puller (available from
, item #1637) for
extracting the frets. During
this operation, I rely on the
Rock-n-Roller Neck Rest
(#3722) to securely support
the guitar neck.
On the ’72 Deluxe, all
the frets came out smoothly
and without damaging the
fretboard. The quality of the
Indian rosewood slab contributed
to the smooth extraction.
Occasionally, I come across
fretboards that are extremely
brittle, and no matter what I do
it’s nearly impossible to avoid
I should also note that,
whenever possible, I protect
guitar bodies with a thick
leather skirt during restoration.
I acquired this leather from my
father, as these particular pieces
were too thick for his needs—
leathering accordion and concertina
reeds. Thanks, dad!
Removing the Nut.
Gibson synthetic nut was
coming off, and the string slots
were worn and bottomed out
to the point that they wouldn’t
accommodate the height of
replacement frets. When removing
a nut on this type of headstock,
the first step is to use a
razorblade to score the lacquer
around the nut at the seam
lines. This limits any chance of
damaging the finish around the
nut when it pulls away from
the fretboard. While doing this
work, I clamp the neck in the
Ultimate Vise (#3412). I apply
feather-light pressure and just let
the blade do the cutting.
After scoring around the nut,
I try to gently tap it loose using
my ergonomically designed wood
block and Deadblow Fretting
Hammer (#1296). Luck was on
my side as the nut broke loose
fairly well. There are times, however,
that a nut is glued in too
securely to tap loose. In that case,
you need to cut the nut lengthwise
down the middle with fine
saws (#3600) or a Dremel tool
(#0358), and then gently work
the pieces out of the nut slot.
Using the Erlewine Neck
The Erlewine Neck Jig,
ShopStand, and Angle Vise
(#5392) has endless uses in
our shop. This jig has various
adjustment options, including
dial gauges to allow for precise
setups. For this project, I used
it to simulate normal string tension
after I removed the strings.
Once I’d pulled out the frets, I
used a 10" radius block (#0411)
with 280-grit sandpaper to skim
over the rosewood fretboard and
eliminate any micro high spots.
A parting bit of info on this ’72
Deluxe: In last month’s column, I
described how someone had added
low-profile crème plastic rings to
surround the original pickup rings.
However, after reading this in PG,
Dave Rogers of Dave’s Guitar
Shop wrote me to set the record
straight. “I just wanted to let you
know,” he said, “that those goofy
thin pickup surrounds were stock
on that LP Deluxe. You don’t see
them often, but they are original
to that guitar.”
This little-known fact illustrates
how there’s an endless pool
of knowledge to be gathered
throughout life. Next month, I’ll
be back with more restoration
techniques. See you then!
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
or email John at