Premier Guitar

Evaluating a '72 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe

August 16, 2011
Over the years that I’ve been writing this column, I’ve received many emails from PG readers with questions about personal guitars, as well as tech questions from stringed-instrument repair people around the world. My goal is to help where I can and contribute to everyone’s success as a musician and instrument collector. (If you’ve emailed me and never heard back, please don’t hesitate to reach out again. Occasionally things get lost because of the fast pace of life. You know how that goes!)

In our shop, we have some very important protocols that contribute to our success, and this process starts with the evaluation. Every guitar that comes into our shop is first thoroughly examined using an assortment of tools and techniques. This is generally done in front of the customer, which helps build customer confidence and promotes an understanding of our findings and any work we might undertake.

Whether it’s a vintage guitar or one fresh off the production line, we evaluate every instrument using the same procedures and tools. Some clients may just want to know if their vintage guitar is 100-percent straight, while others come to have their troubled instrument fine-tuned for optimal performance. Regardless, we start by diagnosing the guitar’s mechanical condition, and I thought it would be fun to walk you through the process.

I received a call from my friend Tom, who was out on the road. He had just traded some camera gear for a ’72 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe and was very enthusiastic about his new find. He was under no illusion that this guitar was in mint condition. In fact, he knew it had previously been played hard for several years— it was a workhorse.

After Tom returned to town, we gave his ’72 Deluxe a full evaluation. We began by noting the model’s general specs: cherry sunburst finish, a 3-piece neck with a –14 degree peghead angle, a 4-piece pancake body, a 3-piece maple top, an Indian rosewood fretboard with trapezoid inlays, two minihumbuckers, ’72 CTS pots with two Sprague “black beauty” .022–400 DC capacitors, Kluson Deluxe “tulip” doublering tuners, and an ABR-1 bridge with a “lightweight” aluminum tailpiece.

The guitar has had many notes played on the upper and lower frets. Some frets were pitted, while others had a flat and extremely low playing surface. To check fret-to-fretboard contact, I use a .001 feeler gauge. If the feeler gauge slides between the underside of the fret bed and the fretboard playing surface, the fret (or frets) would need to be reseated. But on this particular guitar, the frets were Eval uat ing a ’72 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe BY John Brown past the point of saving, so we planned for a complete re-fret.

A neck relief gauge (item #2004 from is an important tool for checking truss-rod adjustment and making sure there is enough forward relief and back pull. With a notched straightedge (#3814), I could see just how level the fretboard was before Gibson fretted the guitar in ’72. I was happy to discover that the fretboard was very level and the frets were seated well. This Deluxe definitely didn’t exhibit the D– work we hear about from this era of guitar manufacturing.

The ABR-1 bridge had collapsed, and I confirmed this using my 12" precision straightedge (#3849). Because the chassis was concave, the saddles couldn’t arch correctly to match the fretboard radius. But all of the electronics were in perfect working order—a real plus for the owner.

There were a few obvious cosmetic issues, including potentially perilous strap-peg screw holes that had been stripped and then simply redrilled. The D-string tuner shaft was slightly bent. And along the way, someone put time and effort into making low-profile crème plastic rings to surround the original pickup rings, and then used small brass nails to attach their handiwork.

So that’s how a typical evaluation works. As far as this Deluxe’s future, we’ll address the cosmetic issues and restore the guitar to its full sonic and playing potential. Admittedly, it will be quite a challenge to rebuild the wood and make the finish touch-ups 100-percent invisible. But that‘s what keeps my heart pumping and the fire burning!

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 or email John at