Steaming out Dents in a ’71 Medallion Flying V
May 17, 2011
When it comes to Gibson’s Flying V guitars, most V fanatics rank the Medallion model as one of the most desirable. In 1971, Gibson made a limited edition of 350 of these guitars, which were intended to commemorate the then-upcoming 1972 Olympic games. The design was based on Gibson’s ’67 Flying V, with its short headstock and detailing. Added to this was a gold-colored coin inscribed with the Gibson logo and inlaid on the front bass side of the body. Each Medallion V’s 1 7/16"-diameter coin was also inscribed with a digit representing its serial and production number. (Although a few had a stamped serial number on the back of the headstock.)
The subject of this month’s column—#18—was definitely out of Gibson’s first production batch. This Medallion Flying V arrived at our shop in dire need of a finish restoration. Most of the original finish had been stripped away, and the guitar had then been covered in a light, handrubbed oil. There were slight visual signs to confirm that the original finish was once a Gibson cherry red.
I used acetone and a white (I’ll explain later why this is important), lint-free cotton cloth to remove the oils that had soaked into the Honduran mahogany. To avoid any adhesion issues, you must do this before applying any nitrocellulose lacquer. To fully clean the wood, I repeatedly wiped the body with fresh cloths, and I kept wiping an area until my cloth didn’t show any oil discoloration. When working with acetone, remember to wear protective gloves and eyewear, and be sure to have proper ventilation.
During this process, I also noticed a couple of small dents and one large body dent. I knew I needed to tend to these before I sprayed transparent cherry red finish on the guitar again. If I didn’t remove the dents, they’d glare through the finish and be an eyesore.
I knew the largest dent— which measured 1" long, 1/8" wide, and 1/16" deep—would be the biggest challenge to remove and feather in. For my first attempt at doctoring this indentation, I poured a little water into a coffee cup and brought it to a boil in a microwave. I then used a Q-Tip to apply the hot water to the damaged area, hoping to swell the compressed wood to its original state. I wanted to try this technique first, because it’s the least-abrasive option.
Before long, I could see that the wood was not going to move easily. I only achieved a 15-percent improvement, so I knew I needed to really increase the heat and begin steaming from the depths below. If you ever try this technique, I’d suggest first working on a scrap piece of wood of the same species to get a feel for the process before doing it on a guitar. This will help avoid incurring further damage.
The main tool I use for such steaming operations is my Tenma Temperature Controlled Digital Solder Station (model 21-1590), which has a temperature range of 320–900 degrees Fahrenheit. (Incidentally, if you work on guitar electronics and want to achieve clean results without damaging any components, the Tenma unit would be a fantastic addition to your workbench.)
I attached a 1/8" tip to the iron and set the temperature to 900 degrees. Then I took a white, 5" x 5", lint-free cotton cloth, moistened it heavily, and folded it in three layers to create a thick, protective pad. Laying this over the dent, I applied the soldering iron to the pad and began steaming out the wood.
Sometimes this works quickly, but for this particular indentation I needed to repeatedly moisten the cloth and reapply heat—always monitoring the cloth for mild burning or discoloration. This is why having a white cloth is so important: It helps you avoid damaging the wood, because you can see when things are beginning to really heat up and adjust the temperature accordingly.
It took about 15 cycles of moistening the cloth and applying heat to coax the dent out of the wood. After giving the body a light final sanding with 280- grit abrasive, I was finally ready to apply the finish.
I hope everyone’s summer is off to a great start, and you’ve moved your workbench onto the patio and next to the grill!
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.