How to Relic Your Guitar Neck Pt. 1
We’re almost finished with the aging process on our project guitar. Let’s work on the fretboard, nut, and truss rod cover, and prepare the headstock for the last hurrah.
Hello and welcome back to Mod Garage. This month we’ll continue with our relic’ing project, taking a closer look at the front side of the neck and treating the fretboard and the headstock. We’ll work on the front side of the headstock in the next part, but first we must prepare it.
When we talk about a vintage Gibson fretboard from the ’50s, we’re talking about the mystic Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) and its certain look and feel. Our Harley Benton doesn’t have a Brazilian rosewood fretboard. If it did, the fretboard material would cost more than the entire guitar because it’s so rare and limited today. Brazilian rosewood trade is restricted by CITES and almost no guitar companies use it anymore, except for some special custom shops. Other rosewoods or alternative woods are common substitutes.
Our Harley Benton fretboard is amaranth (better known as purpleheart), but sadly it was stained or painted black, giving the guitar a different look that’s closer to ebony rather than rosewood. So, there’s no way to get it brown or make it look like rosewood other than getting a new fretboard installed, which isn’t reasonable. Maybe it’s possible to get the black color out of the wood by using chemicals, but we don’t know what we’d find underneath, either. There could be another surprise waiting for us and all the work would be useless. On a budget guitar like this, we’ll have to live with this fretboard, loving it for what it is rather than hating it for what it’s not. The fretwork is surprisingly good and close to excellent, which is far from the industry standard in this price range.
The fretboard edges of well-played vintage guitars feel comfortable and round because the edges receive pressure from a player’s hand over decades.
But to show you the process of aging a fretboard, I chose a guitar with a rosewood fretboard, so you’ll know how to do this on a guitar with this type of fretboard if you want to. It’s not complicated so here we go.
Look at the slightly pale and lifeless color of the rosewood in Photo 1. It has a nice grain but is rather dull. Brazilian rosewood has a rich chocolate brown color, which clearly shows the grain of the wood.
Let’s make it less boring:
Use some fine steel wool or sanding pads to sand the rosewood. Use a soft brush afterwards to get the dust off.
Use some naphtha or alcohol and a cotton cloth to degrease the wood and get all the fine dust and dirt out of it.
Use masking tape to protect the fretboard edges and the binding, if your neck has one. You don’t need to cover the frets. They’re easy to clean after the process. Use a Q-tip and some Vaseline to protect the fretboard dots from the dye.
You need a chocolate brown wood dye and a small soft brush to apply it.
Some luthier supply stores offer special Brazilian rosewood dye in different shades of brown (Photo 2). I decided on a classic chocolate brown color on a solvent base for best results. Apply the dye thin and carefully and let it dry for some minutes.
Now look at the difference in Photo 3. It’s easy to see! If you want your fretboard darker, repeat the process until you like it. Cover your workspace with old newspapers and have an old cotton rag nearby just in case. This dye will stain everything permanently and you don’t want it on your clothes or your kitchen table. Let the fretboard dry for a day and take off the masking tape.
Use some very fine steel wool to polish the fretboard and the frets, to get any dye off the fret material easily. Use a soft brush to clean the fretboard afterwards.
Use some naphtha and a Q-tip to carefully clean the fretboard dots from any Vaseline leftovers.
Then use the amber color from the last part of this series [“DIY Relic’ing: Hardware Continued”] together with a fresh Q-tip and apply the amber color to the dots until you like the shade.
Now that we’ve made this rosewood fretboard look much closer to Brazilian rosewood, it’s time to mimic the touch and feel of it. Brazilian rosewood has a certain smell and feel that can be described as greasy compared to most other rosewoods. This is because of the oil content of this wood. We can’t naturally “oil up” other woods, but we can get close to this certain feel by waxing the fretboard rather than oiling it. This is also an easy process so let’s go for it.
Get a clear, hard wax for fretboards and a soft polishing brush (Photo 4). Apply a thin layer of wax to the fretboard using a cotton cloth to massage it into the wood.
Let it dry for some time, then wipe off any remaining excess wax and use the soft polishing brush to get this greasy look and shine on your fretboard, as seen in Photo 5.
So far, so good. We’ve taken care of the color and the feel of the fretboard but there is another haptic thing to consider when talking about vintage necks: the broken-in feeling of the fretboard edges. The fretboard edges of well-played vintage guitars feel comfortable and round because the edges receive pressure from a player’s hand over decades. This is not what is called “rolled fretboard edge,” which is a common custom shop option, but it goes in the same direction only to a much lesser degree.
To bring this typical broken-in feeling to your neck, you don’t need much: just a round metal bar and some time. You can do this to any guitar neck. I prefer to use a massive metal slide for pedal-steel players, but you can also use a bigger screwdriver or something similar. If possible, clamp down your guitar and use the steel bar in a 45-degree angle to move it along the edge of the fretboard, applying pressure (Photo 6). What we’re doing with this is not making a rolled edge but compressing fibres, which is exactly the natural process over time. Repeat moving the bar while applying pressure for some time and check the result until you like it. This is not done within a minute, so take your time. With the metal slide, I usually need 10-15 minutes for each edge until I like it, but this depends a lot on how hard your fretboard material is.
If you’re done with that part, excellent! You just finished your fretboard. Moving up the neck, the nut is our next task. The nut of our Harley Benton is pure white plastic, which not the best choice. If you want to keep it, you can sand it with some steel wool and apply some of the amber color with a Q-tip, followed with some of our mixture of dirt, dust, and ashes we used for the plastic buttons of the tuners [DIY Relic’ing Tuners, Part 2”]. Use your fingers to wipe on some of this mixture and you’re done. If you want to upgrade the nut, nylon is the historically correct material, and such nut blanks are available from numerous luthier supply stores. I decided to use an unbleached bone nut blank and make a new nut. Afterwards, I used some of the amber color and dust to make it look old (Photo 7).
Further up the neck is the cover for the truss rod adjustment screw with its mounting screw. Harley Benton decided to use a modern shape for it, which doesn’t look very good to me. The typical Gibson-style covers with their bell-like shape look much different, so I decided to swap the cover for such a model, modifying it for a flat bottom so it covers the whole opening for the truss rod (Photo 8). To make it look old, you can use the exact steps we used on the jack plate: break the shine with some steel wool, add some light scratches, wipe on some amber color on the white part of the cover, and then rub in some dust and dirt. You already know how to age screws, having done it many times before in the earlier parts of this ongoing project. If you need a refresher on our aging process for screws, refer back to “DIY Relic’ing: Break the Shine” for guidance.
The last thing we’ll do today is begin to work on the headstock of the guitar, which is often a delicate task. A lot of modders try to reshape the headstock so it will look like it’s from a vintage guitar, and, even worse, replace the headstock logo with a fake logo from another company. I would never do that. This project is about aging a guitar and not about making it an exact copy of a vintage original. Personally, I really like the headstock shape of the Harley Benton. It looks at least a little bit Gibson-like, and I also think the Harley Benton logo looks cool the way it is (Photo 9). So, aging it is very easy: Break the shine with some steel wool and wipe off the dust. Use a Q-tip and apply some layers of the amber color to the logo until you like the shade. Adding dings, dongs, and scratches will come later. In the next part of this project, we’ll take care of the backside of the neck and the body by cracking the lacquer to mimic some old nitro lacquer.
That’s it for now. We’re almost finished with this relic’ing project, but before we wrap it up, we’ll return to guitar mods in the next issue. We’ll take a deeper look at putting vintage parts into new electric guitars, so stay tuned.
Until then ... keep on modding!
- Last Call: Someday You'll Regret That Relic Job - Premier Guitar ›
- Mod Garage: DIY Relic'ing—Aging a P-90 Pickup - Premier Guitar ›
- DIY Relic'ing: Break the Shine - Premier Guitar ›
- DIY Guitar Relic'ing: Let's Crack Some Lacquer Finish - Premier Guitar ›
Guitar Center Presents: Holiday Gift Guide
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Les Paul Desert Burst Satin
Fender Classic Series 5 Guitar Case Stand Tweed
Fender Holiday Guitar Cable Keychain
Fender Limited Edition Holiday Sweater
Harbinger MLS1000 Personal Line Array Speaker System
Sterling Audio P10 Dynamic Instrument Microphone
Sterling Audio Harmony H224 USB Audio Interface
Apogee BOOM 2x2 Audio Interface
Mono Releases the M80 Vertigo Ultra Case
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
- Upgraded materials, including a water-resistant 1680D Ballistic Nylon outer shell, plush inner lining and new reflective trim for maximum backstage and night visibility
- Enhanced protection with a shockproof shell structure and heavy-duty water-resistant YKK zippers for protection from the elements
- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
- Flexible storage options with added space for touring essentials
MONO Vertigo Ultra Electric Bass Gig Bag - Black
For more information, please visit monocreators.com.
Gibson Unveils the Generation Collection of Acoustics
The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
Gibson Acoustic Generation Collection G-Bird Acoustic-electric Guitar - Natural
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
Gibson Unveils New Digital Amp
Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.