My biggest challenge so far…..


A few weeks ago we received some distressing news.  Our dear friends house’s roof joists had caught fire, and in order to put out the fire some 15 of Yorkshire’s 25 fire engines had poured tonnes of water onto the roof to break through the roof and douse the fire therein.  The downside of this is that the weight of water also pushed the upstairs through into the downstairs, resulting in whatever was not automatically burned, becoming supersaturated with soot, water steam and then heated through as the fire went out!



My friends were able to rescue 3 of their guitars, and set me the challenge of refurbishing the remains and seeing what I could resurrect.

As you can see – the 3 guitars are in pretty bad shape – and need some serious restorative work.  The most valuable – a 1996 Fender USA Stratocaster typically has the worst of the damage and will undoubtedly require the most work!

First onto the bench has to be the USA Strat – First job – record what’s there….

OK, now – wirecutters and screwdriver time.  Taking care not to put undue strain on any of the rusted screws, all parts of the guitar were removed and place in a sealed container (even the metal parts smelled awful!).  The paintwork was washed down with detergent and warm water – it removed some of the muck, but not a lot.


The best results seemed to be using “Smudge Off” cleaner and an OLD rag that I can throw away afterwards.  The “Smudge Off” cut through the greasy soot stains brilliantly – and where there were deposits of waxy tar, a bit of naphtha on a rag worked wonders!  The body was then treated to a “Guitar Scratch Remover” treatment to get rid of the plethora of tiny scratches accumulated due to abrasive nature of the soot! – Black guitars are the worst for showing these tiny scratches, but the end result was great.

Unfortunately in the process it soon becomes clear that the lacquer on the fingerboard of the neck has suffered most.  Although on first cleaning the lacquer seemed OK – with just the usual wear and tear from use, the lacquer soon starts to flake off – I presume steam has got in underneath the finish and “lifted it from the surface!  I made the decision to relacquer the neck – not something I’ve done before, but needed.  I soon found out that the Polyurethane finish that Fender use on their fingerboards is near indestructible! – other than burning the house down ’round it!

I decided to scrape the neck – using a Stanley knife blade – drawing the blade perpendicular to the neck from one fret to the next and after several hours of scraping it cleaned up.  I sanded the neck with P800 sandpaper and felt ready to go…

A wipe down with white spirit and off to the garage to start spraying the nitrocellulose.  I masked off the rest of the neck with a combination of masking tape and paper, and started to spray.  Thin coats at first – which seemed to go well – then thicker coats – and it all went wrong!  I appeared to get what they call “Fisheye” marks – where something in the wood repels the lacquer (probably silicone from “Pledge” or “Mr Sheen”).  Time to call on my guitar guru – Harvey Gerlitz – who advised restripping the neck, washing with acetone – and respraying.

Having followed Harvey’s advice I also only sanded with P220 sandpaper as he said that the lacquer needs “something to hold onto!” – I also purchased some clear amber lacquer  to tint the neck to as near to the original colour as I can muster.  Once again – thin coats to start, and then build up.  AND MORE FLIPPIN’ “FISHEYES” APPEAR.


Re – Acetone wash.



This time I sprayed less of the amber – as it had gone quite a vibrant yellow last time, once it seemed close to the existing colour I started overspraying with Clear lacquer.  and continued to spray one coat every 20 minutes until I felt that I had enough thickness on the fretboard.

The neck was then hung to dry for 4 days.

After this time I scraped the top of the frets with a  Stanley knife blade to remove the majority of the lacquer that was on the frets.  Then reprofiled the frets with a  fret file, then polished the frets and fingerboard with 0000 wire wool, followed by “MicroMesh P1200 and P2400” papers, using “Guitar Honey” as a lubricant.  Finally “T-cut” was used to polish the lacquer and frets clean!



Now for the rest of the guitar.  The scratchplate was disassembled – a couple of the rubber height adjusters had melted – I replaced them with funnel springs – which I prefer.  The scratchplate and backplate and pickup covers were cleaned as per the regime used on the bodywork above.  The control knobs needed a bit more careful approach as any solvents or abrasives would remove the numbers AND the muck! – I tried some “Muc Off” in warm water (Muc Off is a mountain bike cleaner!).  Excellent result!

The Tuners (machine heads) looked disgusting.  An initial clean with naphtha and subsequent polishing with “Brasso” Pads revealed that there was still considerable chrome there – albeit “blued” by the heat.

The bridge posed problems all of it’s own.  The screws were all rusted in place.  I elected to spray/soak the bridge parts in WD40 in a container to release the rust – excellent result.  All but one tiny little grub screw for adjusting saddle height came out OK (the reluctant adjuster was removed with pliers and replaced). Scrubbed with an old toothbrush (it may have been my wife’s but she’s not complained!), and coated in a thin coat of Vaseline.  (NB 2 saddles had shorter adjuster Grub screws – these are for the 2 outside E strings.   2 saddles had shorter springs – these are for the low E and G string.)  Following careful reassembly the bridge could be returned to the guitar.

Reassembly of the guitar following all this cleaning seemed relatively easy – resolder the jack socket to the scratch plate controls, reassemble the guitar, restring, tune, adjust truss rod, retune, adjust trem springs to allow the bridge to lie parallel to the body, retune, adjust string height (minimum height with no buzz on any frets, & profiling the bridge to match the neck profile), retune, adjust intonation, retune. “Smudge Off” to remove fingermarks, and then “No.1” Carnauba Wax to finish and protect.  Job done.

Now for the CSL “Les Paul” clone – I’m far more in my comfort zone here – and procedure was speeded up by the experience of the previous job.

Fist record the “state of play…..”

Now – disassemble – same procedure as before – remove all parts carefully, place in sealed container, wash the body and neck.

Following cleaning the body and neck with “Smudge Off,” and polishing the tarnished black paintwork back to a glossy sheen with “Guitar Scratch Remover,” it was time to start on the Hardware.  First the neck plate had rusted outrageously – “Brasso” pads did the job – but also removed some of the gold covering – however it still looks better than rust.  The screws were “lubed” with vaseline to prevent future “binding” with the wood.  The same procedure was applied to the machine heads.  The truss rod cover cleaned up well with “Smudge Off” and a toothbrush ( my wife’s again!) The fretboard was washed with “Guitar Honey” then “exfoliated” using “Guitar Honey” and 0000 wire wool – this also cleaned the rust off the frets neatly.  The fretboard was then allowed to soak for a while with “Guitar Honey” to fully saturate the rather dry fingerboard.

Now – reassemble, resolder, restring, retune, adjust pickup height and pole pieces, retune, adjust intonation, retune, job done.  Much quicker than the Stratocaster – boy how I prefer Rosewood necks!  “Smudge Off” to remove fingermarks, and then “No.1” Carnauba Wax to finish and protect.  Job done.

Unfortunately at this point in time I’m not able to proceed with the Mexican Stratocaster as my friend’s insurance company want to see the extent of the damage…..  but who knows, maybe one day I can get that looking pristine again!

June 2013:


I get to complete the trio….

First record the damage….

The I followed all the same procedures as before, cleaning with naphtha, Smudge Off and Guitar Scratch Remover!

All the parts were removed, Brasso used on the metal parts, solder rechecked, pots cleaned with contact cleaner, and then gradually reassembled. Each screw was de-rusted and lubricated before reuse!

Once reassembled I soon found out that the nut needed replacing – someone had fitted a brass nut – but had fitted a right handed nut, widening the narrow slots to accommodate the bass strings, and leaving big grooves for the treble strings.  The result was a “sitar” like effect as the high strings rolled around in the nut slots!  The low E string was also too low causing buzzing on the open strings against the first fret.  I made a new nut out of a piece of Tusq material – much more solid and reliable sound.

The neck also needed a shim to get the neck angle better.

All in all  – much improved and I feel like I’ve completed the cycle – Job done!



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