Did technology break or make Gibson?

2014 Gibson

I recently had the great fortune to take a closer look at a 2014 Gibson 120 year anniversary CE custom. This sorcery that Gibson did to create such an unparalleled universe in tradition/modern technology is of another worldly specimen.

My personal view reflect the struggles I find in Gibson’s workforce in the 2013-2016. To me at least there seem to be a lot of new workers at the Gibson Factory, My reasoning for this bolt statement is captured in the lack of detailing, care that was associated with Gibson for so many years. The other question might be, whether Gibson just made too many guitars per day, and whether the employees felt proud to be working for such a giant in the industry.

These statements are quite big and may be seen as negative, when in fact, we have to remember that we have gone through an enormous change in precision from 2005. Most factories started to streamline process. Gibson did the same. Gibson got one of their game changers (the Plek Machine) in  2006.This machine help any guitar building company to fine-tune the nut saddles and fretwork, by making the distance equal to a mathematical optimization, that induce a great playing guitar. Before this era the nut was cut by hand, the fret leveling and crowning and relief was all done by hand. This 120 anniversary has been made with the same tools and process before the plek, and before electronic boards. They mixed it up by using a new material for the fret board, called Richlight.

It seems to me, and this again is just my humble opinion, that maybe because of Gibson’s success, they were running out of old stock that was piled up for many years. Why use richlight instead of ebony. Could it be that the ebony at that time was not as stable as what they used to have?

Going through this anniversary Gibson, made me sad and happy all at once. The attention to detail is not there. But the feel and sound just blew me away.

Here are some problems

Nut work:

The nut Spacing is cut right on the edge, its borderline perfect, With E A and B 0,001mm too low. By adjusting the neck relieve, that buzz disappear just enough to not be noticed by a great player.


The frets are flat on top and the plastic cut outs of the binding is square instead of rounded with the crowning that might have been skipped. There are uneven frets, and lots of tool marks in the frets and on the fretboard.


It looks like the finish wasn’t sanded between buffing. There are dust problems on the neck, that needed to be flattened (Wet sand). On the bottom part of the back, there are some air bubbles on the finish that are associated with silicone contaminants.

Hardware Placement and fitting:

The parts that needed to be fitted like the jack plate are not lining up. The back plate is not in the right place. The gap is bigger on the one side. All of these things suggests speed of work and/or lack of care/ability?

In conclusion think this guitar is one of the best Gibson’s I have ever played, it sounds amazing. Nit picking about things that are only visual is perhaps more to do with us as a society that are obsessed with perfection, rather than a reflection on the greatest guitar design in the world.

To finish or not to finish your guitar, that’s the question?

To finish your guitar, or not to

The word re-finish has two meanings in the romantic sense of the word. You have the re-finish. This part is rebirth, making new, giving new life to something old. The re-finish part means done, to part with the old. This takes the scars and nicks and dents away that we have imparted so diligently in our journey together as master and instrument.

If a client has an old guitar and asks you to refinish his guitar, what do you say? This question has come up a lot. The problem is value versus appearance.

re-finish an instrument
Beatle bass sanded to start re-finish process


It is not an easy answer. There are many things to consider. Look at condition then age, colour, finish, year, make and value, these are some of the considerations. Many times someone already started to sand or chemically take the old finish off. If that’s the case I would consider a refinish.

Finish changes colour with exposure to the UV in the sun. This can be difficult to control. Modern finishes are much more protected against UV rays.

How light impacts on colour

Blue becomes green, red becomes orange. To predict how the colour will change is extremely difficult. When the paint dries, it will also turn a few shades darker.  You can finish an old Guitar in amber, just like it would look now after 40 years. Only to see it again in a few years looking terrible.

1k finish is usually a resin that dries with evaporation. 2k finish has a resin and a catalyst that forms a chemical reaction that hardens in 24 hours. UV curable finish has a resin and chemical hardener that reacts with the suns rays. It’s normally light in the spectrum from 490 to about 640. These are the basis of most finishes.

The process 

To start off, first you have to remove the old finish. It can be done in two ways. The first is chemical and the other is sanding from coarse to fine until all the old Lacquer is gone.

Chemical stripper is often used and the ammonia inside the stripper dries the wood out. This will change the cells and can cause cracks later. Sanding has its own drawbacks. If you sand the old finish of, you will remove some wood as well. This will change the stiffness of the top.

If the top has a fine grain, this is called season rings or year rings. The distance between winter and summer growth will be very close to each other. The wider apart they are the less stiff the top will be. The thickness also affects the stiffness and this can change the sound that drew you to the guitar in the first place.

When you re-finish a guitar, it changes many attributes

It is important to take all of this into consideration. To start the finishing of the guitar, you will have to lay down a good foundation. We call this the base coat; this can be a sealer coat, made up of thinned finish. The second stage will be a colour coat which should be even and thin. After that you will seal the colour coat with one or more clear coats.

Sanding the surface with soft wet and dry sandpaper from 320 up to 1500, and then buffing the finish to a full gloss. It is hard to get all the steps right, but with practice it can be very satisfying.

re-finished instrument
Beatle bass restored


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