During work on the body I was also working on the neck. As you might expect it was in the same kind of shape. A bad binding repair on the peghead, coupled with a piece of missing head stock overlay. The back was also very banged up. When the fretboard was removed, big chunks of very brittle mahogany were torn out. There was a v shaped maple insert in the center of the neck. Only a third of the fretboard was left after I got the guitar. It didn’t appear or smell to be rosewood, looking a lot like Macassar ebony. The Fret House had already ordered a new “24 ¾” slotted ebony fretboard from Luthier’s Mercantile to replace the old one. It was interesting to compare what I had left of the existing one and the new one to see that they were completely different. Something I wouldn’t even have checked if I hadn’t read Dan Erlewine, Frank Ford and Tim Shaw’s article in American Lutherie Magazine on the different scales Gibson has used in the past.
The first thing I did on the neck was level it with sand paper stuck to the bottom of my joiner plane. Then using a simple jig I cut the truss rod slot using a ¼” round bottom up-cut spiral bit. I used a plunge router to make the cut because I could lift it up after the cut in the peghead, leaving wood in place for the screw in the cover. The next step was to drill a ¼” hole to join the two slots. The rod was a double action from Stewart MacDonald and the square ends of the rod were fit into the channel.
The fretboard was next. I cut the board to shape to the 1 ¾” wide minus the thickness of the ivoroid binding, using the original as a guide. After heating the binding in hot water I fitted it to the tight curves of the end of the board. ¼” Holes were then cut for the mother of pearl position markers and the side dots. With the glue dry a 16” radius was put on the fretboard and it was compression fretted with medium fret wire.
Since the neck had to be cut down and a piece of the peghead binding had been poorly repaired, I decided to replace it all. By doing this and veneering the back with mahogany, the peghead almost looked new. I filled the missing piece of ebony on the front with dust and glue, taking care to fill the missing filler in the inlay, which thank God, was still intact. The channels for the peghead binding were done with a router, with the exception of the two nearest the nut as the router bearing would have cut too much out. Those channels were done with a Sloane purfling cutter. The peghead holes were then drilled to accommodate the new turners.
Before I put the fretboard on the neck, the angle had to be checked. As you might have guessed 85 years had taken its toll and was at a much too shallow angle to be playable. One of the things I did when I put the body together was to try and keep the original registration of the scrolls on the top and back aligned with the sides, but I realized that I’d have to slip the block a little. I heated the back and head block with a silicone heating blanket and moved it as much as I dared, and took up the chisel to finish the job. I took a full 3/16” off the heal of the neck to get the proper angle. Luckily there was a lot of wood on the neck and I thought it actually made a better match to what would be a new svelte neck shaft.
Once I was satisfied with the neck I put the truss rod in, filled the gaps in the mahogany with dust and epoxy and glued the fretboard to the neck. The neck was thicknessed with a Wagner safety plane and contoured with rasps and files. The ebonized stripe in the center of the neck was lost and I thought it would very difficult to redo without a lot of head scratching so rather than spraying the stripe on with color, Jim and I decided to leave it out altogether.
After finishing the contouring, I sanded down to 320 grit and joined the neck to the body. The neck angle had positioned the fretboard so that it didn’t contact the body by the sound hole, so a piece of spruce was fashioned to make up for the gap. After rounding the part of spruce that was under the exposed edge of the fretboard, it was barely visible. When the glue was dry I re-contoured the body to blend in to the narrower board. Jim had supplied mammoth ivory bridge pins, end pin, and Waverly’s with real ivory buttons, so that was a given. I have one, yes just one, ivory nut that I’ve saved for about 30 years. And while I don’t put elephant ivory on my new guitars, nor would I put it on any modern guitar I repaired, I thought this is the instrument for it.
Next week: Finish, set up and trouble shooting.