For those that have followed my inane ramblings to date and managed to travel through time by my side, we are now comfortably ensconced in the mid 1980’s.
You will recall from my last piece that a slab of Oregon pine is skulking ominously in the background, harbouring untold horrors for my old Shaftesbury archtop. It is the larger piece of wood in the adjacent photograph which was taken many years later when I had managed to clamp it to a workbench under house arrest.
This is the very timber obtained during renovation works at Belfast Castle, a fact that allows me to introduce a wacky anecdote. It has also allowed me to introduce the word ‘wacky’ which I have not found necessary to do before and having gained no pleasure from it, not something I am bound to repeat.
Belfast Castle was constructed during the 1800’s. The work initially undertaken by George Hamilton Chichester, 3rd Marquis of Donegal, was completed after his death by Lord Donegal’s son-in law Anthony Ashley-Cooper. And he, was the 8th Earl of Shaftesbury.
I fully understand that you may feel some degree of temporary nausea at the tentative link carefully forged between my old guitar and the English aristocracy but I assure you it does not approach the levels of self-satisfaction that I feel for precisely the same reason.
We are now approaching the time when I need to turn to the true purpose of this blog, to document the rebuilding of an almost ruined guitar. I hope you can bear with me whilst I tie up a few loose ends from the past to explain why this project was ever necessary.
The Gear Box
A school friend of mine had started a business selling musical equipment, primarily guitars and amplifiers but also accessories. He was ambitious and stocked some high quality equipment often beyond the financial reach of his clientele. One such item was a set of Gibson humbucker PAF style pickups, today these are packaged as the 57 classics. I bought them.
No turning back
After a final longing glance inside the pages of the Guitar Handbook at the photograph of a gleaming black Gibson ES-335 semi-hollow guitar, I alone, armed with a block of Oregon pine, some chisels, sandpaper, aerosol paint, six Kluson machine heads and a set of Gibson pickups, began an inexcusable act of sabotage on a lovely old guitar. Sadly no photographs exist of the original Shaftesbury with its resplendent sunburst finish but for the sake of reference it was very similar to the model pictured here.
I began by stripping out the old pickups and electrical wiring. After daubing the surface with old school Nitromors within an hour or two the sunburst finish was gone. I tore off the 3 ply binding around the guitar edges and split the top from the body with the aid of a heat gun and a 1″ chisel. The dastardly deed was done.
Having gained access inside the guitar body I modelled the pine to match the curves of the back and top. Using PVA glue and some borrowed clamps I put the whole thing back together and sprayed with cellulose primer and a black finish.
I had no way of finding suppliers of luthier products such as plastic binding so the routed grooves were filled with ‘plastic wood’ and painted white by hand before a final horribly dimpled clear coat was applied.
I’m sure I was fully aware that the result had all the finesse of a blacksmith’s apron and I’m equally sure that I didn’t admit it. Cringeworthy as it must now appear I thought I had created something akin to a Gibson ES-335.
Just as Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein gave life to his creature believing he was creating a human being I created an abomination that barely resembled the template.
Of course I played it here and there with friends, where it howled and screamed and tried to be everything it was not. And as the years passed and I acquired guitars of higher quality it was broken up for parts and cast aside in a dark and dusty corner of our roof space.
But it was not forgotten.
1986 – My son and I with the now black Shaftesbury
2013 – In the roof space in a state of disrepair but I was disinclined to throw it away
Then in November 2016 I said to my long suffering wife, “I’m going to restore the old Shaftesbury to it’s original condition”. “Of course you are”, she said, “that will be nice”.
. I obtained this image from the internet a few years back and I don’t have details to offer due credit. If you own the rights and my use of it presents an issue please let me know and I’ll remove it.