The chisels are calling It’s time to make sawdust Steely reminders of things left to do Monteleone -Mark Knopfler
Master guitar and mandolin builder John Monteleone, forever immortalised in song by Mark Knopfler after having built a guitar for him, has stated that he always builds a guitar in its “white” state in order that he may make last minute adjustments before the guitar is painted. Although unsure that I was capable of making such adjustments I decided nevertheless to take the master’s advice.
Prior to final glueing I fitted out the guitar with hardware and installed both “E” strings to allow examination of the neck angle and intonation. I’m delighted to report that all was well.
A “white” build as recommended by John Monteleone
The time had arrived to apply a smattering of glue to each surface of the dovetail joint and to press the neck and body together. Without any idea how professional luthiers approach this task I found it necessary to concoct an arrangement of clamps that had all the attributes of a Heath Robinson cartoon.
A “sophisticated” clamping arrangement
With the glue dried and the clamps removed we could now without fear of contradiction declare that we had a guitar! One final detail needed to be completed for which some sheets of plastic card had been purchased and fused together with acetone to create a three ply white/black/white heel cap for the base of the neck Once glued into place and roughly trimmed with a craft knife it was finished neatly with 320 grit sandpaper.
The reader may be forming the opinion that some degree of procrastination is evident at this juncture and I can confirm your suspicions. The nitrocellulose aerosol paints were by now in my possession, packed neatly in a box, each one wrapped with a great deal of care in a plausible excuse not to use it. I was dreading the thought of having come this far only to fail by producing a sub-standard finish. Having taken the precaution of consulting with the very knowledgable Steve Robinson, at Manchester Guitar Tech as to how I might best achieve the vintage red and yellow sunburst of the original guitar, I took a deep breath inside my filtered mask and began, painstakingly, to follow his detailed instructions.
Steve’s advice was to spray everything with sanding sealer to establish a stable base and this was duly executed. In order to become comfortable using the aerosol I decided to attempt the smallest area first, namely the headstock. After masking off appropriate areas such as the fretboard and the mother-of-pearl logo, I adjusted my face mask and began to spray.
Although initial results were not perfect and additional coats were required to overcome the dull satin finish of nitrocellulose on engraving filler, eventually a gloss finish was achieved which looked quite acceptable.
I hope it won’t tire the reader too much but this was surely the most exciting phase of the entire project, bearing witness as the old guitar was reborn. For that reason I feel that including large photographs in chronological order will best demonstrate the emerging detail.
The next step was to spray everything amber which I did twice with some light sanding between each coat.
If I may introduce an equestrian metaphor at this point it is safe to say that I had the bit between my teeth and decided that I should progress forthwith to paint the neck red. This was a true test of Steve’s advice as he felt that the red on top of the amber would provide the vibrance I was hoping for and as you can see he was absolutely correct.
Neck and Florentine horns in red
I decided that my first attempt at the sunburst finish was best on the rear of the guitar away from the public glare should it go wrong. The result it is fair to say was encouraging!
Having packed the hollow body with a fresh plastic refuse sack, an effort to curtail the travel of unwelcome overspray, my new found painting skills were applied to guitar front.
With the spray phase now complete it was necessary for the binding to be scraped clean using a craft knife blade. This, as you would imagine, was a time consuming and precise task but I must say that I found it somewhat cathartic and rewarding.
F-hole binding scraped
With all binding now scraped clean another light sanding with wet & dry paper (wet) was carried out before two coats of clearcoat were applied. The result was most pleasing to my somewhat biased eye.
An A4 sheet of plastic card placed on top of the guitar allowed the predrilled holes for the electrics to be traced to create a template. The CTS pots were mounted on the card and a wiring loom was soldered into place ready for transfer into the guitar body. Although not quite passing a camel through the eye of a needle a certain amount of deft manipulation of cord, knots and general fiddling was required and I felt at the very least the deep satisfaction of a man that had exfiltrated an imprisoned alpaca via a keyhole.
The fit out
The montage above shows some tidying up involving setting the bridge, fitting the tuners, cutting the nut and polishing the frets. Below is a photograph of the old girl on the operating table for the final time.
As we have reached the end of our journey on this particular project I should mention before wrapping up that the pickups are a set of Gibson 57 Classic in nickel finish and the nut is a modified GraphTech Tusq. The modification was necessary as the nut width is very narrow at just 38.1mm.
I have no doubt that those of you that have followed this journey deserve to be rewarded by hearing what the completed instrument sounds like, and I had considered the option of recording something nice for you. However since I have endeavoured to document the rebuilding of this guitar in a chronological warts and all manner I thought it best to share 23 seconds of unprepared, slightly embarrassing surreptitious video captured by my long suffering wife on her iphone on the occasion that I plugged the guitar into an amplifier for the first time in more than 30 years. The amplifier, for the record, is a Blackstar HT-5R.
I am captured here, to use an Ulster Scots term, footerin’. I can’t ask you to enjoy it but I do hope you can appreciate the effort and the success of this restoration despite the insipid guitar skills!
Many thanks for reading. I’d like to thank Nicky at Rose Morris of Denmark Street for taking an interest in this project and to remind you that amongst other things they are the only stockist of modern Shaftesbury guitars so please pay a visit if you are in London.
If you can bear it I have a couple more projects in the pipeline but for the next little while I intend to be posting slightly more general and less exhausting guitar discussion.
Bye for now!