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FDP Forum / Guitar Mods, Repairs, and Projects / A Bit of History Preserved (long)

Te 52

Laws of Physics

strictly enforced
May 13th, 2019 04:00 PM   Edit   Profile  

Decades ago, when I was a yoot, I came across a 1957 Gretsch Duo Jet in a pawn shop in Long Beach, California. This was in the days when a ’57 Jet was no big deal, just another cheap, used, beat-up guitar. But it sounded great, so I bought it, and I used it exclusively during my brief gigging career as a country artist.

It was unique in that someone had put a coat of gray primer on the top, gilded it with gold paint or gold leaf, and then painted it with a design of flowers and vines. The artwork was actually quite beautiful, but not designed to last – over the years, the overpainting began to flake off, until about half of it was gone. At about that stage, the electronics went completely dead. At that time, I didn’t know what to do about it and was busy with other things, so I put it back in its case, and there it stayed for years.

A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to address it. My goal was not to create a museum-quality restoration, but rather to get it back in excellent playing condition even if that meant using non-original replacement parts. Here’s what I ended up doing:

Pulled the frets and sanded the deeply grooved fingerboard down with a radius block until most of the divots in the wood were gone. At this point I had to decide whether to address a slight twist in the neck, but careful measurements indicated that planing out the twist would remove too much of the fingerboard binding. Since the twist was moderate, I decided to leave it in.

The original inlays were badly shrunken and falling out. They were so nicely aged, though, that I decided to reuse them, even though it meant quite a bit of filler around the edges. Reglued them with clear epoxy and rosewood dust.

Complete refret with similar-to-original narrow fret wire, level, crown, end dress, polish.

Old tuners were stiff, bent and corroded, so replaced them with new nickel Grover Sta-Tites with small oval knobs, antiqued with vinegar fumes. From the front, they look just like the originals. Had to enlarge the tuner holes, unfortunately couldn’t use the original hexagonal bushings. Also had to plug and re-drill tuner screw holes.

Kept the beautifully yellowed original nut, but had to shim it to get rid of open string buzz.

Dead Dynasonic neck pickup had to be rewound, expertly done by James Finnerty at ReWind Electric in Utah. Bridge pickup was intermittent, solved with resoldering, insulating, and new coax lead.

Original electronics were a hopeless mass of corrosion, cracked insulation, frayed wires, leaky caps, etc. I rebuilt the entire circuit with new components and wires, but retained the original design and original component values. Controls are three-way selector switch, master volume, neck volume, bridge volume, and master tone. Unlike modern Jets, neck and bridge volumes act as master volumes, like a Les Paul. Tone control is bizarre, using a duplex ganged pot and two capacitors. Even though the Dynasonics are single-coil pickups, all the pots are 1 Meg.

Guitar originally had a solid “G” tailpiece, but I installed a vintage Bigsby B3 vibrato, ‘cause I love Bigsbys, and they’re historically OK.

Truss rod cover, pickguard & bracket, control cavity covers, strap buttons, are all original and in good condition.

Sanded the top back to original black lacquer finish and restored to a moderate gloss. Lots of finish checking, which I left alone.

Original bridge was a Melita – possibly the worst bridge in electric guitar history – which I had gotten rid of years ago. Currently has a Gotoh Tune-O-Matic on a rosewood base. It looks a little too modern, but I’m not sure what to replace it with. A Gretsch rocking bar bridge would be OK historically, but they don’t intonate well and the string radius is off. I’ll probably end up making a solid compensated rocking aluminum bar bridge of some kind.

Last unresolved issue is the neck – original finish is not adhering well. You can flick off little flakes of lacquer with your fingernail. Not sure whether to refinish or just leave it be.

Have to say the guitar sounds amazing. Had a chance to directly compare it to a modern G6122-1957 Reissue, and they’re just not the same. The original ’57 has a certain snap to the attack that the modern one lacks.

I’m sure a lot of collectors, purists and preservationists would be horrified at some of the decisions I have made, but I didn’t want this thing hanging on a wall, I wanted it to be ready and willing to PLAY, and that’s what it is.

Still have the original case, too. That’s looking at many hours of work regluing lifting and torn tolex, but I’ll get to it eventually.


Mick Reid
Contributing Member


American-made in Oz!!
May 13th, 2019 05:32 PM   Edit   Profile  

Great story, and nice work.

It's cool the neck pup was repairable and you were able to use the originals.

Contributing Member

Planet Peegoo

Rhythm & Lewd Guitarist
May 13th, 2019 05:39 PM   Edit   Profile  

Looks really nice. I like how you brought it back into racing form but preserved the 'vintage' look by not going full-bore on bright shiny parts and a complete refin. You were faithful to the original form and function.

Which, by the way, included replacing the Melita and tossing it. Very few Gretsch players in the 50s kept the Melita on their guitar because it was a horrendously impractical and unusable design.

Very nice!

(This message was last edited by Peegoo at 07:44 PM, May 13th, 2019)

Contributing Member

El Californio

May 13th, 2019 05:47 PM   Edit   Profile  

It's *sniff* beautiful.
You've done a great service to mankind getting it back to proper player's condition. It's meant to be a workhorse; George Harrison would be proud.

Contributing Member


May 13th, 2019 07:28 PM   Edit   Profile  

Wow! Quite the project. I like it!

Contributing Member

San Diego, CA USA

May 13th, 2019 10:30 PM   Edit   Profile  

Fantastic, and another great history and story!!

Contributing Member

Eastun' Carolina

Like Ringo, I'm happy to be here!
May 14th, 2019 09:06 AM   Edit   Profile  

Wow, you did a great job!

Te 52

Laws of Physics

strictly enforced
May 26th, 2019 01:41 PM   Edit   Profile  


Was digging through a box of old photographs and found a picture of the guitar with the original floral design before it started self-destructing. Pic at link.

Wasn't too crazy about the looks of the Tune-O-Matic bridge -- and they are not too Bigsby-friendly -- so I made a compensated aluminum bar bridge out of 1/2"x1/2" bar stock to sit on a conventional ebony archtop bridge base. Haven't decided whether to make it rocking, let it set flat on the adjuster wheels as it is now, or lock it to the posts like a TonePros bridge. All options open at this point.

I hate bridges that move around, so I pinned the base to the top. Used a method I had seen on high-end Gretsches, with 6-32 socket head set screws tapped into the wood of the top. The protruding ends of the screws engage in shallow blind holes in the underside of the bridge base. Very solid and satisfactory result.

The original case was a mess, incredibly filthy and with almost every inch of Tolex edge lifted and fraying. It cleaned up nicely with multiple applications of upholstery cleaner and Simple Green. Took hours and hours to reglue and tape all the lifting Tolex, but it turned out remarkably well. Bare spots where there were holes in the fabric exposing the underlying plywood were just painted with color-matched acrylic paint. Also rebuilt the interior odds & ends compartment, reglued the lining where necessary and replaced some of the satin ribbon parts on the interior. Case still looks its 62-year-old age, but a huge improvement. Nice touch is that all the original hardware was solid brass, not the brass-plated steel you see nowadays.

All above illustrated with more pics added to the album.

mo pitchers

(This message was last edited by Te 52 at 08:07 PM, May 26th, 2019)

Mick Reid
Contributing Member


American-made in Oz!!
May 26th, 2019 05:10 PM   Edit   Profile  

More nice work Te.

How'd you shape the aluminium for the bridge?

Te 52

Laws of Physics

strictly enforced
May 26th, 2019 06:04 PM   Edit   Profile  

A drill press for the holes, of course, then a stationary belt sander, right angle grinder, and files to get the basic shape, followed by working through the grits of sandpaper to smooth it out.

FDP Forum / Guitar Mods, Repairs, and Projects / A Bit of History Preserved (long)

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