Update: The SG III has been sold.
After I repaired the headstock and installed a new set of auto-trim
tuners, I strung up the guitar and played it for a bit. I didn't really
care for it. The neck was skinny...really, really skinny. I mean really.
The pickups were a little bright for me, too.
I decided that I didn't want to invest the time or money to significantly upgrade the guitar, since I wasn't going to keep it for myself. I put it on the floor to sell, and in less than 24 hours, it was gone. The new owner was thrilled to have it, which made me feel good that I was able to resurrect it from the dead.
Original post: Okay, friends...I need your help. I am soliciting opinions as to what direction to take in repairing this vintage 1974 Gibson SG III model. Please send me an email with your opinion. I welcome comments about any phase of the project, but my main question is whether or not to refinish the guitar. More on that at the bottom of the post.
I recently picked up this guitar from a Craigslist ad. The ad didn't include photos, so I was initially unaware just how bad its condition was. Once I saw the guitar, I realized that practically no one would be interested in it, so I threw the guy a really low offer which he, of course, declined. I asked him to let me know if, after showing the guitar to other potential buyers, he decided to reconsider my offer. I later received a series of emails from him, and ended up getting the guitar for even less than my original offer.
As you can see from the photos, there's a reason I was able to get the guitar so cheap. This poor thing has done 37 years of hard time, and received some pretty serious abuse along the way. Guitars of this model and vintage can go for $1500 or more, in good (and original, unaltered) condition. There's no way this guitar is ever going to see those prices, even once restored. It's just too far gone. Even aside from the obvious wear, damage, and finish issues, the body has had its bridge pickup cavity routed (poorly) to accomodate a full-size humbucker replacement for the original mini-humbucker, which is now long gone.
Additionally, there are numerous gouges and (what appear to be) screw holes at random spots on the face of the guitar's body. All the sharp points on the body and headstock are worn or dented, and clearly, the finish is in pathetic condition. Ironically, what appears to be the most serious problem - the cracked/broken headstock - is actually the least of our worries, although that is likely what deterred the other buyers.
As you can see, the headstock is broken in an unusual way. Usually, Gibson headstocks will crack or break at the volute, where the neck transitions to the peghead. The sharp angle, combined with the thinness of most Gibson necks at this juncture, renders this a serious 'Achilles' Heel'. In fact, just last week, I repaired a Les Paul Studio model that had this very problem of the headstock having cracked at the volute.
This guitar is damaged in a different way. It must've received a sharp 'blow to the head', as it were, 'cause the headstock split vertically, right down the center line of the 3 treble tuning machines. Obviously, this is another weak point on the guitar, what with having 3 large holes bored through, and 4 small screw holes, all along the same plane. It's much less common to see this kind of break, however, presumably because it's unlikely to receive an impact at just the right angle to cause this kind of damage.
most amazing to me, is that the owner was actually playing the guitar
in this condition. I never elicited from him the history of the
damage...how or when it occurred. All he told me was that he'd had the
guitar for years, and that he'd found it in the closet of some apartment
he'd once moved into. Apparently, it had been left for dead. Can you
believe he taped the headstock together...with electrical tape? WTF?!?
First off, bad choice! Electrical tape stretches. There's no way it could ever hold the headstock together. There are just so many other choices which would've been so much more effective! Secondly, the adhesive from the tape reacted in a bad way with the guitar's finish, creating lines and adhesive smudges where the tape once lay. Though the adhesive can be removed, the lines and smudges have now become part of the finish, which will almost certainly necessitate refinishing the guitar.
At any rate, the woodworking part of this is a relatively easy repair. Upon removing the hardware, I found that the
broken piece was hanging on by just the smallest sliver of wood -
thinner than a toothpick. I removed this little splinter, which freed up
the two halves so they could be properly rejoined. After cleaning
everything up, I was able to glue and clamp the headstock. The pieces
matched up perfectly, and the repair will be strong, stable, and barely
noticeable, especially if I decide to refinish the guitar.
The next step is a fret job. Though the guitar is playable, and there are no buzzes or dead notes, the frets are extremely worn. The fingerboard is somewhat gouged up from previous fret work, but I don't foresee any issues there that can't be dealt with. The nut has been replaced with one designed for an acoustic guitar. As such, it's too big for the SG, and hangs over each side of the neck by about an eighth of an inch or so. That's an easy fix.
Though it's pretty beat up, I may try to salvage the mini-humbucker, if I can establish its authenticity. Alternatively, I may swap it out with a new, after-market mini-humbucker. The bridge pickup - the Seymour Duncan - is in bad shape, too. Since it's not original, I'll definitely swap that out for something new. The original bridge has been replaced with a Leo Quan Badass, which, though a little beat up, is in decent shape. To replace or not will depend on whether I refinish the guitar.
tuners are original, and though in decent cosmetic condition, their
operation is pretty sloppy. I'll drop in something new and much more
functional...Sperzels or something similar. I'll save all the original
hardware, in case a future owner considers them to be of some value. Of
course, I could possibly sell those items separately, as well. In my
opinion, this SG has no value as a collectible. The only mission here is
to salvage this guitar as a usable instrument, which may just happen to
have a cool vintage vibe, and hopefully will retain some of its
hard-won and well-deserved 'mojo'.
So, finally, I come to the question with which I need your help. Should I refinish the guitar, or should I leave its original finish, regardless of how beat up? Certainly, there are those who put a premium on relic'd guitars (though I personally don't care for them). This would be a rather extreme example, and, in truth, it's not really relic'd, since this wear occurred honestly and organically, rather than at the hands of a belt sander and chemical agents. Not to mention, relicing is designed to make a guitar look as though it's been played a lot, whereas this guitar's wear looks to be mostly the result of having been carelessly tossed about a lot, although it's clearly been played extensively, too. Refinishing the guitar would even further reduce any last remnant of 'collectibility', but would certainly make the guitar more attractive to a wider audience. Incidentally, if I do refinish the SG, it will likely be in a brown stain, either satin or gloss, I haven't yet decided. I could possibly recreate the Fireburst finish, but that would take a bit more work, and finishes are not my favorite thing to do. Refinished or not, the guitar will always have a few dings and pit marks, unless I fill everything and finish it in a solid color, which is an option, I guess. I prefer stain or a translucent Fireburst, but I'm open to other possibilities.
So whaddya think? Refinish or not? Let me know!