Sunday, July 4, 2010

Gibson LG-2

This old guitar has been in my family since the mid-sixties. My brother owned it, and when he went off to Italy (Air Force) back in the very early 70s, I had the pleasure of keeping it and playing it daily for more than two years. I hated to give it back.

I love the looks of a well-worn, well-played guitar, and this one has definitely had any and all the polish loved off of it. The bridge is the work of 3 luthier/repair guys -- Mark Dillon, Greg Kent (both graduates of the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery), and finally, Jim Shenk -- who have kept it playable over the years.

I'd lost touch with that guitar for over a decade -- since it was my brother's, I just assumed he had it. But after my mom died I was surprised to have found it in her closet as I was going through the last of her things. When I opened the case and looked inside, it was like seeing a long lost friend. But it was a very battered long lost friend.

The top was cracked from the soundhole to the butt, and it was sunken in -- curling downward nearly an inch in the center.

The crazy thing is, it was still playable. All that hardware that makes that abominable Gibson adjustable bridge such a tone and volume thief, was the very thing that held the two sides together and actually spanned the crack in such a manner that the strings barely even buzzed when played.

Within a day I was on the phone talking my brother into selling the guitar to me.

Mark Dillon had the thing for about 9 months -- slowly humidifying the top so that he could gently bend the top back to close-to-flat (It probably never was arched anyway). He was able to do that without creating new cracks as he raised it. He made a new bridge plate, but salvaged the braces (that had simply broken free of their glue bonds instead of breaking). Finally, he added a very ugly, very visible external cleat to the bottom of the soundhole (spanning the genesis of the crack). I never asked him to convert the bridge, so when I got it back from him a year from his having started work on it, it still had the adjustable bridge. I played it that way for about a year.

Then I handed it off to Greg Kent for the bridge conversion. I'm glad I did. Greg was not only a better craftsman than Mark, he was as good a craftsman as I've ever run into in repair (his background was in machine shop work). He dissassembled the bridge and routed out a channel for a rosewood plug (that you need a microscope to detect) in which he routed the channel for a new bridge. He makes the most interesting compensated saddles I've ever seen, He makes them with an C-curve -- rounding its way to the B string compensation and then back again. He chose unbleached bone to make the saddle.

The guitar became a sound monster. Definitely not loud, but one of the best sounding guitars I've ever played. I am a lucky guy.

Of course, with a crack so profound as Mark started with, I was bound to have subsequent problems. In more recent years, Jim Shenk has reglued and otherwise redone the braces twice from their simply breaking free, and once from....


One day I was at my wheel throwing when Dar came out to the shop in tears. She was carrying the Gibson -- its back facing me -- and apologizing through those tears...and crying hard enough that I thought something was really wrong (and not just that she'd possibly damaged my guitar). Well, she knows I treasure the guitar -- not just for its tone, but for the family history that goes with it (a tale for another windy post).

Anyway, she finally turned the guitar around to reveal a broken string, a piece of the top broken completely out and missing between the white soundhole ring and the soundhole (giving the guitar a sort of Leon Spinks appearance), and (upon further inspection) a brace broken free.

My first thought was, "I don't think even I would have cried over that", but that's probably because I knew it could be fixed and she didn't. And she cared that much -- knowing that it is a guitar that I love. Anyway...

After reasuring her that it really was no big deal, she was finally able to tell me what had happened: She was using the upright sweeper in the bedroom. The guitar was standing alongside a wall. She stood the sweeper arm up and walked away, only to find that the sweeper arm hadn't clicked into the "locked upright" position. As soon as she walked away from it, the arm came crashing down right into the guitar.

I've gone through writing of the whole story because it paid off in one of the best guitar-related one liners I've ever heard:

When I told the story to my friend LJ, he said, "Wow. That guitar must be really quiet now"

I thought to myself, "Well, yeah, it's never been a very loud guitar anyway" and I said as much to LJ.

To which LJ continued, "...because everyone knows that sound cannot escape a vacuum."

Funny guy, my friend, LJ.

Anyway, after the falling vacuum incident, I took it up to Jim Shenk for repairs. He made a silk purse out of that sow's ear of an accident. He invisibly reglued the broken out piece, repaired the brace, and while he was at it, he took out Mark Dillon's ugly cleat and replaced it with a totally invisible laminate. He made it stronger that way too.

I play this guitar nearly every day -- it's usually the last thing I do every evening.


  1. hi john,
    it was very frustrating to read the guitar love story in the next post and for some reason i can't get the vids to play today. sure they're a good listen though.

  2. Hmm. I wonder why the videos don't work. They seem fine on my end of things.

  3. The vids worked for me today, John, on July 4. Nice playing. The day may come when I'd feel confident enough to play something on my own pottery blog, but right now pots are where it's at. The old Martin and Epiphone, both on loan to me, are still way better than I am. Thanks for sharing the music, though. It's encouraging.

  4. You're welcome, Hollis.

    I've played guitar since I was 10. I don't consider myself a guitarist -- for some reason the suffix "-ist" seems to imply some level of proficiency. But I am a passionate amateur.

    I started recording youtubes as I found myself with guitar-playing friends all around the world, and youtube was a way of sharing ideas (as opposed to "performing"). I've found lots of people like me -- anxious to share ideas without the pretense of proficiency...just finding worthwhile musical ideas in out-of-the-way places.

    So, I'd encourage you to come on board -- share your music. It's great fun.

  5. I'll think about that, John. I'm in the non-advanced amateur stage, so ... when I've got a song, I'll come on. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy your work.