Published On: Mon, Apr 20th, 2009

Hollow Victory

There are differences between the Gibson 330 and the 335, but many problems are common to both

This month’s project – a cherry red 1962 Gibson ES-330TD with block markers – is a great guitar, but it needs work. The frets will need to be replaced, and as the 330 has a bound fretboard, I’ll need to introduce some new tools. The electrics are also showing signs of age, and badly need an overhaul. Getting them in and out is a bit of a black art, and even when you know the tricks, it’s a real test of patience!
Before anyone asks you to work on a guitar of this age and value, a word of caution: have a good look at it. If there are any scratches, make a note of them, and it’s not a bad idea to have the customer with you while you do this. Aside from a bent tuner, this guitar is almost perfect.
First, the refret. You can see from the photo that these frets have been stoned a number of times so they’re very low and flat. This may make it comfy to play but it can mess up the intonation because the strings will leave the frets close to the front edge rather than the centre. Before taking out the frets it’s a good idea to soak the fretboard with lemon oil to stop the area around the frets breaking out when they’re pulled. I’ll also heat the frets with a soldering iron at the same time as pulling them out; this will draw the oil towards the fret and help them slide out cleanly. Very often frets are glued in with Titebond wood glue at the edges, so heating them will also soften the glue and stop you pulling half the fretboard away. Just pray the frets haven’t been stuck in with superglue! Use proper flush-jawed fret-pullers, but don’t panic if the board gets chipped a little: you can just put a tiny dab of superglue (put it on the edge of a Stanley knife blade first to avoid splurging it all over the guitar), let it run under any loose pieces of fretboard, then hold it down for a few seconds.
We now need to level the fretboard. This one’s had over 45 years of playing, so it’s quite bad. It would be hard to flatten it out completely: the most we can hope for is to get it flat under and around the frets, and straight at the same time. First find out the radius of the fretboard using a template, then select the corresponding sanding block. Ours is 12″ long, and we’ll line it first with 180 grit glasspaper to get the board straight, then 320 grit to clean it to a suitable finish. Make sure you adjust the truss rod to get the neck straight before you start sanding, and check it with a proper straight-edge. When it comes to cleaning and possibly deepening the slots, there’s a great little saw available from www.stewmac.com that’s made with two sets of teeth, one cutting on the pull and one cutting on the push. On a bound fretboard like this, though, a normal saw would cut through the binding, so I’ll use another tool to scrape out rubbish from the slots – a small ruler with two notches cut out of the corners.
The fretwire I’m using is made by Jim Dunlop and is about as close to the original as you can get. Start by clipping all the frets to length, then cut out the notch at the end of the fret to sit over the binding. To do this you’ll need a fret tang nipper, available from Touchstone Tonewoods. Make sure the fret tang that’s left sits a little in from the binding at each end. I always buy fretwire in coils, as this way it comes with a radius already on it; if you don’t, you’ll have to bend the fretwire using a pair of pliers to get a radius about 2″ tighter than that of the fretboard. It’s a good idea to also give the fret ends a little extra bend to help make sure they stay down, and also to use two tiny dabs of Titebond, one at each end. Now, gently and evenly tap the fret down a little, but not all the way as we’re going to use a different tool to seat them perfectly – a caul with a radius exactly the same that of the fretboard. Use the caul to get as close to the heel as you can, and after that you’ll need to use something else: we’ve got a special tool that’s just the ticket. The frets will now need levelling and dressing but given that we’ve addressed this in a number of recent workshops, we’re going to move straight on the electrics.
The 330’s crackly pots means we’ve got to take all the electrics out, and this can be a stressful experience unless a few simple rules are followed. I recently had a Gretsch archtop in for repair, and whoever had worked on it before had not been able to work how to get the electrics out, so they’d cut a six-inch square access panel in the back of the guitar… not really the way to go!
After you’ve removed all the control knobs and pickup screws, it’s time for the clever bit. I’ve cut a piece of wire about 600mm long and attached one end to one pot and the other end to one of the others (the same is done for the other pair). Keeping the wire attached at both ends will mean you don’t lose the end of the wire inside the guitar, and it will also keep all the nuts and washers in the right place. The pots can now all be pulled out through the pickup hole and cleaned with switch cleaner. I’ve also freshened up the contacts on the three-way switch using a piece of 1200-grit wet and dry. Plug the guitar in and check that the pots are noise-free before you to put it all back together, or you’ll have to go through the whole procedure again.
At some time this guitar has had a piece of wire added from the bridge support screw to the underside of the pickup, probably because someone forgot to replace the wire running from the earth on the electrics to the tailpiece. We’ll replace this as original to stop the strings from acting as an aerial.
Now we can start to pull everything back through the correct holes: you’ll still need to wiggle things around a bit, but with a little patience you’ll soon be there. In the past I’ve tried tying pieces of wire around the jack socket and all that happens is the wire gets stuck on the jack socket and you end up taking the whole lot out again.
Use the correct-sized spanner to tighten all the nuts up: incorrect ones slip and scratch guitars. The control knobs are all a little loose so I’ve opened up the shafts a little; be careful, or you’ll break them. It would have been a better idea to do this before I put it all back together!
Now for the final tweaks – adjusting the polepieces to give an even sound across the pickup and setting the action at the bridge, which is simply a case of turning the thumbwheels up or down until you’ve got the action you like – but do remember to slacken the strings beforehand or you’ll strip the thread. As you’ll have learned, fixing a 330 or a 335 is no small task, thanks to the neck binding and the difficulty of extracting the electronics. If in doubt, see an expert… and make sure they don’t cut a hole in the back!

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