Flea Market Fare: Restoring an Old Guitar

Restoring an old guitar from the flea market can end up being a great investment, includes choosing a fixer guitar, how to check over a flea market guitar and tools needed to refurbish a guitar.

| July/August 1982

All that it takes is some time and patience—and a bit of skill—when restoring an old guitar. 

Flea Market Fare: Restoring an Old Guitar

I've made the better part of my income for over 20 years—by playing guitar in country bands. And, not long ago, I had to leave my regular instrument at the repair shop for a complete fret transplant, a job that would take several weeks. Doing so could have presented a problem, too—since I play two or three nights a week—if I hadn't happened to have a spare guitar on hand, a no-name brand that I'd picked up at a garage sale for $5.00.

When I made that purchase, though, I honestly wondered whether I might be paying $4.00 too much! The poor thing looked like it had been used for killing rats. Its neck was broken, the tremolo bar was snapped off, and a couple of keys were missing . . . and that was only the most visible damage. But—perhaps more out of pity than in any hope that I could actually resurrect the guitar—I gathered it up and took it home. I repaired and straightened the neck . . . replaced the ivory nut . . . lowered the bridge . . . put on some keys "borrowed" from another scrap instrument . . . shaved the frets . . . dressed the garage sale special up with a new set of strings . . . and darned if the junket didn't play better than my $600 guitar!

At first I took a lot of ribbing about my "bargain basement axe", but I used it on gigs within a month, and it earned me $475. That's not a bad return on a $5.00 investment in anybody's book . . . and the kidding soon stopped.

There's no reason why you can't restore a flea market bargain, too—for your own use, or even for resale—if you're at least moderately handy with tools, have some time, and know how to play the guitar. [EDITOR'S NOTE: For an introduction to playing that instrument, see MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 72, page 154.] All you'll be doing, to put it simply, is finding a suitable "fixer" and setting it up so that it'll play easily. You might well be surprised to learn how vital this setup is. In fact, probably the No. 1 reason new guitarists stop playing is that they find it just too much of a struggle to push the strings down to the fingerboard when noting or chording. Many novices give up after a few months . . . without ever knowing what a properly setup guitar feels like.


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