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Sep 28

1950s Gibson 160 E

This is a mid 1950’s Gibson 160 E guitar frequently referred to as the “John Lennon” guitar due to John Paul having a matched set. This one had suffered significant water damage, possibly flood damage. The bridge was pulling off, the top heavily warped beyond playability, the pick guard coming off, but with the top beneath it, even more deeply warped that the rest of the top. There was a major gouge across the top through the spruce veneer into the 2nd layer of laminate.  Serious water damage to the back finish was causing large flakes to come loose. Upon inspection, it became clear that the original spruce bridge plate was deeply warped and split, adding to the extreme bellying of the top. Most of the top braces were lose and several the bottom ones as well. This guitar was a hot mess!

I removed the original adjustable bridge and all it’s hardware (no small task since some of the screws were rusted and the inserts were loose in their holes). Once the  bridge was removed, I was able to remove the damaged bridge  plate and create one slightly larger out of Maple rather than the original spruce. I also patched the large holes for the brass inserts.  Several of the top braces (ladder braced) were so loose that 2 of them fell out completely. With the loose braces out of the way, I was able to gently clamp the top back and slowly remove the extensive warp and belling. This was largely the result the bridge plate failure and the loose braces although the plywood top was broken across the line of holes drilled for the bridge pins and bridge screws.

Once I had addressed the most serious part of the top warpage, I began to re-glue the braces starting from the farthest from the bridge  and moving forward. Before re-gluing the braces nearest the bridge and sound hole, I removed the original pick guard, and clamped that section of the top to reduce it’s extreme warp. When this was completed, I then re-glued the braces in that area before re-installing the pick guard.

Once all the braces were in place, I began to consider the bridge issue. My original suggestion had been to replace the adjustable bridge with a non- adjustable replacement and I purchased one for that purpose, but with the restoration progressing as well as it was, the owner asked that I re-use the original adjusting bridge for collectibility reasons.  This would have been a simple process, but in the course of re-installing the brass inserts and adjusting screws, one broke off inside the insert. I was able to remove it and spent a significant amount of time looking for an original replacement, but was not able to locate one. The early adjustable Gibson bridges had larger screw heads the later versions.  I was able to locate a replacement set from a later version Gibson adjustable bridge that matched the screw thread and proceeded using those (the original set is with the guitar).

Having dealt with that issue, I turned my attention to the large gouge on the face of the guitar. This was too deep to deal with by drop filling the damage. I ultimately inlaid new spruce into the gouge, then did a nitrocellulose finish touch up with multiple flash coats, buffing the finished area out by hand.

While all this was taking place, I cleaned and polished the frets and fingerboard, stabilized the significant finish damage on the back, and touched up the damaged black lacquer on the guitar head.

Once the finish work was done, I re-installed the adjustable bridge, put on a new set of Phosphor Bronze light gauge strings and adjusted the saddle height.

The guitar plays very well with a clear bright tone and more “ring” than I would have expected for a ladder braced, plywood top. I suspect that the tone will open up dramatically as it is played more.