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Thread: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

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    Default Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    I see certain working mandolinists with old (expensive!) Gibsons that have the fretboard extensions scooped and/or defretted. In many cases these 'boards are radiused and with larger frets installed. Is it a safe presumption that the original 'board has been removed and reserved, and a modern replacement installed? Is this a common procedure for those who wish to optimize an old instrument to meet their individual preference? It must be preferable to modifying the original fretboard in terms of the effect on the value of the instrument. I am also aware of the perceived inaccuracy of fret placement on some venerable old instruments, and corrective measures taken on original fretboards, though it seems a modern replacement 'board with precision, machine-cut slots would remedy this condition, too. I imagine, too, that a select number of restoration specialists are deemed qualified to perform this work on a 5 or 6 figure instrument. If anyone reading this has any experience with/knowledge of anything related to this situation, I would be grateful for any input. Thanks!
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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    Larger frets can be used when a re-fret is needed with no modification to an original board.
    Fretting inaccuracies are more than just "perceived", they are real, and some players have had fingerboards replaced with new, more accurate 'boards, machine cut or otherwise.
    It is safe to assume that many of the old Gibsons seen with radiused 'boards, scooped "Floridas" or amputated "Floridas" are replacements with the originals preserved, but it cannot be assumed that that is always the case.
    While many experienced repair people have the skills to work on 5 or 6 figure instruments, many players prefer a "name" so they can say "fingerboard installed by... ...", or "repairs done by ... ..." with the idea that value is enhanced by the "magic" hands of certain well known names.

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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    I've replaced frets on many old Gibsons. As John said above, replacing factory frets with larger ones and radiusing a board is a straightforward job that does not require removing and/or replacing the original board as long as the factory fret slots are not poorly located.

    On a few, I have found it advisable to move 2 or 3 frets. To do this without removing the fingerboard on a plain model with an unbound board is tricky, but do-able.

    I don't know of a way to move frets on one with a bound board without removing the binding. Installing new binding on a board without removing the board is also tricky, but do-able. There is a chance of losing wood splinters and/or finish damage when removing the bindings.

    I operate on the philosophy that every time you work on an instrument, it is bad for the instrument; and it is therefore best to use the techniques that are the least invasive to the instrument whenever practical. I generally avoid pulling a fingerboard unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

    The only Gibson that I recall replacing the fingerboard on was a circa 1932 A-4. The factory fret location was so far off that it was impossible to play the instrument even remotely in tune. So many frets were mislocated that it would have taken many hours to fill and recut multiple slots and re-bind the original board. I replaced that board with no qualms whatsoever. When I offered the instrument for sale, I included the original board in case a future owner wanted to have it as a trophy.

    I offered that mandolin, which had been celebrity owned and came with a signed letter of provenance, in the Cafe classifieds three times, the last time at $2350. At the time, no one seemed to want to even make an offer on a celebrity owned truss rod A-4 in pretty nice condition, but with a replaced board. I eventually traded the instrument to a well known vintage dealer. It found its way to Trevor Moyle's shop in England and eventually sold for quite a bit more than the amount that I had listed it for here.

    In most cases, replacing a board reduces the market value of an instrument, even when it turns an unplayable instrument into a playable one. In the case of celebrity owned F-5's, the provenance of the instrument might or might not make up for any loss of value caused by replacing the board.

    So far, I haven't encountered an F-4 with intonation that was so poor that I found it advisable to replace the board. I have not been asked to repair an F-5 with a bad board [and there are some].

    Another mandolin that I replaced the board on was a Crafters of Tennessee mandolin with mislocated frets. It appeared that the board on that one had been copied from a bad Gibson board. I also recall replacing the board on a Vega cylinder back mandolin, not because of intonation problems, but because the board was too thin to re-fret it safely.
    Last edited by rcc56; Jul-06-2022 at 1:37am.

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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    My motivation for asking is that I have been playing a 1924 F5 for a few months now. My previous main instrument has a wider nut width and larger frets and I experienced some trepidation about adapting to a mandolin with small frets and narrow nut width. To my surprise, I am adapting well (I was told that the instrument would teach me how to play it, and I'm a believer!), due to the great set-up/action and how amazing the mandolin sounds. I have "perceived" no intonation problems thus far, and I am unsure if I am growing accustomed to any "pick click", or if it is not a problem for me (I believe it is the latter). Additionally, with the amount of hours I already have accumulated playing this instrument, I foresee the possibility of blowing through these tiny frets in no time. Thus, given my proclivity to over-think, I consider future decisions I may be faced with, and observe how others with similar responsibilities (custodianship of a rare and valuable instrument) operate as concerns reversible/irreversible modifications. Thanks for the input I have received thus far!
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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    Mike Marshall comes to mind after reading that post.
    He has very large hands and he had the fingerboard changed on his Loar to increase the width of the playing surface. (He also had the top re-graduated, the tone bars shaved and a Virzi removed, so originality and collectability don't seem to be front and center for him anyway.)

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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    If I recall accurately, Monteleone did the tonebar/regrad work (and the un-Virzi-ing was like a back-alley coat-hanger job...I understand there's a tape...) Seems a more prudent move might have been to have Monteleone blueprint it and fabricate the instrument Marshall was after without inflicting irreversible modification on the Gibson...but, bottom line, I only care about mine...what anyone else wants to do to theirs is their business.
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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    Kind of “funny” that the multi-million dollar, old violin market is not really affected by fingerboard replacements, though it may be in part because almost all of them have also had the necks (below the scroll) replaced…

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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    Quote Originally Posted by musicofanatic View Post
    If I recall accurately, Monteleone did the tonebar/regrad work (and the un-Virzi-ing was like a back-alley coat-hanger job...
    That's pretty much correct. As far as I know John Monteleone still has the (Loar) shavings in a jar in his shop.

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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    As far as wearing out the original frets, you certainly will if you play the instrument much.

    What to do about it? It may be possible to find enough wire pulled out of other old Gibsons to replace a few worn frets. I have occasionally done such work. But second hand wire is a bit tricky to deal with, though, and the supply is extremely limited. I would not want to do a complete refret with period wire, because I do not feel that I could guarantee a maximum level of playability with old wire.

    I've refretted several dozen old Gibson and Martin instruments that belonged to well known pros. Without exception, they preferred me to use modern wire on their old Gibsons.

    If you were to eventually sell your instrument, a few potential buyers who are purists would object to modern wire. In many cases, they would find something else that they were dissatisfied with even if the instrument still had the original wire. Most folks who are serious players prefer instruments that are set up for maximum ease of playability rather than losing sleep over an attempt to salvage the appearance of an original fret job that will be less friendly to play. But either can be done.

    So when the time comes, it will be your call. Which would you prefer? An instrument that is as close to period correct as possible, or one that is more comfortable to play?

    By the way, for those who have problems with fingerboard extensions but would rather not scoop or remove them, there is an alternative. The frets in the extension can be removed and the fret slots filled with wooden purfling strips. It doesn't produce as much clearance as a scoop, but for some people it is enough. And it looks good, and it's reversible if someone later insists that those frets be re-installed.

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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    Quote Originally Posted by musicofanatic View Post
    My motivation for asking is that I have been playing a 1924 F5 for a few months now. My previous main instrument has a wider nut width and larger frets and I experienced some trepidation about adapting to a mandolin with small frets and narrow nut width. To my surprise, I am adapting well (I was told that the instrument would teach me how to play it, and I'm a believer!), due to the great set-up/action and how amazing the mandolin sounds. I have "perceived" no intonation problems thus far, and I am unsure if I am growing accustomed to any "pick click", or if it is not a problem for me (I believe it is the latter). Additionally, with the amount of hours I already have accumulated playing this instrument, I foresee the possibility of blowing through these tiny frets in no time. Thus, given my proclivity to over-think, I consider future decisions I may be faced with, and observe how others with similar responsibilities (custodianship of a rare and valuable instrument) operate as concerns reversible/irreversible modifications. Thanks for the input I have received thus far!
    The dreaded "pick click" can be avoided with a smaller pick (in BC-terminology: STP instead of TD or TAD), a higher action (no "click" noise from Monroe) and/or with a more old fashioned BG sound and technique approach (by playing closer to the bridge ŕ la Bobby Osborne). BTW, the 1923 F5 folder suggests a normal playing distance from the bridge of 1 1 /2''.
    Never ever would I have the extension scooped on my 1928 F5. IMHO, scooping is just another hype; they come and go. Don't take them out on your original F5s. If the need for change is all too severe, save the original and have a reconstruction installed, which would be the thing to do from a monumental preservation point of view.

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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    That's why I offer the alternative of pulling the frets on the extension and replacing them with the wood strips filed flat to the fretboard surface.
    It does not require removing any wood from the extension and it is reversible.

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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hendrik Ahrend View Post
    The dreaded "pick click" can be avoided with a smaller pick (in BC-terminology: STP instead of TD or TAD), a higher action (no "click" noise from Monroe) and/or with a more old fashioned BG sound and technique approach (by playing closer to the bridge ŕ la Bobby Osborne).
    As stated above, doesn't seem to be a problem for me with this instrument. I think my plectrum clacks against the scratchguard, when playing the high E strings more than on the extension. I have one old, highly prized turtle-shell pick that sounds and plays great with this mandolin...it must be the right size.
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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    As far as wearing out the original frets, you certainly will if you play the instrument much.

    What to do about it? It may be possible to find enough wire pulled out of other old Gibsons to replace a few worn frets. I have occasionally done such work. But second hand wire is a bit tricky to deal with, though, and the supply is extremely limited. I would not want to do a complete refret with period wire, because I do not feel that I could guarantee a maximum level of playability with old wire.

    I've refretted several dozen old Gibson and Martin instruments that belonged to well known pros. Without exception, they preferred me to use modern wire on their old Gibsons.

    If you were to eventually sell your instrument, a few potential buyers who are purists would object to modern wire. In many cases, they would find something else that they were dissatisfied with even if the instrument still had the original wire. Most folks who are serious players prefer instruments that are set up for maximum ease of playability rather than losing sleep over an attempt to salvage the appearance of an original fret job that will be less friendly to play. But either can be done.

    So when the time comes, it will be your call. Which would you prefer? An instrument that is as close to period correct as possible, or one that is more comfortable to play?.
    I would consider refretting with old wire to be a ridiculous proposition. I ALWAYS consider the eventual sale of ANY instrument I purchase, and keep it in mind when considering any modifications. I play this instrument professionally and a refret is inevitable...any eventual purchaser of this instrument will know this from the outset. If I come to object to any inequities in intonation on this instrument, I will likely lean towards replacing the fretboard, but in the case of a simple refret, will likely do so with the original 'board.
    too many strings

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    Question Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    A Friend, out here had an old paddle head A4, that was just not quite 'right' ... (IDK mis spaced frets from worn gangsaw?)

    That is what he had done, removed the old & replaced it with a new fingerboard..

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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    i have a old f-5...i think a couple of frets are out of position...and it drives me bonkers ....frets 2 and 4....making it all blend with bridge position seems impossible...

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    Default Re: Re-fretboarding a Vintage Gibson...?

    Those two frets can be pulled, the slots filled, then re-cut an new fret after measuring for proper placement. I have had to do this a few times, it makes a world of difference. What year is your mandolin? Some old Gibson's have the space between the first fret and the nut too short. About a 1mm shim to move the nut back makes a huge difference and plays in tune then. Around '22 I have found this problem. You would, and should, measure and see where the problem is before doing anything.
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