Restoring Pete Townshend's Double-Neck Guitar
By Anderton |
Restoring Pete Townshend's Double-Neck Guitar
The inside story on returning this historic guitar to playability
by Craig Anderton
When I had my vintage Rickenbacker 360 12-string restored recently (expertly, I might add) by Gibson Repair & Restoration, I was fascinated to see rare guitars in various stages of restoration when I dropped off the Ric. I asked if there had been any particularly interesting instruments they’d restored lately, and the consensus among the luthiers was that restoring Pete Townshend’s double-neck was one of the most challenging and gratifying jobs they’d done. I asked what was involved…and thought it was pretty interesting, so here’s the story (props to Phil Crabtree at GR&R for sharing his photos).
This guitar was gifted by the Who’s Peter Townshend to an individual who kept it on display in his living room because of its history and cool looks. A friend had admired the guitar for years, and lamented its condition. He convinced the owner to send it to GR&R to be restored, and here’s what it looked like when it arrived. However as you'll see in subsequent photos, a lot of the damage was more than just skin-deep.
With an iconic guitar like this, judgement calls have to be made about how far to take a restoration. For example, GR&R will restore finishes if the customer wants it, but they advise against it because it reduces a vintage guitar’s value (and cachet) dramatically. Some repairs are more or less invisible—e.g., replacing wiring—while others are more obvious. Also, some repairs are essential, such as replacing frets that have been more or less destroyed from years of playing, while others are really up to the owner.
The first step GR&R does with any guitar is document the instrument’s current condition upon arrival, accompanied by lots of photos. In this case, the guitar has historical significance to popular music, so as the guitar progressed it was important to keep a running record of the "before" and "after." Here’s the initial list of what needed to be done…including scary things like fixing “collapsing bridges.”
I didn’t realize the extent to which restored guitars are taken down to the basics—all original parts (screws, pickups, bridges, tuners, electronics, etc.) were removed for cleaning, replacement, etc. Parts that have to be replaced are bagged up and returned to the owner. Here, the pickups and electronics (which didn’t work at all) have been removed; you can get an idea of the deterioration the guitar had endured.
The tuners were a total loss, and the corrosion had not been kind to the wood where they were sitting.
Although it's desirable to retain the original hardware, this isn't always possible and some of the original hardware had to be replaced because of wear and corrosion (most likely from heavy use, touring in so many different environments, and time). In addition to all tuners being replaced with historic replicas, both original ABR-1 bridges had to be replaced because they were corroded and fatigued in shape from years of heavy use. The original ABR-1 bridge posts were also replaced, because a few of them were bent. Also, the original bridge post mounting hole had to be dowelled, re-drilled, and mounted because of fatiguing wood.
And here are all the parts after removal. The corrosion on the metal parts was off the hook.
Also, lots of the inlays were loose. They had to be re-seated and glued in place.
The nut was another total loss, but it was measured carefully so that the replacement nut could be cut correctly.
Both the 6- and 12-string necks needed a lot of work just to be playable again. Over time, the frets on both necks had deteriorated from years of playing and being on tour. All the frets had to be replaced. Removing frets has to be done really carefully to avoid tearing up the fingerboard (as a side note that doesn't relate to this repair, Richlite necks are much more refretting-friendly).
Next came planing and smoothing the fingerboards.
After the frets are replaced, they’re tapped into place and dressed.
Here’s what the headstocks looked like after being restored with period-correct Kluson tuners.
The client agreed with GR&R not to restore the finish, but to have it retain the history/wear of being on the road with Townshend. As a result, the finish was cleaned only by hand to preserve the natural patina and wear, using 3M Finesse-it Protective Wax.
The entire electronic assembly had to be removed and restored because it no longer functioned—time, humidity, and corrosion caused the electronics to fail. The original PAFs were the heart and soul of this Gibson's electrified sound, and there was some concern how well they had survived. Fortunately, all the PAF pickups were okay, so they were re-used after cleaning.
Other parts were not so lucky. Original parts that could be salvaged were used, but tracking down historically accurate parts for original parts that had failed can be challenging. Again fortunately, it was possible to find equivalent replacements for the output jack and one of the Switchcraft toggle switches.
The wiring harness is done outside the body, then threaded back in through the pickup cutouts. Note the Caig DeoxIT—my favorite contact cleaner, and apparently GR&R’s as well.
I thought this method of pulling controls through their associated holes was really clever - threading one of the cut strings through the hole for the pot, then taping it to the pot shaft so the shaft can be pulled easily up through the hole.
As some of the final steps, ColorTone Fretboard Finishing oil puts some life back into the fretboard; then comes string replacement and setup (adjusting both truss rods, setting the action, adjusting intonation, tuning, and ultimately, playing the guitar as a final reality check).
Of course, the entire restoration involved more than what’s shown here; it took about 40 hours to restore Townshend’s double-neck. Here’s GR&R luthier Phil Crabtree, playing the guitar before it goes back…I guess that playing one of Pete Townshend's guitars is a perk of doing restoration
I'd like to thank GR&R for being willing to share this story and these pictures with us. Let's close out with how this guitar looks now that it's been through the restoration process. -HC-
Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.