Late last week, a customer brought us his cherished Gretsch Tennessee Rose, asking for a set up and a repair of an all-too-common ailment. The story goes like this: the owner let his friend borrow this guitar only to watch in horror as, during a performance, his guitar fell from a poorly-secured strap and crashed to the ground. This resulted in a gaping, gnarled hole in the body where the input jack once was. This friend then blamed the fall on the owner, saying “You need to get strap locks!”, and didn’t even offer to help pay for the repair. Some friend, eh?
In any case, this body damage looked really, really bad; immediately I could tell that, no matter what kind of woodworking magic I performed, there was no way to save the wood surrounding the input jack. Not simply cracked and caved in, the wood laminate had also splintered as far as 2 inches away from the hole, making for an extremely unstable location for such an oft-utilized component. Lucky enough, the electronics were in perfect working order, so the challenge here would be purely structural in nature.
When the guitar came to me, I suggested adding a plate of some sort to the lower bout of the guitar. This suggestion was met with wide-eyed excitement, as this was evidently the very thing on the customers mind. The problem with this solution was finding a plate big enough to cover all of the damage. Having spent some time looking for large or oversize jack plates, I knew it would be difficult to track down something that would adequately cover it all up. Additionally, the owner expressed interest in having the finish more or less intact, and as it stood the finish was cracked and lifting for some distance away from the damage. I told him I’d do my best with it, and that I’d try to prevent any more finish from lifting as I took on the task of bringing some much-needed stability into this guitar’s life.
The first thing I did after I determined that the damaged wood wasn’t salvageable was to get out my trusty Dremel and start cutting. This wasn’t difficult, but certainly required a steady touch to avoid further chipping and damage to the good wood. Since we would be adding a jack plate, I made sure to cut a hole large enough for the jack itself to fit through. Again, not difficult.
Then came the jack plate. I mentioned earlier doing some jack plate searches on the web, and in looking at the plates I could find, it was all too obvious that anything standard wasn’t going to do the trick: Les Paul plates were far too small to cover any of the damage let alone the hole I’d cut, Danelectro plates were closer but much too thin to be of use, and all of the other custom plates I’d found were highly stylized or just plain dumb-looking. I mean, it’s a jack plate; no one can see how badass that ghost-flamed, trucker-girl’d accessory is when you’re playing. Ugh.
But seriously, what to do? I mean, honestly, look at that! The hole itself isn’t so big, but the finish that’s been removed is going to be hard to cover without fabricating a custom plate, something that we aren’t exactly equipped to do at whim. the fact of the matter is, I spent nearly an hour googling and brainstorming, looking at not only guitar parts resources but also at domicile depots and cracker-jack hardware suppliers, all to no avail. “This is going to be harder than I thought,” I… thought.
Just then, in a flash of divine inspiration, an idea settled upon my mind as a dove! A stroke of genius! I realized, “Michael, you’re going about this in the wrong way. You shouldn’t be looking for a jack plate, you should be looking for a neck plate.”
Whoa. I felt as though I’d learned kung-fu in a moment’s passing, as if the universe and everything in it coalesced in my minds’ eye, and it all made perfect sense- and simultaneously- none at all. I had reached a sort of techy Nirvana, and in that glorious passing of time I knew my path.
A few months back we’d purchased a guitar that seemed to be made from one of those cheap kits you can buy online. It was only half-finished, and the jury was still out on whether or not we’d get it in shape or simply part it out. Well, this guitar had a neck plate and I set about removing the neck in order to test fit it.
In holding the plate to the body, the fit was uncanny; not only would the plate fit the body perfectly but it would also cover up most of the damage! Score! The only things that needed to be done to the neck plate to make it a perfect fit were bending it to fit the curvature of the body and drilling a hole for the jack. The former was addressed with a soft dead-blow hammer and my nut vice, the latter easily accomplished with careful measurement and the step-bit we use for drilling out pedal enclosures.
After drilling the four pilot holes for the shortened screws we picked up, installation was a breeze and the final result looked amazing. Not only does the plate fit in with the overall aesthetic of the guitar, but it looks serious. I told John, “That jack isn’t going anywhere. If it does, it’ll be the rest of the guitar that breaks and not that plate!”
I’m really thrilled with how this project turned out, and I’m told the owner of the guitar was pleased as well. Success!