Fixing Broken Guitars


A few years ago, I purchased an attic find guitar, a 1953 Gibson L-1 acoustic guitar. The Gibson L-1 was made famous when Elvis Presley played one in a movie. I bought this one because it was made in 1953, the same year I was born.

But this guitar was far from ready-to-play. The strings were missing. The plastic tuning buttons had deteriorated as had the bridge pins. One of the tuning pins was bent. The inside bracing was in bad shape – one of the braces was missing and another one cracked. Because the bracing was gone, the bookended back pieces had separated. A layer of grime and dust had settled over the guitar giving the entire instrument a dull finish. The amazing thing about this guitar was that it had no cracks in the wood. It had been played a lot as evidenced by the deep ruts in the finger board and various scratches in the finish, but the guitar had the bones of being a great guitar. Neglect had taken its toll.

1953 Gibson L-1 before restoration

So, I spent a summer restoring the guitar. I purchased and replaced the tuning knobs and bridge pins. McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, CA did the brace repairs (a skill I do not possess). I oiled the dry wood. I cleaned and carefully polished the guitar. I spent hours rubbing and drying and rubbing some more. I removed years of neglect. I kept the original lacquer that was applied in 1953, but carefully removed the thin, hazy layer that covered all the wood. (Re-finishing a guitar is a major crime against all guitars!)

After three months of work, the guitar looked very close to what it looked like in 1953. I retained the scratches and evidence of play that gives guitars character. After all, this was a player’s guitar and not a collection piece.

1953 Gibson L-1 after the work was completed

I don’t name guitars as some do. It’s “The 1953” to me. But it is a metaphor for several things, not the least among them a metaphor of my life. Just as The Creator redeemed me after the fall from grace had broken a few of my braces, He redeemed me and brought me back to the state in which He formed me in my mother’s womb – a masterpiece in His creation.

Now, I have purchased another broken guitar – only this one is literally broken. I found a 2010 Taylor 714CE that has been woefully neglected. The top has no less than a dozen cracks in it. When an owner neglects to humidify a guitar, the top of the guitar – usually made from a solid, thin slice from a spruce tree – will split. Some splits in this guitar are full-on cracks through the entire piece of wood; some are merely surface cracks in the lacquer. So, I will work again over the summer to restore a guitar to its former glory. But in the end, this one will bear all the evidence of its neglect. Each split will be seen forever. However, hopefully, the guitar will sound as good as the day its creator made it.