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Plane Speaking

 

You can see that the board on this 64 has been planed or sanded. The dot markers are way up near the top of the binding. That's because the top of the binding was removed with some of the board

You can see that the board on this 64 has been planed or sanded. The dot markers are way up near the top of the binding. That’s because the top of the binding was removed with some of the board

A friend brought by a 58 ES-335 today for me to evaluate and perhaps purchase. It was a very late one so it had most of the 59 features which makes it a very desirable guitar. But it had some issues that seem to affect different people different ways. The owner had just purchased it and was concerned because the fingerboard had been planed. There are a few reasons to do this-one is pretty benign and the other is perhaps a bit scarier. The benign one is simply to even out the wear on the surface of the board. This can be drastic or fairly subtle. I’ve seen some really badly rutted boards but honestly, it’s mostly cosmetic. Someone once said, “you don’t play on the fingerboard, you play on the frets”. Oh, yeah, that was me. But a rutted board can be pretty ugly and will adversely affect the value of the guitar. This particular 58 had two issues with the fingerboard. The first was that it had been mildly planed. That really doesn’t bother me if only a slight amount of wood was taken off. You can usually tell by looking at the binding. Most luthiers will plane the binding along with the board as it’s a lot of work to remove a neck binding, recut the channel and reinstall the board. You can usually tell that the board has been planed by looking at the side dot markers. If they a centered in the binding, the neck probably hasn’t been planed. If they are up near the top of the binding, particularly at the higher frets, the board was most likely planed. There is another reason to plane a board and this can be pretty drastic. If the neck has a back bow that can’t be adjusted out, steamed out, coaxed or pulled out with heavy gauge strings, you may have to compensate by taking off some wood from the fingerboard. It’s a less than ideal method of straightening a neck but it works and it’s often more stable than heat treatment. A planed board is going to diminish the value of the guitar-more than a simple refret, certainly less than a reneck so it isn’t necessarily a poor choice. That said, I think it’s better not to buy an expensive vintage piece that needs this type of work. I mentioned that there were a few problems with this 58. The guitar has clearly been played and was refretted (at least once). The board had, as I mentioned, been planed fairly lightly. Neither of these things will affect the value all that much. The issue that kind of backed me away from what otherwise seemed like a decent guitar was a repaired fingerboard. Ruts are ugly. No question. One way to fix them if they are really deep is to forego the planing and to fill the ruts using a combination of rosewood sawdust mixed with glue-often superglue. It makes a very neat and smooth repair when done correctly but it’s also as obvious as the nose on Barbra Streisands face. The texture of glue and sawdust is much denser and finer than the wood it is replacing and it shows up as shiny spots on the board. This one has at least a dozen repairs and probably more like 20. Each one a little shiny spot behind a fret. In this case they went all the way up to the 10th fret. Didn’t this guy own a nail clipper? The repair is totally functional and is it not noticeable from more than two feet away. But I don’t like it. Interestingly, it was none of these issues that made me turn the guitar away. The biggest problem was that the neck was dead flat and the truss was all the way loose. That invites some pretty drastic measures to bring it back into the correct relief, including, sometimes, planing. To make it worse, the ABR-1 was collapsed and a couple of frets needed leveling. The guitar would not play in its current condition. Neck problems will stop me from buying a guitar faster than a speeding bullet. My experience tells me that neck problems are like a bad penny. They seem to keep coming back. And that’s not to impugn the any competent and talented luthiers who can bring a warped, backbowed or twisted neck back. I just don’t like my odds.

This is how the side markers should look on an untouched 335 board. Pretty much smack in the middle of the binding

This is how the side markers should look on an untouched 335 board. Pretty much smack in the middle of the binding

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