It Hurts When I do This

Lemme just pull these knobs off so I can re-solder the loose wire...huh? Some idiot glued the knobs onto the shafts. Now what do I do?

Lemme just pull these knobs off so I can re-solder the loose wire…huh? Some idiot glued the knobs onto the shafts. Now what do I do?

And the doctor says…”Don’t do that.”

There are a lot of things that guitar players do to their guitars that guitar players shouldn’t do to their guitars. Many of these things (on vintage guitars) date back to when they were simply old guitars and not worth very much. They were practical solutions to everyday problems. If a pot became scratchy, you replaced it. Who cares about the date code anyway? The tuners aren’t working so well, so lets get a set of those fancy new Schallers. The bridge PAF is little weak and a new DiMarzio will sound great. None of these things really mattered when the guitar was simply an old guitar. Few of us (me included) could have guessed that a ’59 335 that cost $600 in 1982 would be worth 60 times as much 35 years later.

None of these things destroy the value, they simply lower it and most of these things are reversible with little damage to the guitar’s vintage value. And some are not. Refinishing always seemed like a good idea if your guitar got so beat up that it was an embarrassment on stage. Adding a Bigsby made sense if the music you played called for one. You know all this stuff and you know to look for these mods when you buy a vintage guitar. You can generally see them in the photos and many, if not most, sellers will disclose them. Then there are the insidious changes that you can’t see that simply cannot be reversed without destroying some expensive vintage parts.

The volume knob is slipping on the pot shaft because the plastic has worn out. You can put a little tape around the shaft and that sometimes works. You can bend the posts of the shaft outward if you’re careful not to break them and that usually works. Or you can super glue the knob to the shaft and that always works. Until you need to get the knob off. And while you’re at it, lets do all four of the knobs since they could all use a little help. And the switch tip cracks and tends to get itself unscrewed after a few gigs. You could take it off and glue it back together, let it dry and screw it back on. Or you could put┬ádab of super glue inside and screw it back down and that will keep that tip on there forever. I can’t tell you how many guitars have arrived at my shop with glued on plastic parts. Dozens for sure. Glued on knobs make it impossible to repair a harness without destroying $400 worth of knobs. Glued on switch tips cause fewer problems unless you need to replace a three way, in which case you will be replacing a $200 catalin switch tip if the guitar is a 60 or earlier.

But wait, doesn’t acetone dissolve super glue?. It does but it can also dissolve the plastic but that isn’t the big problem (and I’ve tried this). The problem is that you can’t get at the acetone to where the glue is. What are you going to do turn the guitar upside down and carefully flow some acetone into the underside of the knob and hope it somehow penetrates only to where the glue is. Oh, and don’t get it on that nice finish. It will dissolve it. So, if someone has glued on the knobs or the switch tip, here’s what you can do: Leave it and hope the pots don’t go south on you. You cannot get them off and you shouldn’t try. You’ll only make it worse. And don’t ever use super glue to solve a problem like that. Get a new set of knobs and put the originals in the case. Or try the tape trick. And if the knobs have already been glued down and you’re selling the guitar, disclose it. And if you’ve never checked, please do before you sell it to me. I don’t think anything annoys me more.

That should be the end of the discussion but I would like to reach out to everyone who reads my blog and ask for solutions to the problem. If you’ve got a way to get a glued on knob or switch tip off, I want to know it. And I want everybody else to know it as well. I thank you in advance. Just don’t experiment on a $35000 guitar with $600 worth of plastic. And if the knobs are slipping on your 335, take the doctor’s advice. Don’t do that.


8 Responses to “It Hurts When I do This”

  1. Larry says:

    And don’t use super glue to attach or re-attach the nut or a replacement nut.

  2. Eduardo Araujo says:

    I’ve never had a guitar with a glued on knob, but it might very well work, since superglue doesn’t adhere that well to metal:

    There’s a tool used for removing car trim that looks like this:

    I’d put some masking tape on the finish underneath the knob (just for precaution – it is made not to damage the car’s paint not the trim, so) and use this tool for removing the knob. By bet is that it should work with no damage to both.

    A few years back a friend of mine bought a Strat that had a changed volume knob that wasn’t supposed to fit – I guess someone hammered it into place. The pot went bad and he asked me to change it and I could’t get the knob out. My solution was to use two old G strings (not the underwear) loop them underneath the knob and pull as hard as I could. It came flying out, but amazingly with no damage to both. So there’s that as well…

    I’d try them both on a cheap guitar you don’t care and see how it goes…

  3. Rod says:

    All very wise words, as usual. Falls into the ever-growing list headed ‘If I knew then what I know now…’ Our preoccupation then was simply to get the guitar working again for that night’s gig. The luxury of having more than one guitar was many years ahead then

  4. RAB says:

    Yup…lots of so-called fixit geniuses out there. Better for those clowns to keep their sweaty mitts off nice instruments! Like the guitar dealer who wanted to know if the ’57 PAF Goldtop he had had a maple top or was a solid mahogany body. A little bit of sanding of the finish between the pickups would tell, eh? Or just look in the cutaway to see if the little wedge of maple is visible. Gee, that would have been easier and less destructive!

  5. Paul says:

    Hi Charlie, I haven’t tried this on a guitar but if I were to, I would experiment on something else-to state the obvious. If you could apply gradual heat to the post with a very fine soldering tip you might be able to free the knob without harm. It’s been my experience that super glue won’t hold up to heat. I guess the trick is not to damage the laquer or warp the heated toggle or knob, but you run the same risk with acetone. Maybe it helps…

  6. chuckNC says:

    I wonder if Dan Erlewine might have an idea. I’ve never seen a guy so determined to solve problems of this sort. He’s fabricated more than his share of job-specific tools over the years! Just googling “wheel puller” brought some interesting possibilities to the screen. Maybe a combination of heat and the right pulling device would get you there….providing you can keep the guitar’s top from flexing too much in the process.

  7. Joe Campagna says:

    I made a special tip for my soldering iron.(not a gun)with a flat piece of brass that fits aound the pot under the knob.Protect the top with thin matt board.Warm the shaft while pulling the knob and it will come off.It has never failed me in 30 years.Joe

  8. Gary Gay says:

    Don’t know about glued on knobs, but I’ve had knobs installed so tight that I couldn’t remove them by hand. I “pad” the surface of the guitar with a couple of pieces of thick (1/8″) leather, then I take two teaspoons and insert the tips of the spoons under the stubborn knob and use the spoons as levers. Knob comes right off.

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