Another fun project today, this one an Ibanez JS100 (Joe Satriani Signature) that's been thoroughly 'loved' over the last 10 or so years.
At the time it came in, the strings had been clipped off and it was sitting without them for an extended period of time. There's a lot of speculation that circulates around the dangers of leaving a guitar without strings on it for an extended period of time. The story that gets around basically says that the truss rod is tightened to counteract the tension of the strings as they try to 'bend' forward toward the bridge; when there's no strings upon it for an extended period of time, there's nothing there to couteract the tension of the truss rod, which is theorized to cause neck bending, fretboard loosening and all sorts of things.
While there's some basis for this belief, that concern is frequently overstated. The amount of truss rod tension in a well maintained guitar exerts a fairly limited amount of upward pressure. The balance of a rigid fretboard, adequate neck material/thickness, and significant horizontal pressure (as opposed to the real but also overstated "vertical pressure" that we envision trying to fold the guitar in half) from the strings tuned to pitch, all limit the perceived tenancy for the neck to want to 'bow'.
If the guitar is well designed and well maintained, the amount of tension on the truss rod is limited and thus, the forces at work when there are no strings on the guitar are also limited. It's something you should be aware of, and issues occasionally do arise but they're rarer and less severe than you'll frequently hear speculated about online.
We do check for any of these issues when a guitar comes in, and I'll touch on all of that later in this article.
Whew, now that we got that out of the way... onto the guitar.
As per customer complaint, we were expecting the guitar as going to at least need a fret polish and a setup. As soon as we got it in, I got a close look at the frets.
...after a close look, it was pretty obvious this guitar was in need of a recrown. Most or pretty much all the time, a recrown also means a fret level, so that was added to the checklist.
After looking the guitar over more, it was noticed that one of the 12th fret inlay dots had "sunken" down into the route.
...this was obviously going to need to be fixed. Along with that, the routine items, like cleaning and reconditioning the fretboard (we always throw in a body cleaning and light polish, as well).
There was some speculation the guitar needed an intonation adjustment, so we paid some attention to the bridge. As you can see here, there's also a few years of dust and gunk (dunk? gust?) on the tremolo that'll need some addressing while we've got the guitar disassembled.
The first project we decided to tackle was the sunken fret inlay. We tried a couple methods to remove the dot intact, but it was really stuck in there, so we had no choice but to remove it the hard way, and replace it.
A hole was drilled in the center of the inlay and a small screw was thread into it, then it was carefully pulled out. You want to make sure to not pull too hard/fast or you can pull up bits of the fretboard with it.
With the old inlay removed, it was time for a replacement. A new pearl inlay carefully tapped in the opening with a dab of CA (read: Super glue) and left to dry for a bit.
The route is flat on the bottom, causing the inlay to sit slightly proud of the radius of the fretboard. To do the job right, this would have to be trimmed down to fit. The first inkling for a project like this would be sandpaper, but that leaves too much likliehood of sand/reshaping the wood in the area of the inlay.
The best course of action was a freshly sharpened 1/2 chisel and careful scraping. You can see the bits of pearl scraping away in small sheets, and if you're doing it right, when you reach "flush" the chisel will stop bringing up material. At this point, you can't feel the transition between wood and pearl but it's still necessary to do some REALLY light finish sanding to eliminate scratches. For this, we sanded with 220 up to 500 to match the texture of the rest of the fretboard.
Inlay looks good, now it's time to get the frets looking that way.
There are a few steps here that are unpictured but first came a truss rod adjustment to get the neck perfectly flat. As mentioned in the intro, some attention was paid to inspect for any anomalies as a result of sitting stringless. No damage and no bow. The truss rod had only a small amount of tension on it, and only required a quarter/half turn to get to zero
After that, the fretboard and a few selected parts of the guitar were taped off to protect them. The frets were leveled first using a long, flat sanding beam with 320 grit paper. After that, the fretboard radius was measured (10") and a radius block was run over the frets to ensure the tops of the frets perfect match the shape of the fretboard.
Next came the recrown. To do this, black Sharpie was run over the top of the frets, then an appropriately sized fret crowning file was used. When done correctly, a thin black line was left on the top of the fret to make sure there's an even peak across the top of the frets and also to make sure you don't lower the frets unevenly.
Now that the frets are leveled and shaped correctly, it was time to finish them off. A small, notched sanding block and sand paper from 220 - 1500 were run over the frets down their length to remove the scratches and get them perfectly smooth. Fret shape is somewhat of a customer decision, although I highly recommend a 'bus top' type of shape, as you get a nice even amount of contact between 'string and fret', they seem to intonate really well and they last fairly long before another recrown or polish is necessary.
The last few grits of paper were run up and down the length of the fretboard, as well as over the fretboard edges to make all the transitions equally smooth. A touch of 0000 steel wool, a buffing wheel with metal polish and then some hand polishing and the frets were all done.
The masking tape was then removed from the fretboard. Time to give the fretboard some love.
A medium bristle toothbrush and lemon oil is used to scrub all the gunk off the fretboard. Its then wiped down with a polishing cloth, then rescrubbed until there's no more stuck on gunk. After that, another wipe down with the polishing cloth to make sure it's squeaky clean.
To get the fretboard conditioned, I like to flood it with a ton of lemon oil and leave it to sit and soak in.
A saturated fretboard can really bring out the contrast in a well figured fretboard.
After an hour of settling, a dry polish cloth is used to remove excess oil. Lastly, I apply a very modest amount of lemon oil to a mostly dry cloth and run back over the fretboard one last time.
Unpictured is the ungunking and intonation of the bridge (I'll do a more indepth walkthrough of that in a future article). The basics of the bridge cleaning is that it was first disassembled, cleaned with a toothbrush and metal cleaner, then polished with a cloth wheel and metal polish.
Everything was ready to be reassembled, so a light polishing of the body and mild cleaning of the pickups and rings was done.
As per customer preference, a set of 9-42 were strung up. Some trem claw adjustments to get the bridge level, then a session infront of the Peterson to get the intonation right and she was all done.
The straightness of the neck as checked now that it had been strung up and under tension for a while. Everything was actually still 100% perfect, so no more adjustment was needed. The action was checked and measured (see the RG7620 article for more info on that), then mildly adjusted to satisfaction.
The electronics were tested and gone through, lastly. Since it was being kept in a clean, dust free environment, the electronics were surprisingly scratch-free and in perfect working order, so this guitar got a big ol' done stamp.
While we recommend routine maintenance (including a fret polish) every year, this guitar should be good for another several years before the frets will need this much work again. Cheers!