335 TLC
March 12, 2008 5:56 PM   Subscribe

I just bought a Gibson ES-335 on eBay and it arrived today. It's great, but it needs a bit of TLC.

Data points:

1. The previous owner was a smoker, and the guitar is a bit smelly.

2. The nickel hardware needs cleaning, and the fretboard could use oil.

3. The bridge pickup volume pot crackles.

4. It shipped with really light strings -- I'm guessing 8s -- and I'm used to playing 11s.

I normally do all my own tech work (setups etc) but haven't had to clean up a guitar before, so here are my questions:

A: What should I use to clean the nickel hardware, oil the fretboard, and get rid of the smoker smell?

B: What gauge strings do 335s ship with from the factory? I'd like to try it like that before I go to my regular heavy strings. I normally play flatwounds: should I put them on the 335?

C: Is there a way to cure the crackling pot without replacing it? Pulling the wiring loom out of these things is a PITA,

Finally, I had vague ideas of putting a Bigsby on it. Any thoughts?
posted by unSane to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Best answer: Pineapple's spouse here - the member of the family with the guitar knowledge.

As far as cleaning things up, a safe solvent for all Gibson finishes is Naphtha. Naphtha also happens to be the only ingredient in cigarette lighter fluid. You can pickup a small plastic bottle at any grocery store or drug store for just a couple bucks and it will last a long while.

Apply it to a soft cotton cloth (like an old t-shirt) and it should lift most everything grungy off all the surfaces on the guitar with very little elbow grease. Naphtha is a very fast evaporating solvent and is safe even for use on fret board to get all the dirt and whatnot off. Before cleaning the fret board, I'd recommend using some 0000 steel wool on the frets to clean and polish them up. It will also make bends easier. Just a few passes (no more than a dozen) on each fret should be fine. Then I'd clean the fret board with the naphtha.

After it's all clean, you can use very high quality automotive wax to protect the painted surfaces. I like 3M's Perfect-It series of products. I use their machine polish and then their swirl remover. Whatever you choose, make sure it doesn't contain any silicone in it. Silicone is extremely difficult to get rid of once it gets on a surface and can even compromise an older finish by inducing "fish-eye" (a series of small cloudy cracks that resemble a fish eye in shape).

To oil the board, you use a high quality lemon oil that you would use on fine furniture.

To get rid of the smell, I would advise leaving it out of the case and the smell should slowly dissipate.

You don't mention what year the guitar was made but I honestly can't recommend putting a Bigsby on it if it didn't come with one from the factory. A modified guitar will always fetch less later on regardless of how well the installation was done.

(Pineapple back at the keyboard, and, if the real C. F. Martin came back from the dead to answer this AskMe, I would totally favorite that!)
posted by pineapple at 6:59 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm not really worried about the resale... more interested in how the Bigsby might change the tone actually.
posted by unSane at 7:06 PM on March 12, 2008

Response by poster: Also, it's a 2001 so not a real vintage piece. I'd use a B-7 and try to get hold of one of those 'custom-made' plaques that Gibson used to cover the stop bar holes.
posted by unSane at 7:20 PM on March 12, 2008

first off that's a very nice 335 for what looks to be a good price.

I used to have an SG with an aftermarket Bigsby. I can tell you it didn't change the tone all that much, but it made string changing a little trickier, and definitely affected tuning stability.

You'll definitely be able to get what you paid plus the cost of the Bigsby if you resold. Bigs isn't something that goes out of style and then people regret- like EMGs or Floyd Roses. It's a classic look and people will want it.... IF you ever choose to sell.

I think the solidbody Gibsons ship with either 9s or 10s, definitely not 8s. Sorry, thats not too helpful. You sound kinda techy, personally I'd have it setup for the heavier strings- and 'my guy' does all the cleaning and blah blah work at the same time.
posted by tremspeed at 8:56 PM on March 12, 2008

Best answer: Have a number of small, old cotton rags handy (an old tshirt in pieces is ok)

metal parts (don't do this on anything that contains or may contain plastic/teflon parts such as tuners): take apart stringholder and bridge, put in a glass jar, cover with naphta, close, leave overnight shaking the jar every now and then. Using a pair of tweezers, pull pieces out of the jar, pat with a paper towel, put in another jar, cover in acetone, close and rinse quickly (15' tops), take pieces out and let dry on a paper towel for a while (in the open, you don't want to breathe in acetone fumes). Don't bother washing springs and screws.
(tip for maintaining bridge saddles in order: tie them in order on an old string before dipping them in naphta)

Fretboard cleaning: cover pickups with masking tape, give the whole fretboard a nice. light scrub along the vein with a wad of 0000 steel wool, pat dust off with a rag

Fret polishing: mask fretboard either with masking tape or with a steel fret mask (like this one), lightly scrub frets with a small quantity of metal polish (like Duraglit or Silvo, not brass products), clean off excess polish with a clean cloth.

Take a razorblade or the tip of an x-acto knife, lightly pass the corner of the blade into the groove between wood and frets on both sides of the fret: USE A LIGHT TOUCH: you just want to remove the muck that's sitting in there, without scratching the wood or the frets.

Fretboard wood: lemon oil, a few drops on a clean cloth and scrub along the vein. Let sit for a few hours and remove excess with a clean cloth (before mounting strings). Ebony will take in really little oil, rosewood a bit more, but after a while excess oil tends to come out again, so really use a little.

Body: the lacquer Gibson used from the 90s sucks, bad IMHO. No solvents, no products containing silicone and I'd recommend no polishes at all. Use a lightly damp cloth (with distilled water) on all the guitar, and give her a nice, gentle scrub, wiping in circular motion and staying in direct sunlight so that you can see areas that need extra care.

IF you want to use a little polish, be sure using just a few drops of one that's made specifically for nitrocellulose lacquer. Apply a few drops with a clean cloth and buff thoroughly with circular motions.

Smoke smell: there's no longer dirt on the outside of the guitar, so any nicotine/tar you might still smell is inside the body, probably lightly absorbed in the wood itself. Leave the guitar (and opened case) in the air and it'll disappear eventually. Don't put anything in the case (except perhaps one of those teabag-like thingies with activated charcoal) to counteract the smell: it might end up opacising the lacquer.

you can wash pot knobs and pickguard with water and a drop of soap. As for the crackling pot, mask the body surrounding it and try spraying a little WD40 between the stem and the armor, rotating the pot stem.

Bridge: I always felt the Bigsby trem takes off some of the sustain from the guitar, and I'm a fixed bridge type of guy. It depends a lot on what you'll be playing with the guitar. Strings: I think gibson ships and sets guitars up with .10s. Go with 11s. Flatwounds: again, it depends on you. The 335 is somewhat more trebly than most gibsons are, so flatwound should not close the tone too much on the higher end.
posted by _dario at 3:41 AM on March 13, 2008

and, congrats: she's a gorgeous lady.
posted by _dario at 3:43 AM on March 13, 2008

Gibson ships its guitars with .10s, I've played .11s on my Les Pauls with no problems.

Don't use WD-40 on the pots, it will leave an oily residue. You want electrical contact cleaner, which you can find at any hardware store.
posted by InfidelZombie at 10:18 AM on March 13, 2008

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