Had this guitar come in for a total refret and some other work. Basically the guitar had been made completely unplayable due to a previous owner filing all the frets flat and messing with the bridge and nut.
The L6 is an odd guitar, while not considered rare, they do have a following as a limited and unique Gibson model. Made only from 1973- 1980 and never since reissued, they were based around the L5 jazz guitar and featured that models rotary pickup control, and unique for a Gibson, a 24 fret neck.
I dated this guitar through its pots and serial number to be a 1976 model.
After removing all the hardware ( bridge, tailpiece, loose bridge studs ) , I also removed the badly worn and over filed nut. Even if the nut was perfect i would still remove it for major fretwork as it gets in the way.
The frets on these old budget models were fitted to oversize slots and glued in. This was for cheapness as it meant a quicker production time, though it is not a good way to do things as much more neckwood is cut out then necessary, and the fret tang is not in direct contact with the wood, which most guitar builders would agree, dulls the tone of the neck significantly.
Removal of them is a process of heating with a soldering iron and a mix of water and naptha to swell the wood and steam the old glue. I use a mix of fret pulling pliers for the stubborn ones and hammer the looser frets out sideways, which is my preference on maple boards as it causes less surface chipping. (chipping on fingerboards of lacquered maple during a refret is impossible to totally avoid, and is accepted as part of the process)
After they are removed, I then clean the board up using various techniques, cleaning out the fret slots and measuring them for the new fret wire. If needed the slots were deepened with a special fret tang saw.
The customer specified jumbo size fretwire. This was curved by me in a jig to match the 12” radius of the neck before being cut into 24 pieces. Due to the enormous width of the factory slots, the new frets will be glued in during pressing to avoid any lifting later on. This is kept to a minimum by cross cutting the fret tang to make it wider.
I ran resin glue into the slots, hammer fitted the ends of the frets, then each one was pressed down on my drillstand which was fitted with a custom radiused brass fret press.
After a day to dry and settle down I removed the fret end overhangs with some custom flush head cutters, then bevel filed the fret ends.
The new frets now have to be level filed and crowned to give the best playing experience. (this is not done on most budget guitars after manufacture due to the cost, which is why they have problems with buzzing and note choking)
I use a custom notched steel straightedge on the fingerboard and make the neck dead flat. ( there is no point laying a ruler on the new fret tops as we know they are uneven ). Using a radiused block with various grades of sandpaper I then level the fret tops, followed up by crowning with special diamond grit rounding files to put the dome shape back on the tops. They are then finished and polished using grit papers and compound, having any sharp ends removed at the same time.
A Les Paul nut is 43mm, a modern Fender is 42mm, but this guitar measured a tiny 38mm across. While making playing at the first fret extremely hard, it's also impossible to get a replacement in this size, meaning it would need to be made.
I got a bone blank designed for a Les Paul and cut it down to the correct width. The thickness also had to be modded, and the break angle of the top. After gluing it in I used a custom nut marking rule to line the best spacing and notched some string slots. These will be cut in properly after the guitar is strung using v shaped nut files, specific to the size of strings to be fitted.
I also filed a flat bottom into the wood of the nut shelf as the original had been curved forward at a very odd angle. The flat shelf will provide better resonant contact for the bottom of the nut.
After the usual pre set checks for nut and screw tightness, machinehead function etc, I then replaced all the tail hardware and restrung the guitar with 10-46 strings. After tuning to concert pitch I left it to settle overnight as the neck had been through alot of stress during the levelling process.
I cut the nut slots to an accurate 0.020” at the first fret, setting the action/bridge height to a standard of 5/64th on the low E and 4/64th on the high E string, measured at the 17th fret. It will go lower but chords are much cleaner with this type of action. I also cut v grooves into the metal bridge saddles to give better tuning and stability to the strings.
Now the neck is settled, I use a very accurate neck relief tool to dial in some slight backbow to the truss rod. I set this neck at 0.010” at the 7th fret, which helps clean up any slight buzz in the centre part of the board.
After this I then make sure the guitar is tuned to pitch on an accurate strobe tuner and set the string length/intonation at the bridge so that the guitar will play harmonically correct up the neck.
As changes to the truss rod can drift, I usually leave the guitar for another day to settle and recheck the setting before giving it back.
Finish and thoughts
The vintage nitrocellulose finish on this guitar was extremely dull due partly to age but mainly through lack of care. Normal guitar polish would actually make this worse, cutting into the soft nitro and making it tacky. I used a special nitro restoration liquid which removes the grime and dullness, bringing back a sheen to the finish. While not perfect ( its 34 year old lacquer ! ) it looked a million times better than before.
I was very pleased with how this guitar played and looked after its time with me. The refret went well and the jumbo wire really suited it. With the new bone nut, oiled and notched bridge saddles, levelled board and proper action set, it played really nice, with an almost Telecaster type feel to it due to the small neck taper . Its now ready for another 30 years!