Restoration of a 63/64 Fender Strat

Another casualty of the 70’s and another chance to restore a beautiful guitar to its original specs! 70’s was notorious for destroying some great guitars, not deliberately of course as it was a time of change for fashion and a ten year old plain guitar was simply seen as an old guitar that looked really old fashioned and square. Oh the benefit of hindsight right?

P1040019As usual, the guitar had been stripped of its original finish back to bare wood and then lacquered, with the addition of a black pickguard, 70’s was very fond of natural wood finish against black and teak furniture! It was a nice enough job and fortunately all the important bits were left and not “updated”, such as pickups, trem, saddles etc. My client had purchased the guitar in mid 70’s and never really investigated the guitar or had the need to strip it down. Checking the serial number revealed that it was a 1964 registered body. The neck was also original and was not a replacement, with the proper 1963 Fender stamp. P1040026-updatedThe difference in the years between neck and body is very normal for Fender as they simply grabbed whatever part was at hand to bolt on hence a stock 63 neck would be fitted to a body, probably in mid/late 63 and finished off complete in 64. Much later on, due to the back of the neck getting rough, my client had the neck re-lacquered. It was a good professional job but it had not been colour matched to the aged front face (as you can see from the pictures) and left as a natural wood finish. It was unfortunately done in modern poly lacquer which really didn’t suit the guitar (both in looks and sound).

P1040025These were of course expected problems, but there was a bit of shock in store for both my client and myself when I removed the pickguard which had never been removed before. To our horror there was a large hole chiselled out (very badly) from the lower horn, deep enough to almost break through to the back! It was probably just luck that they hadn’t gone through which would have been a disaster. It was decided that this would be repaired fully with aged wood to match the guitar exactly.

P1040029The lacquer was stripped back to bare wood whilst all the cavities were covered in order to preserve any clue of original colour as well as preserving this for the future to show that the restoration was done back to the original spec. Investigation showed that the original colour was white and examination of the various cavities and dents in the body, missed by the original strip, confirmed this.

P1040118Now it was time to attend to that terrible hole. It seemed it was done in order to house a Fuzz Box in the guitar, there were faint pencil marks stating “Adjust Fuzz here”. Yes it was that time of experimenting, especially with certain chemicals which I’m sure helped make the decision to chisel out the hole! To this end I enlisted the help of my colleague Ben who is an antique furniture restorer who found the wood which was at least 50 years old with a very similar grain size to match the one on the body. We did not want to remove any more wood from the guitar which meant the hole could not be made a regular shape for an insert. This meant having to match every irregular edge and depth; it was obviously very specialised work and one that was perfect for Ben. His repair is a great example of craft and as you can see from the picture, he even matched the grain to that of the guitar! Once the wood has been allowed to rest and sealed, it will settle to a finish which will match the body fully.

P1040142It was now time to do the neck. The poly varnish was stripped off; making sure none of the original finish on the front face of the headstock was disturbed. It’s always a messy job stripping off modern lacquers as they turn into goo from hell when stripper is applied and keeping this off any other surface such as the fret board etc becomes critical. The major task was to match the colour of the lacquer of the original on the front to the rest of the neck. This is easier said than done as the lacquer on the front has discoloured over 50 years and no ready mixed tint will do the job. After quite a bit of experimenting with various dyes, a match was established which I’m very happy with and defy anyone to see the difference. Nitro cellulose (I use exclusively) tint was applied in different thickness from the back to the sides so a look of natural worn fade could be established. Multiple coats of clear lacquer were then applied to seal and protect the tint, along with a fine grade rub down to simulate proper wear to give a good feel to the neck.

IMG_1122The arctic white was sprayed onto the body which was sealed and sanded down, making sure none of the ageing irregularities were either covered or smoothed. Various movements and distortions of the wood would come through over the years, colour would go slightly translucent and raised grain will show through in a guitar this age. I take great care to make sure the restoration work does not turn the guitar into a brand new one but one that would exhibit all the signs of age. IMG_1130The next step would be to apply the slight yellowing of the edges and discolouration that would happen over the years due to smoke, sweat, daylight and general ageing. To this end, I used a pickguard to protect the area it occupies when applying ageing so that there is a clear difference in colour to replicate proper wear. I have my own way of making this look completely natural.

P1040123As you can see from the picture, the ageing process is subtle and looks natural. This is very important and one must have the knowledge to know where discolouration will happen and to what extent. Along with this all the dents and knocks were also left exactly how they were and great care taken not to let the new sealer, paint and lacquer fill or round these off, hence they had to be treated individually. Once this was complete, after a brief paint stressing process, final lacquer was applied in multiple coats and then fine rubbed numerous times to simulate years of rubbing, handling and cleaning. It is impossible to show the finish surface in photos, especially on a white surface but the surface looks genuinely of its age. . I do not support the idea of “road-worn” finishes, see my article Road-Worn or Abuse? on this site.

P1040179Attention was now turned onto the electrics. All the components were original 63/64 bar two tone pots which were obviously replaced at some point with high quality components; even the capacitor was the original. All the solder joints were redone, along with checking switch contacts and cleaning where necessary. The pickguard was replaced by a “mint” coloured 3 play correct replacement to match the look. The original plate would have been white but Fender, up to 63/64, used cellulose sheets for making them and soon discovered that in a few years these were losing their colour and turning a shade of mint, where the pickup covers didn’t as they were made of ordinary plastic. Guitars after 65 had plastic pickguards hence the problem were stopped.

P1040160The guitar was finally assembled with all its original pieces, various screws were changed/replaced with ones I aged to match. Neck was cleaned, oiled and set to my clients request to have as low an action as possible, intonation done, trem set for dive bombing (Hendrix style) with all five springs. After a week or two and playing it for many hours (only to check of course ahemmm), the guitar was reset, tightened, aligned and given back to a very happy client.


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