Gibson 1959 EB-2 Bass Restoration Project

So I came home from my day-job one day to find the ruined shambles of a bass guitar on my bench. Where did it come from? Did someone want me to dispose of it for them?

It turns out the instrument belongs to a regular client who wanted to know: could I make it like new again?

It seemed dubious, I admit. I didn’t know anything about it, and it had clearly been through a lot of trouble too:

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I quickly discovered the model of this bass. It’s a Gibson EB-2, and this one is supposed to have a sunburst painted on the front. There were a few of these made with natural finish, but this isn’t one of them. Someone has sanded it off.

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See? Here’s the back.

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Not only was the top finish sanded off, but it was covered with pour-on epoxy. The finish is plasticky, lumpy, and bubbly.

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The oroginal knobs had been replaced with some amplifier knobs, the switch was an aftermarket switch and busted off. The washers are glued into the epoxy finish.

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This bakelite cover plate is also glued to the top. It’s pretty chewed up and the screws are corroded in place as well. The pole pieces aren’t looking to great either.

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This head is pretty much destroyed. The veneer has splintered off and it’s been drenched in lumpy epoxy glue.

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These frets are pretty worn out. It seems the guitar was well used at some point.

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The epxy was not applied directly to the back, but it has dripped down the sides, covered the binding, and seeped onto the back, ruining what remained of the original finish.

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Here’s something interesting… This serial number, along with the physical characteristics of the instrument, places the guitar in 1959. It was probably made later in the year at the Kalamazoo factory.

I started doing some homework on this instrument, and things got interesting. There were only 209 of these 1959 basses made. VintageGuitar.com lists the ’58 version as one of the top 25 most valuable basses.

I wondered what it would take to fix this wreck up and started making plans.

Here’s what I did:

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I had to drill or break the screws on the pickup cover in order to get it off. I also had to pry it out of the glue.

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I scraped off all of the awful epoxy and sanded the entire body back to natural wood.

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Note that the frets have all been removed at this point.

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I carefully removed the remainder of the ruined veneer, leaving only some good stuff around the inlays.

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I added new veneer.

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Then I hand-painted it black.

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I plugged all of the holes left from who knows how many generations of tuning machines. Alas, the original banjo tuners had been lost. Note the SOLDER by the lower right hole. Interesting.

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Filling more holes with an old spar from a model ship. I plugged every hole I could find, and then I re-drilled them. I wanted the screws to fit like new.

I smoothed out the fretboard and installed all-new frets. I leveled the frets, re-crowned them, and polished them.

I added new pole pieces in the humbucker pickup.

I replaced the broken switch with a replica push-button switch, just like what the original would have had.

I re-painted the sunburst finish and made a new pick guard from scratch, since the original was long lost.

I replaced the knobs and the tuning heads.

Here is the result of my efforts:

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Front view of the finished guitar.

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The new headstock looks great. I opted for genuine Gibson LP tuners. They’re guitar tuners, and they fit the holes perfectly. Modern bass tuners are too big. These LP tuners look nice.

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Front view of the head stock. I used short scale flat-wounds, but that low string seems a wee bit short.

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Sunburst on the back of the guitar.

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Body detail.

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New knobs, button switch, and pick guard.

It’s all looking very good, and this will be a very valuable collectors item for my customer, but I’m not quite done yet. I had great hopes that the electronics would have been intact, other than the switch that I knew had been changed at some point. Alas, upon plugging it in, I had no baritone switch or tone knob functionality. Only volume worked. The pickup sounds good, but not all of the controls work, and that’s too bad.

I found schematics and diagrams and discovered that a component called the “choke” had been removed from the circuit. This is the piece that rolls of the bass frequencies and allows the baritone switch to function. I may end up having to wind my own choke if I can’t find one on the market.

Almost there…

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