About 50 years ago, Unis, a woman in San Jose California was taking lessons from a locally renowned Jazz guitar instructor and music store owner named Vic Grundy. Vic and Unis were close and Unis would take recurring lessons from Vic to learn guitar and play for her family and friends. As a store owner and professional guitar player Vic helped Unis to purchase a few fun guitars. After many years though Unis began to develop some arthritis in her hands and her guitar playing started to suffer. She stopped playing the guitar many years ago and the few guitars she owned ended up in storage under her bed and in the back of her closet. When Unis, now at the senior age of 90, ended up moving in with family to ease her daily life, the guitars she had once played and loved were found by her family. Unis told her family of the fun she had playing the guitars and that they were not your average student models. Having sat for so long though, the family realized the guitars would need some restoration before they are given new homes. Without knowing how to start with their restorations, Unis’ daughter contacted me, a Fine Furniture maker/ designer and musical instrument creator in Morgan Hill. Freddy told me the story about her mom’s first guitar and asked if there is anything I could tell her about the instrument and if it was of much value. Upon inspection of the first guitar I was given, it was evident that Unis had really nice taste in guitars. Freddy brought me a late ‘60s Yairi classical acoustic. It required very little restoration but did take very nicely to some extensive cleanup. Once finished, it found itself in the hands of a very happy classical guitarist.
Both Unis and Freddy were very happy to see the classical guitar go to a new home after being taken such good care of. Next was Unis’ ‘electric guitar’. I thought it very interesting that Unis would have had an electric guitar but was open to taking a look at what she said was in desperate need of repair before finding it a new home. Immediately upon seeing the hard case that the guitar was presented in, I knew this was not going to be an average electric guitar. When I opened the case, I was stunned to see the remarkable 1944 Epiphone Broadway that emerged. It was beautiful and hardly used. However a common problem with guitars of this era were the horrible pickguards made from celluloid that would off-gas while in storage and then wreak havoc over the guitar’s other parts… Upon closer inspection the guitar was actually dripping wet from the many years of storage in the hard case. The gassing actually created some major problems. The chemical sauna the guitar sat in for years ended up melting away the neck binding on the fingerboard and rusting the frets. It caused a reaction with the applied Jazz Box pickup and the gold hardware as well. It also began to harm the finish on the guitar softening it and turning it cloudy. This was certainly a more involved restoration. After discussing the possibilities of the end goal, I set in motion to create a restoration that would be as traditional as possible with a minimally intrusive upgrading of the electrical nature of the guitar.
I set about cleaning the guitar thoroughly and drying out the finish to allow it to re-cure without the presence of the pickguard. The finish cleared up quickly and cleaned up nicely. The neck binding proved to be a bit more involved and I ended up getting a friend and incredibly reliable professional to lend a helping hand with it. Brian Michael of Gryphon Guitars in Palo Alto did a beautiful job finding and installing the new binding. Once back in my workshop, I set to designing a new pickup system to be incorporated into a custom Rosewood pickguard. The pickguard is cut to match the same shape of the original and uses the same hardware. The Epiphone got a full detailing of the frets and the finish. It has a new pickgaurd that incorporates a Kent Armstrong humbucker and a Pickup The World piezo pickup under the saddle. The two are run through a Schatten preamp with two thumbwheels used as separate volume pots. The whole system is incorporated into the pickguard with CNC routs to house the battery, the pots, and the mounting brackets. After the finish of the guitar had been taken care of, the frets had been polished and the pickup system tweaked and installed, it was time to present the finished guitar to Unis for final inspection. She was elated to be able to see the guitar in its restored glory and proud to be able to hold it once again. Now she is looking forward to seeing it go to someone who will truly love playing it. This guitar has quite a fun history and it’s fun to think of how many years it sat under a bed in it’s hard case. The guitar has only lightly been played by a few guitarists that have been quite stunned by the sound quality both acoustically and amped. The mix of the incredible piezo tape mic from Pickup The World and the Armstrong Humbucker make for an unbelievable presence in the amp. The acoustic properties of the hollow body are even more impressive. This is what the quintessential jazz player dreams of. It’s warm and clear with a deep and rich tone. It makes me wish I were more of a guitar player as it’s infectious to listen to.
And now the guitar is looking for a new home. Unis would love to see this incredible guitar go to a home where it will be used and played with love by someone that knows how special this model is. There is an extensive record of photos that go along with this guitar restoration and it’s still housed in the original hard case.