Sunday, September 26, 2010
Refrets, no regrets
You're looking at my Christmas present, a Nelsonic Starliner Les Paul clone.
Years ago, at the local guitar shop, I picked up one of these, used, in absolutely mint condition, for a whopping $150.
Other than having a bolt-on neck, which is, admittedly, against the grain when it comes to Les Paul style guitars, the thing was extremely well executed: it weighs a ton, has a great sound, and the fit and finish are, frankly, much better than the Epiphone Les Pauls I find in shops for $400-$700.
It turns out that Nelsonic made a number of clones at great prices (contract manufactured in Korea and sold for $150-$300 or so), but lost a lawsuit with big G., and that was pretty much that. Nelsonics are pretty rare. In the last 3-4 years, there have been only 3-4 that have come up for sale on eBay. I've never seen one anywhere else. When this one showed up on eBay last November, I pointed it out to Mrs. Toadroller, who took my hint.
I was excited to open it up on Christmas day, but was shocked at its condition. Rusty strings, a few nicks in the paint, and, what's this, a belly curve? Doesn't seem right. Worst of all, the fist three frets, the ones in the "cowboy chords" position, were dented beyond repair.
I never even plugged it in. It wasn't playable.
Being the brave and curious soul that I am, I wondered if I could do a refret on it. You're looking at the results. I used a soldering gun to heat up the frets and a set of fret pliers (nippers) to pull the old ones out. The fret-board is bound, so the replacement frets' tangs had to be nipped off before pounding them in. I had full length fret-wire from my other projects (Remember those? Still in progress.), but would need to build a wire bending machine and, well, I came across pre-cut and pre-snipped frets delivered from eBay for $10. I took the easy way out. Hammered them in; filed the edges down; hand sanded them. I strung it up and it played well, but was definitely in need of a leveling. You just can't skip a step, can you? I did the leveling yesterday and set the intonation today.
Boom. I've done a fret leveling. No longer a virgin there. I'm not ready to do such work on, say, my Taylor... But a broken down $100 guitar? You bet. Now it plays well; the action is right. Only the slightest buzz on the 6th string (the 12th fret is pesky). It photographs well and yes, I do have the pick-guard components, which I'll be putting back on.
It just isn't the same as my other Nelsonic; the tone isn't the same; this one doesn't weigh as much and therefore doesn't feel as solid; some of the hardware is cheaper. They're the same model, but probably from from very different batches. Nelsonic was short lived. I'll keep my eye open for more of them and, doubtless, will snag another some day. In the meantime, I'll be putting this fish back in the water for someone else to enjoy.