Gibson RD Standard Bass - refinish & T-bird-i-fication

  • Posted by Krishna
  • at 1/23/2008 02:37:00 AM -
A project that perhaps some Gibson purists will frown upon, but the goal is to take somewhat abused Gibson RD bass and give it a bit of a makeover - borrowing the color scheme from 1960's Thunderbirds and hardware from more recent 'birds.

The RD is in good cosmetic shape, however it has suffered a serious decapitation (as opposed to a mild decapitation ? "its only a flesh wound"??) in the past and slightly glue-heavy repair - which nonetheless does appear very solid. I am considering regluing it, but only if there some sign of weakness or the headstock angle is off (doesn't appear to be). The frets also appear to have been leveled with a belt sander or other inappropriately industrial grinding instrument - and are really ground down to nothing in some spots - so the neck will require a complete refret.

OK - "purists" - get ready to cringe.

The plan is to defret the neck, make sure the board is level, and refret it. The body will be sanded down - leaving the clear finish as a sealer coat. The body will be routed for a pair of Thunderbird pickups (black), and then the entire instrument, except for the fretboard and face of the headstock, will be painted Ember Red - a little used custom color from Gibson's colorful mid and late 60s. Ember Red is similar to Fender's Fiesta Red, but with a stronger, deeper red tint as opposed to Fender's more salmon tint. I have only seen the color in a few pictures of instruments ( an SG and I want to say a Melodymaker ?), but it was an option available for an additional $25 around 1966. The color is actually a 1958 Edsel color.

A new pickguard will also be cut - we haven't discussed yet whether it should be three-ply white or black - white would look more 60s.

Anyway - feel free to verbally accost me - but I'm doing it regardless !! And .. I will have enough Ember Red left for a few more paint jobs afterward - my '66 NR T-bird is considering getting in line for that .... maybe someone wants their BachBird in Ember Red too ... ????

Might it end up looking a little like this bass ..... which appears to be something like .. Ember Red ...

I have heard that the RD Bass was inspired by Entwistle to some degree - but that he hated what Gibson came up with.

Update - 3/8/2008 Finally Restarting this project !!

I've launched into this project again - and the changes should now start to happen more quickly.

The owner and I have decided to slim down the baseball bat-style neck - not radically, but enough to improve its feel. The neck is very solid, constructed of three pieces of maple, so I'm sure it will remain stiff enough to maintain its straightness.

I have completely stripped the bass, with the exception of the front of the headstock - revealing some very pretty pinkish maple underneath. I used a chemical stripper which took the finish off easily - appears to have been nitrocellulose. I haven't sanded any of the bass, except for the fretboard as I re-radiused it to a 16-inch radius from the 7 1/2 inch (fender!!) radius it had. The pale color you see is the natural color of the maple and probably the color of the entire bass once I sand it.

After completing the stripping and sanding, the next step I'll carry out will be to shave the neck - I'll take some measurements along the length of the neck and then set my target measurements at those points to get a nice even taper. And then I will go for it !!

(Update April 5, 2008)
After a bit of a hiatus, the RD Bass project is rolling again. The changes that have been done aren't visually that impressive, but are fairly significant.

The neck was defretted, then the fretboard radius was flattened to a 16-inch radius from the very Fender 7 1/2 inches it originally was.

Then the back of the neck was shaved to reduce its bulkiness - I limited how much I did as I was afraid of getting too close to the truss rod mid neck, but the neck is a bit less of a baseball bat now. What would really have been nice to do would have been to narrow the neck - keeping the nut the same, but narrowing it down along the length of the fretboard. But I couldn't figure out a reliable way to do this with the neck glued into the body, and ungluing the neck was not something I wanted to tackle.

The maple on the neck is really gorgeous once its all stripped and sanded down - I sprayed the fretboard with several coats of clear nitro and then buffed it out to a nice shine - BEFORE refretting. Once the refret is complete, the rest of the guitar will get a few good clear coats - an wet sanding with 220 and 400 grit paper - and then a white primer coat - ala Fender.

(Update April 14th 2008)

Primer coat is on - some sanding and filling here and there will be required, but the first color coat should go on in a matter of days.

And now we have color - the Ember Red is a pretty intense color - looked VERY orange when I sprayed it, but darkened slightly as it dried and probably will darken slightly more once its clear coated. The paint, which I ordered from TCP Global, and which is actually an acrylic lacquer as opposed to nitrocellulose, went on beautifully with great coverage over the white primer. The pictures below were taken shortly after I sprayed the first color coat. This will be a unique looking RD bass !!


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