used guitars in palm harbor
Dirty, rusty, what else?

Here’s a guitar you might’ve seen on Craigslist awhile back. “Rarely played guitar in excellent condition”.

The price was right – about $35. I was looking for a nice, but cheap Ibanez Strat, so I brought it home. Did I get a “deal”?

The bridge was floated “sky-high”. The action was more than uncomfortable – I’d say it was unplayable, with string height two-and-a-half times higher than specs!

The neck had a bit of a bow. The “relief” measured at 0.035 inches (fretted at first and last frets, then measured at seventh fret). But if the truss rod and nut were good, that could be adjusted out.

Distance between the pickup poles and strings was twice as much as it should be, thus robbing those humbuckers of much of their power.

The Nut slots were all good except ‘A’ string was too low and buzzing.

Bridge should float parallel to the body
Rusty pickup poles

A good part of the string height problem was due to the bridge float being ridiculously high. The rusty pickup poles weren’t going to help resale value and the dust and dirt – Oh my! Why don’t people clean their guitars before selling???

First thing I did was tune the strings, then take my measurements – relief, string heights and nut slot heights – in that order. It’s important to tune the strings first so you have the right tension before measuring.

Red shows initial problems, green is the resolutions and blue didn’t need changing. (I forgot to mark changing pickup heights!)

I reset the relief before taking the nut and string height measurements. The four millimeter truss rod nut was in perfect condition and the relief came down to 0.010 nicely, and all nut slots were between .015 and .020 except the A which was about .007 and buzzing.

Actual measurement was worse, but I couldn’t get a capo down to the last fret and needed a hand for the camera

I quickly replaced the nut by filing the bottom of a new nut to where I guessed it would be very close to spec, and it was. I only had to file a few slots to tweak them in.

Knowing I’d need to remove the bridge for cleaning, I didn’t bother with setting string (saddle) height just yet. So, off with the strings; removed tremolo springs and plopped the bridge in my hydrosonic jewelry cleaner (sure beats scrubbing with a toothbrush!).

While that was going, I cleaned the fretboard (0000 steel wool and Naptha) then checked fret ends (they were smooth!) and checked all frets for level, from E to e. Found five high frets – a couple were high between G and e, one was high from E to D and one was high all over.

High frets are “buzz makers”. You’re not going to have a decent playing guitar until all frets are level and nicely crowned. A fretboard protector and some #600 sandpaper got those frets level quickly. I polished them up with some #2500 sandpaper and another go with #0000 steel wool and Naptha.

Then I conditioned the fretboard with a good furniture polish oil, let it set twenty minutes and buffed it out.

I checked all screws and bolts for proper tightness and found that all the tuner key 10mm nuts were loose (common problem), and I tightened them.

Plastic covers to dress up the pickups
Hot glue holds the cover to the pickup

I used naval jelly to remove the rust but the plating was gone, so after a light coat of WD40, I gave them covers to hide behind.

Hot glue holds the covers in place yet allows them to be removed later, if needed.

I removed the control cavity cover and used electrical contact cleaner to clean the volume and tone pots and the switch. After giving the entire guitar a good cleaning and polishing, it was time to reassemble the bridge/tremolo system and string her up!

Before placing the guitar string-side down, protect the frets to prevent “string dents”

I start stringing with the E (lowest) string and bring each within about two tones of tuning. Then I stretch them all and begin tuning with “e” (highest), then B, G, etc. This is the UK system. In the US, it seems to be more popular to tune strings from E to e. The problem is that as you tune each string, you change the dynamics of the neck and change the tension on all the other five strings, and the heavier strings change the most.

Therefore, you’ll achieve your goal much faster by tuning from e to E. After you tune the sixth string, stretch them all again and start over, tuning at the highest string that changed tuning. Rinse and repeat until no strings change more than a tiny bit.

If you don’t properly stretch your strings, they’ll go flat as you play and do bends, whammys, etc.

Finally it was “intonation time”. Although the saddles looked like they might be at the right positions, the guitar was badly out of tune when fretted. Happily, it behaved well and intonation took just a few minutes.

The “End Result”

The guitar looks great now and it plays great. With the right tools, some know-how and a few hours, you can turn a dumpster-destined guitar into a great axe too! But if you don’t have the time, tools, etc. – you can get an excellent playing guitar for under a hundred bucks from me at !

This one is currently for sale on our website. Click for info and more pix.

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