What is a steel guitar restoration?

Hi guys and gals,

The newsletter this week is a little bit different than the topics I’ve covered before. I feel many of you need to be educated on what the true meaning of the word restoration is as it pertains to steel guitar. I have been seeing several guitars advertised on the forum and elsewhere as being restorations or totally restored, only to have the new buyers come to me in a state of despair over what they received as a restoration.

If any of you have ever gone to a car museum where every vehicle had been restored to as good as or better than new, you may understand what I’m getting at here. Having gone through Harrah’s Auto Museum in Reno, Nevada, I have seen many cars that sold for $800 to $1200 dollars new which had had $40,000 to $60,000 worth of restoration done to them. This drove home the point that is very obvious. A full restoration on a steel guitar today, takes much longer and is much more expensive than when the guitar was built at the factory the first time. I am in the business of restoring the two most popular and sought after steel guitar brands that have been built so far in our profession. Of course, I’m speaking of Sho-Bud and Emmons … as if I really had to tell you!

Restoring these two brands of guitars is like restoring automotive brands such as Ferrari, Rolls-Royce or Shelby American products. To restore some brands of guitars would make no more sense than restoring an ‘86 Pontiac station wagon or a Mercury Sable. The value of what you end up with is nothing compared to the expense you’ll incur. At the present time, who cares if you have a brand new Chevette. However, a nicely restored ’66 Mustang convertible would bring 10 to 20 times what it cost new … for the right model.

The quality of restoration in a steel guitar or an automobile will determine the final value of the unit.

I am seeing several steel guitars show up on the forum and on Ebay that people are calling restorations that are nothing more than simply a major cleanup. It’s like a car that’s been detailed and then called restored.

Ok, so now you ask what do you do to a steel guitar when you restore it. When a steel guitar comes into Steel Guitar Nashville to be restored, we totally disassemble the guitar into as many pieces as it will go into. We throw away all the screws, the case, strings, fretboards and usually the tuning keys and pickups and everything electronic and replace all these parts with brand new. The body and necks will be totally stripped down to the bare wood before the new finish of several coats of nitrocellulose laquar is applied and then highly buffed and polished after a three week curing period. The aluminum castings are all sent to the professional where they were buffed and polished when the guitar was originally manufactured. Before reassembly, every moving part that moves against any other part is checked for wear and is replaced if needed. If it can be made like new, it will be, if it can’t, it will be replaced with a new part. Any parts that are not available are remachined from materials as good as or better than new.

Now, I do not approve of redesigning or hot-rodding or mixing parts from different years during the restoration. All Sho-Bud and Emmons guitars work perfectly when adjusted correctly, regardless of year of manufacture. A hot-rod is not a restoration, it’s a modification. I feel there is no such thing as doing re-engineering or modifications to a restoration. For instance, if you have a ’70 Sho-Bud Professional but want all the parts from an ’85 Sho-Bud including the changer installed on it, not only are you ruining a classic but I doubt if your guitar will work as well after you put all those hours and all that money into it to ruin it.

The classic example is converting an Emmons push-pull to an all pull. Not only will you ruin one of the greatest classics of all time, but it probably won’t play as well and it definitely won’t sound as good … and you will be anywhere from a thousand to two thousand dollars poorer. This is not counting the money you’ll lose on the value of the guitar because such a modification would definitely devalue it.

Are there other guitars coming up that are worth the restoration process? The Zum guitars made in the mid to late seventies are good future candidates as are the ZB guitars made from ’65 to ’75. I cannot think of any other guitar at the moment other than some of the very earliest such as Bigsbys, non-pedal Fenders and possibly non-pedal Gibsons.

The point I want to make is, when somebody says they’re having so and so restore their guitar, or when someone says they have a restored Emmons or Sho-Bud available, make sure you both understand and agree what the word restoration means. A poorly done restoration can ruin the value of the guitar. A quality restoration can easily quadruple the value of the guitar.

Remember now that we are talking about the world of steel guitar. I am not talking about lead guitars like Martin, Fender or Gibson.

A totally mint, brand new, unplayed, original condition 1970 Sho-Bud Professional will be worth as much as a hundred point high quality restoration. Remember, it’s the condition that determines everything, restored or not. I have people call me everyday and ask me a question like what’s a ’75 Sho-Bud worth, to which I reply what’s a ’75 Cadillac worth … or what’s a ’65 Mustang worth? It’s very hard to see through a telephone and condition means almost everything. A ’75 Sho-Bud can be worth $200 if it’s a Maverick in average shape or $3000 if it’s a Pro III in mint condition. There are some ’84 Super Pro II’s that have already changed hands as high as $15,000 but they are in excellent condition. The value of a steel guitar can be determined by several things, most of which is condition, but also by scarcity, desirability, heritage of a particular instrument such as a Sho-Bud or Emmons personally owned by Lloyd Green, Curley Chalker, Pete Drake, Buddy Emmons, Weldon Myrick or Buddy Charlton.

However, back to restoration and condition. A perfect restoration is a valuable thing and will usually get you back more money than it cost you if it is done perfectly by someone who knows every detail of how it’s supposed to be done.

Many of you reading this may think this will never apply to you because you’re just going to buy brand new guitars forever. The older guitars I’m talking about generally look, play and feel better than the guitars that are being built today … and positively sound better than the current crop of production guitars. The advantage of having a restored guitar is that it will usually go up in value starting right away as opposed to buying a brand new guitar which will go down in value before it starts to climb back up … assuming of course, you are buying a quality guitar which will go back up in value instead of one that continually goes down and down.

In my opinion, if you own a classic Sho-Bud or Emmons guitar, you may be better off having it restored than buying a new guitar. Either way, I feel that the more educated you are as a buyer, the better you’ll be prepared to evaluate the guitar you’re considering purchasing.

Your buddy,





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2 Responses to What is a steel guitar restoration?

  1. Kevin Browning says:

    I have a custom D12. The finish is worn I would love to have it restored right to its original condition I bought it in the early 70’s and it was worn then I would love to find who will restore it right. And who can identify its true age

  2. Bobby Lee says:

    Those questions are best asked of the members of The Steel Guitar Forum. They know everything. steelguitarforum.com

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