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Back from the Dead: Gibson Revives Keith Urban Flood Guitar

Ellen Barnes

During the first week of May 2010, Nashville endured its most profound natural disaster to date. Following several days of unwavering driving rain, much of the city lay underwater; houses, cars and lives were lost. Musical landmarks like The Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Schermerhorn Symphony Center all sustained significant damage as the waters rose.

The city also sacrificed Soundcheck studios, an enormous rehearsal space where many of the city’s biggest country stars store their gear between gigs. Located, it so happens, in East Nashville on the banks of the Cumberland River, Soundcheck was overcome so quickly and unexpectedly by the swollen river that many musicians lost much, if not all, of their gear. Vince Gill, Little Big Town, LeAnn Rimes, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban all sustained major damage and loss. Among other instruments victimized by the flood, the Les Paul that belonged to Urban’s guitarist Brian Nutter came into Gibson’s Repair & Restoration facility for rebuilding. Longstanding manager Todd Money tells the story of this guitar’s incredible repair.


The neck has been taken out of the body and the fingerboard clamped to a rigid surface to maintain its straightness.


The neck is on and the fingerboard is being glued on and held in place by several clamps.


The finished product.

You were charged with the task of restoring Brian’s Gold Top Les Paul after it took a long swim. How did it arrive at Repair & Restoration?

One of our Gibson ER Pros works with Keith Urban and his band. They had a lot of stuff in storage at Soundcheck, and they were set up for rehearsal for an upcoming tour, so they caught the double whammy when the flood hit. This was one of a few pieces he sent over from the Urban camp.

What are the specs on the guitar?

It’s a ’77 Les Paul Standard with a Brazilian rosewood fingerboard. Made with a sandwich body, three-piece mahogany neck with volute, and stock electronics.

What do you know about the guitar’s significance to Brian?

He may have bought it new – I’m not sure – but I know he’s had it a long time and it’s one of his “babies.”

How long did the guitar float in the floodwaters?

It was under four to six feet of water for most of five or six days. Soundcheck flooded Sunday night, and it was Friday before anyone could get in there to even begin to get stuff out.

Did Repair & Restoration get a lot of guitars to repair after the flood?

We repaired quite a few, but we received a lot more that were either too far gone or, in the case of a lot of newer guitars, it was simply more practical to replace rather than repair them. Restoring these flood victims is a huge job, so unless it’s a real vintage piece or something very special to the player, it’s often easier and cheaper to cash the insurance check and buy a new one.

What’s the most important thing to know about a guitar that’s been water damaged?

In my experience, getting the guitars dried out quickly seems to have been crucial. Because our building took on some water, we had a crew in here for a couple of weeks with industrial-sized dehumidifiers. I set up an area in a room in the basement where one of the machines was located and put the guitars in there and kept a close watch on them as they dried out. In the case of Brian’s guitar, the maple top had cracked in a couple of places and was actually curling up along some of the cracks! After a couple of days of dehumidification, the curl had straightened back out so when the time came we were able to glue everything back together.

Talk about resilience! What was the repair process like for this guitar?

After the initial dehumidification, we stripped all the finish, removed the neck, fingerboard and body binding and left it to dry in normal conditions for four weeks. Then we re-fretted the fingerboard, installed a new bone nut and glued the top back to the body, filling and gluing any cracks. We also re-routed the binding channel around the body, re-installed the neck, re-glued the fingerboard, sanded all surfaces, and replaced or re-glued any bad or loose fingerboard inlays. We restored the original finish by spraying the guitar gold and followed with tinting for antique appearance. All new electronics were installed – including Gibson Burstbuckers and coil tapping for both pickups. The guitar got a new bridge, tailpiece and original tuners, and was given a “Pro Setup” with .010-.046 strings.

How do you feel about the end product and its tone?

The guitar looks, plays and sounds great! I know Brian was very pleased with the result. I swear, judging by the way some of these guitars have come out sounding and playing after being in nasty floodwater for days and days, I’m starting to wonder if we shouldn’t offer a “Flood Treatment” process “to make your guitar really come alive with tone!”