Only a month after Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Followill smashed his No. 1 guitar — a vintage Gibson ES-325 — on-stage at Scotland’s T in the Park Festival, the Gibson Repair & Restoration department returned the good-as-new guitar to its owner.
The guitar-smashing incidentwas followed by plenty of media speculation about why Caleb would destroy the guitar he’d favored since writing his band’s first album in 2002.Reportedly, it washis response to a night’s worth of frustration over sound difficulties.
Alas, Caleb wasn’t yet ready to say goodbye for good to his 1972 Gibson, even if it meant retrieving its various pieces from audience members in hopes of salvaging it. Has the guitarist learned his lesson about impetuous guitar smashing? Doesn’t look like it. This past weekend, after a headlining gig at the Reading Festival, Caleb repeated the act. No word yet on whether it was the ES-325. Again.
Here’s the tale of how Repair & Restoration made Caleb’s guitar new again. The repair work was courtesy of Phil Crabtree, who has worked in the department for 12 years. In this interview, we speak to Repair & Restoration Manager Todd Money.
What condition was Caleb’s guitar in when it arrived?
The neck was severed from the body. The fingerboard was nearly off the neck. The neck itself had impact damage on the head and neck. There were quite a few loose pieces as well, some dime-sized or smaller. The nut was missing and the frets themselves were worn and in need of replacement.
Have you fixed guitars with similar problems?
Broken necks or broken headstocks are not uncommon but in most cases the break was accidental so the effect is more of a splintering. This was a pretty violent impact so the neck joint more or less exploded. He should show Kyle Busch how it’s done.
Have you fixed other guitars that people have purposefully broken and then later regretted doing it?
What we see a lot of is instruments that have been purposefully broken by someone’s significant other, usually after the owner has proven unfaithful. We’ve had bullet holes, caved in tops on acoustics, pretty much any atrocity that can be committed, we’ve seen at one time or another.
What was the process of mending this guitar like?
The reconstruction aspect was a bit like a jigsaw puzzle except that we didn’t have all the pieces so we had to make some of our own. Figuring out where all the pieces needed to go and then deciding in what order to reassemble everything is important both for structural integrity and best fit and appearance. A lot of little steps are involved — gluing one small piece at a time and waiting for that to set up before proceeding with the next piece. We have a lot of scrap bodies and necks that we save for instances like this where we need to match a particular binding or say, a maple neck on a mahogany body. When all the original pieces are back in place we’ll fabricate whatever is necessary to replace the pieces that were lost. Once all that’s done everything is sanded smooth. Then it’s on to finishing. First we’ll paint the repaired area, taking care to match the original colors. Then we’ll ‘antique’ the area to match the yellowing that age, sun and smoke impart. We may also add some scratches, dents and dings to make the repaired area consistent in appearance with the rest of the guitar.
Was this a particularly difficult guitar to repair?
Not necessarily difficult but certainly challenging. There were some advanced techniques used but the key was to plan the process in such a way that everything goes back together in good order. You want to work in reverse order of the way it came apart so it all takes some figuring.
Can you speak to the rarity of this kind of guitar? Financially speaking, was it worth the dollars spent in repairing it or was this more likely a sentimental move?
The ES-325 is pretty rare. This one more so because it has the “Gibson” name embossed on the pickup covers and Gibson only did that for one year — 1972. Whether the cost to repair was worth it from a financial standpoint is really kind of a toss up. The difference between the cost to repair and the value of the guitar could be negligible today but given the volatility of the vintage market, 325’s could see a resurgence and the value could go crazy overnight. For that matter, Caleb could turn out to be the reason! Look what Dave Grohl did for the Trini Lopez or a number of contemporary guys who play the RD Artist.
Can you reveal the names of any other famous musicians whose guitars you've repaired recently?
Among the Nashville players there’s Brooks and Dunn, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Tracy Lawrence, Keith Urban, Sugarland, James Otto, Brad Paisley, Big and Rich, Darius Rucker, and on and on. As for rock players, we’ve worked on guitars for Rick Derringer, Tom Petersson from Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent, Kerri Kelli from Alice Cooper, Ace Frehley, Dave Meniketti, Dave Grohl, Jack White, Ed King, Gary Rossington, Ricky Medlocke, Peter Frampton, Dan and Justin Hawkins from The Darkness, etc. Of course the greatest honor of all was working with Les Paul on various projects!