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Vintage Ibanez Howard Roberts Rescue

Updated: Oct 26, 2019

The 50's saw an explosion in the popularity of western music in Japan through the American presence and by the early 60's Japanese factories were producing guitars by the thousand,usually idiosyncratic designs which functioned oddly if at all....there were some that almost rivalled the best of American such as the Univox UC series but many were barely playable....

However they were cheap and American stores and distributors began importing them in droves.Quality gradually improved and moving into the early 70's Japanese brands such as Ibanez,Morris and Aria started to produce guitars that were painstaking replicas not vague approximations.The quirky days of garage bands fully equipped with Daliesque Teisco's and such like were coming to an end.

this Ibanez Howard Roberts copy is such an instrument,pretty faithfully duplication the Gibson model,itself highly influenced buy Epiphone guitars as can be seen in the Vine headstock and the "Aztec" fingerboard inlays.The main departure from the Gibson is the use of a fairly thick poly finish,not nitro....which probably saved this guitar from horrible damage when its celluloid pickguard started to gas off and decay as thoroughly as any pre-war guard.

The prototype Howard Roberts owned by its namesake....only two controls fitted....the Epiphone Vine headstock looks familiar,its a shock to see "Gibson" there and the soundhole on an archtop harks back to the very earliest Gibsons.

This had caused the frets on the end of the neck to turn brown,corroded many screws and fitting including the pickguard bracket and eaten away at the pickup and its mount to such an extent that it fell apart when removed as the acidic gas had caused the plating to corrode and the solder joins to fail.

Brittle,crystallised and leaching gas into the case...I didn't ever think a modern(77) pickguard would rot like this....though its not uncommon with gretsch binding and early 70's Gibson acoustics with Tortoise binding..

Other than that the instrument was in good condition,the poly having done a good job protecting the timber and construction being on the massive side...the arched ply top is double the thickness of a normal acoustic,there are two sturdy lengthway braces and a huge block of mahogany about 1"thick under the bridge...resonant its not,being more akin to an a centre block semi than a pure archtop...

you can see the extra thick top here while the pickup looks like something from the Titanic....the frets have turned orange!

the brief was get it playing again!... and early on the owner decided to leave a possible pickguard build for another time as he was happier using the instrument with it the main work was cleaning the corrosion off metal components and getting the fingerboard playable again...there was also a gratingly rough vol pot and it proved as easy to take all the electrics out given the amount of work needed....

Ouch....I didn't hold out much hope for the pickup at this stage,one polepiece almost invisible under the rust!

..but much painstaking work later it was reassembled and reading well on the multimeter..the spot on the left of the backplate is cleaned of "live" rust and now sealed with lacquer hence the brown blotch...!


..after..showing its history but up and running..

Attention could now turn to the electrics and other details...

.....oh boy...

...I've never been convinced that spraying stuff into pots does much apart from leaving gloop on the bottom....the wiper and track are on top....most can be carefully dismantled and cleaned and give a touch of silicon grease on the bottom to keep them working for many more years..this probably had some small gritty particles in it but feels like new now..

..a bit of work and a nice rosewood board emerged..

...a split in the saddle will need glue,then a tidy up of the saddle top....

Though the a new pickguard was not being done I felt it worthwhile to clean the bracket to avoid further deterioration....after a lot of work it was not only clean but the perspex mount was free on its threads ....



.....finally reassembled,strung up with flatwounds,intonated,electrics checked

... and ready to go home...a beautiful instrument!

..lovely inlay detail on the bridge!

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