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Old 09-29-2020, 12:42 PM
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ArchtopLover ArchtopLover is offline
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Default 1954 Epiphone Blackstone may need a new truss rod

Hi Folks,

I recently acquired a vintage 1954 Epiphone Blackstone archtop guitar in need of repairs. I purchased the instrument with the neck separated from the body. There was no damage, the neck glue joint simply came loose and the dovetail joint slid apart cleanly.

In a plastic bag containing the rosewood bridge was a short steel rod, about 5 inches long, threaded at one end, the other end is a 3/16 inch hex socket tube welded to the end of the steel rod. This short steel rod looks like it is part of the truss rod, neck adjustment system. I am holding out all hope, that this is some fancy, over-engineered two-piece truss rod system and that the rod didn’t just snap off at the anchor nut

The steel rod looks like it threads into the channel/hole under the fretboard extension. However, the fit is very tight and the steel rod will not slip in smoothly, or thread all the way into this channel/hole. Does anyone know how a 1950’s Epiphone truss rod is supposed to work?

What looks like the main truss rod adjusting nut is very much like a Gibson. There is a brass hex nut located under a small plastic cover plate on the headstock. I tried tightening this adjusting nut to correct the up-bow in the neck and after I tightened the nut as tight as I dared, I gave up and backed it off, since there was no reaction, and the neck did not straighten as it should have to this adjustment.

I am fairly experienced at guitar repair, however, this is the first vintage Epiphone Archtop I now own and before I dig in, and remove the fretboard, I thought it best to get a second or third opinion on this repair project.
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Old 09-29-2020, 05:50 PM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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I'd be very curious to see some other pics, for several reasons:
  • I'm the former owner of a '46 Epi Blackstone, and according to every authority with which I'm familiar they were discontinued in 1949 - while it's possible a 1950-51 example may yet surface, a '54 is well outside the parameters; if in fact there were any leftover bodies after the circa-1953 Philadelphia move they would have been repurposed, most likely as Zeniths (which boasted dot fingerboard inlays, as opposed to the parallelograms on the Blackstone, but used identical carved-top/laminated-back body construction)...
  • The presence of both a hex-socket adjustment at the body end and the Gibson-style nut at the headstock suggests to me an unsuccessful (and poor) attempt at repair - as evidenced by your vain efforts to perform adjustments, the amateurish carving of the trussrod opening, and the imprint of a three-screw trussrod cover; prior to the early-50's all Epi archtops used the aforementioned hex-socket "thrust rod" (which was patented in the mid-30's, in response to Gibson's then-proprietary headstock-adjusted trussrod, and adjusted at the body end), with '50s models using a white single-screw cover design somewhat smaller than the imprint in the photo...
  • The headstock inlay in fact suggests a 1950's Zenith - the Blackstone used a "stickpin" design, with a distinct point at the bottom rather than the "cloud" inlay visible in the photo...
  • A pic of the label, showing the model/serial number/place of manufacture would be helpful in terms of establishing date - TMK all postwar Blackstones have a blue/white New York label and serial numbers below 61,000...
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Old 09-30-2020, 07:16 AM
Dave Richard Dave Richard is offline
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I have here in my shop, a ‘47 Blackstone, with the same inlay(not the stickpin).

Epiphone ‘thrust’ rods, as the company called them, do not always work well, even when intact. I often, when doing fretwork on one, simply treat it as a non-adjustable neck, like a pre-85 Martin.
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Old 09-30-2020, 07:26 AM
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Here are a few photos of the guitar before I started to to take it apart. The reason I thought it was a 1954 was mainly because of the truss rod adjustment nut at the headstock, so, now I'm not sure. The previous owner was quite talented at DYI repairs and upgrades. The floating pickup arrangement, mounted to the homemade pickguard, was well done by someone who knew their way around tools and fabrication of small delicate parts; and I really appreciated the care that was taken to duplicate the original pickguard profile (which I have already used to fabricated a copy profiling jig, so that I can make a new pickguard from a more period correct material). So...do you think the fretboard has already been off in order to install an aftermarket truss rod? If it was, it was really done well. No scarring, do dings or dents; the finish is almost perfect at the board/neck joint. (note: the truss rod, brass hex nut is a modern, Gibson style, it is cone shaped with 5/16" wrench size, with not much tarnish or signs of age).
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Epiphone Blackstone Label.jpg (24.2 KB, 217 views)
File Type: jpg Epihone Blackstone Body.jpg (43.7 KB, 217 views)
File Type: jpg Epiphone Blackstone.jpg (49.9 KB, 216 views)
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Old 09-30-2020, 12:44 PM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Richard View Post
I have here in my shop, a ‘47 Blackstone, with the same inlay (not the stickpin)...
Not surprising in the least as instruments in the immediate postwar period were often assembled from existing stocks and, if a Zenith overlay was available, it might well have been fitted to a Blackstone - heck, Gretsch did things like this as a matter of course back in their Brooklyn days...

Quote:
Originally Posted by ArchtopLover View Post
...The reason I thought it was a 1954 was mainly because of the truss rod adjustment nut at the headstock, so, now I'm not sure. The previous owner was quite talented at DYI repairs and upgrades. The floating pickup arrangement, mounted to the homemade pickguard, was well done by someone who knew their way around tools and fabrication of small delicate parts, and I really appreciated the care that was taken to duplicate the original pickguard profile (which I have already used to fabricated a copy profiling jig, so that I can make a new pickguard from a more period correct material). So...do you think the fretboard has already been off in order to install an aftermarket truss rod? If it was, it was really done well. No scarring, do dings or dents; the finish is almost perfect at the board/neck joint. (note: the truss rod brass hex nut is a modern Gibson style, it is cone shaped with 5/16" wrench size, with not much tarnish or signs of age).
In order:
  • According to Epiphone: The House of Stathopoulo the serial number on your instrument dates it to the end of 1949 - one of the very last Blackstones produced by the original New York factory, and I dare say some lucky player had a very Merry Christmas that year...
  • If those pickups are screwed into the top I'd seriously question exactly how talented this guy was/is (not to mention the carving of the trussrod pocket on the headstock - I had junior-high shop classmates who could do a better job) - IME many techs who are top-flight when it comes to flattop acoustics and/or electrics (of all types) don't know diddly when to comes to acoustic archtops, and misguided attempts like this one are arguably the third-biggest tone-thief in the archtop world (next to a poorly-contoured bridge base and improper neck geometry); just on a visual inspection I'd remove that electric pickguard (I think you'll notice a big difference in tone when you do), have your tech fill the screw holes, and go with the reissue DeArmond 1000 "Redhead" suspended pickup that would have been retrofitted by period guitarists (available directly from Guild, as is the correct wiring harness)...
  • The original pickguard was somewhat smaller and subtly different in contour, smoother and more fluid; here's an example of a period-correct repro guard for a postwar Blackstone that you can use as a starting point:



  • It's a real shame this guy did a butcher job on the headstock (the rest of the guitar is in really nice shape) - StewMac makes replacement truss rods, several of which have a body-end hex-nut adjustment and should, in the hands of a knowledgeable tech, be easily adaptable to your guitar:

    https://www.stewmac.com/SiteSearch/?...re%3atrussrods

  • Again, a good tech could also fill the trussrod cutout, remount the original headstock inlay in a new veneer, and refinish it to match the rest of your guitar; since this guy already took care of the originality question , I'd personally go for recapturing the classic New York Epi vibe - you'll have yourself a late Big Band-era veteran that'll look right on stage and serve you (and your descendants) well for generations to come...
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Old 09-30-2020, 05:57 PM
Dave Richard Dave Richard is offline
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I've had/played three '47 Blackstones, and they've all been superb sounding instruments. I'm guessing your '49 will be too, once you've made the repairs. Replacing a trussrod is a significant repair, given the fingerboard removal. BTW, I have a Facebook page, David Richard Luthier, where I post photos, descriptions, and videos of instruments i've repaired, including many vintage Epiphones.
There is a website, 'The Unofficial NY Epiphone Registry', which is extemely informative, and an excellent compliment to the book cited by Steve Rosa, 'The House of Stathopoulo'.
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Old 09-30-2020, 07:15 PM
H165 H165 is offline
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If you bought it as a project then you already have some skiils. Get a little portable iron, heat up the fretboard, take it off, remove the dismal original rod. Add a new modern rod. Re-assemble the neck/fretboard. Game over.
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Old 09-30-2020, 07:40 PM
Dave Richard Dave Richard is offline
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Well,yes: heat up the fingerboard for removal, being careful not to ignite the highly flammable celluloid binding- best to remove it first. Remove the fingerboard and the broken rod, then fill the old channel with new wood, and re-rout for a modern replacement(which likely won’t fit the original channel). Reattach fingerboard and binding. It will probably be easier to do all that, with the neck removed from the body(it might well need a neck reset anyway).
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Old 10-01-2020, 04:56 AM
MC5C MC5C is offline
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My take on this is it's a quite modified guitar, the obvious being the pickups mounted into what looks like an original carved top acoustic instrument, which of course a Blackstone was (hopefully they are floating as you suggest because the photo's look suspiciously inset into the top). 1949 is acknowledged as the end of that line, so that is fine, and it would have had the push type truss rod adjusted from below the fretboard extension, which if it works is fine (mine does) and if it doesn't it becomes non-adjustable (and still kinda works). The short rod you have is the remains of the now-removed original truss rod. The Gibson style rod you have now was a retro-fit. On an instrument like that, originality is now a moot point, so if the neck is bowed to need a truss rod you can take the fretboard off and install one, you or someone else depending on skills. The damage is already done, now you can simply make it good. Good luck!

As an aside, on my Zephyr the neck joint failed and the fretboard extension got perilously close to the top, such that the truss rod adjuster just about touched the top, you might find a little scar there about an inch from the end of the fretboard under the extension.

http://wiedler.ch/nyepireg/models.html#ArchtopAc The headstock logo looks correct for post 1947 Blackstocks, per this anyway. In fact aside from the obvious the whole guitar looks quite correct, good find in my opinion!
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Last edited by MC5C; 10-01-2020 at 05:03 AM.
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Old 10-01-2020, 07:14 AM
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ArchtopLover ArchtopLover is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Richard View Post
Well,yes: heat up the fingerboard for removal, being careful not to ignite the highly flammable celluloid binding- best to remove it first. Remove the fingerboard and the broken rod, then fill the old channel with new wood, and re-rout for a modern replacement(which likely won’t fit the original channel). Reattach fingerboard and binding. It will probably be easier to do all that, with the neck removed from the body(it might well need a neck reset anyway).
Yes, this is my plan, now that I have some feedback from everyone here, I'm more confident that this is the right approach. The neck was actually already loose when I got the guitar. It looks like the glue used in the dovetail joint failed. All I did was lift it out of the neck block!!! That's when I discovered the old truss rod channel/hole under the fingerboard extension. At that point I began to question the actual vintage and date of manufacture, since I assumed the truss rod cover on the headstock was original. So, I've got a few other projects on my schedule, including a wonderful 1930's Gretsch F-50 that also has a loose neck joint, that need my attention. Once I complete a few of these repairs I will dig in and remove the fretboard. I will take photos along the way and post for all too see.
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Old 10-05-2020, 01:52 PM
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I got started on the fretboard removal over the weekend. It rained all day Saturday, so it was a good day to dig in and find out what was under the fretboard. No need to worry about any celluloid bindings burning, the bindings are new, (since it is now obvious that the fretboard had been removed by the previous owner), and the modern bindings peeled off real easy. Well, after about two hours of gentle heat, hot water, some new palette knives, an electric hot plate and a lot of coaxing, the fretboard has been removed. Not too much damage, some minor slivers of rosewood stuck to the maple neck, but overall, not bad. Now the bad news. Steve DeRosa was right, the previous owner "butchered" (his/her) attempt at replacing the original Epiphone truss rod. And, MC5C was spot-on in his analysis of what that short steel rod was.

Apparently, the previous owner, replaced the original truss rod, and used a traditional Gibson style rod, which was installed totally wrong! The original rod slot was not routed and deepened in a gentle, long and deep curve, which is required for the rod to function properly. Not only this, but the rod was glued in the full length . I needed to heat the rod with my soldering iron in order to release it from the groove. Also, a poor attempt at gluing a thin filler strip over the top, of the now rusted steel rod, then needed to be carved out with an Exact-O knife.

I am now shopping for a new truss rod on Stew-Mac. I'll use one of the 14-1/2" Hot Rod types, and keep the "butchered" headstock the way it is.

Some photos are attached. I can post more photos of the whole process if anyone is interested.

Last edited by ArchtopLover; 10-05-2020 at 01:56 PM. Reason: used the wrong tricks for quoting others original text. just removed the quotes
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Old 10-05-2020, 05:17 PM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ArchtopLover View Post
...I am now shopping for a new truss rod on Stew-Mac. I'll use one of the 14-1/2" Hot Rod types, and keep the "butchered" headstock the way it is...
The Hot Rod is an excellent idea - follows the concept of the original "thrust rod" with modern performance - but as your project unfolds you might want to reconsider repairing the headstock, whether with a new overlay or a patch-&-match in the trussrod notch...
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Old 10-06-2020, 08:13 AM
Arumako Arumako is offline
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Beaitiful project ArchtopLover! The fretboard removal looks really clean. With a new truss-rod and light restoration work here and there, this beauty is sure to be singing again soon. Thanks for sharing, and please keep us posted!
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Old 10-06-2020, 11:05 AM
MC5C MC5C is offline
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You could install the Hotrod truss rod with the adjuster at the headstock, use the cut-out provided by the previous owner, or you could fill and patch that cutout and install the Hotrod with the adjuster inside the heel of the neck, and use the original adjuster extension piece under the fretboard extension to adjust it. You only want to adjust the bit between nut and heel, you don't want a longer truss rod than that. It depends on how close to original you want it to look, I would think.
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1946 Epiphone Zephyr electric archtop
1957 Hofner Senator archtop
1962 Gibson Melody Maker electric
1963 National Dynamic lap steel
1996 Landola jumbo
1998 Godin Artisan TC electric
1998 Epiphone SG electric
2010 GoldTone PBR-CA resonator
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Old 10-06-2020, 01:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MC5C View Post
You could install the Hotrod truss rod with the adjuster at the headstock, use the cut-out provided by the previous owner, or you could fill and patch that cutout and install the Hotrod with the adjuster inside the heel of the neck, and use the original adjuster extension piece under the fretboard extension to adjust it. You only want to adjust the bit between nut and heel, you don't want a longer truss rod than that. It depends on how close to original you want it to look, I would think.
OK, I placed an order for a standard Hot Rod 14-1/2" and also one of the slim profile types from Stew-Mac. I'll choose the rod that seems to work best, (not sure yet, since I've never used a modern double acting rod before). However, MC5C has the right idea. So, I am strongly considering placing the point-of-adjustment in the original position, at the fretboard extension end, and repairing/patching/hiding the access gouge in the headstock (replacing the overlay/veneer is, I believe a little more than necessary). But, nevertheless, as MC5C noted, I will need to fabricate an extension and modify the 14-1/2 Hot Rod so that the active rod nut can be accessed. Using the original, broken-off piece as the extension is a really, really good idea. I have done lots of TIG welding, so for me, it would very easy to weld the old section to the new Hot Rod nut. Any difficulty would be in the alignment, so that the extension turns without wobbling, or it will bind in the slot.

I have authored and attached a public Google Document showing all of the photographs and the steps I have taken so far in the project. I will update this repair project document/archive and upload as I progress


https://docs.google.com/document/d/e...lQdgeW3wia/pub
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