Bicentennial Firebird Quandry

86runner

Gold Supporting Member
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622
Welp, I'm in a bit of a pickle. I bought a 77 Bicentennial Firebird a couple of years ago. Some of yall may remember it. Polaris white, all original in great shape. Drove down from Nashville to Atlanta and bought it from Grinning Elk on consignment. Might've overpaid, but oh well. It's a beauty, but I have the (mis?)fortune of having a few Kauer Banshees hanging next to it, which are far and away better guitars. As such, it doesn't get played much.

I swapped out the pickups for Antiquities, which definitely helped, put modern banjos with plastic tuner buttons on it, as well as changed the wiring harness to 500Ks and put a Faber bridge and Faber locking studs on it. These things definitely helped, but it's still just not quite there. The more I play it, the more I wonder if the wide flat frets are robbing it of sustain/tone. It just doesn't seem to ring out like the Banshees, and I can imagine it might benefit from taller frets.

The conundrum is whether I put it back to stock and try to sell it, or if I take it in and have it re-fretted, thereby killing its originality for all eternity. All other mods are reversible at this point. Bear in mind, the edges of the fretboard are painted on this one, as are lots of these Polaris White guitars from this era. Obviously, the re-fret will disturb this as well.

Now, I love Firebirds and want to love this guitar. I'm just wondering if anyone else has re-fretted a 70s Gibson to normal size wire and heard/felt a huge difference in the guitar? This was a birth year purchase (please, no long winded soliloquys as to why that's a bad idea. I still love the idea) and was intended to stay in the family until I'm long gone. Thanks for any and all input!

 
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2,123
My flat fret old Gibsons that still have a little life I often run a gauge lighter than normal.


Thing is, unless you commit to it, taller frets will always feel a whole lot easier and sometimes seem to have a louder attack. Not sure I would be worried about value of a bicentennial due to refret. I find, more often than not, that they're solid guitars.

Funny enough, as much as everyone bitches about weight it seems to me that early coveted non-reverse "vintage" firebirds can often run at 9lbs or 8+. Whereas, I've seen plenty of later and modern birds in the 7lb to even high 6 range. Last bicentennial I held was 7lbs on the dot, great guitar. That said, too bad 95% of Firebirds made since that era stick to the TOM.

I'd rock that beauty.
 

mc5nrg

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9,989
Many consider frets wear items that may have to be replaced to play right- whether it detracts from value is a subject on which opinions very.
 

Flogger59

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10,976
This decision led me to mostly off my vintage stuff, which left me cash to buy new stuff that I am much happier with.
 

windjamma

Member
Messages
807
You got any relief in the Neck? I just bought a jb epi fb1 and the neck was very convex so i had to loosen off the truss rod bit if it is too convex it will rob the guitar of sustain.
 

Jayyj

Silver Supporting Member
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7,954
It's a difficult one from the perspective of having already invested a bunch of time sand money into it, how far it's it realistic to go before you admit it's just not for you?

As far as value / originality goes my inclination is original frets in good condition make the guitar more desirable to a certain class of collector, but the practical devaluation is very dependent on the individual guitar. If it's otherwise a pretty much mint, under the bed find them a refret is going to put off buyers - if it shows plenty of wear consistent with being regularly gigged for fifty years, the 'mint in box' guys are out anyway at that point and most people still looking aren't going to sweat a refret.

I also don't think as many people looking at Bicentennials are going to be'mint in box' collectors as with the 60s versions - the guys going after Bicentennials are more likely to be people like me that love old things and fancy an authentically old Firebird for not too much money, and my class of collector is not as fussy!

Gut instinct, if you sell it as 'all original except quality refret with slightly taller wire' you'll find a lot of people don't care, a few won't want it at all with the refret, and a few will be pleased to get one that already has the refret done - but it'll probably sell for much the same as it would have with original frets, it'll just shift the market it's pitched at a bit and then it comes down to luck as to who's looking at the time.

Research the right guy to do it and I should think the lacquered fingerboard element can be dealt with sympathetically.
 

56Tweed

Ge Fuzz-o-holic
Gold Supporting Member
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2,483
I bought a '77 LP Standard and really never liked those frets. I had mine refretted and it played and sounded significantly better to me.
 

Jeff Gehring

Gold Supporting Member
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6,040
That's gotta be the best preserved Firebird pickguard logo I've seen in a while! I think that's why Doug does the Banshee pickguard logos mildly faded out, to call the old worn 'Bird logos to mind. I think I'd recommend that you locate a really good luthier that you trust for the job, then have a serious discussion with him/her first about what you are hoping to achieve. (Voicing your concerns about the possible fret end finish damage too).
 

EL 34 X2

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,293
Man, that's a beautiful Firebird. I'd talk to a luthier who has had experience working on vintage guitars and could give you a couple alternative ways to proceed. Sounds like you've done about all you know to do to get it where you want it. It could end up being a relatively minor fix that you haven't even considered.

Something similar happened to me about 20 years ago. Guitar was getting this odd ghost tone on some of the strings. It didn't happen all the time and just bugged the hell out of me. After trying everything I could think of, it ended up that the neck pickup was adjusted too close to the strings. I lowered the pickup and the curse was broken! I felt pretty stupid at the time.
 

straightblues

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9,490
This is why I don't buy high dollar vintage guitars. I can never ever leave a guitar alone. I always have to mod it. Sounds like you are the same. Put it back to stock and sell it.
 

86runner

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
622
Thanks to everyone for the replies! I'm really leaning toward having it re-fretted, as I'd really like to keep it. I played it clean a bit yesterday and really paid attention to what I feel is causing the problems. The neck is setup pretty well with a bit of relief. I really think the low frets are causing anything less than perfect fretting to choke out a bit, especially on bends. I think more standard frets somewhat mask imperfect finger placement. I'm not a terrible player, but not a virtuoso by any means. I'm good enough on my other guitars, so I don't know why I wouldn't be good enough on this one!

I'm going to do a little research into a good luthier to prevent as much damage to the finish on the sides of the fretboard as possible during the re-fret. There are already some chipped areas at the fret ends, so it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if it can't be avoided altogether. It's in extremely nice shape for its age, but isn't a collector's piece, by any stretch.

As luck would have it, I'm dropping by Glaser later today to talk to them about a refret on another guitar, so I'll ask some questions and get a feel for them.

Again, I really appreciate any and all input!
 

indeedido

Silver Supporting Member
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1,676
If a guitar is unplayable due to fret wear, the guitar is worthless. Refret is not a big deal.
 

bob-i

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8,775
The tires wore out on my neighbors 65 Mustang and he couldn’t drive it. He replaced them.
 

Laurent Brondel

Silver Supporting Member
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2,702
The conundrum is whether I put it back to stock and try to sell it, or if I take it in and have it re-fretted, thereby killing its originality for all eternity.
Not to state the obvious, but this is not exactly a high dollar item, and re-fretting a guitar is part of making it playable for you.
The stock frets would be fine for me if they're properly crowned and polished and not shaped in the form of railroad ties, as is often the case. They should be at least .040" tall.
Have you shown the guitar to a repair guy to see if you can get the original frets in fine playing shape?
I had a black '76 for a little while, sort of a giant Tele, sounded great.
 

rockabilly69

Silver Supporting Member
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1,887
I would tune it open and play slide guitar to take the frets out of the equation. Does it ring quite a bit less than the Kauers`tuned the same way. If it doesn't, sell it!
 

Daytona57

Member
Messages
2,127
Before you refret, think about changing the pickups, to Mojotone Johnny Winter pickups:


It is easier and cheaper to change out pickups, than refretting your guitar.


YMMV
 

86runner

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
622
Before you refret, think about changing the pickups, to Mojotone Johnny Winter pickups:


It is easier and cheaper to change out pickups, than refretting your guitar.


YMMV
Thanks! I have these in one of my Banshees. Great pickups!
 

adamrobertt

Member
Messages
96
IMO the idea that frets will change how the guitar sounds and sustains is 100% hogwash. Frets are all about feel and how they wear down as far as preference goes, nothing more.
 




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