When you buy a vintage 1956 Gretsch Rancher guitar, you're buying an instrument that has plenty of history that spans multiple decades. It's possible that the guitar sat in a case in someone's attic before hitting the marketplace, and it's also possible that someone used it on stage several nights a week for years. Some vintage guitars require little more than a luthier's setup to be playable, while others need a considerable amount of work before use. Restoring a vintage guitar is a process about which you should be mindful. Here are some dos and don'ts to consider.
Do: Make Changes That Will Improve Playability
You might love the fact that the frets on your vintage guitar are several decades old, but if they prevent you from playing the instrument to its full capability, you'll need to replace them. Frets wear down over time, and it's common to identify flat spots on certain frets from the strings being pressed against them countless times. While you might be reluctant to remove the old frets, newer ones will improve your vintage instrument's performance.
Don't: Make Era Errors When Upgrading
One of the important rules about restoring a vintage guitar is to ensure that any upgrades that you make are correct to the period. Just as you shouldn't put modern wheels on a vintage car that you're restoring if you want it to appear correct, you shouldn't put 2000-era electronics on a guitar from the 1950s. Many guitar shops sell modern gear that appears vintage, and this is ideal for your situation.
Do: Use Original Parts Whenever Possible
You don't have to completely replace certain elements on your vintage guitar. For example, if there is something on the vintage wooden bridge on the guitar requires replacing, don't swap the entire thing. Instead, keep as much of the original bridge as you can, and replace only the part that is worn out — with something that is or looks period correct, of course.
Don't: Be Hasty to Refinish the Body
One thing that you'll notice about most vintage guitars is the imperfections that they have from decades of use. A guitar's body may have some small dents, while the paint or stain may have some chips in it. These elements are pivotal to the instrument's character, so you should think twice about refinishing the body. Additionally, if you ever think that you'll sell the instrument, an original finish will yield more in value.