Trade Secrets!

Making new bridge pins look old on a vintage Gibson

Issue 1 October 26, 2006

Photo: Dan Erlewine as Robert Johnson
Making new bridge pins look old

on this Robert Johnson era Gibson

Last week a 1928 Gibson L-1 came into my shop — just like the one in that most-famous-of-all delta blues photos.
I’ve only seen two of these in my life, and it’s a treat to work on one. The guitar had five yellowed bridge pins (originally white) and one black plastic misfit. Here’s how I made a “looks-like-new” Ivoroid Bridge Pin “look-like-old” to match the originals. (I gave it a matching Endpin, too.)
Dan Erlewine Dan Erlewine, October 26, 2006

Using amber stain as a time machine

Gibson catalog art

Machined bridge pins

Photo: Bridge pin step 1
This old bridge is an oddball!
Gibson installed a miniature 7th pin just for decoration. This baby-size pin is glued in and serves no functional purpose, but it looks cool! And there’s more weirdness: the bridge is made of 3 pieces of Brazilian rosewood sandwiched together in this unusual shape. Gibson used this bridge on several guitars, ukes, and tenor guitars in the late 1920s and into the 1930s.
Photo: Bridge pin step 2
Old Gibson catalogs from the 20s and 30s refer to “white bridge pins” in their description of the L-1. I’m betting these yellowed pins are original. Our ivoroid bridge pins and endpin are a good match, except for their white color: they need 90 years of yellowing! To get this, I poured a little Behkol solvent into a mixing cup and added a single drop of Vintage Amber ColorTone Stain. Just a touch turned the new pins into vintage ones.
Photo: Bridge pin step 3
Our bridge pins are individually machined, not injection-molded, so they don’t have tell-tale “parting lines” like some old pins. This would be a good thing, except that I actually want to make this pin look lower-quality as if it was molded! This was easy to do by scoring a line in the pin with a sharp knife.

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