Far beneath the rafters of a humming old warehouse in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, there are rows of guitar cases, most of them containing a Gibson and a story. Each case in Gibson Repair & Restoration is tagged, oftentimes with customer names like Willie Nelson or Dave Grohl, and some show addresses as far away as Australia or the U.K.
Fifteen luthiers—some at their separate work stations, tools in hand, and some in a huddle, consulting over a guitar—are each charged with a rack of roughly a dozen guitars, assigned to them for repair.
“The theory is that everyone in the shop has the same skill set,” says Todd Money, who’s managed Repair & Restoration since ’99. “We let the people in the shop teach one another because a new guy can go to three people here and get three different answers. There’s no one set way to do things. Everyone exchanges ideas and techniques. It just makes for a better atmosphere.”
With new guitars crowding into Repair & Restoration each day, there’s little need to advertise. Over the past 10 years, the shop’s maintained its prestige mostly through positive word-of-mouth.
An equal opportunity repair shop, Gibson works on every type of guitar, though the majority of ones it receives are from the Gibson family. “What happens is people send their Gibson in and they’re so impressed that they start sending in their non-Gibsons too,” says Shop Supervisor Timothy Tucker. “A lot of people will even spend more than a guitar’s worth on its restoration because of the sentimental value attached.” Tucker cites Garth Brooks’ damaged childhood guitar as a recent example.
Inside the cramped customer service office, behind an office door that does little to conceal the commotion of workers’ saws, sanders, and FM radios, Money and Tucker one-up one another with outlandish stories about the guitars that have come their way for mending.
Many tales involve hysterical wives and girlfriends who’ve desecrated their partner’s most beloved possession. As one such story goes, a woman took to the headstock of her boyfriend’s guitar with a hacksaw, and he didn’t discover the transgression until he arrived at his gig and opened his case.
“Probably the best one is the dealer who called and said some squirrels had gotten loose in his store and chewed on the necks of his guitars, and we had to replace the necks of five guitars,” says Dion Hooper, who serves not only as Repair & Restoration’s office supervisor, but also recently applied by hand every rhinestone on John Rich’s Flying V.
Catastrophic animal stories are favorites around Repair & Restoration. One guy brought in a guitar and sheepishly explained that one of his wife’s many dachshunds had gotten caught in his guitar’s cord and torn it from its stand, breaking its headstock. Another customer also reported returning home to find that his dog had gotten tangled in his amp cord and had been dragging his Les Paul around for hours.
Though most of the guitars Repair & Restoration sees come from within the continental United States, some customers travel huge distances with their Gibsons in tow. “A lot of people plan their vacations around coming here,” says Money. “The line we hear a lot is, ‘I don’t want anybody but Gibson working on my guitars.’”
Last month, a man trekked all the way from England to Nashville to have his Gibson acoustic repaired. “He said he was drunk as a monkey and fell on his guitar,” explains Hooper with a laugh. “He basically sat on it.”
Wild stories aside, Money says Repair & Restoration mostly mends broken headstocks, botched finishes, and electronics issues. The most complex problems come with acoustics. Money says, “With acoustics—Gibson or whatever—the problems are usually the same, and those usually go a lot deeper because acoustic guitars are so sensitive to climate and environment, where electrics are more impervious to that. Sometimes we have to take an acoustic apart and rebuild it from the inside out.”
Repair & Restoration also sees its fair share of guitars that have been butchered by amateur or misguided luthiers, some of whom own guitar repair shops, others who own little more than a bottle of super glue.
“There’s a lot of small, good repair shops but there’s an awful lot of bad ones, and I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about how Joe Blow ruined their guitar and left them high and dry,” says Money. “Gibson doesn’t ever leave anyone high and dry. We’ve got it ingrained in us that we can’t be happy or finished until the customer’s happy.”