1 Proteus 2 years ago One way to increase one's satisfaction with the "hobby" - and to forestall the GAS pains which drive some of us to the acquisition of whatever it is we imagine might complete us musically - is to spend some quality time with the stuff we already have.Which is what this report is about. Sometime in 2003 (OK, it was over Thanksgiving break), after not having paid attention to the low end of the guitar market for some years, I wandered into a music store and discovered the astonishing value that Korean-made guitars now offered. When I'd left retail music in the late 80s, Japan was the value leader in quality for the money, and Korea was just spinning up. The guitars were ... OK ... certainly better than the early Japanese electrics of the 60s, and priced right. But they weren't challenging the Japanese on build and quality.Through the 90s I continued to play (though I'd stopped gigging or shopping), and was perfectly happy with my little collection. It's hard to believe that in that entire decade I bought only 3 or 4 guitars.ANYway, WHAM. The strides made in Korean manufacture by 2003 whacked me right upside the head. Seemed like you could (suddenly, from my perspective) get pretty much any configuration you'd ever wanted to try for a fraction of the previous price of entry. Most didn't bear the original brand name, but that wasn't the point: it was just that you could try any body construction, any pickup complement, any combination, and not have to make a lifetime commitment to do it.I really didn't need any more guitars (some things haven't changed), and hadn't been looking. But this changed things, and in 2004, I made up for my lost decade. Most of my acquisitions were Korean - but China had already started competing favorably. I remember being a bit daunted, from a cultural-historical point of view, when I got my first Chinese guitar. I'd grown up thinking of China (remember "Red" China?) as a vast, mysterious, and above all communist empire, almost isolated from the rest of the world, emphatically NOT a "capitalist" trading partner. The idea that the country was now making decadent, consumerist electric guitars just seemed unfathomable. It made me giggle. To hold a guitar manufactured in mainland China seemed at the time a rare and significant thing - like it ought to be in a museum.Nonetheless, there it was. It looked great. It sounded fine, and played better. It was a new world, and I admit I liked it. But how'd I get there? I'd gone from the Gibson semi to solidbody 25.5" scale mixed-pickup "2-1-2" guitars in the 80s. Through the 90s I played more acoustic, including resonators, and Godin's hybrid chambered acoustic. When I started gigging again, and strapped on an electric in earnest, I guess I started looking for a new favorite guitar.Besides trying things I'd never had, I experimented with minor variations on themes I was familiar with. A 335 had been my number one through half the 80s, and I already had a superb Westone semi (the Rainbow) which gave it a serious run for its money. So...well, since I knew I liked semi-hollows (or are they semi-solids) with humbuckers, I tried a few more. Along with a few more of various other types... as I did my part to support Korea's and China's guitar factories. (And not just theirs, you understand.) My quest finally ended in 2005 when I "discovered" the range of Gretsch voices, and they turned out to be perfectly suited to the way my playing had evolved.But along the way I'd come into a few guitars I still have - because every time I get them out and ask them if they still want to live here, or if we've grown in different directions, it turns out we're still compatible. Even if they're similar to other guitars in the collection, there's something about them. Others down through the intervening years have not made the cut - but these are still here. Now that we're done moving and I'm settling into my studio space and getting it organized, I'm getting some quality time with long-neglected instruments. They come out of their cases for new strings and some tender attentions; in the process, I discover their merits all over again (as well as their deficiencies, alas), and enjoy them. Nothing like rubbing all over something to develop (or revive, or strengthen) a bond...For no good reason, a couple semis called out to me from their cases this weekend. They had more in common than I'd realized: both 24.5" thinlines with center planks (of course), both (kinda) doublecut, both bound front AND back, both with humbuckers and standard 2T-2V/3-way controls, both with Asian Tunamatics on studs, both with fancy fret markers mixing pearloid and abalone. (Real or faux, I don't knaux.)For all their commonalities, one is Korean and one is Chinese. Oddly, both have headstocks with asymmetrical offset "scallops" - one cut to the left, the other to the right.But the main thing they had in common for my purposes this weekend - which occupied most of my time - was hardware with bad gold plating. We've all seen it - dulled, gritty, grodey and corrodey. Ooooogly. Ruining the appearance of the instrument, and shouting "I'm a cheap guitar! Dude won't buy a decent instrument."But they ARE decent - they're just over 10 years old, and the hardware was no better than it should have been from the git-go. I won't be the only guy whose 10-year-old guitars have deteriorating hardware.But what to do about it? I'd always figured I'd have to replace the tuners, the pickups (covers, at least), bridge, and tailpiece - with decent gear, 75.00-150.00 worth of stuff. But I wanted to play them, not wait, so I figured I'd try removing the gold plating. It might be a failed experiment, or it might prove a temporary fix (as the underlying metal might haul off and tarnish too), but there was nothing to lose but a few hours and some elbow grease.Mothers Billet Polish (the same stuff I use to polish bridges before shipping) turned out to do a better job than the other half-dozen compounds and chemicals I tried.Here was the drill: cut off the waaaay-dead strings, remove the tuners, Tunamatic, and tailpiece (though not the Bigsby). Grab a few rags, a rubber glove (an late addition to the process to save my fingers from blistering), the jar of Mothers, a screwdriver and toothbrush (to get down in the saddle slots of the bridges), and a bag of Fritos (for nourishment).Turn on a halogen floor lamp to see what's what, camp on the couch and fire up original series Star Trek episodes on NewtFlix. Get to work. Dab and rub, dab and rub. Wipe it off. Dab and rub some more. Repeat repeat repeat. Again.Between episodes (it took four), grab a guitar and treat its pickup covers to the same regimen. And, painstakingly, the Bigsby. Do you realize how many surfaces and curves there are on a tension-rod Bigsby? Man.Before it's really done, thread a small cotton buffing wheel onto the Dremel shaft and carefully address any remaining blemishes.Use emery cloth to polish the frets (which were, in truth, a little dull...). Oil the finberboards (I use clarinet bore oil or trumpet valve oil, whichever is handy). Polish the paint with 3M Perfect-It™ Ultrafine Machine Polish (unless there are scuffs and abrasions more serious than surface haze, in which case apply a more aggressive compound first).Reassmble, string (Chet Atkins 11s, in these cases), re-intonate (a serious PITA on these Tunamatics, because I'd moved the saddles both all the way forward and all the way back in order to get down into the slots). Tune. Adjust bridge height. Tune again. Twist a truss rod as necessary. Tune again.Play! How'd they come out? I'm pleased. The hardware has definitely gone from degraded gold to brightenshiny silver. Not quite chrome, maybe, and we'll see how it wears - but it's a vaaast improvement. The pickup covers seem to be the worst of it - still showing some discoloration around the edges where the hand rests against them (or picks past them), and some pitting. And the surface of the polished metal isn't perfectly even in tone - there's some cloudiness here and there - but still.Easily worth a few hours of Star Trek - and good quality time with a couple of old friends.