I began to take a hankering for a J-45 style guitar near the beginning of 2020. I looked at a bunch of nice old ones on the innernet, and a couple of new ones at Guitar Center. I remember liking a rosewood one I played there. While rooting around with google, I found a vintage guitar shop in a small town just over the state line into Georgia - The Acoustic Cellar.
They had a early 50's Southern Jumbo on their web page, and the shop was a nice motorcycle ride through the country, about an hour away. They're real nice there. Patton, the manager, let me play any of the guitars I wanted... they had some old Martin's there with $40,000 price tags on them. I'd had a pretty nice guitar since 2002 or so, built by Ken Stika in Utah, but playing all those nice vintage Martins and Gibsons was an enjoyable new experience.
I went to the shop a couple of times after that, it is a fun place to be. While I was there one day a couple of fellows came in with their guitars. One fellow had a 70's D-35, and the other had a high-end prototype Washburn made by Bourgeois. They sat around and played some, and offered their guitars to me to play. One of them, David Nix, told me he had a Country Western at home he was thinking of selling. One thing led to another and it was mine a week later.
Notice the tuners - they're not "right"... 57 Country Westerns came with "single line" Kluson Deluxe tuners. I've got a really cool set of drop-in replacement Kluson open-backed "Prestige" tuners on there in the picture. I like open-back tuners. They're not appropriate for a 57 Country Western, but these ones I found require no modification to the guitar and the "right" ones can be dropped back in at any time.
David included the original tuners in the Country Western's case, and had replaced them with a shiny new "no line" Kluson Deluxe set. After a while I polished up the old set with some Nevr Dull and put a new set of buttons on them. They were real stiff, I got them working as well as I could by chucking their button shafts into my drill and turning them a long time while pumping in WD-40 and Tri Flow.
I got the buttons at Stewmac and installed them freehand after boiling them. It turns out they're made of a kind of plastic that doesn't soften up much with heat, they really needed to be jigged up plumb somehow and drilled out for the shaft on a drill press. There's a brand - Antique Acoustics - of replacement tuner buttons they sell over at Elderly that probably would have responded well to boiling. Notice the white stress lines that formed on my Stewmac buttons when I mashed them onto the shafts. And also notice that the left most front old tuner is a "two line" Deluxe, so one of the old tuners had been replaced at some time in the past.
I'm real happy with the new Prestige tuners, but that's not the end of my tuner story. While searching for open-backed tuners that would drop-in with no modification to the guitar, I found a luthier in Scotia New York named Steve Kovacik who has a stash of vintage tuners for sale. Soon I'll have this nice set of drop-in vintage tuners from the 30's to try... they probably won't work better than the shiny new Prestige tuners I have, but they'll be old and patinaed to match my guitar. And I'll still have the correct set of brand new Kluson Deluxe if I ever need them.
Enough about tuners, the Country Western has had another positive experience to talk about since it came home with me: a visit to local luthier Mike Weems. Mike replaced the first ten worn frets with some frets from his stash of appropriate old frets. When he does a full refret he often saves as many of the still-perfect old frets from high up on the neck as he can... so the Country Western has all good like-new old Gibson frets again. He also fixed a place on the back where it had probably taken a knock or something in the past... it was right on the seam where the back and the side meet. Fixing that structural issue made the Country Western sing more like a bell and less like a sock. Mike also replaced the saddle with one he made and did something to flatten the old pick guard back down nicely.
Here's a good place for information about old Gibsons (and lots of other guitars). I looked up the history on the Country Western there. Apparently Country Westerns weren't important enough at the time to have serial numbers, but it has a Factory Order Number (FON) stamped on the neck block.
I took some other pictures while I was in there, got a good one of the bridge plate. Maybe I could be more careful about getting the slot on the bridge pins more square with the bridge, but it looks mostly like I'm doing an OK job when I put on new strings...
Apparently there wasn't a glue shortage in 1957.
I really like the Country Western, can you tell?