Guitar cases. Restoring some G&G quality with a little TLC, and a bit of brute force.

For many – guitar cases are just another piece of kit. Practicalities which offer solutions ranging from gig bags, through to custom-built flight cases. Many players will just stash their guitars in whatever the thing came in – and never consider it further. If you’re gigging however, logistics will probably demand you start thinking about practicalities a bit more seriously.

Second-hand G&L Stratocaster case – In need of some TLC

As someone who has been “into” guitars since I was a boy – there’s something else about the guitar case which, to me, is all part of the obsession. Something beyond mere practicality. Part of the story and character and “ritual” of a guitar. Someone carrying a guitar case is outwardly displaying a signal that there’s something interesting to look at, and listen to, inside. While I was gigging – I pretty much always sought out Hiscox Lite-Flite cases to store and transport guitars. They were, as the name implies, light to carry – yet the tough ABS construction would put up with even the worst abuse. I still keep one guitar and one bass Hiscox case in the workshop – just in case I ever have to call on them. For a while now however, I’ve been trying to get hold of some good quality G&G cases for my growing collection of self-builds and projects.

G&G and Fender go pretty much hand in hand. (G&G also make branded cases for G&L, SUHR and other top-quality US brands). For many, the pairing is part of the whole USA-built, rock and roll image. Some of the pricier Fender and Fender Custom Shop ranges nowadays come supplied with their own G&G spec cases as standard. The typical G&G case has a traditional format. The simple box shape is stylishly curved along the long edges, and has a tolex or tweed covering and a plush “poodle fur” or velvet inner lining. Together with contrast faux-leather end caps. contrast stitching, briefcase type locks, latches, hinges – and with characteristic Fender and G&G logo plates – it all adds up to a sturdy, stylish and quality home for any guitar with Fender heritage or styling.

Case heaven…

Compared with Hiscox cases – the straightforward, more streamlined profile of the typical G&G case is a bit more compact and flexible when it comes to storage. The hand-built wooden carcasses are tough and practical. The downside is – they tend to be a bit heavier, (although the offset handle offers a perfectly balanced case once a guitar is in place).

The other downside, inevitably, is the price. Here in the UK, shipping, import taxes and VAT raise the price of any new G&G case a considerable amount. Also – G&L, for example, won’t even consider shipping G&G aftermarket cases for their guitars to Europe. If you want one – you have to find a second hand one. If you can find one. (And for years now – I haven’t been able to find a G&G, G&L case). Brand new – G&G cases from UK dealers can run to nearly £300. You do, occasionally seem then around the £150 mark – but check the dealer actually has them in stock. I’ve found that sometimes, the ads are just there to pull you in. The case they’re selling is actually still in the USA, and you’ll be waiting a long time on backorder until the dealer imports it, probably with enough other orders to make it worth his while.

So, if you’re looking for G&G aftermarket cases in the UK – you’re probably going to have to consider buying second-hand. Which, all things considered, isn’t necessarily a problem. Since many Fender lines come with their own G&G cases as spec – there are usually a few examples on the usual Reverb and eBay marketplaces. Even then, you can sometimes pay up to £200 for a nice example.

Of course – part of the job of the case is to take the knocks and to protect the guitar within. Personally – I don’t mind bumps and scratches on my cases – just as long as they’re structurally sound, the handle is secure and the locks and hinges all work. I also happen to think there is something particularly attractive about a shiny new guitar in a battered old case. As it happens there’s a more attractive pricepoint for G&G cases on the second-hand market. For as little as £40, you can find examples of cases in good shape – apart from the fact that they need a little work and TLC.

“Broken” locks may still be functional. If not – they can be replaced

Part of the character of the typical G&G case is the metal hardware, (nickel on tolex examples – brass with tweed). The locks are known as “Cheney locks” after the UK company which originally made them to the same pattern. Cheneys closed a few years ago, but G&G appear to have taken over the production and supply of the specific hardware lines required for their cases. It might well be expensive to ship and import a whole G&G case – but importing a few hasps, hinges and corner brackets is a much less expensive matter, especially when you consider that the each lock only costs £6.00 or £7.00 pounds.

I recently managed to pick up a couple of G&G cases on eBay – both of which had broken locks. One case, Fender branded for a Precision Bass, had both the original lock hasps sheared off. (It seems people tend to mis-place their keys, all too quickly, and have to resort to brute force to get their cases open). A second case, again Fender branded, but for a Stratocaster this time, had both the locks bent and forced. Just about functional – but a pain, with one catch flopping open at random. The Precision case cost me £45.00. The Strat case £40.00. The middle latch on the Precision case was also broken – otherwise both cases were in pretty good overall condition. A few, odd, scuffs and nicks in the tolex here and there, and in need of a good clean, but otherwise structurally sound and authentic. I ordered up the necessary hardware to replace the broken locks direct from G&G. A couple of weeks later, I had a card from the UK customs notifying me of an import charge. On payment – the hardware arrived the next day. All in all – the shipping and import charges added up to more than the value of the actual bits – but taken into consideration with the low, initial cost of the cases – this was still going to be a good deal.

The good thing about hand-made quality, is that you can usually dis-assemble it all, again by hand, and then repair. It’s something we all-to-often forget in the modern, mass-production world of today, where we seem to be encouraged to throw things away rather than fix them. With a packet of locks, latches and rivets to hand, and with a few basic tools, all it takes is to remove the old, and replace with new.

Locks are fixed into the wood of the case behind that lining…

The first thing is to get into the right frame of mind. This takes a bit of time. That’s probably why no-one can be bothered to do it themselves. Rush, and you can end up doing too much damage – either to the case, or yourself. Go easy and take your time. First – start off by locating the areas behind each lock or latch. The poodle fur lining is stuck down with fabric glue, and can be carefully pryed back, with a suitable flat-bladed instrument, to reveal the wood carcass underneath. Every few inches, the fur is held in place by small staples. If you feel along for these as you go – you can locate and remove them with pliers.

…locate and remove the staples first…

Eventually, work enough fabric away from the carcass, so that you can locate and reach the backs of the small rivets, which are used to hold the various bits of hardware in place. You may have to peel back a bit of tolex covering where it is lapped over onto the back of the carcass. If you pry it off with a flat-bladed knife, you can sometimes peel it back as far as you need, all in one piece. Sometimes it’ll tear – but as long as the tear doesn’t extend out onto the visible surfaces – it’s always possible to glue it back later.

The rivets themselves are split, with two legs going in opposite directions into the wood. Sometimes they are quite buried in the wood carcass, and you have to dig around a bit with a fine screwdriver to work out which way they’re going. One by one, lever the ends of the rivets up, until you have the ends of both legs slightly raised, and then use a pair of pliers to try and squeeze the two legs back together again. It should then be possible to push the rivet back out the way it came – or enough to get another screwdriver under the head – where it can be levered out a little bit more, and then twisted out with pliers.

…ease out the split-leg rivets…

It can be tricky, and it can be time-consuming. Take your time. There are six rivets per lock, and some of them will be very difficult. I like to use a “graduated scale force” on this sort of work. Start gently – with exploratory prods. A gentle lever might just do the job. Try a few different angles, a few different tools to get the ends of the rivets exposed. If that’s not working – dig around with a bit more force – but remember to try not to soften the wood carcass up too much. You will lose bits of wood – but you need the underlying structure to be strong enough to function. If small tools don’t do it. Try bigger ones, and try a bit more force – but always think what you’re doing. Do not rush and end up losing patience. That’s when accidents happen. It isn’t worth putting a screwdriver through your hand or anything like that. If things still aren’t moving – try levering the rivets from the front with a flat ended pry-bar to get them started, or dig out more of the carcass around the rivet ends until you can get some purchase in there. You can always put the new rivets in on a slightly different alignment to bite into good wood..

For the latches on the lid of the case – there is no lining fur to peel back. The rivets are pushed through the wood and the tolex, and the ends may be visible. I’ve found it best however to peel back, and cut if necessary, the tolex before tackling the rivets. The glue usually gives, and the undamaged tolex can always be stuck down again once the repair is complete. If it’s particularly unsightly – a small patch of Gaffa tape will be enough to cover it up. As we all know – “Gaffa” is the most “Rock and Roll” of all the adhesive tapes.

So far, I’ve managed to get all the rivets out on the two cases without too much trouble. No need to consider drilling the rivets out, or resorting to the Dremel. One by one, each lock and catch is removed. Each hole is reamed out to clear any debris, and then all the loose bits of wood and frass around each lock are pulled away and swept up. A bit of sellotape, reverse-wound around your fingers can help to mop up any bits which get embedded in the poodle fur. Your best bet though, is a vacuum cleaner.

…(you may need to use a little force – but if you’re replacing it, the lock is probably bust anyway)…

The new hardware has arrived from California. (G&G always send plenty of spare rivets).

New G&G Hardware

When I’m putting on the new hardware, I usually start with the latches on the lid. They can be a bit tricky to manipulate with the latches on springs opening onto the rivet plate. Make sure you put the latches on the right way round. (Don’t ask me how I know this). I locate the latch, (correct way up), and then pin two rivets through the plate and the carcass of the case. You can usually only get a bit of the rivet to show at the back, but you just need enough to pry the legs apart with a thick screwdriver. Try and do this where there’s some meat left in the wood of the carcass.

Now, I’m sure the people at G&G have a fancy doowhatsit, or whatever, to drive and secure their rivets. Here at Garageland, we improvise with a suitably sized G-clamp. With the metal, clamp frame-end pad placed over the legs of the rivet, and with the screw leg pad of the clamp covered in masking tape, (to avoid scratching the metal hardware), the clamp is located over both ends of the rivet, and then tightened as far as it’ll comfortably go.

…find the (right) tool for the job…

Poor picture – but hopefully you get the idea. Just as long as there’s good metal to metal contact between the two sides of the clamp, and the two ends of the rivet – and just as long as the rivet legs have been pushed apart enough so that extra pressure forces them further apart – proper tightening of the clamp drives the rivet home and flattens the open legs against the rough wood of the carcass. You don’t really need to overtighten. Just enough to make sure there’s no play, and that the latch is seated properly. Check also that the ends of the rivets are tight against the latch at the front, and properly splayed against the wood carcass at the rear. If you’re concerned about the metal clamp scratching the new lock – try using a small piece of waste hardwood, as a buffer over the end of the rivet.

…it might not look pretty – but it will all get covered over when it’s finished…

With the latches done, the process is repeated with the lock plates. Check the orientation of the lock is the correct way round against the latch. Don’t ask me how I know this. Sometimes you have to jiggle the lock around a little to get the mechanism to sit properly into the routed opening in the carcass. Push all four rivets through, and splay the rivet legs out again with a screwdriver, as before. Securing and driving the rivets is, again, the same process as before – although the extra reach required for the lower rivets means a bigger G-clamp may be required. Once all the rivets are home, and the locks are properly seated without any loose play – check the closure against the latches, and make sure the locks snap, stay shut , lock and unlock. Repeat again with the central latch, (if required). That’s all there is to it.

…brand new lock fitted. (The angled corner plates are still OK)…

All that’s needed now, is for the lining and tolex to be secured back in place. A decent upholstery glue would do it – but I always prefer to approach jobs like this with the assumption I may have to, eventually, go back and renew the work. I want, therefore, to use an adhesive which is potentially reversible. Double-sided furniture tape works for me. It’s a regular, double-sided tape – but one with a particularly grabby adhesive. I put lengths of tape wherever fabric needs to be re-seated, and then press everything back into place. Along the edges of the case,where the poodle plush was held in place by staples – I shoot a few replacement staples into the thick meat of the carcass. 6mm upholstery staples will do. You can comb the plush about a bit, to hide the silver wire.

It’s all straightforward enough, and a relatively simple way to return the case to a functioning state – except this time, of course, it has brand new lock sets. Take the opportunity to finish the job off by Hoovering the lining out, and then check it for fit with one of your potential new tenants.

Re-fitted G&G case

Every G&G case seems slightly different in size internally. But then that’s often the nature of hand-made stuff. Usually – the padding round the inside edge is sculpted to provide a perfect fit – so things might not be quite the same for a different guitar. The Ash Stratocaster fits quite well in the Strat case, and the Precision case seems absolutely made to measure for my G&L bass.

KEEP YOUR KEYS SAFE!!. I always keep a G&G key with my house keys. I usually keep a spare for each case taped to the lid of the little kit flap inside. But you will lose them. Keep spares, and don’t lock the cases unless you have to. (Or unless you want to bust the locks on your case, and sell it to me cheap).

The tolex on the outside can be cleaned with a standard vinyl cleaner. If there are slight scuffs or tears – they can always be glued back into place, and/or “painted out” with a black, permanent marker, but personally – I don’t mind a bit of visible wear and tear. Nicely worn, vintage G&G cases are particularly sought after. They are there to look authentic – but also there to take the day-to-day knocks and abuse, which are down to your mis-handling – (so your guitar doesn’t have to).

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