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Tips and Tone - Tragedy to Charity

Posted by on Oct 12, 2010 3:39:31 AM

john levan

Tips and Tone

Tragedy to Charity

By John LeVan

How Terri Clark turned her flood guitar into clean water for others.

Since the Great Flood of 2010, I have seen hundreds of guitars that were damaged at Soundcheck. This particular guitar carries great meaning for me. Not because it’s a vintage treasure, or even because it’s my favorite kind of guitar. This guitar is special because the owner is using the tragic events of last May to benefit people she doesn’t even know! Yet another example of why Nashville is such a great city!


On May 1, 2010, Nashville was hit by a devastating series of storms. As a result, Nashville experienced its worst flood in the history of the city. One of the hardest hit areas was the riverfront by the Cumberland River. The Cumberland crested nearly 12 feet above flood stage. This is where Soundcheck is located, one of the largest rehearsal/storage/stage facilities in the US. The flood completely engulfed it, ruining thousands of guitars, amps and touring equipment. Along with many other Artists, Terri Clark had a lot of her equipment stored there. This story is about the Gibson 335 she used on her tour last year.

Terri’s Gibson 335


Several months ago, I got a call from my friend Jeff Jones. He asked me if I was wiling to look at a guitar from the flood. He said it was Terri’s 335 and is very special to her. One of reasons why this 335 was special to Terri is because she used it on her headline tour last summer. It was her main guitar for “If You Want Fire” from the album The Long Way Home. My wife Sherry & I ran into Terri at Loretta Lynn’s 50 Years of Country Music Celebration. I asked her about the guitar. Terri said “It was a very special guitar to me; Gibson had given it to me last year. I used it on my song, "If You Want Fire". It just had that great sound I loved for that song. Then the flood happened and it really hurt that I lost it. I’m really excited about having it restored, so that someone else can now own it and appreciate it. I’m gonna sell it and all of the money will go to help the charity: The Clean Water Project in Africa”.

I felt a deep connection with Terri’s idea. In my first year of college, I drilled water wells for Frontz Drilling and I know just how expensive it is (not to mention how hard that work is). What a great way to turn a waterlogged guitar into clean water for someone who desperately needs it?


This 335 was made in 2009. It was submerged in the flood water at Soundcheck for many days before anyone could get to it. As you can see, it was severely damaged by the flood. When a guitar is underwater for as long as this one was, really bad things happen! Here is a laundry list of problems I had to correct.

  • Total separation of the back.
  • Fretboard cracks from swelling.
  • Separation of glue joints (Neck, Curfing & Braces)
  • Severely fore-bowed neck.
  • Discoloration & delaminating of the finish
  • Warped sides.
  • Undesirable new tenants living inside!

The flood ravaged 335. (Photo by John M. LeVan)

Figure 1.3 Separated back. (photo by Planet Waves)

Figure 1.4 Closer look inside, notice all of the loose curfing. (photo by Planet Waves)

Figure 1.5 Severely for-bowed neck. (Photo by John M. LeVan)

Terri’s poor guitar was a total mess, but there was good news when I looked at it a little closer. The top & back were still in good condition. The neck looked bad, but miraculously, the truss rod worked perfectly. I was amazed when I plugged it in and the electronics still worked! At that point, I knew that I just had to be patient and cautious, and this 335 could play again, and play well!


The first thing I did was bag up the guitar with several HumidiPaks to stabilize the moisture content of the guitar. After about a week, I un-bagged it and removed all of the hardware, electronics and the back of the guitar. Once I had the back off, it was clear that all of the curfing (ribbing) had separated from the top, sides and back.

Figure 1.6 All bagged up with several HumidiPaks inside. (Photo by John M. LeVan)

Figure 1.7 Internal shot showing separated curfing. (Photo by John M. LeVan)

Before I could start putting this puzzle together, I had to disinfect everything. When a guitar is underwater (especially the toxic soup from a flood), unwanted tenants begin to grow inside of it. The best disinfectants I found for this particular guitar was sunlight and vinegar. I cleaned every inch (centimeter – for those who speak metric) of the guitar, inside and out with vinegar. Nothing could have survived such an acid bath. The vinegar removed most of the discoloration in the wood and on the finish.

Meanwhile, I bagged up the hardware and soaked it in oil to clean up any corrosion. I did the same with the electronics – using electronics cleaner instead of oil. After several days of soaking in oil, I scrubbed the hardware with a toothbrush and shined all of the little pieces. I sprayed the electronics out one last time with cleaner, then with compressed air.

Now was the time to begin gluing the guitar back together. First the curfing was glued back on, which is a delicate operation. One misstep and the curfing breaks or the back won’t seat properly when it’s glued back together. Then the electronics were re-installed, and the back was prepped to be re-glued. Once all of the old glue was cleaned off of the back, I glued it on.

Figure 1.8 Re-gluing the curfing. (Photo by John M. LeVan)

Figure 1.9 Re-gluing the curfing. (Photo by John M. LeVan)

Figure 1.10 Re-gluing the curfing. (Photo by John M. LeVan)

Figure 1.11 gluing the back. (Photo by John M. LeVan)

Finally, I polished out the frets and conditioned the fretboard (with Hydrate by Planet Waves). The neck looked great! After a thorough set-up, Terri’s 335 was good to go!

Figure 1.12 Terri’s 335 is complete!. (Photo by John M. LeVan)

Figure 1.13 Terri’s 335 is complete!. (Photo by John M. LeVan)


Structurally, it’s solid! Cosmetically, it cleaned up very well. There are still a few finish flaws, but that just gives it character. After careful consideration, we decided not to refinish it. This would have devalued the guitar and it would have changed the tone. I was amazed at how great this guitar sounds. I kept thinking to myself - If only I could play as good as the tone I get out of it!

Figure 1.14 Before & after. (Photo by John M. LeVan)

Figure 1.15 Before & after. (Photo by John M. LeVan)

Figure 1.16 Before & after. (Photo by John M. LeVan)


The Clean Water Project in Africa is about providing just that. Millions of people in Africa are suffering terrible disease simply because they don’t have access to clean drinking water. Terri posted on the following on her website:

“I am going to donate all of the proceeds from this auction to organizations that build and engineer water wells for schools and villages in third world countries that do not have clean, sanitized water systems. 1.2 million Children die every year from disease resulting from not having clean drinking water. I will not be accepting donations on these organizations behalf…simply donating the proceeds from this auction”.

This is a great cause and I encourage all of my readers to participate. Imagine if it was you or your family that was trying to survive without clean water!


Even in tough economic times, we Americans (and Canadians) are still the most generous people on the planet! Let’s continue to show the world how much we care. You can make a difference, let’s follow Terri’s example of selfless love.

Figure1.17 One last look. (Photo by John M. LeVan)

Figure1.18 Guitar Setup, Repair & Maintenance Book. (Photo from Mel Bay)

If you have any questions about this, or any of my other articles, feel free to e-mail me at Check out my book, Guitar Setup, Repair & Maintenance and be sure to visit us on the web at

Copyright©2010 John M. LeVan all rights reserved

John LeVan

The Guitar Services Workshop

Topics: John LeVan, Gbase News

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