WHEN NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, was flooded in late April 2010, many musicians in town turned to legendary tech Joe Glaser for help and he, along with other repairmen and artists, answered the call.
“Once the floodwaters receded and they let us in the storage facilities,” says Glaser, “it was instantly clear that this was a gigantic, stinking, slimy mess. We gathered up a lot of gear and I said optimistically that a lot of it could be saved, even though I didn’t know if that was true. I called some techs— Vince Cunetto, who did the Fender Relic series, John Levan, and Ed Beaver—and we took a few days off, set up tables, and just started tearing instruments down.
“We saw a lot of vintage Strats from the ’50s and ’60s. We took the necks off and took the pickups out. About two-thirds of the pickups weren’t working. We put the metal parts in bags with some oil so they wouldn’t rust. On most of the guitars with rosewood fingerboards, the maple necks had swelled up as much as 1/8". It seemed irreversible. But after a long time, almost a year in some cases, they dried out and came back down to size. It was unbelievable. The ones we tried to speed dry didn’t do as well as the ones that we let take forever.
“The finishes all lifted and got flaky. We tried to put them back down and that’s mostly done by softening them up with solvents. We hit them with lacquer thinners or retarders and most of them went back down—they stabilized.
“A really remarkable thing was that out of all the damaged pickups, only three of them couldn’t be repaired. One thing that I have learned after all these years is how to determine where a pickup is broken—near the inside or the outside—just by plugging it in and listening to it. I developed all these tools a long time ago for taking Strat and Tele pickups apart gently so I could find the breaks and put them back together. In an effort to save the original sound of these guitars we ended up repairing the pickups.
“The general consensus was that many of these guitars ended up sounding better than ever after repairing the flood damage. As we started putting guitars back together, several players—Keith Urban, John Jorgenson, and others—came in and said, ‘I swear that’s the best that guitar has ever sounded.’ I thought at fi rst that they were just glad to get their guitars back. But then Paul Smith got a couple of guitars, fixed them up, and called me and said, ‘Is it possible that these guitars sound better than before?’ I don’t know what it is, the water, the cooking in the heat, the urine and vomit and diesel oil in the river—who knows? But I heard this from enough people that it seemed like a pattern.
“A big takeaway for me was don’t give up on gear. A surprising number of amps fired up after people let them dry out completely. A big percentage of guitars were salvageable. My greatest takeaway was that this is an incredible community. Everyone took care of one another: the techs who worked for free, players who loaned each other gear to get through gigs. That was truly inspiring.