Jamie wrote several letters that documented the project progress, and the color change was caused by my feedback. I've decided to put it here more or less chronologically.
- Sergey Engel, www.cheesyguitars.com
Here's the story of this guitar's resurrection. I snagged this as a badly-battered but mostly intact Elgita from Konstantin (Studio 1525) for a great price, knowing that it would make a cheesy-cool guitar once fixed up. This is what it looked like when it arrived: crusty & rusty, with a badly-done Navy Blue enamel finish that had been sprayed over everything (including the fingerboard, the tuners, the switch knob) and then partially sanded off. The peghead overlay was peeling off, and there were big gouges in the side of the neck, plus an extra hole in the pickguard for the (moved) volume control, where a previous owner decided to move the 1/4" jack off the side and onto the pickguard. Go figure that one.
After removing a TON of rust and corrosion from the entire bridge/trem unit, I lubricated the bearings on the string bar with some white lithium grease and reassembled everything. Now it functions very well. Of course it isn't quite as smooth as a Kahler trem, but it's better than a lot of trem units I've worked on. These are the same trem/bridge units used on a Soviet Tonika also. Cultural exchange at its best!
Here's an "After" close up of just the body. Big improvement, eh?
BTW, these bodies are NOT made out of plywood as stated in the Elgita article on CG. They are, in fact, made from a multi-piece core of solid European alder with 2 mm maple veneers on the top and back ... construction virtually identical to that of guitar bodies built by the two largest US manufacturers in the 60's: Harmony and Kay. See?
Seriously though, the body itself is fairly lightweight. But that gigantic (and ridiculously over-built) "Neolithic Kahler" trem/bridge unit weighs almost as much as the body! Once it's all put together, the body/bridge combination is VERY heavy. Someone could run that damn trem unit over with a burning Soviet tank and I think it would come out unscathed.
The Elgita looks good now, but it took a lot of work to whip it into shape. See what you think about this.
Basic Elgita specifications:
Neck: 640 mm (25") scale length, a very very fat solid beech back with an Indian rosewood fingerboard that's bound with 0.5 mm black plastic (no side dots), and original jumbo frets.
Body: A surprisingly light weight maple veneer/alder butcher block/maple veneer "sandwich" construction which is virtually identical to some Harmony and Kay bodies from the 60's.
Hardware, etc.: Utterly abysmal individual tuning machines, two medium-output (6k) single-coil pickups, master volume and tone, a 4-way rotary switch, and a side jack. The pickguard design is interesting in that it is a piece of 2 mm clear acrylic plastic, engraved from the back (like some Gretsch pickguards) with the Musima logo, faux purfling and some control hieroglyphs. All of the engraving is of very good quality, and was originally filled with gold paint before spraying the rest of the back of the pickguard with black. Finally, the trem/bridge unit is a goofy sort of "Neolithic Kahler" design. The (unplated) bridge has roller saddles and there are two HUGE springs beneath the base plate that govern the action of the trem unit: a lot like a modern Kahler. It is a fairly good design all things considered. Once cleaned up and lubricated it works amazingly well.
The body and neck were both fairly straightforward sand-and-refinish projects. It was only after removing the dark blue enamel, re-gluing the peghead overlay, cleaning up the rounded-over edge bevels of the body and filling the divots in the side of the neck that I could spray everything with 4 coats of black acrylic lacquer and a bunch of clear coats. Not much to tell there. I also made a new Corian nut and a black truss rod cover, since the original cover was/is MIA, and I decided to use a set of individual chrome Gotoh tuners in place of the original non-functioning (and blue-enamel-drenched) ones.
The pickguard was actually the single biggest challenge to repair, since there were several cracked screw holes, 8 extra mounting holes on the perimeter, and a big gnarly 1/2" hole where a previous owner had installed the volume control after moving the jack onto the pickguard. After gluing all the cracks with cyanoacrylate, I ended up using some clear polyester casting compound to fill all the "unauthorized" holes, scraped clean and repainted all the engraved areas with new gold paint, and then sprayed the back of the pickguard with black again. Aside from a few slightly warped areas, it looks almost new. If I look at just the right angle at the area where that big hole was I can barely see where the filling was done, otherwise it's virtually invisible.
Now this Elgita plays and sounds great, and I'm getting used to the horse-leg-sized neck.
One minor issue with these guitars that's definitely worth repeating was mentioned in the original CG Elgita article by Vadim Meklin. The distance from the string bar on the trem unit to the high "E" tuner is so great that a standard-length guitar string is just barely long enough, allowing only ONE wrap around the tuner post. It works, but not by much. There are ways of fixing that problem (e.g., drilling deeper holes in the string bar for the ball ends of the strings), but I didn't bother. Everything works just fine as is.
I wrote back that the guitar looks awesome, but why black? Jamie responded that he thought black and sunburst are the proper Musima colors, but since he's not a big fan of sunburst finish, he painted it black. In response, I've sent him a picture of green Musima Elektra Deluxe bass which immediately inspired him:
Green was a rare original finish found on several Musima solidbodies. Here's the second part of the story:
The next day:
Usually the future is unpredictable. In this case, it's pretty clear:
Two coats of white lacquer to block out the black, then a couple of coats of John Deere Green lacquer, followed by 8 or 10 clear coats. It'll be green by this time tomorrow.
Now I can blame the green color on someone else for a change. "What do you mean? It was Sergey's idea to paint it this color. He made me do it."
The next day:
The Musima is a slightly brighter "lime" green (probably faded over time), but the John Deere Green is pretty close. One more color coat and then I'll spray 6 or 8 clear coats over the green. Then it'll have to hang for a week or so before I can sand/buff it out. So, it should be done and reassembled within 2 weeks max. Cool, huh?
One of these days, I'm actually going to use my brain rather than letting it wander off on its own. What follows is positive proof that I can be just as big of an idiot as anyone.
The picture I sent earlier of the newly-sprayed Elgita body was taken indoors, using artificial light sources, the combination of which seriously distorted the color. It has taken me all this time to realize that. The picture below was taken outdoors, in full sunlight to show the REAL color of John Deere Collectivist Farm Tractor Green.
If you find a stray brain wandering the streets looking for its owner, send it back home to me. I promise to use it from now on.
The next day:
Here's a cheesy surprise for you. Elgitas don't have decals on the peghead like most Musimas. I didn't realize that until this guitar came through the door. Surprise!
The logo is engraved into the peghead overlay, which is made out of the plastic material used to make name badges and things like that. It's a white base material with a very thing black layer on top. When it's engraved/routed, the effect is white "lettering" on a black background.
No fancy-schmancy scroll work like the ones seen on most Musima pegheads.
So, the original peghead logo -- boring or not -- is already "restored."
Maybe if I painted the neck pink and the body green ... .
Two weeks later...
One cheesy green Elgita for your viewing pleasure. This is more like it: John Deere Tractor Green.
The problem I've had with photographing this thing is that the pickguard is warped all to hell ... to the point where I can't find ANY angle to shoot it from that doesn't produce a certain level of flash glare. These are about as good as it gets, and at least the color representation is about 90% accurate.
Green enough for you?
During my minimal research on the subject I discovered that almost all Soviet/Russian tractors are either red (what a surprise) or orange, with the occasional blue one thrown in. In the US there are a lot of green (i.e., "Leaf Green") John Deere tractors, bright yellow Case tractors, bright blue Ford tractors, and Japanese-built tractors of almost every color imaginable. Since I live in farm/ranch country, there are tractors and farm machinery everywhere. I'm one of the only people I know around here who doesn't own any large machinery, but I buy the touch-up paint all the time.
I don't think that I'll use a bright yellow pickguard on the Elgita though. Since it's 95% original I wouldn't feel right about doing that. Maybe the next clone of a Soviet guitar I build will get a John Deere color scheme, complete with "leaping deer" logo.
Here's the "Before" version, as it was when it came to me from Konstantin:
And here is an "After" picture.
No structural changes at all, just a lot of hardware cleanup, a refret, touching up the pickguard, some new tuners and a cheesy green paint job. I'd call this an improvement.
Jamie Chivers, 2006
Jamie Chivers, 1956-2009
Jamie Chivers was a guitar tech for more than 30 years, first working for Warmouth and later becoming a freelancer. In the 2000's he found an interest in Soviet guitars and collaborated with CheesyGuitaars.com a lot. He shared many brilliant stories with us, and this is one of them.
More Jamie's projects and stories:
||Jolana Star (VII?)
||Jolana Graziela Special II
||BAS (aka Kavkaz)