I got this nice ESP guitar for leveling job and possibly tremolo replacement. As I was pickinig up the guitar I had a hunch he has a humidity problem in his rehearsal room because the instrument's hardware has patina all over with some extreme rust spots in areas most people don't touch. He says he just sweats like crazy, but being actually there you could 'smell' it. Today I was carefully evaluating the instrument and I noticed that fret ends don't go flush with the binding/edge of the FB so there's a 1.5mm gap between fret ends and fingerboard edge. Since it's a bound fingerboard I can clearly see two scars on each side of every fret end giving me the impression that the neck/guitar actually expanded by increased humidity over the years. I'm 90% sure this guitar wasn't fretted that way, because fingerboard edge is nice and polished with no file marks at all so the craftsmanship is not questionable here.
Is this even plausible? If so how come the instrument is still in good shape, with no loose frets, no warps or twists in the neck? What could eventually happen if he started storing the guitar in a drier place and how to acclimate the guitar to more soothing conditions in future?
1.5mm is a lot. If the FB expanded that much, I suspect there'd be other problems(action, bumps in the FB, high uneven frets). Check the control cavity for corrosion on the electronics. As for drying, the rule is go slow. Too fast and you get cracking and splitting. 45-50% relative humidity is best. As this is a poly coated solid body, I think something else is going on.
I am sorry, 1.5mm was a total shot in the dark, it's no more than 0.5mm.
Yes the electronics have patina too. Corrosion problem is so severe that the Floyd Rose saddles and fine tuners are partially seized. The owner is convinced a chrome-plated Floyd Rose (it's black now) would solve his issues, but before we go further with the hardware, I have to find a way to change his way of thinking first ...
Solidbody electrics tend to be fairly well coated in synthetic finishes, so the absorption of moisture is slow. And they're often if not usually assembled with waterproof synthetic glues, so the joinery would tend to hold. It seems pretty obvious that this poor thing has simply swollen up. If you can persuade the owner that his environment needs to change, then he needs to let the thing gently acclimate to a new room over a matter of months, and then look into replacing hardware and cleaning up frets and so on. Trying to fix it while it's in a humidifying chamber seems rather doomed.
Remember that flood in Nashville in May of 2010 where a ton of musical equipment, stored in a place called Soundcheck, was underwater and most of it lost? A friend (who's mentioned in the article linked above) lost a whole lot in that one, but one thing he personally salvaged—the only instrument of his that really got saved at all—was his first electric guitar, an old red SG. He just dried it out, cleaned off all the electronics and metal parts, strung it up, and it still played. Finish looks terrible, but it survives.
I agree with the "wet guitar" assessment of the problem.
Once the guitar's humidity content gets down to about normal (when the gaps close), continue to let it live at that level for a couple more weeks. If there are gaps remaining at that time, a re-binding/refret may be in order (or any other one of a dozen alternate solutions). ANY 'next step' will be addressable only after the guitar is de-humidified.
The best suggestion you can make to your customer (or ANY customer) is:
Wipe the instrument down after every playing session, even if it was only for 30 seconds. It only takes 10 seconds.
When the instrument isn't being played, the only smart & safe way to store it is in its case or bag.
I truly believe that if all players would do both those things, humidity based issues & broken headstocks would be reduced by 95%.
The best part? It doesn't cost a thing to do either one. (:
Best of luck Tadej (;