The inner 12 year old - Part III
There were 2 other tough decisions to make - the amount of color to add to the guitars and the topcoat finish. Many of the surviving guitars have faded quite a bit - the red in particular. Which is fine by me - I am not a big fan of ‘red’. Tom assured me that the red will fade very quickly and turn a more mellow brown tone. The other decision was traditional lacquer or part with tradition and use french polish. French polish looks amazing, but will not hold up over time so I opted for the traditional lacquer.
The most transforming day by far was the day Tom taught me to spray the sunburst pattern on the guitars. I had done some of the finishing prep work ahead of time, a few sealer coats of laquer, pore filler to the mahogany, more sealer coats, but I arrived with a pretty bland looking guitar. I was also curious to see if the much darker sugar maple top would still stand out once the color work was done. I decided to spray the red on both guitars - giving one a heavier coat of red than the other - just to be somewhat different.
Once again, Tom was a fantastic teacher. He gave me a tour of his spray system and used one of my guitars to demonstrate on. He handed me the gun and I did the second one. I have learned enough to know that when someone makes something look easy, it usually isn’t, and spraying was no different. I was slow and awkward - watching Tom was like watching ballet. His movements were totally fluid, no wasted time or movements and took a couple minutes to complete. It was a tremendous opportunity for me to watch him work. By the end of it, I was much more comfortable with it and thankfully, I did not screw anything up.
After spraying the color, it was time to scrape the color off the body and fingerboard bindings. This was a tricky bit to do. I used a razor blade pinched between my fingers and thumb. My finger and thumb acted as a fence following along the edge of the body and then you scrape the paint off. You have to be very careful not to scrape the Mahogany - you risk removing the pore filler and altering the color - it was a pretty tricky process and even my well calloused fingers were sore at the end.
Most people would think that you should just tape off the binding to avoid this step, but if you look at an original late 50’s guitar, you can feel a little step with your fingernail between the binding and the body. I am told this is a telltale sign of authenticity. I didn’t know any differently and figured this is one more of those experiences that was all part of the process.
Here are a couple more shots of one of the guitars with the binding scraped clean.
Once the binding was scraped clean and the finish allowed to cure a bit more, it was time to spray the lacquer. The experience from spraying the color was a huge help, but this was still pretty stressful. Watching Tom was a huge help to get a sense of the motions and positions, but I was still terrified knowing that a sag would mean starting over. So I went slow. Really slow. But nothing went wrong, and in time, I had built up the appropriate amount of finish.
I let the lacquer cure for a week at which point it was hard enough that I was able to start doing the final work to the frets and side binding. This was also the first time I had a chance to see the guitars with all the tape off and the fingerboards and color together.
The soft maple top shown above.
The sugar maple top shown above. It was amazing to see how the darker sugar maple translated after the color and finish. It is a bit darker, but not nearly as pronounced as before finishing.
One of the last steps is also one of the longest - waiting for the lacquer to cure. My friend Mark tells me that waiting a year to sand and buff the lacquer would be ideal. I was willing to be patient, but I was so close and would not be able to wait that long. But I did wait about 6 weeks on the one, and about 2 months on the other.
As with most sanding jobs - this one was not fun either. It went well, and I was very careful not to sand through any of the finish. Once it was sanded, it was time to buff it to a mirror polish. This was pretty fun, slow, but fun. It was amazing to watch the mirror finish appear. Once the buffing was done, it was time to install hardware. This was another amazing transformation. Installing the tuners, the pick-ups and the strings - it was pretty amazing. The other thing I was really pleased with was the transformation to the lighter fingerboard. Over the last year or so, it seemed to be mellowing out - less vibrant in color and looking a little dull to be honest. I was a little worried I had made a mistake with using it. When the mineral oil hit the wood, all those fears left - it looked fantastic and even though the other board is more traditional, this one is by far my favourite.
Both guitars are completed now except for the truss rod cover and the poker chip that goes under the switch on the one guitar. Once I have those parts, I will takes a bunch of photos and post them.