Guitar Retrospective #7 (Pt. 2): “Koi Flower”

As I mentioned in the first installment of this project, this guitar fell victim to the stand it was displayed on. Just when you thought it was safe right!? And frankly, I didn’t do a very good job on the first attempt, so having the sides of the guitar completely melted down to the wood where the guitar rested proved to be an excellent excuse to give this guitar a facelift and correct some things that went wrong the first time.

Where the stand melted the finish.

Where the stand melted the finish.

Close up of damaged area.

Close up of damaged area.

Damaged area and horrendous sand thrus.

Damaged area and horrendous sand thrus.

The pictures above show the damaged areas and the sand thrus along the edges. All of this needed addressed, so I busted out the random orbital sander with some 60 grit and went to work taking it back down to the paint/fabric level. Once I got close I switched to a higher grit so I wouldn’t rip through the fabric completely. If I wore into lightly it was no big deal, that could be built back up with no issues. You can see below the faint areas behind the pickups, that’s a good example of sanding into the fabric. That happened to be where the bridge was gonna sit anyway. But I still wouldn’t consider it an issue, creates kind of a cool accent to the look.

Sanded back down to fabric.

Sanded back down to fabric.

Sanded down to fabric on back.

Sanded down on back and sides.

Masking template and paint.

Masking template and paint.

At this point I was ready to move forward again being extra careful with each step of the process, especially with making sure I built the sanding sealer coats up enough to fully cover everything. There was one spot on the front where an air bubble had developed (from not using enough glue in the beginning), which I addressed specifically by cutting the fabric, applying some super glue in the bubble, and flattening. With sanding sealer coats and sanding that area down repeatedly, I was able to completely flatten that spot out and remove the bubble. Can’t even find that spot now. Once a solid foundation was established again, I could repaint the sides and burst. I was able to get the same paint as before, so I could get the same look as before which I was very happy with, as I had matching pick guard, pick up covers, and knobs.

Using the cardboard template to paint sides and a burst.

Using the cardboard template to paint sides and a burst.

I still had the body template I had made the first time for painting. This is a great simple tool to make as you begin the process. I make one for every guitar I do. Since I just do one-offs I use spray cans and a cardboard cut out of the guitar body I’m working on, which I just trace at the beginning when I have the guitar in pieces. It can be manipulated for curves in the body, like the bottom left corner of the pic on the left, where it’s just bent over to follow the curve of the body to keep the spray uniform. I start by placing the template flat on the body to get the sides painted, shooting at a downward angle so most of the paint hits the sides and doesn’t sneak underneath. Then to do a burst, where the paint fades into the body from the edges, you can place items between the template and the body in the middle to give it a little lift (like shown), and spray at various downward angles while moving the template around as necessary. It masks the body while leaving the edge open enough to get a nice natural fade. It takes some practice and going a little at a time and checking often to see where it needs more paint. But you can get a very nice looking burst with this method with some practice just using spray cans!

Paint complete. Burst on front.

Paint complete. Burst on front.

Paint complete. Burst on back.

Paint complete. Burst on back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I finish the paint process by very lightly sanding the faces of the guitar to remove any paint dust that may have settled in the burst process. Usually just a rough rag will suffice. And always wipe down with naphtha after each step to remove dust and finger oils! There was also the headstock component to this which I apparently didn’t get pictures of along the way the second time through. The finish had sunken a little revealing the outline of the decal, and it was just a little rough overall. I gave that the full treatment as well, minus the paint, while I did the same steps as the body. So after a long and slow process of applying clear coats, sanding down (the clear was going on quite rough and orange-peely), more clear coats, letting it cure, and then the final wet sand and polish, and not encountering a SINGLE sand thru, which was cause for much celebration!, I could call this guitar fully restored and complete. I waited for a sunny day and got some final pictures. So here you have it, in all its glory. :-)

j.

 

Koi 2 - Front 1 Koi 2 - Front 2 Koi 2 - Back 1Koi 2 - Front 3 Koi 2 - Back 2Koi 2 - Horns Koi 2 - HeadstockKoi 2 - Front Full Koi 2 - Back Full

Me and the Koi-caster.

Me and the Koi-caster.


Walter White: Guitar Salesman?

20131005-155320.jpgPerhaps while he was getting his chemistry degree, prior to co-founding Gray Matter Technologies and subsequently bailing on them and regretting it for life, or perhaps in the interim while getting his teaching degree, Walter White did time as a Guitar Center salesman. I know this for a fact you see, because I have proof in this receipt I recently found while looking through some old records. In the summer of 2000 I headed down to Seattle to the Guitar Center to pick up the first guitar I ever bought, a Black Fender acoustic guitar (left handed of course). I didn’t notice at the time, this nobody taking my money, since this was prior to his meth-cooking hay day, but as it turns out, it was Walter White that sold me my first guitar. (See bottom of pic).

Just a cool little tidbit for ya, be a good trivia question. ;-)

j.


Sanding Blocks

NEW SANDING BLOCKS!!!

Acrylic sanding blocks.

Acrylic sanding blocks.

That’s right folks, a post that only those that work on guitars could appreciate. You’re welcome.

For years I’ve been using a combination of a basic 3M sanding block and a small art gum eraser.

3M block and Artgum eraser.

3M block and Artgum eraser.

To be honest I barely used the larger 3M block, usually for dry sanding during prep with lower grits. When it came to all the rigorous wet sanding, I would primarily use the art gum eraser, for years! Recently, after noticing my small eraser starting to fall apart, I finally wised up and realized maybe there was something better I could be using that might speed up the process. It takes a long time to cover a guitar front and back with a thing the size of a 9V battery. It’s still handy when I need to just focus on a small area, and it has a bit of flex which comes in handy going around the curves and sides.

My brother built a CNC machine from scratch this past year and always has handy materials around, so I thought to ask him for some acrylic. He had a small piece of scrap that would be perfect, 1/2″ thick, 2″ x 5″. So he cut it into a couple pieces for me. I thought it would be nice to have a couple options, so he cut a 2″ x 2″ square and a slightly larger 2″ x 3″. The picture on the left shows the pieces as he gave them to me. I just took the palm sander to the edges, rounding them out and flattening the sides, giving them a more “finished” look, as seen on the right.

Rough cut of new acrylic sanding blocks.

Rough cut of new acrylic sanding blocks.

Acrylic sanding blocks with polished edges.

Acrylic sanding blocks with polished edges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acrylic sanding block in action.

Acrylic sanding block in action.

These work marvelously. With a perfectly flat, hard surface, not too big, not too small, I feel like I’m getting a much better use of my energy, time, and sand paper. Super easy to clean and dry. And it covers the surface area of the guitar really well. I find I lean towards the 2″ x 2″ one more often, just more versatile I think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I still use the old blocks, but it’s great to have a combination of sizes and materials to choose from now.

Sanding block collection.

Sanding block collection.

Happy sanding!

j.


Dancing Daughter

9.7.13 – I sat down to play some guitar and my dear Scarlett joined in for an impromptu writing session. It appears there’s a new song to follow. :-)

This was a moment I had been waiting to happen for a long time. I had been feeling guilty for not playing guitar enough around her, even though there’s a guitar on a stand in the living room that she constantly goes to and strums. So she’s familiar with musical instruments, which is part of the goal. I sat down to play alone in the room and not long after I started my daughter showed up all smiles pointing at me, she came over to get in on the action and luckily my wife captured some of the moment on video. I continued to play with my wife and daughter sitting in front of me, clapping and cheering for me. I felt like the biggest rock star in the world, or at the very least, the happiest. :-)

 

j.


Guitar Retrospective #7 (Pt. 1): “Koi Flower”

The second guitar finished in my batch of Squiers was the oriental themed “Koi Flower”. Oriental fabrics are the best for this sort of thing, as it turns out, and there are plenty more to come. I have to say I had a family in mind to be the recipient of this guitar, even well before I was making it, as I had the fabric on hand for awhile before I was able to put it to use, but I wasn’t sure yet what the reason would be for getting it to them. I stewed over that for awhile after completing this project even, but I’ll come back to that, time for pictures!

Koi Flower - Front

I know I’m going to start repeating myself at some point, but you have to remember that these are retrospectives. I am going through my picture folders (the digital term for photo albums) — I’m looking at my computer hard drive people, and these files are telling me that they were taken in the spring of 2007, and one quick glance at your phone will tell you it is now 2013, which means this was 6 six years ago, which I find hard to believe. But what this means is, I’m relying on these pictures I took at the time to jump start something in my memory to tell the story of these guitars, and I may cover some ground that’s been previously treaded, and for that I’m sorry. Ok here we go.

Koi Flower - Front fabric

Fabric template cut.

This fabric was in my small collection at the time, of course I can’t recall where I chose it from…I believe it was from the same mail-order catalog as the “Wild Horses” print.

Side Note: When I find a fabric print I like, I get a yard of it. It’s the unit of measure that they sell the stuff in, so you will halfway sound like you know what you’re talking about, even though you stutter and don’t look nearly like their average customer. A yard is more than you will need, to do front and back even, but it’s always better to have more than you need. Fabric of this nature has a pattern, which repeats. If you get a yard, you have a couple chances at getting the exact same section when going over a guitar body. It’s insurance, incase something goes wrong, which it does sadly. I can cover most everything in these blog posts, and I like to get into detail when I can, but there’s nothing that compares to actually doing it, and that’s where we learn isn’t it? The other reason to get more than you need is, what if you decide later to do the headstock, or the back of the neck, or the back of the guitar body even, or make a matching amp or something. You will have some left over fabric to do so. The thing is, fabric is fleeting, cool prints are limited, and they have a way of disappearing forever, as if they never existed. So get what you can while you can, and keep in mind, you’re competing with quilters out there, and they are many, and they have more money, and more time, than you could ever imagine. That said, if you know any quilters, I bet they have a TON of cool fabric that they would give you to make into a guitar, so time to start making nice with your friends’ mothers and grandmothers.

Koi Flower - SS

Fabric glued. A few coats of sanding sealer.

Ok, back on topic, I gave you way more info on that side bar than I intended, time to scale it back. Here’s a picture of a guitar with fabric on it.

Alright I’m back, I can’t leave you like that, consider it bonus content. Notice how horrible this looks. Not what you pictured right? This, to me, is what’s so cool about this process. It can go from looking like this –>, to the picture at the top. It still blows my mind seeing these pix, or going through my fabric bin and finding scraps from these previous projects, knowing what they became, unbelievable. Anyway, it won’t look like this for long, but you have to go through the long process of applying sanding sealer once the fabric is glued down to the guitar, to build up a layer of clear on top of the fabric. The sanding sealer also hardens and raises the fibers of the fabric, which you later sand down smooth, to remove any resemblance of fabric, which will also lead people to believe you are some amazing painter/artist. My advice? Go with it, I can’t stand that look of disappointment in people’s faces any longer when I have to explain I am a “fake artist”.

Koi Flower - Front SS Cut

Mid Sanding Sealer – Trimmed.Koi Flower - Back SS CutBack of guitar. Mid sanding sealer and trimmed.

White = Primed

White = Primed

After a few coats of sanding sealer, the fabric is hard enough that you can trim the excess and cavities with an exacto knife. Remember to use a fresh blade, as you don’t need the extra trouble of dealing with a frayed edge or something. This is what you will have at this point. Continue with many more coats of sanding sealer, I’m talking like 20, before you start dry sanding with 400 grit.

I went through the process of using super glue around the edge to transition on the last post, so once that is done, and sanded, and plenty of sanding sealer coats have been applied and sanded down smooth and flat, it is time to move forward to primer if you so choose, or paint. I find I like doing a primer coat, because it is a form of checks and balances. Things may look real good with just bare wood, but once you hit it with that primer, things start showing up. You will know if you need to do further prep, re-sanding some spots maybe, or more sanding sealer. Imperfections are quite apparent after primer. The primer helps with the color coat anyway, so better to catch all those imperfections now, so the paint can go on smooth without having to backtrack. Because let’s face it, if you’ve tried doing a fabric finish, there’s so much work that goes into it as far as “prep”, that once you get to paint, you’re practically home free, and to have an issue at that stage in the process, well let me tell you, it’s devastating.

 

 

 

As the picture to the right shows, I did in fact prime the edges to check my work. And once any issues are dealt with, you can safely move on to paint. I chose a beige/cream color to go with this print. I also had chosen some replacement hardware (pick guard, pick up covers, knobs) to go with this new color scheme. Below you can see it after paint, front and back, just did a fade around the edge using a cardboard template of the guitar body set just above the surface.  I just do this with spray cans, and sometimes you can get a little overzealous and more overspray than you desire gets onto the main surface of the body. If this happens, just do some light sanding with a fine grit to remove the excess overspray, you still have that sanding sealer underneath the paint so you’ll be fine, shouldn’t have to worry about a sand thru at this point.

 

Koi Flower - Painted Front

Front after paint.

Koi Flower - Painted Back

Back after paint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next set of pictures below show the body after clear coats have been sprayed, wet sanded, and polished. As you can see, I had major sand throughs on this one by the time it was all said and done. One culprit was some of the fabric wasn’t completely glued down and throughout the process it separated from the body some and created a bubble, so block sanding created the sand thru at those points. It also looks like I probably sanded too much around the edges, which I later learned to stay away from until you get to higher grits. Edges are notorious for sand throughs as those areas don’t get the build up of clear that a flat surface on the guitar gets.  A total bummer but a total learning experience too. All of those sand throughs was one reason there is a “Pt. 2″ to this particular guitar.

Koi Flower - Polished Front

Front after polish. Sand throughs, shoot!

Koi Flower - Back Polished

Back after polish. OMG! Major sand throughs! LEARNING!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally it was time to assemble the guitar, adding the aforementioned beige pick guard and accessories.  Not a perfect color match but I prefer it to the stark white.

Koi Flower - Assembled front

Assembled with beige pick guard, pick up covers, and knobs.

Koi Flower - "Lefty" <— After very briefly toying with the notion of turning this into a Hendrix-style righty turned lefty guitar for myself (I needed another guitar like I needed a cushioned toilet seat), I returned to my original idea of giving it to some close friends. And coming up was the 1st birthday of their little girl Anyka, perfect opportunity to give a gift! I mean, what 1 year old girl doesn’t want a custom electric guitar that’s twice the size of them!?

So to prepare, I decided it needed further customization. I turned to a gentleman from the Guitar Reranch forum who makes replica and custom water slide decals.

Custom headstock decal.

Custom headstock decal.

This was my first time doing these, but included were multiples in case I messed up, and a page of detailed instructions. So I was set, and without too much trouble, had a custom headstock. “Anyka Ray” in a Fender-style font in gold lettering with the small block lettering saying “Koi-caster”.

And of course, the guitar gift was a big hit with the birthday girl. :-)

Anyka and "Uncle" Joe

Confused and loving it.

Koi-Caster at the gift table

The only guitar at the gift table.

I’m gonna wrap this up with a couple more glam shots of the finished guitar. Coming up in the second installment of this project, which I am currently (present day) about to finish up, again, we will find out what happens when a guitar finish reacts chemically to the foam on the guitar stand, and I attempt to improve upon the overall finish of the first attempt. Thanks again for checking this out and sticking through all the blabbing until the end, your reward is two more pictures! :-)

j.

Koi-caster finished front

Koi-caster finished back


Guitar Retrospective #6: “Wild Horses”

"Wild Horses" - Front

“Wild Horses” – Front

In 2007 I purchased a lot of 3 Squier Strats because I had a pile of fabric I wanted to use on guitars and some time on my hands. I also wanted to see what it would be like and if I could actually work on 3 guitars at once. I staggered the production so I could be working on different phases of the project for each guitar. I only had so much space so this worked well. While one guitar was being sprayed in the garage I could start prepping the next one on the table. Then one could be hanging in the closet while the second one was being sprayed and a third was being prepped or worked on, and the cycle would go like that until I had 3 guitars hanging in the closet at one point waiting to be finished. The “Wild Horses” strat was the first to  be completed from this batch.

Stripped Squier bodies.

Stripped Squier bodies.

I bought Squiers because they were cheap, they had all their components there, and I could get some really good practice and experience stripping and refinishing guitars. What I found was that stripping guitars is no fun! Depending on the finish it could be a real P.I.T.A. These wonderfully inexpensive guitars had a thick resin coating under a polyester finish. It took a great deal of sanding to get through the armor on these things, but eventually I could get them down to the resin dipped coating. What I finally figured out was that I didn’t really need to do a complete strip on these things, given this ironclad finish. There was no real reason to get down this far as it turned out, other than it looked good for a minute before I started covering it all up again. By the third one and subsequent refinishes, I would just do a good scuff sand and maybe prime. That was plenty good to glue a fabric down to.

After cutting excess fabric around the edge.

After cutting excess fabric around the edge.

Body painted, smooth transition on the edges.

Body painted, smooth transition on the edges.

So the new challenge to figure out with these strats turned out to be the curvy body shape. The Stratocaster body is so iconically sexy and smooth, made possible by the shape along with the rounded edges. The Ibanez bodies I had worked with previously have primarily flat tops with a defined edge. So it was easy to cut the fabric off at the edge and that was that. With these bodies, the rounded edge doesn’t provide an exact place to obviously end the fabric, and what to do about the new lip that the fabric edge creates?

I put that question to the great minds over at my favorite guitar refinishing forum, Guitar Reranchand while I waited for an inspiring response I took out my exacto knife with a fresh blade and took it to the body, carving along the top just before it dropped off the edge. I don’t know exactly who provided the answer but I was lead to something I wasn’t aware of at the time, CA-30, otherwise known as thick super glue. I use this stuff all the time now. I knew super glue existed of course, I had G.I. Joe action figures as a kid, and they had some tough battles, so I was aware you could glue your fingers together while attempting to fix the broken pieces while your mom wasn’t looking. But I didn’t know it came in thick. This turned out to be the key. Regular super glue was so watery it was subject to gravity (not so super at all really). The thick super glue could be applied like caulking around the edge of the fabric, running a nice bead that transitioned between the body and fabric. Then with some tedious (pretty hard stuff) and careful sanding, you would be left with a totally smooth transition. Once painted, you’d never know what lie underneath.

The finish idea was lead by this fabric I had picked out of one of my mother’s fabric catalogs she would get periodically. I finished it front and back with the fabric since I had it, and decided to just use white for the edge and burst color, I think because all the components (knobs, pick guard, pickup covers) were white. After painting the burst, that white fade, I had an idea for a nice finishing touch. It looked like it could be a foggy morning on the plains where these horses were running. To do this, I ordered a can of Mary Kaye White spray paint from the Guitar Reranch, and sprayed over the body until I was happy with the look. This paint is very translucent, meant to be used over natural wood with good grain, like an ash, so it sprayed very faint and gave the perfect touch.

Mary Kaye White gave the look of fog.

Mary Kaye White gave the look of fog.

This was a fun project and lead me to some new discoveries and techniques that I continue to use. This project also started a trend where I would not know what to do with all my new guitars, so my answer was to give them away to friends as gifts! (Whoa what a guy, right?) I was a groomsmen in a good friends wedding where we even played some original acoustic music we had written together for the ceremony, very special and very good memories, so I decided that this guitar belonged with them, the new happy couple. That reminds me I haven’t been to their house in awhile I need to check on it and see if they have it properly displayed or not. ;-)

I’ll wrap this one up with some pictures of the guitar below, thanks for checking this one out.

j.

Close up of polished fabric finish.

Close up of polished fabric finish. Like a MIRROR!

Wild Horses - Front 2 Wild Horses - Back Wild Horses - Full Front Wild Horses - Full Back Wild Horses - Edge 1 Wild Horses - Edge 2


Guitar Retrospective #5: ’52 Blackguard Replica Tele Body

I remember around this time I was thinking it was time to try something a little more “standard”. Maybe I was sick of looking at complicated fabric prints all the time and the thought of doing something more well known, a classic really, was appealing. I also wanted to see if I could do it, a more fundamental paint and finish. Since I had been primarily focusing on honing my material finish skills, I had also been learning some universal finishing techniques that I wanted to put to the test, as well as add a new skill to my repertoire (<– spelled it right the first time, no red line BOOM!), grain filling.

I should also mention this began as a project that I was going to keep for myself. I wanted a classic guitar and as a lefty they’re tough to find, so I was going to make myself one that looked like this Fender ’52 replica.

Fender '52 Replica

This particular configuration was known as a “blackguard” because of its black lacquered pick guard, and the finish associated with it is butterscotch blonde. Butterscotch for the color, blonde because it is slightly transparent to show some of the grain of the wood.

So I headed to eBay to see what kind of guitar bodies I could find. I found a seller that made very nice quality bodies and purchased a left handed Tele body made from Ash.

20130221-071052.jpg

Ash is a more porous wood that would require additional prep before it would take a finish. Earlier I mentioned grain filling. This is exactly what it sounds like. Take a grain filler which is a paste that you rub onto the guitar and pack it into the pores. Along with some sanding sealer coats and block sanding this will give the guitar body a completely flat impenetrable surface with which to lay your paint and clear coats upon. Without this important step, your finish would sink into the wood and look horrible, thereby embarrassing you in front of anybody that saw your guitar. Your grandmother would probably say “good job sweetie!” But under her breath say “I would have grain filled it for sure.” Here are a couple shots after grain filling.

20130221-070908.jpg

20130221-070916.jpg

You can see how there’s a nice sheen to it and it’s completely flat and level, ready to accept paint. Prep work is so important to the finished product. Difficult to have the patience sometimes because you’re excited to get to the painting which makes it look like you did something but I promise you that anything that isn’t perfect prior to painting or clear coating will show through and bum you out down the line. Cutting corners = bad times.

I was gonna do this one right with an all lacquer finish so of course headed over to the Guitar Reranch for the paint. They have this color perfectly dialed in. And in easy to use spray cans! After shooting it to my desired grain show through I was left with this.

20130221-065055.jpg

20130221-065108.jpg

After finishing with clear coats, waiting for the lacquer to cure (about 30 days), my least favorite part of refinishing wet sanding and finally polishing, I was rewarded with a very acceptable butterscotch blonde ash Telecaster style body made for a lefty.

20130221-065932.jpg

As it turns out, this is where the project ended for me. I decided not to complete the guitar for whatever reasons, most likely financial or realizing I had too many guitars anyway. So I sold this as a replacement body for someone else’s project, all finished and ready to go! Never saw what came of it though, sadly. Always tough to see them go! 8-)

j.


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