Tag Archives: material finish

Guitar Retrospective #11: “HB Adventure Strat”


It’s been awhile since I posted a guitar retrospective. There are still quite a few to go to get caught up to present times, so here we go!

This guitar started life back in early 2008 as a guitar kit. I had been looking into other means of obtaining guitars to refinish and after doing several Squier strats (“Wild Horses”, “Koi Flower”, “Miartisme”) I wanted to try these kits I had been reading about. I had done an LP style guitar from a Saga kit before, but I had tracked down some strat and tele style electric guitar kits made by Grizzly, which was a big woodworking and metalworking machinery company that had a local store, so I was able to go and pick a few up to try out. It wasn’t a typical place you would think to find guitar kits. Turns out the owner of Grizzly was a luthier himself, who made some pretty amazing guitars, so he offered these kits and other guitar parts through his company. You can still get guitar parts there, but it appears the kits are no longer available. It was your standard electric guitar kit, decent body and neck, with a blank headstock (the stratocaster and telecaster style headstocks are copyrighted by Fender so couldn’t be reproduced and sold), and probably lower end hardware and electronics.


I remember the reason I wanted to try guitar kits was because you started with a complete guitar, and the body was a blank canvas, you didn’t have to do any work to strip it down before you could refinish it. But it was wise to do a rough assembly of the guitar to make sure everything fit together ok, so there wouldn’t be any fun surprises at the end.

For the finish, I had this cool looking green fabric, I don’t even know how to describe it. If I were to free associate I would use words like; Celtic, hippie, natural, earthy, lavender, forest, green, free, peace, love, unity. I felt it was a great opportunity to use on one of these strats, and it really worked out for getting a good placement on the guitar to maximize the graphic element and still remain a cool subtle look. I started with the front and decided to finish the back with fabric also, with a more subdued section of the print, but it works to keep continuity. Here are some shots of the process. Pretty simple with this one, used the standard material finish process I’ve come to know: glued fabric on, sanding sealer, cut it out, more sanding sealer (a lot), sanding, paint, clear coats, final wet sanding and polish.

The Front:



The Back:



The Pickguard:

The kit came with a plain white pick guard, I didn’t feel this particular look required a matching pick guard, so I didn’t apply fabric to it, but I didn’t want to leave it stark white either. I  decided to paint it the same color as the edges and burst of the guitar, which was a seafoam green. I thought that color worked really well to compliment the graphic on the print as well as brighten it up overall, as the main color of the guitar was a dark green. Man I can’t believe I used to have time to think about stuff like that.



The Headstock:

As I said earlier, the kit came with a headstock blank, which looks like this.



It’s just a paddle, which doesn’t look very good. I didn’t feel like dealing with this again myself, like I had with the Les Paul style guitar. So I talked to some people on the guitar forums I visited at the time, and found somebody that would cut them out for me in the traditional “strat” style. I sent them off, and they came back all nice and pretty, ready to go.

Also, during the process of refinishing this guitar, it became apparent who I was making it for. Some very close friends of mine were getting married, and try as I might, they just wouldn’t push their wedding date back so I could get this thing properly done in time to give it to them. (I know right!? So selfish.) I thought about my options, and realized I would just do as they do, and go with the flow, and use the opportunity to make it really personal, so I hand wrote the name on the headstock and added a personal note on the back. I don’t think I’ve had to admit this yet, but I did this on the day of their wedding  before leaving my house. I was working on this thing to the very last minute. It is by no means fancy, but I think it’s fitting, and it works, and that’s what I tell myself.


HB Adventure:

You’ve been wondering this whole time, “What the hell is HB Adventure”? I purposely waited until the end to tell you, because I worry about your attention span and wanted you to earn it. Let me be the first to say, Congratulations! Here it comes. HB stands for Hannah and Barry, two very dear friends who I knew separately and then came together to create a beautiful life, incredible love story for sure. <humor>You see Barry was my ex-boyfriend and Hannah was a chick I knew in High School, at least that’s how I remember it. </humor> They really lived life proper traveling and had a blog to tell us all about it while I stayed home making guitars and checking in on their adventures. Life is still happening over at HBAdventure.com, to the fullest to be sure. I really admire my friends who have always seemed to do life right, exploring and capturing the very best life has to offer, and leaving the rest. They teach that now to their two beautiful daughters.

But back in August of 2008, they were just getting married, and I had made a gift for them. I had taken the neck plate in to be engraved, as I was known to do for special occasions. (Mostly this is so they don’t forget who it came from, I hope they don’t know any other “Joe’s”.) 😉







Guitar Retrospective #9: Miartisme Strat


This was a very special project and probably my favorite guitar I’ve worked on. It was a collaboration with a friend and very talented artist Miartisme. Be warned, this post is picture heavy. B-)



I met Miartisme back in the hay days of MySpace (ages ago!). I came across an image of some artwork of hers that I really liked. I reached out to her and we began emailing back and forth. After awhile she expressed interest in me making her a guitar, using her own artwork. We began talking about the logistics of collaborating on a project like this long distance, as we lived in opposite corners of the country.

I made a paper template of the guitar I would use and mailed that to her. She wanted to see where the bridge and pickup cavities would be, and the shape of the space that would be visible so she could arrange her illustration around them. She then worked her magic creating a beautiful illustration, made a few high quality copies, and sent those back to me to use. She also threw in some copies of a couple of other illustrations to use as I saw fit, which were more “random” artwork compared to what would appear on the front of the guitar.

This was an assortment of the copies of the artwork I thought I might try to use on the back, I was attempting to “see” what I could make of it, cutting out various parts and piecing them together. (More on this later.)

Potential artwork for the back


I’m going to break this up into sections and discuss each part of the guitar by itself, taking you through it start to finish with each section, as opposed to how I built it, which was working on several pieces at once. Should make more sense this way.


Guitar Body: Front

This was the main artwork for the front of the guitar after I had cut it out of the sheet that was sent to me. A combination of different mediums were used on paper.

Front artwork


I used one of the Squier strats I had purchased, torn apart and stripped down for this one. I primed the body and sanded down the front, seen here, ready to go.

Primed and ready to go


This was my first time using a material other than fabric, so I was just hoping the glue I normally used worked well with the paper, and applied it generously to ensure I had complete adhesion so I wouldn’t get air bubbles later on. With only a couple copies of the art I wanted to get it right the first time! I didn’t have any issues and the process was the same as previous guitars using fabric.

Here are a couple shots with the artwork glued, and with more sanding sealer applied.

Glued down


After sanding sealer coats


After a few coats of sanding sealer I sanded flat, cut out the cavities, and trimmed the excess material around the edges. The front didn’t require nearly as many coats of sanding sealer as I use on fabric. It was already flat and didn’t soak up into the material.

Trimmed up


The thickness of the paper created a significant lip on the edges of the body. So the next step was using the thick super glue technique (I prefer the CA-30 from Stewmac) to make a smooth edge again. Then it was ready for paint. I decided black would look the best and make all the different colors pop.



Then it was time to clear coat, wet sand, and polish. Here it is hanging for clear coats.

Being clear coated


And after being wet sanded and polished. The front is now complete.

Wet sanded


Guitar Body: Back

For the back of the guitar, I had several options. As I mentioned earlier, I had some extra materials to use to possibly come up with something, or I could use the same thing as the front for the back, or I could just paint it a solid color and have no design at all. It took me awhile to come up with what I did, but the back of this guitar is a big reason why it’s one of the most favorite things I’ve done.

I spent quite a few days playing around with the artwork Miartisme provided, cutting things out, moving things around on a paper template of the guitar, trying to “see” something interesting. Here are some pictures of that process.


I was about to give up on this idea as nothing was presenting itself to me, but all of a sudden I saw it. In the bottom of the illustration, in the orange section, a dragon popped out! I was so excited, I cut it out and placed it on the bottom part of the guitar. I was so pleased myself!

But it still felt incomplete, I had all this space left to fill up. And then I saw something else. A bird! The upper section where I had been taping little bits together now appeared to me as a peacock-like bird flying.

Again, I was so pleased to make such a discovery, I now had something unique for the back, a brand new creation, yet still used Miartisme’s artwork, perfect!

They appeared to me as two mythical creatures, very different from each other, one looking up, one looking down, nearly kissing, in harmonious flight together. But something was still missing. What would I use for the background?

I couldn’t decide what single color would look cool as the background, if any. I began thinking it would be really neat to combine a fabric and paper finish. I started looking through my fabric collection and came across one that was perfect. My Mom is a quilter and  one of her quilting friends was aware that I made guitars with fabric so she had given me some at one point.

It made for a great night sky, a dreamscape for the fantastical flying creatures.

You can see where I pieced together different bits of the artwork by the blue tape on the layout above. After gluing down the fabric I then glued down the paper creatures.

Next came the long process of applying sanding sealer to “bury” the material in the finish. With a layer of fabric, and then thick paper on top of that, it took a very large amount of sanding sealer. Applying 3-4 coats a day, it took probably 2-3 weeks, with some sanding in between occasionally to check progress. Here are some pictures of the sanding sealer process.

Beginning sanding sealer


Still early on, you can see the significant difference in levels


Sanding sealer applied, still wet



Sanded down, you can some spots around the edges of the creatures that are shiny, still needs a little more sanding sealer


After several more coats of sanding sealer have dried


No shiny spots, all level, sanding sealer finished


With the sanding sealer complete, I just had to trim the edges of the fabric and super glue the edge and sand it smooth like I did with the front.

Trimming edge of fabric with X-Acto knife


Now the back and sides could be painted.  Once painted, it’ll stay hanging for clear coats.

After paint, hanging for clear coats


And here it is after being wet sanded. You can see some light sanding scratches that will come out after polish. Once polished this guitar body is now complete!

After wet sand, still needs polished


The Pick Guard

Miartisme had sent me a few copies of the front artwork. One to apply to the front, one incase something went wrong and I screwed it up (which thankfully didn’t happen), and one for the pick guard. With such beautiful imagery covering the front of the guitar, how could I possibly have a plain white pick guard? It HAD to have a matching pick guard. Though this wasn’t the first time doing a matching pick guard (see “Red Fog”), it was the first time using paper and painting it to match perfectly.

So here’s how it went. I started with positioning the pick guard on the body to where it would go.

Positioning on guitar


Then I took close up photos for reference (not shown here) and placed the pick guard over the copy of the artwork and positioned it according to my reference photos so it would line up correctly.

Positioning on paper


I traced the outline and cut it out with an X-Acto knife.

Next I just had to glue the paper onto the pick guard, but to ensure proper adhesion, I sanded the glossy surface down first.

Squeegee helps to remove air bubbles

Checking the fit to see how I did, moment of truth.

Lines up nicely

So then the process for the pick guard was the same as the body, sanding sealer coats, sanding flat, and then painting the edge black to match the body.

Edge painted after sanding sealer

After clear coats and wet sanding and polish, the pick guard is done.


The Headstock

Lastly, the headstock. The only customization I did was to add Miartisme’s signature. This was an added touch of detail I hadn’t originally planned on, but when the artwork arrived and I saw her signature and how cool it looked, I knew I had to include it somehow. Usually I order water slide decals which are very thin and easy to apply and finish over. But in this case, the signature was right there, so with some very precise handy work with the X-Acto knife, I was able to extract her signature from the paper.

After preparing the headstock by sanding it clean I glued down the signature and glued over it with Mod Podge. Being so delicate and thin I wanted to make sure it was all completely glued down.

Glued down and covered with Mod Podge

The Mod Podge is also a sealer so after it was dry I was able to carry on with the other sanding sealer I was using and bury the signature to create a level surface. Being a thicker paper it took quite a few coats to build up to a level surface.

Building up the sanding sealer

After enough sanding sealer had been applied and sanded smooth, I sprayed the headstock with clear in order to wet sand and get the final polished look.

Clear coats applied


Wet sanded and polished


The Final Product

And that is it! Again, even though I discussed each component on its own multiple pieces were all worked on simultaneously. Here you can see at one point I was applying sanding sealer to the back of the body, the headstock, and the pick guard at the same time.

Body, headstock, pick guard, receiving sanding sealer

After reassembling the guitar with the white knobs and pickup covers and discovering I had a couple black tone knobs in my parts drawer, I thought it would look better with a mix of black and white knobs instead of all white.

And finally, some final shots of the guitar completed.



This was an extremely satisfying project and I’m very proud of my part in it, and just want to thank Miartisme for allowing me the opportunity to create this with her. A wonderful collaboration, a beautiful creation.



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! 🙂


Koi-caster finished front

Koi-caster finished back

Guitar Retrospective #2: “Black Floral”

My 2nd guitar project began, unusually, with a quilt! My mother is an amazing quilter, and her first quilt for me was also her first queen-sized quilt, so this was like, special. Though I trusted my Mom completely, I wanted to have a small say in how the quilt might look, at least color or print-wise. So after a mother-son shopping trip to the fabric store, we came up with a cool color scheme, based around a floral print with a black background. It had some greens, white, khaki, and pink accents in the flowers! Needless to say the quilt turned out AMAZING, I completely loved it, and for years hung it on the wall of my bedroom so it was always on display, it was perfect for me.

Ibanez RG470L

A year or two later, sometime in the fall/winter of 2004, I had an idea. I wanted to take another shot at refinishing a guitar, only this time, I wanted to do something completely unique. In my mind, it had never been done before. I had never seen it before at least. I soon came to find out that it had in fact been done before, and even found a rough tutorial of the basic steps on how to do what is known as a material finish. I asked my mom if she had any of that fabric left over from my quilt, which she did, obviously wondering what I was going to do with it. I told her I was going to put it on a guitar. “Whaaaat??? How are you going to do that??” I simply said, “glue” and headed home with my fabric. Working from that tutorial, I set to work on my second custom guitar finish. This time I decided to refinish a guitar I already had instead of doing another kit. I started with an Ibanez Rg470, left handed, in boooooringblack. 🙂

As with any new thing you try, you don’t really know if what you’re doing is correct. I was going through a fairly involved process with the attitude of “just do it and see how it turns out, don’t worry too much about it, do what makes the most sense right now, and you’ll learn a lot and improve on the next one.” I had an outline of the basic process to follow, but I ended up having a lot of questions regarding what kind of materials and tools to buy. (As I later came to find out, I hadn’t even scratched the surface yet in regards to proper finishing techniques.) I was almost clueless. But, I finished it with what little I knew. I think it took me probably 4-6 weeks or so, and what I ended up with was something definitely cooler than what I started with.

It had its flaws to be sure, but that was to be expected, and I was very pleased with it. Everyone I showed it to couldn’t believe it was fabric underneath, it looked like it had been painted. (Kinda the idea.) For awhile many thought I had a hidden talent of being some genius painter, and the reason I hadn’t produced any paintings of any kind up to this point was because I had simply not found my canvas of choice yet. Sadly that’s not the case.

The experience gained from attempting something like this has proven to be invaluable, as it lead me to new resources and knowledge that would shape the rest of my projects to come. And the difference in quality between this guitar and the next, was staggering.

I’ve contemplated re-doing this guitar over the years, as I still have some of the original fabric left, but I kinda like what it represents. It reminds me that you have to start somewhere, and there’s no shame in that. That nothing great ever starts out perfect (except for babies ;-)). It reminds me of the mistakes I made, the reason I use a certain product over another, and that the reason for doing something isn’t necessarily to create the most perfect thing. I did this to flex a creative muscle that was just beginning to grow. I did it because I had an idea come to me out of nowhere, and because it’s important to pursue your ideas and practice making them a reality. I did it to create a bond, between something my mother created and something completely different that I created using the same cloth, literally, which of course created a bond between mother and son. We now have a reason to continue fabric shopping together.

And for all those reasons, despite the poor paint job, despite the bumpy, orange-peeled finish, despite the fact that it’s yellowing because I used the wrong product  — this guitar is exactly perfect.

Guitar with matching quilt.