Wet Sanding the Guitar Finish

Sorry that it’s taken a few weeks to post here, but as you may well be aware, building coats of lacquer on the face of a guitar body is an arduous and time consuming process.  For the past few weeks, my life has revolved around “spray a coat of lacquer on one side of the guitar and wait an hour”.  After spraying many coats of lacquer on one side, I would get bored and want to work on another side.  Of course, one must let the coats of lacquer dry for at least 24 hours before you can flip the guitar body, and place that side down (against the work surface).  The goal in this step is to build the surface of the lacquer high enough so that you can sand it to a smooth surface, and finish (while retaining a thick protective coat of lacquer).  Overall, I believe I am on my tenth can of Krylon Spray Lacquer.

As a side note, a friend of mine who is quite experienced in building guitars (starting with nothing but a solid block of wood, mind you, and is infinitely more experienced than I) has recommended that I use “nitrocellulose lacquer”, should I ever decide to take on another guitar project (rather than the acrylic lacquer that I’ve been building).  Apparently, nitrocellulose lacquer layers MUCH more quickly, and expands much more than acrylic lacquer to allow this step to be completed in less than half the time.  Also, it is supposed to be much easier to sand nitrocellulose lacquer.  Since I’ve already started with acrylic lacquer, however, I have to keep going as it wouldn’t be prudent to mix and match different types of finish.

The above picture shows what the surface of the guitar body looks like, after building about ten coats of lacquer.  You can see many waves, and imperfections directly on the surface of the guitar.  The sparkle, however, shows through very clearly and impressively.  My friend, the guitar builder, has recommended that I “wet sand” the surface of the guitar at this point.  The reason for this is to smooth the surface, so when I am building the coats of lacquer, they will apply more smoothly.  The only caveat is that I MUST be careful not to sand through to the aluminum flake layer beneath the surface.

The two pictures, above, are more views of the face of the guitar.  These aren’t as bad as the first, but again, you can still see imperfections in the surface of the lacquer.

The process of wet sanding involves using a fine, 400 grit, wet sanding paper to smooth the surface of the lacquer.  I had to purchase this paper from a local automotive paint store, as it is too “specialized” a product to be carried at the local Home Depot or Lowes.  Once you have this sandpaper, simply dip your fingers in a little bowl of water, drip it on the surface of the guitar in the area in which you intend to work, and lightly sand.  There are a few things to keep in mind during this step:

  1. You must allow your last lacquer coat to dry for at least 24 hours before attempting to sand.
  2. If the lacquer curls off of the surface into tiny little lacquer balls, then you must stop and allow it to further dry.
  3. If the surface of the lacquer has dried properly, then sanding should produce a result similar to what you see in the above picture.

The above picture is a top-down view of what the surface of the guitar looks like after being wet sanded.  Please note that I tried my first pass in an area that wouldn’t be conspicuous in the final product.  This area would be fully covered by the pick guard, and would be concealed if I had made any fatal errors!

The first impression you have after looking at a fully sanded guitar surface may be one of panic.  After all, you’ve just scuffed the entire surface you’ve worked so hard on carefully building!  Fear not, as lacquer is somewhat of a miracle sealant.  The way lacquer works, is that when you spray a coat of lacquer on top of an existing coat, the lacquer “melts” the existing surface, and then fully bonds with it.  This way, you produce one CONTINUOUS coat of lacquer, rather than successive individual coats as you would with layers of paint.

Before you spray a coat of lacquer on your sanded surface, you must be sure to wipe it down with a good tack cloth.  This will pull any sanding dust or debris from the surface of the guitar and give you a clean surface with which to work.  The above picture is what the guitar looks like after the application of a single coat of lacquer after sanding the entire body.  Not only is the face of the guitar MUCH more smooth, but the black sparkle is beginning to take on a much more rich appearance!  Keep in mind that further applications of lacquer will completely eliminate all trace of the sanded surface and restore the guitar to the smooth, clear, appearance.

That’s all for now, and it may be a few weeks before I post again, so enjoy.  As always, let me know if you have any questions, comments or suggestions!

Building a Lacquer Finish on the Guitar Body

After all of the time consuming work that I had gone through, sanding, measuring, cutting and routing the guitar body, applying the finish is quickly becoming the most nerve wracking.  I know that if I measure something three or four times, that it will most likely be a close fit.  With careful planning, I understand the way in which the electronic components will work together.  Sparkle coating, and finishing the guitar body with a thick coating of lacquer, is more of an art form than something empirical and concrete.

After coating the body of the guitar with black spray paint, and then applying my layer of sparkle / sealing layer of lacquer, I ended up with a dull looking finish (picture below).  It was at this point that I very much started to doubt that this would turn out the way in which I had envisioned; shiny and with a rich, black sparkle coat.

I am normally an optimist, but after three and four coats of lacquer on each side, the guitar looked just as dull.  So at this point, I was WAY beyond the point of no return.  At the very least, I would have a pretty neat looking “rough” matte finish.  It didn’t matter that I had dropped $30 on aluminum flake at this point, as I just want to finish the guitar.  So the plan would stay the same; build the lacquer high enough so that I can wet sand to a smooth finish without sanding through to the flake below.

So my weekend consisted to adding layer upon layer of lacquer to the front, back and edges of the guitar body.  The warm weather dried each coat very quickly (about 20 minutes) so I was able to make some great progress in building the layers.

After about the fifth coat of lacquer on the surface, I received a BIG surprise.  An area where I was beginning to build the lacquer above the top layer of glitter, and was establishing a flat surface, began to clear up and show a nice, sparkly finish below!  Success!

It’s difficult to tell from the picture, but it appears as though I’ve been on the right track all along!  At this point, the surface, sides and back are taking shape.  I’m beginning to build to some smooth, flat parts where I’m able to see even more of the nice, sparkle finish below.  Remember, this is without sanding and polishing!

Sparkle Coating the Guitar Body

Now that I’ve completed the base coat of black spray paint on the guitar body (two to three good coats), I am ready to begin sparkle coating the guitar.  It seems very cliched that I’m saying this, but it is VERY difficult to get good pictures of a sparkle coated guitar.  I must have taken five to ten pictures for every ONE that I am able to use, and some of those aren’t even that great.  If you aren’t careful, you may end up with a picture that looks like a disco album cover from the 1970’s (below).  If you haven’t read my post on the type of aluminum glitter flake I am using, you can find it here.
 

The biggest stumbling block that I ran into was actually finding a way to apply the glitter, evenly, to the body of the guitar.  Several forums that I’ve read suggested using a flour sifter to apply an even coat.

So I took the guitar body outside and sprayed a very generous coat of Krylon Clear Lacquer to the face of the guitar body.  This will provide the tacky surface, to which the black aluminum glitter flake will adhere.  You must move pretty quickly from spray, to glitter application, though, as this stuff begins to harden VERY quickly.  In hindsight, I realize that I should have tested this application process BEFORE working on the face of the guitar as I had run into issues while working against the timing of the hardening lacquer.  I proceeded to pour the glitter from the bottle, directly into the flour sifter, which basically acted as if I was dumping the glitter directly on the guitar.  The sifter had NO effect, whatsoever.  As you can see from the picture below, I had clumps of unevenly distributed glitter, all over the face of the guitar. 

Here’s another shot where you can see the mountains of glitter on the top and left side of the body.  Fortunately, the lacquer only adhered to a very thin layer of glitter.  After allowing about 1 hour to dry, I turned the guitar body upside down, on the work tray that I purchased from K-Mart  (which is the lid from a $6.99 plastic bin), and dumped most of the excess.  More fortunately, I was able to scoop the excess glitter into a plastic cup for later reapplication (remember, glitter is expensive!).

Once I removed the excess glitter, I moved the telecaster body to the plastic tub, which is functioning as my paint booth.  At this point, I applied two additional wet coats (which is a single application, then waiting for 15 minutes and applying a second), and then waiting for a full hour for them to harden.  This sealed the glitter coat to the body of the guitar.

Wow, this picture actually looks nice!  As you can see, the sparkle coat looks much more evenly distributed than in the pictures above.  Once I build up the coats of lacquer to allow for a smooth finish, the guitar SHOULD take on the glittery characteristics that would be expected.  One thing that I forgot to do was to mask off the neck pocket.  From what I understand, you want very little in the way of paint, or lacquer, interfering with the transferrence of vibration from the neck of the guitar, through to the body.  Before applying subsequent coats of lacquer, I was very careful to remove any glitter that happened to find its way into the neck pocket.  I also did the best I could not to over-spray lacquer into this area.  Once this initial coating of lacquer dried, I would be sure to mask the area.

Using a full can of lacquer to coat just the face of the guitar, I realized the three cans that I had originally purchased would NEVER be enough to refinish the guitar body!  What I also didn’t realize, until I went back to Sherwin Williams to get more, was that I am paying $8 a can for lacquer.  Ouch!  There must be a better way to do this, but I’m afraid to switch since I’ve already started.  If anyone out there has any experience with this, shoot me a message.  I would love to hear your opinion.

Now that I was ready to apply the sparkle flake to the back of the guitar body, I figured I would refine my application method.  I found that if I gently poured the sparkle flake from a plastic cup, into the flour sifter (while holding the sifter at an angle), the flake would NOT dump out indiscriminately.  After, carefully, sifting the flake on the back of the guitar body, I then repeated the steps of applying a few coats of lacquer to hold it in place.  This is very important as you will be handling the guitar quite a bit, when applying flake to the edges, and you want to be sure that the sparkle is held firmly in place.

Below is another shot of the guitar body, but you can see that I now have the neck pocket masked.  I should have masked this area before I started the glitter coat.  Also, you can see all of the excess black sparkle in the wells of the plastic work surface.  By reusing all that I could manage, I predict that I’ll be able to finish this part of the project with the original 4 ounces of flake that I had purchased.

I started to get a little impatient, so I put the neck, and white pickguard in place to get an idea of what the finished guitar would look like.  I must say that I LOVE the black sparkle and white color combination, with the maple fretboard!  This guitar is going to look SICK with a thick lacquer coat, shined up and with the illuminated KAOSS Pad / hold button!

 

  

 

Painting the Guitar Body – The Beginning

It’s time for more blurry pictures!  If I realized I was going to be spending this much time on this guitar modification project, I would have purchased a proper digital camera to take pictures, rather than use my Droid. Oh well, I made my bed, so now I’ll have to sleep in it.  A few days ago, I finally was able to begin painting the guitar body.  Now, I feel like I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Firstly, I have to refer anyone reading this who has even the slightest interest in custom finishing a guitar to this forum.  This is a thread on a Telecaster Forum by a guy who goes by the handle of Buckocaster51.  When it comes to posting step by step tutorials on how to custom finish guitars in a variety of ways, including adding rich sparkle finishes, this is most definitely the place to go.  I plan on following his instructions very closely.

The first thing I did was to head over to Sherwin Williams to purchase paint and lacquer.


The black spray paint will function as a base coat for the body of the guitar.  This is important as it is possible that some of this color will show through thin areas of the black glitter coat.  Ultimately I plan to apply enough glitter for this not to happen, but why not cover all the bases?
The lacquer will be used in two ways.  First, I will apply a thin layer above the coat of black spray paint to provide a “tacky” surface to which the black aluminum flake may adhere.  Secondly, I will build MANY layers of lacquer above this to provide that nice, think, clear finish for the guitar body.

So there are a few things to note in the above picture.  
  1. I didn’t bother to sand the body to a smooth finish, or fill in any dings or scratches because the glitter, and subsequent coats of lacquer will provide a smooth finish.  You won’t see much, if any, of the base guitar body.
  2. I stole the idea of using a “paint stick” from Buckocaster.  The neck pocket has five holes, pre drilled.  Four to mount the neck (and neck plate), and one larger hole which was most likely used to hang the body during finishing at the factory.  This hole is covered by the neck plate, and neck, so it doesn’t matter if this gets beat up a little.  I cut a small piece of wood to fit the neck pocket, and loosely attached it to the body, through the finishing hole.  This “paint stick” not only allows me to easily hang the body while the paint / lacquer dries, but gives me a convenient handle so as not to get very much paint on myself during this step.
 Nothing very exciting here, except for the fact that the body of this guitar finally has some paint on it!
This view allows you to see more of the imperfections in the face of the guitar.  Not to worry, these will be covered by the application of aluminum flake, and subsequent layers of lacquer.
That’s all for now.  I’ll post more pictures as this process progresses.

Fabricating the KAOSS Pad Molding and Guitar Faceplate

What started out to be a quick project, has turned into something that has taken quite a bit of time.  This isn’t a bad thing as I want a quality finished product, rather, it was just unexpected.

Now is time to address the dual purpose cosmetic molding that will surround the KAOSS Pad, on the face of the guitar.  The first purpose is to provide the finished look, while covering the gaps between the wood and plastic.  The second purpose is that it is a structural piece.  This molding will actually hold the KAOSS Pad in the body of the guitar.  Other home brew KAOSS Pad guitar mods that I’ve seen use anything from hacked CD cases, to DVD cases with a hole cut in them.  This is NOT the kind of thing that I will be using on this guitar.

After consulting with a friend of mine, I became aware of a website called PonokoPonoko is a “3D Laser Cutting and Design Fabrication” business that allows people to easily fabricate precision parts by uploading computer designs.   You have the option of choosing from a variety of materials, such as cardboard, colored polymers, stainless steel, wood and much more.

I’ve made this file freely available on Ponoko, so those of you who are performing a Kaoss Pad KP2 modification for your guitar can save yourselves a little work.  Click here to visit the page and make your own Korg Kaoss Pad KP2 guitar faceplate molding*Note* Apparently, my measurements were a bit off.  Here’s a link to the revised KAOSS Pad KP2 faceplate molding file.  This is free, so feel free to make at your will!

UPDATE (6/19/2012) – I’ve successfully fabricated and test fitted a flawless cosmetic face plate cover, to secure the KAOSS Pad (KP-2) to the body of the guitar.  Click this link to visit my Ponoko project page, to order yours today.  Note – I am not charging anything for this design – you only pay the Ponoko fabrication fees (about $10).  

For those of you still with me, follow along for a description of how I made this design!

First, I had to take my measurements (please don’t click on the picture, it is horrible and blurry when viewed any larger and I’m terribly embarrassed).  The two measurements I was concerned with were the width and height of the lip around the touch screen, and the width and height around the outside edges of the unit.  See the picture above.  I won’t bore you with the actual numbers I measured.  If you are interested, just download the free design file. *Note* Apparently, my measurements were a bit off.  I’ll have to tweak the design, and will re-post the file once complete.

If I had a caliper, it probably would have been much easier to get an accurate measurement.  Instead, I was working with a tape measure.  This created lots of extra work (as well as much inaccuracy), as I had to measure everything down to the 1/16th of an inch, and then convert that number into decimal places.  In other words, if I measured  4 inches and 2/16ths, I would have to convert that to 4.125 inches.  Then, I had to convert that number to millimeters, as that is the primary unit of measurement that Ponoko uses.  So 4.125 inches converts to 104.775 millimeters.  Note:  You can convert units easily, via Google.  Try typing “convert 4.125 inches to millimeters” in a regular Google search box, and see what happens.  This will save you a LOT of frustration.

Once I had the measurements, I needed a program to make my design.  Ponoko points users towards a variety of options, including some freeware ones.  I chose a freeware design program called Inkscape, simply because it was first on their list.  Click here to visit the Inkscape page.

Ponoko features some great tutorials for getting started designing, using Inkscape.  I won’t reinvent the wheel, rather, I’ll refer you to this page for more detail.  Again, save yourself some time by using my predefined KAOSS Pad KP2 molding.  Inkscape allows for the easy creation of designs, such as this.

A good tip is to print your design on paper, before paying to have your design fabricated.  Once you’ve printed your design, cut it out, using a razor (or utility knife).  This will allow you to see how it fits in the real world.  I estimate this saved me well over $40 in production fees (and countless days which would have been spent waiting for delivery), as I realized I had to make two separate tweaks to my measurements.

Once your design is finalized, upload it to Ponoko, choose your material and shipping options, and you are on your way to a custom finished faceplate!  Since my guitar is following a black motif, I chose black acrylic as my material.  Also included in the design are four pre-drilled screw holes.  I realized, at the last minute, that I would rather not have to drill into the plastic frame and risk the possibility of cracking it.  When all was said and done, this cost me $20 (including shipping).  You may be thinking that is pricey, but again, I wanted a quality finished product.  You get what you pay for…

Now is the waiting game.  Ponoko says my design will be fabricated within two to three business days.  I will have to wait another two to four days for shipping, on top of that.  I’ll let you know how it looks when it arrives!