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Moisture Bubbles Under the Lacquer Surface

It’s been quite some time since I last posted on my progress in modding a Telecaster clone guitar to include a KAOSS Pad touch sensor.  To briefly recap, I am at the point where I have coated the guitar body in black, aluminum flake, and am building the lacquer finish above it.  This is an extremely time consuming step, as you must coat the body of the guitar, and then wait for it to dry before you can begin another.  Repeat this times one hundred, and you’ll understand why I’m not boring you with all of the details.

Building a lacquer finish on a guitar body is a time consuming process, one that would’ve been made MUCH easier had I used nitrocellulose lacquer.  Unfortunately, I made the mistake of using acrylic lacquer, and so I am stuck on this course of action.  Because of my using acrylic lacquer, I have opened myself up to a variety of problematic issues, including that of moisture bubbles appearing below the surface of the finish.

The reason I am dealing with this issue, has much to do with my impatience.  As I’ve mentioned above, building a lacquer coat is a very time consuming process.  The area where these bubbles have collected, is an area where I attempted to proceed faster than I should have.  I can’t specifically narrow it down, but I am attributing the moisture bubbles to one of the following:

  • I applied a coat of lacquer, too quickly after wet sanding the surface.
  • I applied too thick a coat of lacquer at one time, trapping moisture beneath the surface, and without allowing it to dry completely.

In the pictures below, you will see the top edge of the guitar.  If you look closely, you can see many tiny bubbles, slightly beneath the surface of the acrylic lacquer.


Speaking with my friend, the guitar builder, he informed me that I could take one of two steps:

  1. Strip the body entirely of its finish, and start again with nitrocellulose lacquer
  2. Get a hair dryer and warm the area, plagued by moisture bubbles, to force them to the surface of the lacquer. 

Let me think this one over.  Spend hours and hours, UNDOING what I’ve already done, only to redo it again, OR spend hours of time with a hair dryer working on moisture bubbles.  Since I’m already at least TEN cans of lacquer in, not to mention expensive aluminum flake AND black spray paint, I chose option #2.  The hair dryer it is!

At this point, I’m still well in the process of working on my moisture bubbles, but I am able to see some headway being made.  The longer I heat an area with the hair dryer, the more moisture bubbles rise to the surface of the lacquer.  At that point, I’m able to wet sand them off, without sacrificing the finish beneath.  This is certainly a time consuming process, but seems to be one that will work in the long run.  To hold you over, for the time being, I’ve included some pics below of the headway I’ve made so far.

In the picture above, those of you who are VERY observant may notice that I’ve unmasked the neck pocket of the guitar body and that some finish is building in it.  I ran into an issue where the lacquer was sealing the masking tape to the body of the guitar, and was very problematic to remove.  I’ve decided to forgo the masking tape, and to just sand the neck pocket clean with a Dremel attachment, once I’ve completed the body.

The two pictures above show the front and back of the guitar body.  They are beginning to take a much more smooth appearance as I am continually building several layers of lacquer, and then slightly wet sanding them to a smooth surface.  I still have quite a way to go, as you can still see some wavy and pitted areas, but you get the idea.

The next two photos (below) show close-ups of the edges of the guitar face and back.  The edges seem to be smoothing out much more quickly than the back, and so you can begin to see the shiny black flake finish.  This is great to finally see, as it is very neat to see the three-dimensional qualities of this type of finish.  I guess I’m not that far off of the mark, after all!

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