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Please learn from my mistakes. Really…

It’s been a rough few weeks, but in the end, I’ve had a LOT of learning lessons.  Read that last sentence, and realize it is a nice way of saying “I messed up a lot of stuff over the past few weeks”!

Now that that sanding sealer has dried, I was ready to start my color coats.

Here’s a shot of the guitar body, after the sanding sealer dried, and sanding with 320 grit sandpaper to smooth out the surface.  It looks pretty good, right? 

Here’s the back, after sealing and sanding.  Again, it looks great!

Now instead of showing you some great pictures of how I primed the guitar, to ready it for some color coats, I can’t do that.  Why, you ask? Because I forgot that I should probably prime this damn thing.  So instead, I’m showing you a picture of how I feel after making that stupid mistake!  Prime your guitar body, if you intend on finishing it in a solid color, especially white.  No really, PRIME THE GUITAR. I’m probably a can and a half through white tinted lacquer, when it should only have taken a handful of coats to achieve the desired consistency, but more on that later.

Ok, let’s forget that last dumb mistake, and move on to some good stuff.  I now use a Nitrocellulose lacquer by Behlen for finishing.  This is great (expensive) stuff, that I purchase from Stewart-MacDonald.  I’m told that I can achieve the same effects with less expensive lacquer by Sherwin Williams.  That’s a good thing to keep in mind for my next build, as I can save a lot on lacquer, and also purchase it locally to save on shipping costs.

The lacquer has a tinted, amber, appearance which dries completely clear.

To achieve the opaque white finish I’m going for, I used lacquer dye from ColorTone.  This is great stuff, and comes in all different colors.  This can be used for any number of finish types, like clear “bursts”, light tinting, etc.  Here come more mistakes.

 Just stop!  Don’t do this!  I didn’t have any fresh mixing cups handy, so I decided to mix some lacquer and pigment in a red Solo cup, before filling my spray gun.  I didn’t realize that the lacquer actually would MELT the cup, very quickly.  I didn’t take a picture of it, but I ended up with a sludge of melted plastic and lacquer all over my work space.  Thankfully, I was able to clean most of it up, very quickly.  What’s the lesson learned here, you ask?  Use a proper mixing cup from a paint retailer, or even mix your combinations in empty lacquer cans.  Can you guess what’s next?  You got it, more stupid mistakes!

I carefully masked the fretboard, neck and sides / back of the headstock.  My plan is to finish those areas with an antique, tinted amber clearcoat.  No mistakes in this shot, but here they come!

 Boy, I think I’ve achieved new heights in how badly I can set this project back!  Take a look at my first pass of laying down tinted lacquer, and realize that you shouldn’t see any runs. Not only did I have runs, but they were so bad, it actually looked like my guitar was melting!  Here’s what went wrong:

Spray technique – The gun adjustments were way, Way, WAY off.  Not only did I have it set to allow too much lacquer to feed into the gun nozzle, but I didn’t have anywhere near enough pressure going to the tip.  Why did I do this?  My only guess at what I was thinking is that it had been quite awhile since I shot lacquer on a fresh body, and it didn’t seem like I was piling it on too think.  It took a few minutes for the runs to start, which allowed me to mess up even more.  Ultimately, this resulted in lacquer basically being gooped onto the guitar body, instead of being finely atomized like a nice aerosol spray. 
Too much lacquer dye – Something that I now realize, after some research, is that the more dye you add to lacquer, the slower the lacquer will actually “cure”.  This gives the lacquer more time to run and sag.  Not good!
No “tack coat” - The first coat of lacquer that is applied to a guitar body, should be a “tack coat”.  This provides a very light (almost misted) base coat that adheres to the guitar body, and allows subsequent “wet” coats of lacquer better adhesion to prevent runs.  
Cold weather - This is unavoidable in the Northeast, and extra caution should be taken when it is cold.  It makes it that much more difficult for the lacquer to dry quickly.

Thankfully, I did a good job of masking the neck.  You can see the runs in this shot as well. 

So I let that whole mess dry, and sanded it all back to a relatively even base coat (as even as possible).  After correcting all of my mistakes, I have been able to lay down some very nice coats of tinted lacquer.  It looks much better in this shot, right?  Now here’s where the lack of priming comes into play.  Since I didn’t prime, it took MANY coats, before the wood grain stopped showing through.  Now, I’m left with some areas where the dark body coloring is still shadowing the pure white coats.  I probably doubled the amount of white lacquer that I’m going to have to spray, all because I forgot to prime.  Note – the grain filler did prevent the body from absorbing any lacquer, but since it is clear, didn’t help the coloring any.  Overall, I will be able to achieve a great finish, just with a lot of extra work.

Here’s the back.  If you look closely, you can actually see some of the “shadowy” areas that still need to be covered. 

Last but not least, the headstock.  This picture was taken right after spraying, so it looks very watery, but it actually did dry very nicely.  There are no runs or bubbles to speak of on this piece.  Overall, I think this was a great learning lesson of what not to do.  Every one of these I finish, should teach me more, and hopefully should get easier as well!