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Electric Guitar Finish – Full Text

There are many types of finishes for electric guitars. One of my favorites is using color codes over highly figured pieces of wood. The color helps accentuate the figure grain and really makes for an impressive finish. Let me show you how I do this. To make the guitar go from this to this takes a lot of work. I started by masking off the sides but left a portion of the quilted maple top visible so that it looked like bindings. I did the peghead the same way. I then used black leather dye to paint the entire quilted maple guitar top. On the peghead I sealed the inlay and then painted the maple veneer black as well. After the dye had dried I used 220 grit sandpaper to sand the die off the maple. The highly figured part of the grain soaks up more die than the rest of the piece of maple. The idea is to leave the color in this highly figured grain so that it accentuates it.  If you sand the color all the way off then you won’t have the desired effect of popping the grain. I then chose the color I wanted to use for the guitar. In my case, green. I got these dyes from LMI. Make sure that you get the appropriate die for the product you are using. I mixed mine with lacquer thinner and added a small amount of lacquer to the mix. I then went to the spray booth and sprayed a few color coats until I got the shade I desired on both the guitar and the peghead. Next I spread a few coats of clear lacquer to seal in the color coat. For the back and sides of this guitar I decided to use black so I needed to tape off the binding portion of the maple top I just sprayed green. I also masked off the top of the guitar. Everywhere I didn’t want black had to be covered. I then made my own spray paint by adding some black dye to my lacquer. The first few coats you spray are semi-transparent but the more you apply the darker it gets. I wanted an opaque finish so I sprayed until I got that amount of coverage. After the first day of spring I lightly sanded the entire guitar with 320 grit sandpaper. The key word here is lightly because you do not want to sand through the clear coat and into the green color coat. On day two I apply between three to five clear lacquer top coats at full strength. You must have a good spray technique so you keep runs and drips to a minimum. Watch my luthier tips du jour video on spray guns if you need to in order to get a better understanding on how spray guns work. On day three I lightly sand it again. You can use 320 or 400 grit paper or even wet sand to a higher grit if you like. This time you want to get the finish as level as possible in preparation for the final coats of lacquer. After the surface is completely level it is back to the spray booth to spray another few coats of lacquer. By now you should have your spray gun and technique dialed in so that you get a nice smooth surface. You can even thin the lacquer up to 50 50 if you like. Be very careful to not get any runs or drips in your final coats. Once the final lacquer coats are sprayed you get to take a few weeks off while the finish cures. I like to wait at least three to four weeks. After that I begin wet sanding the finish with 600 grit and progress up to 1500 grit. Placing a single drop of liquid detergent in the water helps the sandpaper grab the finish better. Spend some quality time with the sandpaper making sure that the finish is completely leveled. This usually happens just before your arm falls off. You can tell the finish is level when there are no more shiny spots on the surface. After that spend some time on the buffing wheel removing all sanding marks until you get a nice mirror finish. Watch my luthier tipsters your video on buffing high gloss finishes for more info on that. If you did everything correctly you will have a really cool finish that looks something like this.