Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Refinishing, Book 1, epilogue

It's been another week or two since I last mentioned the guitar. In that time I completed the color coat and applied the clearcoat, buffed it to a shine and admired it... Then sanded off the clearcoat and reapplied the color coat, reapplied about half the clearcoat but then ran out, got more clearcoat, sanded off and reapplied the clearcoat, patched color, and reapplied clearcoat again.

Today I sat down in the garden with the offending instrument and checked it over properly. After about an hour of staring at it in the evening sunshine I concluded that it was back to the drawing board time. This post isn't really an update on the progress, more a post-mortem. That doesn't mean I've given up, far from it, but I want to make sure that I've catalogued and understood all the ways that I cocked my first attempt before I have another go. My pride compels me to add that the following pictures make the guitar look a fair bit worse than it actually does.

When I started I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with the guitar. I didn't know what it looked like under the paint, and I was curious to find out. Looking back, I don't regret that—it might have looked awesome under that black paint—but I do regret sanding such a large area of paint away completely. The section that was stripped completely (which can be seen in the original post) covered most of the bottom half of the guitar. More specifically it covered the rough, open end of the grain where the wood was cut. This surface proved extremely difficult to cover with primer, and there were still traces of the rough texture of the underlying wood visible even after the colorcoat had been applied. This would have been ok, but it wasn't consistent, even after the clearcoat was put on the front, it was still possible, in the right light, to see the boundaries of the area that was stripped completely.
   In future I will assume that wood covered by opaque paint is not worth seeing unless I have good reason to think otherwise. If I really have to check, then I'll sand away a small area of the guitar, preferably on the belly-cut at the back. Sanding the wood away here would let me see a cross section of the guitar's construction—whether it has laminates on the front and back, that sort of thing—without leaving an area of completely unfinished wood somewhere important.

Firstly, I didn't make any attempt to fill the dings and dents in the guitar's body before I started. This wasn't particularly to do with laziness or inexperience, I just completely forgot about it.
   The problems I encountered at this stage were the result of a combination of bad materials and bad technique. The first can of spray lacquer I used was frankly rubbish, and was completely emptied long before the guitar was ready for the color coat. Lesson learned. I'll make sure to get decent stuff next time I do that, stuff that is specifically intended for priming wood.
   As regards the technique problems, these were rather inevitable when you consider that I'd never so much as held a can of spray paint before I started this project. I've since learned the very real importance of those "thin, even coats" people talk so much about.

This image shows more problems that I'd like to admit; visible primer, cracked clearcoat, bleugh.

Color Coat
This stage actually went largely without a hitch, so I'll instead take the opportunity to talk about the more general causes of shittyness in this project. The first was that, at least at first, I had no idea how long spray paint takes to dry. The stuff I'm using is typically tacky-dry after a few minutes and completely dry to the touch after an hour or two. What I didn't realize though, was that it takes much, much longer than that to harden properly.

If you look closely at this picture you can see the indentations left when the guitar was left leaning against some fabric for a few hours, a day or two after the finish was applied.

   As the guitar has a set-neck I didn't really have anywhere I could hold the guitar that didn't involve touching the paintwork. On days when I'd been working on the neck this inevitably meant fingerprints from carrying it up to the attic at the end of the day. On the first day or two of work, I left the guitar resting on a tabletop, not realizing that this would leave all sorts of strange imprints on the finish. I figured out a precarious arrangement after a few days that left the guitar propped up using blocks resting on the fretboard and inside of the pickout rout. This allowed it to dry properly, but required a great deal of manhandling to get it in place (usually resulting in yet more fingerprints) and was quite worryingly unstable.
   Towards the end of the project I made a hook from a bent coathanger that allowed me to hold the guitar without touching it and hang it up to dry. If I'd had this from the start, I'm pretty sure things would have gone a lot better.
The second big issue was that of masking. I did the masking right at the beginning of the project and, to be quite frank, ballsed it up something horrific.

 You hear that sound? Yes, that's baby jesus crying.

   I used regular (and very old) masking tape, which didn't mask as well as I might have hoped. It didn't give a clean edge, and paint seeped through in places, forcing me to sand the paint off those areas. Worse than the failings of the masking tape, however, was the cack-handed way I put it on. Rather than a sharp, clean edge, it was a sort of meandering, rough line that veered from the edge of the frets to about a centimeter off the fretboard. I uncovered this horror after the first round of clear coating. As an experiment in desperate damage management, I tried painting over the edge of the neck completely, to hide the monstrous join, but this looked just as dumb.

 Oh, the Humanity!


At first, I thought that the clearcoat went on fairly easily. The truth, however, was in the drying. Coats that looked fine when they first went on, started to look progressively more shit as each day went by. The finish on the front cracked like a playing field on a hot summer and the finish on the back developed strange deep grooves, which were probably the result of cracks forming in the layer below. Kristen suggested that these problems were caused by the coat underneath not being fully dry, which sounds right to me, given what can remember of the order in which the coats when on.

 Eeeew. Gross.

Wobbly, Wobbly.

Another big mistake was not putting enough clearcoat on. It's a simple thing, but I didn't realise that you need to put on far more than you think the instrument could possibly need. Extra care should be taken to build up the coats on the edges and on cutaways with really thin layers. Where the viscious, semi-dry paint is likely to flow away from the edge.
   If the paint is put on too thick then the hardened top layer will crack when the lower, gooey layer shifts away from the edge.

Tectonic Paint Movements

This post may sound gloomy, but I'm actually in a good mood about all this. Once I'd got over the initial frustration of having cocked it up, I've become excited about the chance to try it again, better. If this was an instrument I had a burning need to play right now, then I'd be really annoyed by this setback, but as I'm an apathetic guitarist at the best of times, so I'm not in any real rush.

Friday, June 25, 2010


I came across an interesting book while doing research today. It's called British Highways And Byways From A Motor Car by the American travel writer Thomas D. Murphy (1866--1928). It was written in 1908, when motor cars were still something of a novelty and not exactly the most practical of vehicles, but it's a well-written and interesting travelogue nonetheless. He covers a quite astonishing amount of ground considering the limitations of the technology and shittyness of the roads. His main problem, even in the wilds of scotland, was not mechanical issues, or poor roads, but the weather. Of which he notes

There is little danger of being supplied with too many clothes and wraps when motoring in Britain. There were very few days during our entire summer's tour when one could dispense with cloaks and overcoats.

For the most part, his descriptions conjure up an image of an England very similar to the one I live in now, occasionally though there's a really jarring reference to something that is very much not there anymore.

His description of canterbury, for example, is pretty hard to distinguish from a description of the city today. It took him longer to get there from london, obviously, but the route the road takes hasn't changed a great deal since Roman times. The city, equally, is fairly unchanged -- although it is a strange thing when he refers to victorian edifices as recent additions to the city.

By comparison, the description of Coventry, which I've copied below, is a eerie glimpse of a city that hasn't existed for a long time.

Coventry, with its odd buildings and narrow, crowded streets, reminded Nathaniel Hawthorne of Boston—not the old English Boston, but its big namesake in America. Many parts of the city are indeed quaint and ancient, the finest of the older buildings dating from about the year 1400; but these form only a nucleus for the more modern city which has grown up around them. Coventry now has a population of about seventy-five thousand, and still maintains its old-time reputation as an important manufacturing center. Once it was famed for its silks, ribbons and watches, but this trade was lost to the French and Swiss—some say for lack of a protective tariff. Now cycles and motor cars are the principal products; and we saw several of the famous Daimler cars, made here, being tested on the streets.


Other things I've learned today include what must be one of the most strangely named streets in Britain (up there with Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate in York), "Bullet Loan" in Kelso, Scotland.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Refinishing Part the second

I've been meaning to update this for a while now, but I've been busy painting, working, and playing Red Dead Redemption. I've done a lot to the guitar in the week or two that has elapsed since the last post, and I'm probably not far from finishing the job (the painting part of it anyway -- the new electrics are another job entirely) After sanding away the paint to look at the wood, I decided to do a more sensible job on the rest of the guitar.I worked with a succession of lower and lower grades of sandpaper and wet n' dry. By the end the guitar was as smooth as a teflon dolphin. In the process of sanding it down I was able to confirm something I'd noticed when I first got it.

That little black dot is the filled-in remains of a hole drilled for a left-handed strap button. This means that at some point in the last 30 years, my guitar was owned by a left handed, but not hugely picky guitarist. This is one of the things I love about getting an old guitar -- there's more mystery, I feel like a musical archaeologist.

The first coat of primer didn't go on very well. The patches of bare wood just seemed to drink it up. I ended up using the entire can without getting it anywhere near smooth enough to put the color coat on. I think the paint (made by Keen) was not very well suited to the task. I went out at the weekend and bought some more white primer -- this time by a company called "painter's choice" -- from homebase. I've never bought spray paint from a shop before. I had to ask someone to go and unlock the case they keep them in, and got eyeballed by the cashier when I went to pay.

For all that work though, it was much better paint. I had to learn a different technique for applying it, as it was much thicker and more runny than the other stuff. The first time I tried to use it I got runs and drips all over the guitar which essentially meant I had to sand away everything I did that day. I found the best way was to apply it in short sprays, adding more layers every 20 minutes or so. Over several evenings during the week I used this technique to get a good, even coat over the whole guitar. After a week of spraying the finish was nice and smooth and covered the texture of the wood effectively.
One thing that it didn't occur to me to do, which I will certainly do next time I'm working on a guitar, is to get some kind of woodfiller or glue and fill in all the dings and dents before I start finishing. Although the thick layer of paint has covered up the smaller dents and scratches, the big ones (which has guitar has more than its share of) are still noticeable.

Today I had a go with the green spray paint. This was the same brand as the fairly useless white primer -- so I was worried that it wouldn't be enough to cover the guitar properly. It seems these fears were unfounded though, as it covered the guitar brilliantly and fast. In fact, if rain had not forced me to bring the guitar in before it was properly dry (putting some smeary fingerprints on it in the process) I think one coat would probably have been enough.

I don't know if the weather is going to cooperate tomorrow, but if it does, I plan to get the color coat finished. I wont bother putting the clearcoat on yet though. That can wait until later in the week. I need to get some rubbing compound too, or it will not look sufficiently shiny.
The color looks a little strange in this picture, almost metallic. It's a trick of the light -- in reality the color is exactly like this, which is the look I was going for.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Graphic Design, 1800s style

"I need it to look exciting and eye-catching"
"hmm. How about I use every typeface and dingbat I have?"
"Won't that make it a little busy looking?"
"nah, it'll look great"

A Microcosm

From the talk page associated with this Wikipedia subject sidebar

The template is fantastic, but I have a bit of a concern about the picture of Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal was built by a Mughal ruler out of love for his wife. The Taj Mahal is not a mosque and it is more of a symbol of love, and has got little to do with Islam. I suggest this be replaced with the picture of the Ka'aba or other more prominent Islamic monument as the picture of the Taj Mahal is misleading. -- Shijaz 12:39, 11 December 2008 (UTC)
This isn't about Islam, it's about Islamic culture, what Muslims have done because of the influence of Islam, even in non-religious areas. If you read about the Taj Mahal, it is considered one of the greatest representations of Muslim art and architecture in the world by historians. The Kaaba is religious not cultural, it isn't considered a part of Muslim art. --Enzuru 03:24, 12 December 2008 (UTC)
I fail to understand how culture is any different from religion - when it comes to Islam (which is a 'way of life')! -- Shijaz 10:20, 13 January 2009 (UTC)

Saturday, June 05, 2010


I like to tinker with my guitars, this is well known, but I'm never really done any refinishing. The closest I've come is the very silly artwork I doodled on a guitar a while ago, but that wasn't so much refinishing as messing around. I've decided to take the plunge today, after umming and erring for a while. The instrument that is getting the treatment is my 1980 ibanez Studio ST-50. It's a nice instrument, but its age is showing badly. The pots are worn and crackly; the hardware is filthy; and the finish (none more black) is covered in cracks, chips, dents, and weird blistered patches (it looks like a previous owner spilled some kind of industrial solvent on the back).

I bought a load of sandpaper, a few cans of spray paint (white primer, racing green paint, and clear laquer), and decided to have a go with it. Firstly, I had to dismantle the electrics and take off the hardware--which didn't take very long, but did leave the guitar looking very weird.

After that I started sanding off the paint. I'd done a fair amount of research on my guitar and figured out that it was one of the last of its model line made. It was probably cobbled together in 1980 out of parts left over from the previous year's models. While it is ostensibly an ST-50 (the entry level-model), it has a few features (the swanky tuning pegs and brass truss rod cover) that only usually featured on the more expensive models. This meant that I wasn't certain what I'd find when I stripped the paint off. I figured it was worth a look to see if it would look good with just a natural finish.

As you can see from this, the wood doesn't look that great. I'd guess it's a maple cap on the top and bottom with a core of laminated mahogany. It confirms something I'd figured out a while ago -- if a guitar has a solid opaque finish, then it's there for a reason. This guitar, with its mismatched laminates and big ugly join, would not have made the natural finish cut. That's not to say it sounds bad, or it's generally bad wood, it's just not very pretty. I did a quick test with the white primer on the back of the guitar and it doesn't seem too difficult to do (famous last words) as I'll probably only do a plain solid finish. I've run out of daylight today though (hangover stole most of the daylight hours) so I'll have to continue my experiments tomorrow.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The first Rule of Editing

Putting jokes in the Dummy text?



It's a pretty simple rule, but surprisingly hard to follow. I wonder how many people get fired every year for stuff like that.