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FDP Forum / Guitar Mods, Repairs, and Projects / Jumping headfirst into guitar refinishing

lockbody
Contributing Member
**

Boringham, AL

Everybody loved us, except the people
Mar 10th, 2012 09:55 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

So, I wanted a 70's Stratocaster in the worst way because of all my fond memories of my first real guitar, a '75 Strat. Since then I've had numerous other Strats, but like many who came of age in the late 70s to early 80s, I dig the look of the big headstock, CBS-era Strats the most, because that's the one I lusted after in my early teen years before I started playing, and just naturally associate it with the look of a proper Stratocaster.

Then I finally get another one and discover I don't like the narrow nut width, vintage frets, and vintage 7.25" radius any longer, and I prefer either modern Strats or Gibson-ish flatter and wider necks the best. This sucks as the guitar smokes. It's fairly light, has a nice, tigh t neck pocket, is a hardtail which I've found I really like, and has all the classic Strat tones I dig. You could not ask for a better example of a 70's Stratocaster... except for the one glaring issue which was an amateur refin done by the original owner in the late seventies. He had stripped the sunburst off and applied a rattle can clear coat, and also put some black electrical tape stripes in it a la Van Halen. It looks like he put them on before the clear coat had fully cured because there were visible ridges in the finish where the tape was.

What to do?

My first thought was to get rid of it. I'm not going to enjoy playing it, you can't go home again, etc... I put it on my local CL for trade, but didn't really receive any offers worthwhile, and then also on a few other forums, but while the offers here were light years better than the best I got on CL, they weren't anything that I really felt I had to have, or would play more than the equipment I already owned, and I think part of the reason that I didn't get the offers I felt were commensurate with the (admittedly arbitrary) value I placed on the guitar was the poor, amateur refin.

Then I thought "If you like the guitar, but don't like the neck, why don't you just get another neck and keep it, dummy?"

And that's what I'm going to do, but what about that crummy looking body? I might as well get a better looking finish on it, I thought, so I put a few feelers out, but then I started looking around the basement. Good compressor with an air trap to protect my tools, HVLP gravity feed sprayer that I got then never used, Woodcraft store close to the office...

And that brings me to the point of this little novel - I've decided to try my hand at refinishing the body myself. I can't do a worse job on it than its current finish, to be sure, and if I do it right then don't like it I can always strip it again and send it to one the fine folks who do it for a living.

So here goes:

Here's what I started with:

http://i1238.photobucket.com/albums/ff496/lockbody/Guitars/76-Stratocaster/DSC_6174sm.jpg

First step is to get the old clear off. So far it's not too bad, as it was fairly thin to begin with. I bought some chemical stripper, but 120 grit sandpaper is taking the old finish off just fine. I may use some in the inside curves of the cutaways to avoid having to sand too much and risk buggering the look of the horns, but otherwise I'm just going to take it slow and easy and sand the rest off.

Here's my progress after getting started last night. As you can see, I still have a little to do on the front, and a bunch more sanding to do on the back. After getting all of the old finish off, next up with be sanding with a lighter grade paper.

http://i1238.photobucket.com/albums/ff496/lockbody/Guitars/76-Stratocaster/RefinProject2012/DSC_6224sm.jpg

http://i1238.photobucket.com/albums/ff496/lockbody/Guitars/76-Stratocaster/RefinProject2012/DSC_6225sm.jpg

Reading up on Reranch.com and several other sites, since my body is ash I have my work cut out for me. After sanding I'll need to:

Remove all traces of sawdust (natch) and spray a light wash coat of sanding sealer.

Grain fill with a natural color, water-based filler.

Sand back to the grain,and refill if needed.

Sand back to the grain.

Sand with a finer grade (320?)

The I need to decide the final finish. Right now I'm going with a Behlen stringed instrument lacquer clear coat (with a touch of amber in it on the last coat or so), but I'm not married to a 100% natural finish, and may want to try a blonde. The ash isn't perfect, probably why it got a sunburst in the first place, and a blonde finish would minimize some of the imperfections. I don't want to to a solid though. I did buy some smaller ash blanks, so I can practice whatever finish I decide to do before I spray the guitar itself. More than likely I'm going to do the nitro clear because that's going to be the easiest thing for me to do. I also plan to finish the neck I buy, then throw the original in the closet.

I'll keep updating this post as I go. I plan to take this slow and methodical, but I'll take any well-wishes you might offer, as well as any tips.

Day one

vomer
Contributing Member
****

Somerset, UK

Slavering over a hot stave.
Mar 10th, 2012 04:04 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Can't offer you any tips LB, but lots of good wishes for the project. I do like blondes, but not sure about blonde with large headstock. What colour is your pickguard, and are you keeping it?

lockbody
Contributing Member
**

Boringham, AL

Everybody loved us, except the people
Mar 10th, 2012 08:16 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Thanks vomer.

It has got a black pickguard with white pickups and controls.

I know what you mean about the blonde finish, but there's not a ton of options when it comes to 70s finishes. Other than the rare custom color, it's usually sunburst, natural, white, or black. Collectability is out the window with the refin anyway, so I might as well do something I can pull off.



wrnchbndr
Contributing Member
*******

New Jersey

The otters threw me out
Mar 12th, 2012 06:56 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

The reranch website has some realistic advice and their product is about the best you can get for the once every few years refin sort of guy. The absolutely most important step you have in front of you is the prep and grain fill process. This is a monumental task and even more so with ash. Commit to spending at least a month doing the prep work. Colors, and even a sunburst are a walk in the park compared to the prep work but if you do it right, you have a good chance of getting a factory refin. The other option is to send the body to naked body guitars and let them do it for you.

lockbody
Contributing Member
**

Boringham, AL

Everybody loved us, except the people
Mar 12th, 2012 08:36 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Thanks wrnchbndr. Not to make light of the actual spraying of the finish, but I went into this thinking if I did the prep right, took my time, and didn't cut any corners, that I probably could pull off a reasonably good job.

My goal is "mirror", and I know if I want to achieve that, the prep has to be as close to perfect as I can get. This isn't for a paying customer, just me, so I'm in no hurry. Using a consumer-grade nitro means plenty of wait time anyway to let it harden, so no point in trying to blast through the prep. I figured on a couple of months from the start until I could actually strap on the guitar and play it again.

And yes, I've been perusing both the reranch site and this forum for every scrap of advice I could get before embarking on this project.

lockbody
Contributing Member
**

Boringham, AL

Everybody loved us, except the people
Mar 14th, 2012 09:23 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Got the last of the old finish and leftover Fullerplast off today and sanded to 220. From what I've read, most people are split on whether to stay at 220 or go ahead and sand with 320. Lots of sanding to come, so I stayed at 220.

http://i1238.photobucket.com/albums/ff496/lockbody/Guitars/76-Stratocaster/RefinProject2012/DSC_6227sm.jpg

http://i1238.photobucket.com/albums/ff496/lockbody/Guitars/76-Stratocaster/RefinProject2012/DSC_6228sm.jpg

I then sprayed a light coat of sanding sealer, and put it up for the day.

http://i1238.photobucket.com/albums/ff496/lockbody/Guitars/76-Stratocaster/RefinProject2012/DSC_6229sm.jpg

This is something else I've found most people go either way on - grain fill and then spray sanding sealer, or seal then grain fill. As the filler can stain the grain, I decided to spray my sanding sealer first. I'll probably have time to apply the grain filler tomorrow then sand over the weekend, than that will be all until after next week when I return from vacation.

To see If I liked the blonde look (which I wasn't a big fan of after all), I took

this pic

playonit
Contributing Member
********

Hamburg, NY

I Brake for...... LARD!!!!!
Mar 16th, 2012 11:07 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Lot's of good info here also......

Good finishing info...

ConchoBill
Contributing Member
*****

Universe of Tejas

Bluz Cowboy
Mar 21st, 2012 02:11 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

It doesn't look blonde in the photo, but that may just be the light. What color did it start out (I am sure you said but....)?

lockbody
Contributing Member
**

Boringham, AL

Everybody loved us, except the people
Mar 21st, 2012 03:50 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Thanks for the link playonit. There's some good stuff in there.

ConchoBill, see below for what I started with.

Yeah, it wasn't "blonde", just a shot of the raw, natural wood with flash. My plan is to add a tiny bit of amber to one of the final top coats, so I just wanted to see if that white, or blonde look would work for me. Which it didn't.

The toughest thing so far was getting the filler the correct shade. I still think it's a tad to light and not brown enough, but I only got one coat on before I left on vacation and can always sand back and redo if I just can't stand it when I get home this weekend.

Rattle can clear Strat- in the begining

wrnchbndr
Contributing Member
*******

New Jersey

The otters threw me out
Mar 21st, 2012 08:17 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I am collecting materials to put a finish on my Thinline I did for the Gentlemans contest. So far I have two applications of grain filler and three coats of shellac that I was going to use as the sealer coat but instead, I've been sanding back with 320 dry and trying to eliminate all of the residual grainline problems that you can see in the light reflection when block sanding. My block is a 1 1/2" square of 1/2" thick polycarbonate. Yesterday I just really got fed up about the hours I'm putting in for this grain issue so I went to see a professional automotive refinishing guy for some advice. I am now going to try out a specific recommended brand of vinyl sealer that has been highly praised by my new mentor. The claim is that this product is ready to sand in 90 minutes, builds fast, sands very well, and is a perfect sealer for a lacquer topcoat. I now need a syncronization of good weather and my schedule. Good weather is beginning happen a lot here in NJ.

lockbody
Contributing Member
**

Boringham, AL

Everybody loved us, except the people
Mar 28th, 2012 09:14 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Hmm, I'm seeing why so many people dislike working with ash. I'm on my second of four to five coats of sanding sealer after two applications of grain filler, and I'm seeing a decent number of "pinholes" in the grain.

I know I could just grain fill it some more, but showing my inexperience, I'm not completely happy with the tint I gave the grain filler, and now wish it was a little darker.

So I think I'm going to get out the acetone, strip it back, and refill it.

It's a good thing I bought another Strat so I don't feel the need to rush through this, LOL!

Going forward, I think instead of updating this thread with every "milestone", I'll just document everything and post near the end.

lockbody
Contributing Member
**

Boringham, AL

Everybody loved us, except the people
Apr 20th, 2012 08:14 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Well, this slows things down a bit.

I received my new neck from Musikraft yesterday morning, planning to spray it and the body, but when I removed the bubble wrap my eyes were drawn to a black mark by the bullet trussrod adjustment. I can't say for sure, but it looks like some sort of machining, or tool oil spray.

I do know I can't remove it. I started with some naphtha, hoping it was on the surface, but it's under the shellac they apply to every neck. I've lightly sanded it down to the bare wood, and it's still there. If I swipe it with some naphtha it pops right back out as black as can be.

I've emailed Musikraft expressing my displeasure, but after two days they haven't graced me with a reply yet.

New neck

lockbody
Contributing Member
**

Boringham, AL

Everybody loved us, except the people
Jul 1st, 2012 07:05 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I know it's been quite a while since I've updated this post, but the super-hot weather has finally given me some time to sit in the basement to final sand and polish the Strat.

My original plan was to leave the finish "natural", but when I was doing my final sanding (the first time about a month ago) I sanded through a particularly thin spot on the tummy cut. I had added a little amber tint to the clear and was worried that I might not be able to match it, so I decided to bite the bullet and try a two-tone sunburst. This is really what I wanted to do in the first place but I was hesitant to try one, hence simply going with a straight clear coat over natural.

Other than the dark band being a tad wider than I wanted around the forearm and input jack, I think it turned out great for my first time. The middle is ColorTone amber floated over the clear, and the burst is Mixol dark brown with a healthy dose of black.

Here it is after I had sanded to 2000 right before polishing:

http://i1238.photobucket.com/albums/ff496/lockbody/Guitars/76-Stratocaster/RefinProject2012/Fender1976StratocasterBody2000Sand.jpg


And after polishing first with Meguier's liquid polishing compound, Glaze #7, and SwirlX:

http://i1238.photobucket.com/albums/ff496/lockbody/Guitars/76-Stratocaster/RefinProject2012/Fender1976StratocasterBody.jpg


And the whole thing from the rear:

http://i1238.photobucket.com/albums/ff496/lockbody/Guitars/76-Stratocaster/RefinProject2012/Fender1976StratocasterRearF.jpg


I had to return the Musikraft neck for a refund. They tried four more times to make me a good neck and told me every one of them had some sort of issue. I bought a Warmoth neck to replace it, but I really wanted that bullet trussrod adjuster. Oh well.

And below is the final result from the front with the stock neck. Man, what a project, but I simply could not be more pleased with the way it turned out.

Refinished '76 Stratocaster

wrnchbndr
Contributing Member
*******

New Jersey

The otters threw me out
Jul 1st, 2012 08:02 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

This is the benchmark for someone who is not an actual professional refinishing guy taking on something like this and pulling it off. It is the exception to the rule that most people who think about doing this fail. The guitar is awesome. You can buy an American Strat for what some people would charge to do a job like this.

CheesyBob
Contributing Member
**********
***

Cincy, Do'hio

Did I do that!
Jul 1st, 2012 09:10 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

That is sweet.

Bear
Contributing Member
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Colorful CO

Jul 1st, 2012 09:50 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

BEAUTIFUL.




There is one thing left to do. You must go through the gut-wrenching experience of dinging it.

myshka

Canada

Jul 1st, 2012 09:50 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

That is just beautiful !

Congrats on a job really well done.

lockbody
Contributing Member
**

Boringham, AL

Everybody loved us, except the people
Jul 1st, 2012 01:50 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Thanks everyone!

Over and over, people told me, and I read in thread after thread what wrnchbndr says above: that if I did my prep work right - the sanding, filling, and sealing, that I had a good chance of pulling off as fine of a finish as anyone can do.

Is it perfect? Nooooooo. But I tell you, there's not very many things in this world that I'm more proud of than how this guitar turned out.

Jake The Loafer

B'ham, Alabama

"Uhh Yahwww, I'll Get Around To It"
Jul 1st, 2012 06:33 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Man that really looks great! Really looks like a pro did it.

Peace,
Jake

TonyMan
Contributing Member
*****

Lisle, IL USA

That's what she said!
Jul 1st, 2012 09:45 PM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Man, that burst looks great, and against that black pickguard - kinda droolin' here! Great workmanship.

FDP Forum / Guitar Mods, Repairs, and Projects / Jumping headfirst into guitar refinishing




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