Rubbing out the decal.

Most of the pictures of Joe Strummer in action don’t, it turns out, tend to focus on the headstock of his guitar. No surprise there. Most of the images that exist aren’t actually detailed enough to see what’s going on at all – but the more research I do, the more I find out. And from what I can discover, it seems that the decal on the headstock of the original guitar is now so worn, it is virtually invisible. I didn’t really like the look of the one I got anyway.

So, as part of the general ageing process, I need to go hard on the face of the headstock and remove a good deal of my decal, in a suitable manner. Normally, I’d rub back the coats of lacquer over the decal to try and eventually bed it into the surrounding coats. This time, I just have to keep going and see what comes away, and I’m actually not too worried what does come off. I start with 360 grit over a cork backing block, and begin removing some of the tinted lacquer I previously sprayed over the decal.


The coats of tinted lacquer come away evenly enough, but sanding also reveals some irregularities and highspots on the face of the headstock. Eventually, bits of the decal come away as well and I’m left with a result which definitely begins to look like a well-worn decal. It might not be fully faithful to the original – but I actually prefer this to the pristine, black decal.

I now need to tint some of the exposed wood back to some sort of vintage amber, and also continue the process of burying what’s left of the decal in lacquer. I lay the neck out, mask off the fingerboard and shoot three more coats of Vintage Amber Tint over the face of the headstock, building up to a thick, liquid coat after the final pass. I’ll have to reduce the coats again to fully bed the decal elements in – but I’ll probably rub it all back hard, at least one more time, and try to accentuate an approximation of ageing and wear.

Once the face is dry, and before I put the neck away to fully cure again, I take a coarse, maroon Scotchbrite pad to the back of the neck to strip away some of the amber nitro finish, with which the neck was supplied. Photos of Strummer’s guitar show how the finish has almost completely worn away on the back of the neck – and the exposed areas of bare wood have a dirty, aged look. I want to recreate the general wear first, and I’ll later look to colour and “dirty down” the wood. I concentrate mainly on the headstock end of the back of the neck, aiming to create a kind of diagonal area of wear running approximately from the top of the neck at the first fret, to the bottom of the neck by the fifteenth. This seems to match what I can see from pictures – caused, presumably, by Joe’s particular style of play.

With the coarse Scotchbrite, I cut through to the wood in parts, and wear back the tinted lacquer in others. To get a gradual, worn-in sort of look, I’ll have to re-apply a few layers of  tint and then probably remove a little more. I’ll have to do this all gradually – It all looks a little bit “sudden” for now. I need a little more subtlety and graduation in the effect. So, I do a little extra work with a fine, grey Scotchbrite pad, and spray a few more light coats of Vintage Amber Tint, over the back of the neck. To get a natural look – I think I’ll have to build the finish up, and then strip it back again in stages. It’s small, gradual steps. Most of what I add seems to come off again almost immediately, but the more I work at it – the softer and more natural the overall effect seems to become. I figure it’s the only way to reproduce the right sort of effect.

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