Jimmy Page Tribute “Dragoncaster”. Tinting – Progress update 6.

The clearcoat has had another week to dry, and the extra drop-fill on the upper bout has shrunk back. Most of the areas which required levelling seem to be where they need to be now. With luck – I’m only a couple of light coats away from polishing the body up to a full, liquid-like shine – with the painted design well “locked into” the finish.

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But there’s still the question of an overall tint. The few archive photos I can find of Page’s original guitar show quite an orange tint to the exposed wood. It’s possible some of this colouration was down to stage lighting conditions – but most of the replicas and project builds I’ve seen, seem to have a distinct orange hue to the ash. The colouration may well be due to a natural seasoning of the wood – but it may also, possibly, be the result of a particular sealer or varnish which Page might have used over his artwork. My nitro coats should eventually age in a similar way, due to UV exposure – but I need to think about how much tint I need to add if I want to get the right look right away, while I wait for the ravages of time to take their toll, and do their own thing.

As yet – I still haven’t sourced a neck for the build – but I’m probably going to have to go for a maple, Hosco or Allparts, vintage style neck. As such, the neck will be supplied close to the correct 1959 style – but, of course, it will made from brand new maple and rosewood, and will be lacking any signs of age. I can use an amber tinted nitro coat to cover up some of the clean, “whiteness” of the fresh maple, and I’m beginning to wonder what the body might look like, if it’s paired and joined to a tinted neck.

So, my plan is to shoot a couple of light amber tinting coats over the entire body, and then to seal the tint under the final coats of clearcoat. Providing I can build up enough of a final coat of clear lacquer, I should be able to polish the body properly without sanding through into the tinted coat. Of course – the tint will be applied over the painted design, as well as the exposed wood. However, I’m planning to tint the body just enough to tone the plain ash into a similar sort of range as the neck. There shouldn’t be enough of an effect to shift the colours of the design too much – besides – the clear nitro itself will yellow over time. The overall effect of the tinting coats should be to subtly unify the body and neck with a similar hue – (although the neck may end up with quite a darker tone, in places – especially on the face of the headstock).

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Because there’s only going to be a light, sealing coat of clear lacquer over any tint, (I really, probably should have thought about this earlier), I need to make sure that the clearcoat I’ve applied so far is super flat and level. Any spots or faults sticking up will be much more likely to catch and be, “topped” by the grit paper, and will lead to an uneven tint effect. Although the tint should end up being quite subtle – I don’t want any obvious light spots or freckles to emerge during the polishing process.

After all the previous coats of lacquer, the flat sanding and the pin-hole filling – the body now looks smooth and regular. There’s really just the one, additional pin-hole fill from last time to deal with. After that has been dealt with – one good, all-over flatting should get me most of the way towards where I want to be. The sanding sealer, in the pin-hole drop fill, appears to have done the job this time. I pare back the over-fill with a specially made razor scraper – just the way I’ve done before – double checking progress with my fingertips until I can’t detect any obvious, significant change in level. By working from all directions, and into the light – the area is soon flattened. No sign of a pin-hole this time.

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Now – with 400 grit paper over a flat, cork, backing block – I use a little naptha as lubricant, and gently work away at the entire surface until the shine of the lacquer is dulled, and the surface takes on a consistent, matte sheen. For most of the body – this really doesn’t take too much work – although there are one or two places which need a little more attention than others. Here, I make sure the flatting is well feathered-in to the surrounding areas. As well as the face of the guitar, I also cover the sides and back of the guitar – everywhere except the very edges. Here it’s so easy to completely sand through to the wood below. I’ll deal with them at the final polish.

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Eventually, the whole body takes on an even appearance. Where the grit paper clogs – some occasional, small witness marks are left – but since I’m only using a very light pressure on the cork backing block – cleaning the paper off on a piece of cloth, and then re-smoothing the area is all that’s required to remove them. I check the body carefully, all over – to make sure there are no, obvious low-spots left in the finish. Any remaining minor imperfections are gently smoothed and feathered into the overall finish. Checking back to the areas which have been drop-filled – any signs of slight rings visible in the lacquer finish are feathered-in. Even the latest, sanding sealer, drop-fill is sanded completely flat, and feathered until all evidence has completely disappeared.

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Then, a final clean over with naptha and a paper towel, removes all traces of powder residue, and de-greases the surface ready for the tinted coats. The painting stick is attached once again, and the grommet holes at the rear are re-plugged. The body is then hung in the painting booth – ready for the tinting coats. I’m using Light Amber Nitro Lacquer from manchesterguitartech.co.uk again. The clearcoat comes from the same place – so I know it’s compatible. I warm the spray booth up, warm the spray can in hot water, and give it a good shake to mix the contents well. Mask on.

I apply the tinting coats as evenly as possible – building up each coat with a number of lighter passes, and working across the body from multiple directions. These coats aren’t going to be as thick as some of the clear coats I’ve shot earlier – so it’s important to try and gauge the effect of the tint as I go, and to try and make sure that some of the fiddly areas around the neck cutaways get just as even a coat, as the flat areas. I tend to work around the edges of the guitar first – using the painting stick to manipulate the angle of the body, and to facilitate access to difficult-to-reach areas first. I also try to apply laquer to the sides of the guitar at a bit of an angle, so that the rounded edges of the body get sufficient coverage. Once the edges are sprayed evenly, I can hang the body from the ceiling and work across the flat faces of the body, until the applied tint matches the edges, and the whole coat is consistent all over.

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After an hour’s drying – I check back on the tint. It’s subtle. Perhaps a little bit more noticeable on the end grain at the edges of the body, and especially around the neck cutaways – but it’s a slightly warmer toned piece of wood now. After a quick dust down – constantly checking for any surface contamination – I repeat the tinting process one more time to deepen the tint, just a little more.

The picture above shows the body after a second coat of tint. It’s difficult to see much difference in photographs – but it’s much more apparent, “in the flesh”. It’s a very subtle effect, and because it’s a warm tone – it will be even more pronounced under artificial, incandescent, indoor lighting. I think that’s done the job. I took a couple of photos of the back of the guitar – before and after – and have superimposed one next to the other to demonstrate the full effect. Obviously – they were taken in slightly different lighting conditions – one at the beginning, and one at the end of the day – but they demonstrate how the contrast and tonality of the body is slightly altered. The colour isn’t too evident because of the specular reflection from the lacquer coat – but the photos do show just how smooth the body is now. Just a couple of light coats of lacquer is enough to restore a good shine. (The Light Amber Nitro has a full gloss finish).

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So – it’s back to the drying cupboard for another week. If the tint dries flat, and there aren’t any subsequent problems – then I should be able to finish up with a few, final coats of clear lacquer before polishing. Looks like my estimated date of completion for the body will now be some time around the end of August, but that’s the way these projects run. If you want to do something properly – you have to take your time. Besides, I still don’t have the pickups for the project yet. Don Mare is currently working to a 20 week deadline in California. For my Zep-O-Tones – that should be mid-July, but there’s shipping and customs clearance to add on to that too. Maybe August for the pickups then – but it should be well worth the wait. You can’t rush tone, and you can’t rush a good finish.

Roll on.

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