Just before I took a few days off, I managed to try another attempt at a clear scratchplate, using my router and the template I’ve been working on. The more times I run through the process – the better the results seem. I still need to work out a way to get the countersinks a bit sharper, and more consistent in size, and I still need to sort out my table router to look at rounding over some of the edges. But overall, I’m pretty happy with the way the plates are coming out now. I think I’m going to square off the little corner at the rear of the top horn. I rounded it off on a bit of a whim, but the more I look at it and compare it with the original – the more I realise it has to be square. If only to keep things looking correct around the bridge plate. I’ll square off the corner on the template with a little two-part filler, when I next get the chance.
My first attempt at finding a suitable finish for the scratchplate, isn’t looking quite so good now. I was pretty optimistic at first – but the “clear” adhesive sheet seems to be getting milkier and cloudier as time goes on. The effect isn’t so bad under certain lighting conditions – but the adhesive seems to dull the holographic effects of the underlying foil. It all starts to look a bit too vague. I’m still considering the holographic vinyl as a potential solution – but I was beginning to wonder if I just had to settle on a loose sheet, cut to size, and simply sandwiched under the scratchplate.
Then I had one of those evenings when the TV remote can’t seem to find anything interesting to watch. Somehow, I came across a programme about vinyl wrapping supercars. I’m not really a car enthusiast – but I really had to admire the way the guys who wrapped the cars approached their work. The more I watched the process – the more I wanted to have a go myself. Their results looked slick and faultless. And I got to thinking… “Could you like… you know… wrap a guitar?”
I did a quick Google search for car wraps, and quickly discovered a holographic vinyl, which seemed to tick all the boxes for the Dragoncaster scratchplate. I did a bit of digging, and came across a supplier who sent out samples at A4 size – just enough to wrap a Telecaster scratchplate. I ordered up a couple of test sheets, and I’ve been waiting until today to have a go and see if this might be the way to go.
I first though about wrapping a plate – in much the same way I’d seen entire car body panels being wrapped – but my scratchplate has quite a few sharp corners, and I might be making the process way too complicated if I try to wrap around the edges. I also began to have a few doubts about the durability of the finish. I need the scratchplate to stand up to the usual repeated contact from plectrums. The polycarbonate on it’s own is quite strong, but I’m not sure it’ll wear well. Wrapping the plate and treating it like a car – with the wrap on the outside, began to make less and less sense.
While I was experimenting with a few offcuts, I noticed that the glue was quite clear – especially in comparison with the stuff I’d tried before. I also noticed that the holographic effect was consistent on both sides of the vinyl – it began to make sense to simply “wrap” the foil to the back of the plate, and to use the heat activated adhesive to provide a clean, regular bond. Putting the finish on just the back of the plate means that the clear polycarbonate will protect whatever finish is achieved – even if it is the “back” of the wrap. The vinyl is specially constructed to help get rid of air bubbles quite easily – so a decent professional finish should be entirely possible.
I started by giving the plate a proper clean over with naptha, and by generally cleaning down the work table. I don’t want to get any dust under the finish. The vinyl has a backing which comes away easily, and the material has enough weight to lay flat on the worktop – adhesive side up – without any curling. This means it’s easy to place the scratchplate onto the surface of the vinyl. A few air bubbles were easily chased out from the centre to the edges – using a velvet covered squeege, (in my case – a vinyl record cleaning pad). I don’t think heating the vinyl made much overall difference to the bond, although I could see the vinyl tighten, and the spare came around the plate, as if it was trying to wrap it. I should be able to trim the excess off neatly, using the edges of the plate as a guide.
The adhesive seems clear, and is definitely secure enough. There is a very slight matrix visible – the adhesive seems to be applied with a very slight honeycomb texture – but it’s not too dominant, and is certainly nowhere near as cloudy as the previous adhesive sheet. Heating the vinyl slightly, with a heat gun, means the vinyl can be repositioned slightly – but that seems to affect the clarity of the adhesive, and areas where the vinyl has been peeled back can begin to show up cloudy. It’s a one-shot job, but any air bubbles can be pushed out to the edges easily. Areas which aren’t 100% clean, or dust free, however, will show through.
This looks promising – but the actual production process will need to be fuss-free and properly executed. A meticulous approach from the beginning. Prep the plate properly, lay out the vinyl, drop the plate into place, smooth out, heat and then trim back. That’s all it should take. And if anything should go wrong – it seems the whole piece can be easily stripped, ready for a new attempt with the same plate. That’s more than can be said for the other, self-adhesive vinyl. I deliberately made a few errors on this first attempt, but even so – the results look promising. Once the vinyl is in place, the edges trim up easily with a fine scalpel, and the screws will easily punch through where required. The results, optically speaking, are just about as clear as I could hope for. The slight texture of the adhesive isn’t really too noticeable. At least the effect is consistent, and not patchy at all. If the eventual project piece can be executed cleanly – then I think the result will look as professional as the original. I think I’ve found the solution.
All I need to do now, is to try and set up my table router, to and see if I can round over a couple of the scratchplate edges. I think the original has a simple, square-cut plate – but I like the rounded edges on the Black, Gilmour Stratocaster I’m working on, and would really like to incorporate that detail on my Jimmy Page tribute, if possible. Once I have that detail worked out, I just need to cut a working version of the plate, and then back it with a good, fault-free piece of holographic vinyl. If I can get it all clean, dust-free and wrinkle-free – then I think I’ll have a pretty good, professional looking and durable take on the original.