Kurt Cobain “Jag-Stang”. More work on the decals

Like the lacquer repairs on my Jazzmaster project – the stop/start nature of the tasks on my Jag-Stang neck mean that it’s sometimes tricky to co-ordinate and schedule everything into an efficient, forward-moving process. A short burst of attention… and then a period waiting for the lacquer to dry. But that’s just the way these things are. You can’t rush a proper job.

Flat-sanding the rear of the headstock

The lacquer on the neck and headstock has now fully cured. The first task is to flat-sand, and to rub everything back. On the length of the neck, the lacquer coverage is deliberately thin, and so cutting back is done with a fine grey Scothbrite pad. The whole neck, except the actual flat faces of the headstock, is rubbed down until the finish is dull and consistent. The neck feels smooth and slick. There should now be just enough of a thin coating, to seal and protect the neck wood.

Then, the flat faces of the headstock are flat-sanded back with 320 grit paper over a small, flat block. The cut is lubricated with naptha, and I’ll treat each, entire face of the headstock, in turn. I begin with the back of the headstock, and the autograph decal. Once again – the flat-sanding is intended to dull back the entire surface consistently. Any shiny areas show low-spots, and the whole level of the finish needs to be taken down until those shiny areas are eliminated. Whilst the whole area is flattened – lacquer which lies over the decal is also removed, and at a certain point, the grit begins to sand into the actual decal. Obviously – there’s a danger that the decal itself will abrade, and the design will be lost. It’s a matter of nerve. However – low spots will persist around the edges of the decal – even when the decal itself is fully exposed. There’s just not enough lacquer around the decal to fully bury it, at this stage.

The idea is to try and work the edges of the decal, just a little to begin with, and to begin to feather-in the lacquer coverage around the edge of the decal. It’ll then be buried under more lacquer, flat-sanded again, and the areas around the decal can be further refined.

Just a few low spots left – but I probably can’t risk much more…

So, this whole process will have to be repeated. Depending on the thickness of the decal – sometimes a few times. It’s not therefore the best approach to try and sort the whole thing out, all in one go. It’s better to be a little cautious, and not to get too bogged down on just the decal. The whole headstock needs to be consistent – so the peghole area needs just as much attention at this early stage. Keep an eye on the overall finish.

Burying the decal under lacquer again

Once the area has been cleaned and is properly dry, (remember to keep the edges clean, and to replace the pegboard plugs if they get contaminated), the protection to the fingerboard is removed and renewed, and more lacquer can be applied over the entire, rear face of the headstock.

The fingerboard is masked off again – but this time a little more of the rosewood at the side edges of the board is exposed. This should help prevent defined ridges of lacquer building up at the transition. At the headstock join – the very edge of the rosewood slab is left exposed. Once again – this will help to prevent any defined ridge at the edge of the lacquer coverage, and a bit of lacquer will be allowed to seal the endgrain of the fingerboard wood.

The first coats of lacquer are very light – gradually building up to full, liquid coats. This will probably need two full, glossy coats, to provide enough of a thickness of lacquer to begin flat-sanding again. The lacquer is applied from multiple directions to keep things even. It is feathered lightly down the length of the neck, and the spray is directed so the edges and sides of the headstock also get a little coverage.

Because the fresh lacquer is soft, and is therefore at risk of damage – I leave the neck to cure for a few days, before I turn it over and repeat the process on the front face.

Previous transition line at rosewood join is smoothed

The flat-sanding process on the front face is identical to that on the rear. The only difference is where the rosewood fingerboard slab meets the headstock maple. Here, the slight ridge of lacquer resulting from the previous fingerboard mask is levelled, and the gentle slope and curve is feathered-in to the flat area of the rubbed-back headstock. Work around the decal here, results in more extensive low spots than on the rear – but then the decal appears to be printed on a much heavier waterslide film. As always – it’s best to be cautious, and not to try to do too much at once.

Low spots around the main decal

The placement of the front decal means that it’s difficult to work on the lower edges without, possibly, over-sanding at the delicate edges of the headstock itself. It’s always best to work from the centre of the decal outwards. The overall flat-sanding needs to be consistent overall, but it’s natural that more attention tends to be given to the decal area. It’s another fine balancing act. The lower you can take the level of the lacquer – the fewer overspray steps you may, potentially, need. However,the more lacquer you remove – the more likely you are to sand through the decal.

More lacquer build-up over the decal

Once everything has been properly cleaned and dried – more lacquer can be gradually applied over the face of the headstock. Once again, the first coats are light – building up to full, liquid coats. The edges and sides of the headstock get a little overspray too. Looking into the light – it’s obvious this decal will need much more attention than the one on the back, and care will have to be taken not to make the overall headstock coverage too thick and glassy. Especially around the tuner pegholes.

Once the lacquer is touch dry, the neck is placed in the drying cupboard for another couple of weeks – and then the whole process will be repeated again, until the decals are fully bedded-into the lacquer and the edges are invisible.

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