Given a cursory glance, the polish job on my gilded hardtail Stratocaster looks fine – but there are a couple of minor problem areas, which are stopping me from moving on. Partly – it’s my compromised vision, which is making it harder for me to see close up detail without magnification and very high levels of light. Once I do pick up a problem, I tend to get fixated on it. Once I’ve seen something, it just seems to become much bigger than it actually is. It’s like that first chip or dent on a pristine guitar body. It’ll bug me, until I get over it – guaranteed.
This particular problem might also be partly down to the unpleasant fact that lacquering a gilded body might be a troublesome ask to begin with. Whilst the overall polish has turned out really nicely – there are a couple of areas where the finish hasn’t fully covered the underlying metal. As the body has been polished up, these areas have left tiny pits and pinholes. It’s likely that the exposed imitation leaf here will tarnish over time, so I might end up with some colour changes and irregularities – but I can live with that. The body might begin to “age” here and there, with a bit of character. Faults like that – I can live with.
There seems to be another tendency, however, for the lacquer to flake or strip off when polishing in certain areas. This is more problematic, and potentially, much more fundamental. It appears that there may be adhesion problems between the imitation leaf and the lacquer. I must say – I’m not entirely surprised, and there may be the answer, why you don’t see many gilded guitar bodies around. An isolating layer of shellac may have helped, (shellac seems to stick to anything), but would perhaps have fogged the finish slightly. It’s possible that an unlacquered, 24ct gilded finish might be the best option – but just how durable such a finsh would be, I have yet to establish. Perhaps there’s another potential project for the future.
Unfortunately – where lacquer has come adrift – it’s highly visible. My main problem area appears to be in-between the bridge and the bottom strap button. There’s a slight discolouration in the leaf, and it looks like I may have either sanded through the lacquer, or perhaps a small area of lacquer has become detached, and flaked off, during polishing. So far, I’ve managed to re-lacquer the area, and to spot-fill a couple of small sanding divots with super glue. I’ve polished everything back reasonably flat – but there’s always a danger that this may occur somewhere else, and if I keep re-finishing small areas and then try to feather them in, I may risk lacquer rub-throughs or faults elsewhere.
Cosmetically – it’s not a complete disaster and the guitar will, of course, still function as it should – but it’s an annoying flaw. Whilst, on the one hand, it’s just “one of those things”, and will add a little unique character to the guitar – one of many “battle scars” it may well pick up in it’s time – I actually need to get the guitar to a state of “completion”, and I’d like that to be the best I can make it. If faults like this keep cropping up, and I have to keep chasing them – I’ll never actually get to finish the build. If it does turn out that flaws are inherent with lacquering over metal – I need to find a way to move on, and not let the finish beat me.
I had thought that a sticker over the top might be an option, to cover up the worst of the area. After all – I just need something to cover up, or take my eye away from the defect. However, I just couldn’t settle on a particular sticker. It’s a suitably “Rock and Roll” treatment, but without wanting to slavishly follow any previous, well-known examples, or come up with the same, tired old cliches – I found I just couldn’t find something which didn’t look contrived or awkward. Perhaps stickers are too personal a touch, wheras I need something more decorative – more abstract. I ended up thinking, instead, about competion stripes.
I’ve seen a few examples of “competition striping” on different Fender models, and whilst I don’t have any particular, strong liking for them – they will cover up the worst of my finish problems, without having to dream up anything too left-field. There are already a few manufacturers of ready-made, competition stripe kits for Stratocasters – but nothing here in the UK. To cut a long story short, and to keep things reasonably inexpensive, I ended up resorting to automotive detailing tape.
I obtained two short, (10 metre), rolls of gold, self adhesive, vinyl tape – designed to add decorative pin-striping to cars. One roll 25mm wide, the other 10mm wide. The finish on the tape is “gold coloured” – non-metallic – kind of like a dull, Antique Gold. It should tone well against the shiny, polished, finely-figured, metallic background, and offer a clear contrast. The tape needs to be applied to a clean, flat surface – so I cleaned off any polish from the area with naptha beforehand. Then, the tape pretty much placed itself. Placing the 25mm strip to cover the main area of defect, and then applying a parallel 10mm line just below it – I did wonder about applying a second narrow line above the main one, but two seems plenty, and successfully draws the eye. The lines don’t extend around the back of the body, but are instead cut straight, just over the edge radius on the sides of the body.
There’s no big technique or process here – just eyeball it, and stick the tape down. Because repositioning the tape might be enough to pull off even more lacquer – this is a one-time job – so there’s no point over-thinking it. A quick rehearsal first, to get the placement where I want it, and then the tape is applied smoothly, with any air bubbles pushed out to the sides. With the tape in position – it’s then burnished and pressed down with a smooth squeegee. Bosh! – job done. Now my eye isn’t drawn to that annoying little flaw all the time – perhaps I can move on.