Antique White Fender Jazzmaster. Bodywork improvement – mixed results. Where next?…

I set about refinishing the Fender Squier J.Mascis Jazzmaster body in an attempt to stabilise a small split in the original paint finish, and also to try and improve on the overall, original finish. The polyurethane, factory finish still displayed some, very slight, signs of machine polishing and, all things considered – I thought the quality felt a little bit “thin”. I had attempted to drop-fill the split with cyanoacrylate, (super glue), and then to rub back the existing urethane coat, and overspray with clear nitrocellulose. Polishing up the newly sprayed body was, therefore, always going to be a bit of a “moment of truth”. As I rub back, I’ll discover how well I’ve managed to patch the split, and also how well the new lacquer works on top of the polyester colour coat.

Spoiler alert – It’s mixed results – and I need to consider how I’m going to move on.

Drop-filled and colour matched split

The lacquer has had a good few months in a warm room, to dry out – so I doubt there will be any more shrinkage. The finish looks nice and even, and I can’t see too many, obvious, problem areas which display a spray texture or “orange peeling”. Before polishing – I also get to have a good visual inspection of the split repair under a strong light. It’s worked quite well, and there’s only a slight physical line in the lacquer which will easily polish out. I’ve every reason to believe that the super glue fill has done it’s job, and that the split is now stable.

Colour-wise – the tinted lacquer applications to the outside portion of the defect, have almost totally disguised the dark split. All that remains is a slight apparent cloudy mis-match in the antique white finish, and since only the very end of the defect actually pokes out from under the scratchplate – my attempts to hide the stark contrast of the actual split seem to have been largely successful. By the time the area is fully polished – any slight tonal or colour differences should be mostly hidden by surface reflections. My only concern, is that in polishing back – I’ll actually be rubbing back some of the overlaid colour tints, which will have blended with the lacquer clear coats. Too much rubbing back, and I might begin to see the shadow of the original split again.

There’s only one way to find out.

Flat-sanding. Rubbing back to 400 grit

Of course – flatting back will really test the overall application of the finish. Both the original paint job, and my additional finishing. As usual – I flat-back with 400 grit, wet and dry paper over a flat, cork backing block. A little naptha helps lubricate the cut – but I really don’t want the abrasive to dig-in too much. Nice and gentle – with a circular motion – trying to get a flat, consistent sheen overall.

Any low areas show as shiny after flatting. There’s some evidence that a tremolo plate must have been fitted originally, (this body is looking more and more like it’s been taken from a new instrument, which has been “broken” for parts). Since a new plate will be re-fitted, these particular low spots aren’t critical – although they do demonstrate how low spots appear, during the flatting process.

After flat-sanding each flat face of the body, I move onto the sides and then, eventually, the radiused edges. It’s so easy to sand right through the thin lacquer clearcoat here – so great care needs to be taken. Here the emphasis isn’t so much on flatting the surface, as on smoothing out any inconsistencies in the finish. At the radiused edges, and at sharp corners, in particular.

Beginning to polish. The benefit of working into a light source

After flatting-back the finish looks even, and it has a consistent sheen all over. It’s an appearance not unlike polished bone. I really quite like the effect – but I’m still after a rich, liquid shine. From here on – I continue to use ever finer abrasive papers to gradually work up a polish. From memory of working on my white Jaguar – there’s something a little different about polishing a pale coloured body. Something about the way very fine scratches seem to get right into the finish if you’re not careful. It’s almost as if you can polish scratches into the finish, so they become, apparently, trapped under the shine. It always helps therefore, to work into a good light source. This shows up any fine scratches, and you can try and focus on keeping the developing sheen consistent, and without obvious witness marks. All that said – it’s proving quite tricky here. I’m concious that the best way to a fault-free finish, is by gradually working through the full range of polishing grits. However – I’m also aware that the newly applied clear finish is quite thin. There’s a temptation to skip over the odd polishing step – so that there are fewer passes overall. On the one hand – fewer passes might mean less of a chance of rub-throughs, but on the other – it risks leaving scratches which will, themselves, require extra steps to rework, and polish out.

Witness marks in polished finish

As I proceed through to finer and finer grits, I try to keep the surface as consistent as possible – but there are, inevitably, always some problem witness marks to deal with. Using naptha as a lubricant helps – but too much lubricant risks the papers “sucking” onto the surface, (and rubbing-through). Naptha can also help keep the abrasive papers from clogging. Clogging is probably the biggest cause of scratches in the emerging polish finish, so the less lubricant used – the more you need to check the abrasive papers as you are using them. I’m beginning to wish that my overall lacquer coat was much thicker. There are a few problems areas here and there, and as I revisit them, I’m all too aware that as I polish any scratches out – I must be getting dangerously close to sanding right through to the paint below.

The upper horn is one such area of concern – although the split repair does appear to be holding up well, and it’s slowly beginning to get lost in the overall finish. Because of the additional tinted colour applications – this area probably has the thickest overall lacquer coating. There should be enough coverage to allow me to easily polish out the witness marks shown above – but I’m more concerned about other areas, which may have a thinner coating.

The emerging shine of polished nitro lacquer

One area I always watch particularly closely – is the line of the arm cutaway. Here, changes in the angle of the contours provide an area where flat sanding has to travel over a slight edge. Here, abrasives can cut unevenly – especially over line of the falaway, and at the places where the contours change angle more steeply.

Once the full range of grit papers has been worked through – I move onto Micro-mesh pads, and continue to work through them, from 3200 up to 12000 grit. The shine is beginning to develop as I’d wish, although there are a few areas where a fine haze of scratches appears to remain. There’s usually a slight “milkiness” to the shine at finer grit levels – but these areas look a little different, and seem harder to polish out. Witness marks from coarser grits seem reluctant to dissolve. Perhaps I’ve actually rubbed through to the polyester coat below, in places? It could be that I’m beginning to pick up a difference in the way the two finish materials react to different grades of abrasive. It’s not too bad a problem visually – but it’s another indication that my lacquer coat should have been thicker. Three cans of clear coat didn’t seem to be skimping it – but I suppose the application over polyester, makes the actual thickness achieved the real critical matter. Unfortunately – there’s no way of measuring all of that beforehand.

Partial rub-through at inside of neck cut-out curve

As I continue to polish up the rear of the guitar – I notice the first, real, problem. On the flat face, and following the inside of the lower neck cutout – the colour is suddenly beginning to darken. It’s too subtle for me to pick up, at first, with my current vision problems. I may have got away with it if I’d spotted it earlier and “worked around” the problem. However – it looks like flatting back here must have worked on a slight high spot left in the original paint finish. As I’ve levelled and polished the area, I’ve actually been rubbing back through the lacquer clear coat, and down through the top of the colour coat. Since Fender, in their wisdom, have used a dark undercoat for this Antique White finish – I’m gradually revealing a little of that darker tone. It looks like a shadow, 9and it’s hard to photograph too). It’ isn’t much – but once you’ve seen it…

It’s disappointing – but it is on the back of the guitar. Maybe I can live with it? However – it’s strike one, on the job in hand.

Partial rub-through on belly cut-out

And it’s not long before I spot strike two. The transition ridge, and the curved face inside of the belly cutout, is another area to watch with care. The ridge is one of the first areas to wear with player use – as the finish rubs on bellys, belts and belt buckles, over time. The curved face also has to be sanded and polished with abrasive paper wrapped over the fingers – and it’s all-too easy to “dig-in” a little bit too much. I think that’s what’s happened here. There’s a slight shadow in the colour coat which demonstrates that I’ve probably sanded through the clear coat lacquer. Once again – it’s hard to see at first, and even harder to photograph. What I find useful, (with my vision), and especially when working on lighter finishes, is to focus slightly to the side of the actual area that is being examined. Somehow, shadows seem to show up better that way.

It’s now impossible to say if I’m polishing the lacquer – or the overlaid clear coat – on any particular area. Once again, the defect is on the back of the guitar – but I now know there are at least two slight faults in the finish job.

I don’t actually mind the odd “honest” chip or ding here and there. These are badges of an instruments’ actual use, and over time – they all eventually add up to a proper “patina”. The two rub-throughs don’t actually look like much – just like shadows really. However, they look like what they are – faults. The last thing they look like is patina. I always like to do the best job I can achieve. So it’s two strikes so far on this one… a third might be enough to call it.

Dark split slightly visible through tinted coats

Maybe I’m looking for it too hard – but it’s too easy to find. There it is – strike three.

The finish is generally smooth and polished, but getting rid of those witness marks over the repair on the upper horn, has probably rubbed back just a little bit too far into the layers of colour tints, and the repair is a little more visible again. With the scratchplate in place – I think the fix and colour match would still do their jobs effectively, and take the eye away from the actual physical split, where the dark undercoat was showing through. Trouble is – I know it’s there now. Three faults on the job – I really have to think if that’s acceptable.

On the one hand – the faults aren’t too visible under normal circumstances. Two are on the back of the guitar, and the only one on the face is mostly, (but not totally), covered by the scratchplate. I know most jobs have a few, small, faults somewhere. I’m going to have to think about it.

Polished nitro clear coat – good enough?

Ultimately, the decider is going to be down to just how good the rest of the finish, (and build), is. Is it good enough to “carry” the faults? On close examination – I have to be honest and, for me, the answer is no. There are a few areas which – although displaying a nice, shiny polish – also show areas of slight, apparent, misting. Tiny scratches in the finish, which appear to be trapped under the polish. These aren’t shifting with swirl remover, and they won’t even polish out with a wax polish. I think what’s actually happening, is that the clearcoat has been rubbed right back in places. In some places – it apperas to have been totally rubbed through. The final finish appears to be a sort of composite of polished nitro lacquer, and polished polyester finish. The previous “thin” feel of the finish has been slightly improved on – but I think a thicker coat would have been preferable, and would have clearly avoided the rub-throughs to begin with. Since I also originally set out to remove some apparent factory polishing marks – it seems utterly pointless to then, just accept more of my own.

As I see it – I set out to improve on a finish, and it hasn’t come off. Shit happens – move on. I’m not exactly short of other projects to work on – so I’m minded to shelve this one, for now, and to try another re-finish job when the weather gets better. Since I want the guitar body to have a better”feel”, as an integral quality of the overall finish – I may actually rub the current finish back to the existing colour coat, and then build up a proper, primer / colour coat / clear coat sequence, so that I can better control the depth of the eventual finish, and the polishing process. The antique white colour will be difficult to match exactly – from what I can see, it’s not a standard colour. Instead, I’ll look at a few of the “vintage whites” which are available. I have acquired a Fender Jazzmaster neck with a Pau Ferro fingerboard. There’s a kind of overall orange/amber hue to the neck, and so a vintage-y, aged white / amber feel for the body, should work well. It’s a job for better weather, and for later in the year – so for now at least, my Jazzmaster project will be on pause.

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