I’d originally intended just to re-lacquer this J. Mascis Jazzmaster body, but then I discovered that the original polyester finish just didn’t sit at all well, under the nitro clearcoat I applied. However, I did manage to stabilize and smooth-out a couple of small splits in the original finish, and the body has been laying around over Winter, whilst I await warmer weather and the “spraying season”.
The original paint finish is an “Antique White”, and when I first realized I was probably going to have to re-paint the body, I initially planned to do it with a similar colour – largely to save on undercoats and other preparation. However, an exact colour match was always going to be difficult. “Antique White” isn’t a standard colour at either manchesterguitartech.co.uk, or at Northwest Guitars – the online suppliers where I get most of my nitro rattle cans. The closest available would normally be something like “Olympic White”, or “Vintage White”. I was beginning to lean towards the latter, but after painting the headstock of my custom Jaguar neck – I just happen to have two, almost full cans of Shoreline Gold, and Translucent Red left over. Having tried out an approach for a flat headstock, I’d really like to see if I can nail a full Candy Apple Red finish on a curved, sculptural guitar body. Maybe I can even get somewhere near that Kevin Shields / Ira Kaplan, red on red offset look, I’ve always admired.
For a normal, good quality paint job – having just under a can of each of the component colours might be pushing it a bit, especially when it comes to achieving full coverage. However, sometimes economy can encourage a more focused approach. Sometimes – if you have a surplus of paint – there’s a tendency to apply “just one more coat”, under the impression that it’ll just add to make the finish better. With a Candy Apple Red finish – translucency is everything, and I realise that the best approach will probably be to build up the thinnest coat possible. Since that would be good practice for any nitro finish – this will be useful for me to see just how economical I can be with lacquer, and still build up a good quality end result. I have most of a spare can of primer left over, (also from the headstock painting), and a couple of cans of clear lacquer for final finishing. The days are just beginning to warm up, and if I can prep and paint a body now – that will provide another assembly and wiring project for later on in the year.
As with all painting – the finished end result is almost entirely reliant on the quality of the initial preparation. In some ways – applying nitro over a previously finished body is easier, as some of the preparation steps have already been taken care of. For one – the body wood has already been sealed. Secondly – the existing finish coat is already polished and smooth. Effectively – it’s already primed, but I really want to make sure the basecoats for my Candy Apple Red finish are as stable as possible. Since adhesion is important – I could really do with starting with a properly primed and “open” base. I could always try and remove the previous paint coats – but that would be a waste of time, and I’d probably end up with a much worse finish. Instead, I’ll key the existing finish, and then apply a good coat of primer over that. If I finish the primer to a high enough degree of smoothness – it’ll make the ideal base for my CAR finish.
Keying the existing paintwork is done with 240 grit paper. On the flat faces, I use the paper over a cork backing block – on the curves, and on the radiused edges – I go more gently, but use my fingers to keep the paper wrapped around the curves. I don’t want to unintentionally flatten any of the curves, and I want to keep the existing lines of the body flowing. Most of the “knocking-back” is done with the grit paper alone, and a gentle, circular motion. Where there are particular areas of texture to flatten – it can help to use a little naptha to lubricate the cut, and keep the surface as smooth and even as possible.
In a couple of places, (the rear “belly” cutaway is a prime example), the original shape is a little bit too angular for my taste. Here, I take the opportunity to soften the curves slightly with 180 grit paper, before refining, and keying back again, with 240 grit. It’s always useful to take this preparation time to get to know the curves of the overall work better. Whilst I’m rubbing the work down, I’m always checking for fine defects – but I’m also working out how best to get the paint spray to apply evenly, over all of the surfaces.
I’ve already cleaned out the workshop and spray booth after the Winter. That said – since I want to make this CAR coat as blemish-free as possible, I’m trying to perfect a “dust banishing” approach as best as I can. I clean out the booth, (again), with a HEPA vacuum cleaner, and let the extract fan run for a little while, before I start to even think about spraying. I’ve noticed I tend to get some contamination which seems to be drawn into the booth from within the rest of the workshop. The extract fan creates a negative pressure as it draws air out, but as it does so – loose fibres occasionally seem to float in, and can land on the work. Sometimes – these can be simply wiped away, once the lacquer coat has dried. Other times – especially if they become accidentally buried under lacquer – they can remain stuck under the paint, creating visible faults and flaws.
Of course – this is just an amateur, home-based operation – and I don’t have an endless budget, and access to professional air-filtration and dust exclusion facilities. What I do have, however, is a spare, portable, domestic HEPA air-filtration unit. If I set this up so that it can pre-filter the incoming air, which is then drawn across the work by the extract fan – I’ll create a relatively dust-free air stream through the booth. Having prepared the spray area as best I can – the body is attached to a painting stick. This allows me to suspend and manipulate the body within the spray area, while I apply the paint coats.
My Candy Apple Red finish will be achieved in two main stages. The first, will be to apply the basecoats – the second will apply the translucent red and the final, clear lacquer coats. I’ll be dealing with the first, basecoat stage, in this post. The basecoating will, itself, consist of two steps – first applying the primer, and then second, the metallic undercoat.
As regards an “economy” of paint application – the emphasis for the primer coat is much more on function, rather than on mere aesthetics. I have just under a full can of primer left over – so there’s no point wasting any. I might as well concentrate on building the best and smoothest base I can achieve, with the primer I have available. There should be plenty enough here, to build a good, thick, primed base. (The “economic approach” will be much more apparent on the later, coloured coats). I begin by applying a light mist coat of white primer, over the keyed body. This should help achieve the best adhesion to the keyed polyester base. Once the first coat has become touch dry, (approximately 15 minutes), I apply a second, slightly thicker coat all over the body, and leave it to dry again – this time for approximately 30 minutes. Fuller coats are then gradually built up, one at a time, until the can is empty. All in all – I think there’s about four or five thin layers here, and spreading the application out over so many passes makes it much easier to ensure that all of the curves and “hard-to-get-to” areas are properly covered.
Gradually building up the paint layer also helps spot, and deal with, any tiny fibres or dust spots which do happen to appear during spraying. I have the work area well-lit, and if anything does land on the wet paint – so long as it isn’t buried under paint spray – it can generally be wiped off, in-between applications. My filtered air flow does, however, appear to be keeping the worst of any dust contamination to a minimum. The odd fibre which does get onto the paint layer is wiped away before the next application of paint. Whilst I don’t tend to like to use tack-cloths on my paintwork, (I find the cheaper ones can sometimes leave a sticky residue) – I do recommend always cleaning and dusting down the work, in between coats. Time spent keeping dust off the paintwork, equals time saved having to sort it out.
Once the can is empty, and I’m convinced the body is well covered and there are no specks of dust or fibre, faults, drags or sags anywhere, (there aren’t) – I hang the body overnight to dry and cure.
Next day, the paint has shrunk back a little, and the finish looks smooth and even. There is evidence of a slight, dusty spray texture here and there – so before I proceed with the metallic basecoat, I’ll ideally need to smooth the primer coat. This will give me the best metallic effect from the next paint coat. Smoothing is done with a light rub down, with 500 grit paper. The 500 grit doesn’t cut too much, but nevertheless, a light touch is enough to smooth away any slight surface texture, and smooth out all of the curves. This is a process that’s always worth taking time over and touch from a hand or finger, when smoothing, is as vital as any visual reference. Working into a good directional light source is also good practice, and the combination of touch and examination under good light is, perhaps, the best approach towards the perfect finish. Once the bodywork has been properly smoothed – it’s fault-free, with a consistent dull sheen. On it’s own – it’s not an unattractive finish, but without colour, it’s always going to be missing something. Since it’s late in the day – the body is scrupulously dusted down, cleaned over, and then re-hung overnight.
Day three, and the body is back in the spray booth. I’ve given everything a really good clean over again, including the body, which has been gone-over with as much care and detail as I can manage, given my current “Mr Magoo” vision. It’s about as perfect as I can make it. I have almost a full can of “Shoreline Gold” left over from my headstock painting efforts, and I’ll be looking to achieve a light metallic coat over the smooth primer.
I say “light” coat, and I mean that in two ways. I want the coat to be light, so that the overall paint load is as thin as possible – but I also want the gold colour to be light, with as much luminance as possible coming through from the white primer below. I aim to build the coverage up in as few passes as possible – keeping the actual paint load as thin and consistent as possible.
To that end – the first coat is an all-over mist coat – literally a dusting, and as light a pass as I can manage, given the rattle-can approach. This takes just 15 minutes to become touch dry, and I then apply subsequent passes at 30 minute intervals. It helps to have a rough “plan of attack” for each pass. Beyond that – the basics remain the same. I always start each spray, just “off the body” and hold the can button down until the spray is clear “off the other side”. I find that by directing the spray from an angle, at roughly 45 degrees, onto the sides and faces of the body, that I can ensure the edges and sides get an even coverage whilst feathering the paint out onto the flat sides. This then allows me to “fill in the gaps” on the flat faces, with a series of even passes. The first coat looks a little blotchy, but after the second coat the finish is beginning to look more consistent. After three thin coats – the paint layer is opaque enough, and consistent – all over the body. I think that’s enough to achieve the desired metallic, “under colour” effect – and I still have about a third of a can left over.
My dust elimination, and clean-down strategy, also appears to be paying-off. The finish is just about as fault-free as any I’ve ever achieved. Under intense lighting – I can just about pick up a couple of tiny flaws which need gently rubbing back with 500 grit, and re-painting – but they’re so small that I manage to keep the areas which need touching-up to a bare minimum. A quick, local spray-over, is enough to cover the flaw and blend-in the finish. Apart from one obvious remaining paint sputter, (which is very minor, and will be under the scratchplate anyway) – the finish looks smooth and even. It looks like rain for the next few days – so painting looks to be off the menu again for a little while. I’ll leave the body to dry and cure properly until after the Bank Holiday. If I can apply the Translucent Red and clear lacquer coats as smoothly as this – I might just be in danger of ending up with a proper, professional-looking finish.