Custom Fender Jazzmaster. Polishing the re-painted body

My repainted and clearcoated Jazzmaster body has had a month to cure now. Although I sometimes leave newly nitro’d bodies for a couple of months before polishing – the coats on this refinished body are quite thin, and they should have shrunk back, and cured properly by now. This summer looks like it’s a washout already – and my plans to catch up on some paint spraying on other projects, has largely been dashed for the moment. That said – damper days seem to be better for sanding down things, and since I’m now a few weeks away from another eye operation – which will hopefully eventually improve my detail vision – I might as well accept the weather, bide my time, and start rubbing down and polishing the Jazzmaster’s clearcoat finish.

Nitro polishing, First stage – Flatting-back

Finish polishing is one of those tactile processes which I can get fully absorbed in. Although my close-up vision is particularly problematic at the moment – as long as I work into a good light source – I can pick up most of the visual detail I need with the help of some strong magnifying lenses. Everything else in the process is done by touch, and with the application of an effective technique.

The first step, is to get rid of the “orange peel” spray texture in the clearcoat lacquer. I’ve tried to re-coat this body with just a thin coat of nitro overall, and the clear lacquer over the top is also quite thin. Since the main body colour is semi-transparent – I really don’t want to be sanding through the clearcoat anywhere. That would result in the colour “patching” over the body. In theory – I know there should be sufficient clear lacquer to enable me to fully flat-sand the finish before polishing, but instead of my usual approach, whereby I’d probably use a dozen graduated stages of polishing grit in total – for this job – I’m going to try and skip a few steps, and keep abrasion to a minimum.

Flatting-back – Keep the work as clean, (and dry) as possible whilst working – and mind those edges!

The initial flatting-back is done with 400 grit wet and dry paper, which has been well soaked in warm, slightly soapy water beforehand. I normally prefer to use naptha as a lubricant – but soaking the grit paper beforehand really seems to bring the best out of the abrasive, and the papers are much less prone to clogging. Of course – that means I have to be really careful about letting moisture get under the paint around any of the drilled holes on the body. The “orange peel” is sanded away by using the paper over a cork backing block on the flat faces of the body, and by wrapping smaller pieces of paper over and around my fingers on the curved sides. It’s essential that the edge curves are treated really carefully. It’s so easy to accidentally rub through here. Otherwise – I use a really gentle, circular motion to keep the abrasive moving, and to stop the papers “sucking down” too much onto the surface, in any one place. The flatting-back stage is, perhaps, the most critical in working towards the best possible finish. The clearcoat needs to be rubbed back so that it’s perfetly flat, and consistently dulled – with no shiny “low-spots”, or obvious bumps and flaws left visible. It takes a while – but once complete – there should be no need to return to quite such a level of abrasion again.

Flatting-back – Evening-up the finish

Once the surface has been sanded level, and the surface is properly fault-free – the body has a generally consistent, dull sort of look – with a fine tracery of directional scratches left, barely visible, on the surface. An even more consistent finish can be provided by rubbing over really gently, with a red, (350 grade) Mirla “Mirlon” sanding pad. I suppose – technically speaking – that this is going “back” a grade in terms of grit – but the finish the sanding pad leaves is much more homogenous, and it helps to get rid of any “witness marks” left by the abrasive paper. It also tends to work on the edges more easily – since the pad can be easily moulded around the contours. A gentle rub-over with the sanding pad, and the body is ready for the polishing stages.

Nitro polishing, Second stage – Polish cutting

Polishing the body is achieved by rubbing-over with progressively finer grades of grit paper. In this case, I’m using 800, 1200 and 1500 grit, with the papers well-soaked beforehand, in slightly soapy, warm water. If anything – when polishing – I’m trying to rub over the body even more carefully than when flatting-back. Instead of concentrating on removing lacquer to flatten the surface – I’m now concentrating on working the surface, just enough, to begin to polish out any obvious surface marks from the previous stage. In theory – this should be a consistent sheen all over the body, and so it helps to build a sort of mental map of the surface of the work, and then to break it down into manageable pieces, so that the approach can be focused and repetitive. You really don’t want to get bogged down in any one particular area – nor do you want to be careless enough to miss a spot. The grit paper needs to keep moving all the time and, once again, care needs to be taken on the edges, and around the drilled openings. If any water does get down there – soak it out quickly with a paper towel.

Nitro polishing, Second stage – Polish cutting

Once the body has been sanded to 800 grit, the body is cleaned down and dried thoroughly. It’s important to ensure there aren’t any stray bits of abrasive left hanging around – since they’ll potentially mess up the work done by subsequent, finer grades. This is a good job for a tack-cloth, and once the body, (and cavities) have been given a good clean over – the piece is ready for the next, finer grade of abrasive. The process is repeated for both 1200 and 1500 grades, and gradually the body begins to develop a subtly more reflective characteristic to the surface. It’s virtually impossible to photograph, but by working into a good light source – you can keep on top of any persistent scratch marks in the finish, and the developing shine can be worked up consistently across the whole job. That’s the idea, anyway.

Nitro polishing, Second stage – Polish cutting

After the 1500 grit paper has been used – it’s another opportunity to “regularise” the finish by lightly rubbing the work over with a “Mirlon” sanding pad – but this time with a grey, 1500 grade pad. Used in conjunction with a final clean over – this is a good chance to get the developing sheen as homogenous, and feature-free as possible – before the final, fine-polishing. Once again – the pad can really help to wrap around the body contours and edges, and when used delicately, is a surprisingly efficient way to “bring the finish together”.

Nitro polishing, Third stage – Fine polishing

After 1500 grit – there are other, finer grit papers available, and beyond that – a whole range of Micro-mesh pads. Together – they allow a fine polishing range of grades from 2000, all the way up to 12000. Somewhere within that range – there are other polishing compounds like lacquer burnishing powders (rottenstone), automotive swirl removers and scratch removers. Bearing in mind that my clearcoat layers are quite thin – I really don’t want to risk too many further steps, and so I decide to follow a polishing process as outlined by Steve Robinson, at manchesterguitartech.co.uk . Having already begun the polishing process with four grades of lubricated wet and dry grit paper – Steve recommends moving straight on to fine polishing with T-cut and mutton cloth. If this works for him – there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work for me…

Nitro polishing, Third stage – Fine polishing

…and it works just fine – although it’s hard work and, working small areas at a time, it takes a good deal of effort to work up a full, liquid shine. After a full pass with the T-cut, the shine has begun to develop – however – there’s still an annoying mist of fine scratches left in the surface once the piece is looked at from a slight angle, into a light source. Again – it’s difficult to photograph. On the surface – the piece looks to have developed a good shine. It’s just that if I can still see fine scratches with my vision – then there’s obviously still work to do.

Nitro polishing, Third stage – Fine polishing (with the help of a rotary buffer)

Although I’ve cut out a few steps in the polishing process – it’s still taken the best part of a day to get this far, and there’s still that remaining fine mist of swirl marks to work through. Part of the desired look of that candy apple red finish is the high gloss shine. If I continue to work the T-cut with the stockinette mutton cloth – I’ll be here all week, at this rate. The cloth I’m using has a distinct weave – but it’s quite soft. I decide to switch to an electric rotary buffer instead. The effect is quickly brought round to just what I’m after – although I’m aware that the risk of rubbing-through the top clearcoat has now increased.

But how can you not fall for that shine?…

In the photo above – the machine polished lower bout can be seen in contrast with a hand-polished area, between the two pickups. The rotary buffer is just agressive enough to properly work the fine abrasive into the surface, and to cut through the surface scratches – rather than just push them around. It’s the single breakthrough in the polishing process I’m looking for. It depends on the job in hand – but sooner or later – it usually appears that there’s a particular “magic” grade of polishing compound – or maybe a particular grade of fine grit – which makes the breakthrough. Sometimes it’s a wet cut with 12000 micro-mesh – sometimes it’s a good rub over with swirl remover. In this case, it’s T-cut with an electric buffer.

Of course – care still has to be taken that the piece doesn’t overheat due to polishing friction – and so the polishing head needs to keep moving evenly over the surface. The edges of the body are especially prone to damage too – since the soft polishing head tends to wrap around the curves – but with care, and a focused approach – the body soon develops the desired shine, and really begins to show off the candy apple effect.

Having set out to paint over the original, (slightly flawed), factory finish with a semi-translucent, candy apple paint job – I’m quite happy with the final result. There is just one tiny flaw, in one particular place, (but I’m not saying – so you’ll have to spot it yourself). It’s not a major concern, and only really becomes apparent under certain lighting. Obviously – I missed a tiny flaw in either the metallic undercoat, or in the semi transparent red which overlays it. It’s embedded in there, and it’s way too late to try and fix now – but it’s not particularly visible anyway. It’s just one of those things that, once you know it’s there – you know it’s there – and you’ll never “unsee” it. All things considered, and having the optical prowess of Mr Magoo at the moment – it’s a more than satisfactory result for me, overall. The rich red hue shows off it’s shine in a way which the original, Antique White paint job just couldn’t ever manage, and there’s a depth which – once the light catches it in a certain way – causes the colour to really pop out.

Re-finished J. Mascis Jazzmaster body. Polished Candy Apple Red in daylight

And that finished colour is a difficult one to pin down – making this a true “custom” finish. Under normal domestic lighting, or under the “blue” light of a dull, rainy day – the red colour can sometimes show like a deep crimson, and has an almost dusky pink note to it. However – once the body is viewed in full sunlight, or in strong, warm, directional lighting – the highlights come alive, and the metallic basecoat gives a real glow, and an impressive depth of colouration.

“Sunburnt candy apple” paint job – with strong afternoon sun as backlight

I think the “Shoreline” gold – being more of a bronze colour in reality – has much to do with the finished effect. Instead of the “fire” normally associated with yellower metallics underneath the translucent red, this has a deep bronze reflective lustre which imparts a kind of deep red/brown – almost an oxidised red wine – kind of depth to the shadows. The specular highlights dramatically contrast, and pick up in bright white, high pinks and scarlet. Since it’s a custom colour – I suppose I really need to come up with a name for it. I think “sunburnt candy apple” will do for now, and it’ll look great, matched with a red or brown tortoise scratchplate.

The final touch is to apply a silicone-free, Carnauba Wax polish. I’m using my usual choice from Meguiars, and whilst I’ve got the rotary buffer out – I might as well give the body a few extra turns with a super-soft, wool, polishing mitt.

Super-shiny, and ready to fit out…

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