“Mary Kaye” White Blonde Fender Jaguar. Change of plan – Spraying a white blonde nitro finish

This Jaguar body has had over a month now for the sealing coats to cure, and I’ve had plenty of time too, during my enforced lay-off, to sit and stew over what I wanted to do with the finish. I’d originally, loosely envisaged a sort of “natural” wood finish, but the more I worked at preparing the ash body – the more I realised that the bare ash wood was much, much lighter in tone than any of the alder examples I’d been previously looking at. It’s possible that the ash would, eventually, begin to naturally darken with age – and I could always have stained it a more amber hue – but the more I looked at it, the less a “natural” ash finish began to look like an “authentic” sort of Fender option.

Fender body finishes – “Natural (unfinished) / “Butterscotch” Blonde / White Blonde “Mary Kaye”

Ash was actually one of the original choices for Fender tonewoods – all the way back to the prototypes of the early ’50’s. It provides a good, characteristic, “chimey” sound, and once properly grain-filled, can take a “period” nitro finish, just as well as any other wood. However – that extra step in preparation is key, and it’s probably one of the factors which saw Fender eventually move to alder as a standard, as production numbers ramped up. Alder just doesn’t need as much careful preparation in order to get a fault-free finish. As I looked further into examples of “natural” finish vintage Jaguars online – I noticed that most of them turned out to be seasoned alder bodies, with their original lacquer finishes stripped off.

Nevertheless, an ash body for a Jaguar remains a viable and attractive prospect, sonically speaking anyway. The “soft” swamp ash offers a “warmer” palette, and the scooped mid-frequencies are authentically Fender in character – bright and balanced. There’s supposed to be just that little bit extra balance toward the top end too. Perfect for the rhythm circuit in a Jaguar. It’s just a question of how to finish it. One of the main features of an ash body is the striking figuring and dark, banded grain lines. Early Fender “Nocaster” guitars featured a semi-translucent “butterscotch” blonde lacquer coat over ash, which supplied a “fashionable” and suitably “woody” amber finish, and also allowed the grain lines to transmit through. The early butterscotch colourway became a distinctive Fender finish – as featured notably on the now iconic, Fender “Blackguard” Telecasters. However, by the early Sixties, the butterscotch tint was often applied much lighter, to the point where a certain custom colour – best described as “ash blonde” or “white blonde”, had also emerged as a custom favourite. This characteristic finish – translucent white/blonde – (especially when matched with gold hardware), is often referred to as Fender’s “Mary Kaye” finish, and was used on Mary Kaye’s custom American Stratocaster, first produced in 1956. By the time the Jaguar made it’s first appearance in 1962 – the “blonde” finish seemed to become more opaque, and time has quite often yellowed the whiteness of the lacquer finish on surviving vintage guitars, so that original finishes can now vary from quite light, pristine white tones, through to deeper, yellowy amber hues.

Prepped ash, jaguar body – ready for spraying

Now, I’ve been planning on upgrading my original “1962” styled, Olympic White Jaguar for a while now, and I still have a bound, Fender “1965” Vintage reissue neck to find a suitable home for. Of course – the binding on the neck wouldn’t have actually been an option on an original 1962 Jaguar – (that option first came along around 1964/5). However – the neck would pair well visually with a “Mary Kaye” type finish and, although I’m not aware that a translucent white blonde finish was ever actually available as a standard option, back in the day – it seems like a good way to dress up a lump of ash in typically late ’50’s / early ’60’s style. I’m keen to try out a different kind of finish too. Having worked with a translucent red lacquer as part of a candy apple red finish – I’m keen to see how a similar, semi-transparent lacquer works on a pale wood, with an interesting grain.

Of course – I had originally been thinking of experimenting with a traditional, hand-wiped “French” polish for this body. However – once again – a month left to mull things over, and I’m changing my mind again. Whilst a wiped finish would probably work well on the back of the body – the front, with all the different control routs, would prove a lot more difficult to keep the wiped finish even. With a few more weeks of summer left, and wanting to prepare enough basic assembly jobs to keep me busy in the darker, colder winter months – it just made more sense to take advantage of the decent spraying conditions now, and actually spray the thing…

Tremolo mounting screw holes – measured, located, drilled and counter-sunk

The wood has already been grain filled, sealed, and rubbed back so that it’s super-smooth. There’s still a very slight ripple to some of the wider grain marks – especially at the belly cutaway – but it should finish well. Although I anticipate I’ll have to drill out attachment holes for the pickguard and control plates after the lacquer has cured – I want to drill out and countersink the larger tremolo and strap button screws before I spray. This should help avoid any danger of splitting or cracking the finish.

The screw hole positions are measured and marked out – checking that the plate sits square, and central. I mark and drill out the holes at the “four corners” of the tremolo plate first, and then countersink each screw hole slightly. This allows me to check the final position and fitting of the plate, and then to mark out the two remaing holes, using the solidly-fixed tremolo plate as template.

Fender jaguar tremolo – Test-fitting

The plate is eventually given a final test-fit, in position, with all six screws. The tremolo is a “1962 reissue”, Fender plate, made in Japan, (Fender parts number 026-4248-000). The plate doesn’t come with screws provided, but the Jaguar seems to have used exactly the same type of screw as on vintage Stratocaster tremolos – oval headed, 1-1/4″ long, and with a smooth, un-threaded section at the top of the shaft. I used six screws from a set of twelve to attach the tremolo, (Fender parts number 0016170049 or 0016170000). Five of the remaining screws will be used on my Kurt Cobain JagStang.

Positioning and test-fitting the strap buttons

A pair of Fender “original” strap buttons, (Fender parts number 099-4915-000), are also positioned, and the mounting holes drilled out. Once again, the drilled holes are lightly countersunk to help protect the eventual finish from splitting and lifting.

Ash Jaguar body – ready for spraying

The new hardware is then removed, and safely stored away. The body is cleaned off with naptha – especially where light pencil marks have been left to mark out the screw-hole positions. The control routs are also dusted and vaccumed out properly, and the body is left to dry again thoroughly, before spraying – so that the naptha has time to fully evaporate. The body is then attached to a painting stick, and left hanging in the spray booth whilst the fan is left to run for a while. It’s a reasonably warm day, and it’s been humid enough recently to keep the dust down. Perfect conditions really, for spraying.

Translucent white blonde lacquer – First, light, key coat

The first coat of the white blonde translucent nitro lacquer is a light, even, key coat all over the body. The wood has been prepared with a shellac-based sealer, (Mylands Lacacote), and so the light nitro key coat should “burn-in” to the shellac and help provide a good bond. The dye load is very subtle in this nitro, (by manchesterguitartech.co.uk), and I’m hoping that the single can I’ve obtained will be enough for what I’m looking for. I could have bought a spare tin – but I’ve recently been trying to set pre-determined limits on the amount of lacquer I use on any particular job. I’ve found it helps me keep the applications precise and “to-the-point”. If you always happen to buy-in “spare” paint – there’s much less “pressure” to try and get the job done economically, and more of a tendency to “add just one more coat”. Since a desired feature of a well-lacquered guitar body is a super-thin coat of finish – setting limits to what you’ll use beforehand, can help keep things in control. I’ll be trying to get this job done with just one can of translucent colour coat, a part can of amber tint, and two full rattle cans of clear topcoat.

Ash Jaguar body – After one full rattle can of white blonde lacquer

The first key coat takes just about 15 minutes to dry, and after the finish has been checked for flaws, (none found – there just isn’t much dust flying today), a second coat of lacquer is applied. This second coat consists of two passes over the entire body. The sides are sprayed first – concentrating on each rolled edge, and letting the spray feather out over the edge, and out onto the face of the body. Once the edges have been sprayed from both directions, the sides of the body blank will have had two passes – and so the body can then be hung and positioned so that each face can be sprayed, in turn. For the faces – it helps to position the body so that the spray falls slightly across the work – rather than hitting the wood straight on – and to make each pass from a different direction. Once the body has been fully sprayed – each face will have received two passes, and the transistion between the passes on the edges, and those on the faces, should be well feathered-in.

The second coat takes a little longer to dry, but a third coat is aachieveble after just 40 minutes. This also consists of two passes, as before – but this time the spray is moved slightly slower across the work – allowing a thicker, more liquid coat, to build. There’s just enough left in the can to complete a good, thick, coat all over – and there’s a little extra besides, just to make sure the areas around the neck joint aren’t missed from any direction. It can be tricky to get the spray head into these areas – so it’s always worthwhile giving the area a little special attention.

Translucent white blonde lacquer – Spraying a light amber tint to tone the colour coat

The effect of just one can of white blonde doesn’t actually appear to be too opaque – but then it all seems to depend on the lighting. You can still pick up the wood grain below the colour coat, but once the light hits the lacquer full on – the effect looks like a fairly solid white. Ash sometimes has a natural, sort of pink tone to it – so under incandescent lights – the finish can actually look overly pink. That’s not, necessarily what I’m looking for, so I aim to spray a couple of light amber tint coats over the top, to “yellow” the finish slightly. The neck has a traditional amber toned finish – so I want the body to somewhat reflect those sort of tones too.

Translucent white blonde lacquer over ash – Just a couple of tiny pin-holes

All it takes is a coule of light passes with some light amber tint nitro, (again from manchesterguitartech.co.uk). After something between one-quarter and one-third of a rattle can – the translucent “white” finish is looking much more “blonde”. In reality – it’s as if the colour coat now actually closely matches the colour of the wood. Except that the effect of the grain is now muted, and “locked into” that colour matrix. In certain light conditions, it looks like a painted white guitar finish – yet in other light, it looks like a kind of bleached, natural wood. It’s impossible to photograph definitively, and almost as difficult to describe. The colour is, perhaps, white, or cream, or like a milky cup of tea or coffee, or is it a pale tan?, or taupe?, or… beige? I think “ash blonde” says it all really. It’s real character won’t actually become apparent until the colour is seen “against” the contrasting scratchplate, and metal control plates. If I should ever be lucky enough to locate a full set of gold-plated Jaguar hardware, (or work out how to electro-plate one myself), it’ll provide an ideal starting point for a unique “Mary Kaye” style Jaguar.

The tint coats get another hour or so to cure, and I then apply one of the two full cans of clear lacquer over the finish, to seal the colour and tint coats. The clear coat is applied in slow passes which allow a good, liquid load to build up – without risking any sags or runs. In fact – the wood was so well prepared here – the spray finish is already looking smooth and glossy. This should eventually polish up quite easily. However, once the first can of clearcoat has had time to dry, and I can examine the finish carefully – I discover a couple of tiny pinholes in the finish. Typically – the back and sides of the guitar are perfect. The pinholes lie in, just about, the most visible area of the guitar body – just across the ridge of the arm contour, at the top of the lower bout – where a few bands of darker grain run together. It’s so easy to oversand in this area too – where the paper rides over the change of angle. It looks like either some grain filler, or sanding sealer was likely sanded out of the grain during preparation, and the lacquer has sunk slightly – creating a few lines of occasional pin-holes. These have partially filled with the lacquer coats – but as the finish dries out and tightens – a few of the holes will probably show a little more clearly.

With a fully opaque colour coat – I’d probably choose to sand back a little, and to gradually try and fill the slight depressions with some localised applications of lacquer. Here – I can’t really sand into the semi-translucent coat at all, without risking leaving a visible mark. I’ll have to see how the pinholes develop, as they dry, and then try to fill them somehow. Drop-filling after a full lacquer coat is always an option – although that will be fiddly, and time-consuming. I have previously managed to fill a few localised pin-holes, on my Jimmy Page Telecaster project, by applying a little more sanding sealer, and then rubbing back. In those cases – I applied the sanding sealer as drop-fills. I’m wondering here, if I might just get away with applying a thin, sprayed coat of sanding sealer over the whole affected area – using a fine airbrush. I might then be able to get away with sanding the sealer overspray back, to level the filled pinholes, before applying the second full can of clear lacquer, over the top. If some of the sanding residue is left in the holes – it may melt-in with the lacquer, and help to even-out the finish.

Jaguar body – Translucent white blonde, light amber tint and clear gloss lacquer over ash

That’s my best plan so far… but first, I’ll have to see just how the tiny pinholes develop as the lacquer dries over a few days.

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