“Mary Kaye” Blonde Fender Jaguar. Filling a few pinholes, tinting, toning, and applying the final clear coat

After the translucent colour coat, and first can of clear topcoat lacquer have had a little time to dry – the lacquer has shrunk back enough to reveal a host of tiny imperfections in the finish. Apart from the larger pinholes I’d already noticed, it appears that there are also quite a few fine grain lines still showing through – despite all that grain-filling and flat-sanding. Most of these should work out during the final polish – once the last topcoat layers have been applied, and the whole coat has had plenty of time to shrink back and stabilise. The few, more serious pinholes are a different matter, and there amount to a couple of areas where the grain hasn’t held the filler properly. These show as distinct holes which tend to elongate and run slightly along the grain lines. The most problematic of these appear to be in a small area just over the arm cutaway ridge. I need to try and fill these, otherwise they’ll just drink up more and more lacquer, and even then – I’ll never get them “full enough” to properly flat-sand.

Pinholes in a semi-translucent “Mary Kaye” nitro finish, over ash

I’ve used a full can of translucent white colour coat so far, and the end result is, perhaps, just a little bit paler and more transparent than I envisaged. Natural or White Blonde finishes were a Fender custom option in the late Fifties and early sixties, and most of the surviving examples have aged and are somewhat yellowed. The clean white I’ve sprayed so far has already been “mellowed” a little, with a light coat of “Light Amber Tint” nitro – but the result still looks a little bit too pale and pristine. Almost like the bare, untreated ash itself. I had hoped to finish the topcoat off with my one remaining can of clear gloss lacquer, but since I both want to tint the base colour a little more, and deal with the pinholes – this will give me just a little bit more of a volume of lacquer to work with.

But rubbing back into the existing coverage is still going to be risky at this stage, and any abrasion of the translucent colour coat under the clear lacquer, will result in noticeable and irreperable damage to the colour coat. Before I begin to tint the body further, and apply the final can of clear coat – I need to find a way to address the more troublesome pin holes, without having to rub back the existing finish too much.

Dealing with pinholes in a nitro finish – Flatting back

There’s enough clear lacquer to allow a light flatting of the general area – but no more, if I want to save enough for a good final coat. Once the general area has been gently sanded and cleaned off with naphtha – the surface is left to dry thoroughly. I then spray a fine layer of Mylands Lacacote over the area, and let it dry. I use an airbrush to apply the Lacacote, and since the coverage is extremely fine, it takes a few coats to build up a reasonable coverage – but it is possible to target the pinholes quite precisely and allow a little extra lacquer to flow, and begin to fill the pinholes. Mylands Lacacote is a shellac-based sanding sealer. Since it’s alcohol based, it “melts into” the previous layers of lacquer, and it also has a sandable filler disolved into the carrier. This makes the sealer a little more “high-build” than standard nitro lacquer, and I’m hoping it will be enough to help fill out the pinholes, and also build a more durable layer of sealer to further “flat back”

It takes about an hour before the Lacacote is dry enough to sand back again. If it’s not properly dry it still feels a little “soapy” and can be difficult to sand cleanly, without dragging. Since it will have melted into the layers below – dragging the new surface can cause damage to lower layers, so it’s always best to wait. It’s much easier, and safer, if everything is given plenty of time to dry at each stage. The shellac has a natural pale straw colour, and although the sprayed layers are thin – the coverage has to be kept to a minimum, otherwise it might begin to affect the colour below. To avoid the surface from becoming “patchy”, the Lacacote is built up carefully, and sprayed on from multiple angles with each light pass overlapping slightly differently. The main area of focus is area surrounding the pinholes, and each pass tends to centre there. Rubbing back at each stage is localised to the re-coated area, and only lightly feathered into the surrounding lacquer.

Once the first application of the sealer has had plenty of time to dry, and the sprayed area has been lightly flatted back with some 800 grit paper – the pinholes read as fine glossy lines and indentations in the matted finish. The area is wiped clean, and the process repeated.

Dealing with pinholes in a nitro finish – Flatting back after second application of sealer

After the second application of Lacacote – the pinholes are beginning to fill, but they’re still quite noticeable, and still I don’t want to push the flatting-back too much. On close inspection, the two or three worst cases seem to be right in the grain, and appear as distinct holes through the colour coat to the darker grain lines below. I need to find something which will both help fill the holes, and lightly tint them – without affecting the even colour of the surrounding colour coat.

Dealing with pinholes in a nitro finish – Filling pinholes with sanding residue

Sanding back the Lacacote creates some fine, light coloured sanding residue – I also have, or can quickly create some similar overspray residue, using some spare white primer I have left over. I mix a little of each together with a fine sable paintbrush and dust a little of the fine powder into the main problem holes, and then wipe the surface around clean – leaving as much of the powdered lacquer residue in the holes, as I can. I then spray another few, light coats of sealer over the top, and leave everything to dry again. I’m hoping the sprayed lacquer will melt with the dried residue in the splits, and begin to bond all of the various lacquer layers together.

Dealing with pinholes in a nitro finish – Flatting-back again after “filling”

The process seems to work, and although the splits still aren’t fully disguised and filled just yet – the process seems promising. However – I really can’t put too many more layers of sanding sealer over my colour coat without beginning to affect the overall tone – making the colour look “patchy”. It looks like filling the pinholes with sanded residue will work, but from here on in I’d better use clear lacquer to build up my sandable layer, and to activate the powder “fills”. This means progress will be slower, and I’ll have to repeat everything again and again – lightly flatting back, filling, cleaning down and then lightly overspraying with clear lacquer. Since each application takes a good hour to become properly sandable – this will take time…

Dealing with pinholes in a nitro finish – Result after “flatting-back” and “filling”

…I lose track of how many times I repeat the filling process, (I do know I’m into a second day), but the approach seems to work – eventually. The dark marks are still noticeable, but no more so than some other naturally dark speckles, evident in the wood elsewhere on the body. Nothing more than tiny freckles really – and they’ll be even less noticeable after I’ve tinted the body just a little bit more. The pinholes are reasonably well filled – perhaps just, still slightly low – however the surface in general isn’t entirely smooth when the work is viewed with strong backlighting. All this may disappear after the final coats of clear lacquer have been polished back – but I’m already thinking that this is part of the “look” of this finish. Rather than a somewhat “fake” looking, glass-smooth, polyester-like finish – I’d much rather have a nicely lacquered piece of wood, and the only way I’l get a super smooth finish on this ash, is to build up a much thicker coat of nitro. Since I want a thin a coat as possible here – I’m willing to accept a polished, but slightly less than super-smooth finish. The pinhole filling has done its job, in that the main problem areas are now much less prominent in the overall finish. To try and eliminate them any further would only end up spotlighting other, even less noticeable flaws – and there’s no end to that madness. Time to move on…

Toning a white blonde nitro finish

The body is given an overall, light keying with a 1500 grade Mirlon pad. This knocks the high shine off the lacquer, and evens out the finish. The body is then cleaned down with naptha and hung in the spray booth to dry thoroughly. When absolutely dry, I give the body an overall, light mist coating of Light Amber Tint nitro. Applying a mist coat will help the next coats of lacquer “burn in” and bond properly, and keeping further applications light will also help maintain an even coverage of the tint. Once the mist coat has had time to dry, I apply another, slightly thicker coat followed by a final, even tint to even out the effect. This final coat features an extra pass around the edges of the body on both sides. This gives a subtle, (although hardly noticeable under normal cirumstances), “sunburst” effect. It’s not really visible unless you know it’s there – but I think it helps make the overall toning look a little more more natural. In all – I think there’s probably only about half a rattle can of tint over the translucent white.

Planning ahead

The effect of the tinting is subtle, and is dependent on lighting and the colour of materials seen against the finish. In strong lighting – the finish can almost look like a solid white, but in warmer indoor lighting it can become quite orange – sometimes almost flesh coloured. It’s certainly not a bright white – but then again – it’s nowhere near as dark as a Blacktop butterscotch. The darker, almost bluer ash grain is still visible, but is now much more integrated into the overall finish. The effect closely matches a few examples of some vintage finishes I’ve seen online, and will work with either a white pickguard and gold hardware, (true “Mary Kaye” style), or equally as well with a red, faux tortoise guard and chrome plates. Since gold hardware might prove difficult to find – I’m leaning towards the latter, at the moment, but ultimately it will probably all come down to the (non)-availability of gold Fender Jaguar tremolo plates.

Ash blonde nitro finish – Final clear top coats

Finally – before the tinted lacquer has had too much time to dry – I finish the job by coating the body with clear gloss lacquer. The tinted lacquer is still soft, so the coats can be full and liquid – without need of another key coat. The remaining can of lacquer is just enough to give three decent coats overall, and at the end, the finish looks glossy and relatively smooth. There’s a slight milky misting here and there, (probably from holding the lacquer can too close) – but that should polish out easily enough. Most satisfyingly – the worst of the pinholes have all but disappeared. There are still a few tiny flaws here and there – but it’s close enough to where I want to be with it. From here – if any particular fault becomes too noticeable – I’ll fill it with a tiny cyanoacrylate dropfill, and then polish it down.

The body is put aside in the drying cupboard, for a couple of months, to fully cure. The lacquer should harden and tighten, but then things look quite smooth already, and I’m hopeful I won’t have to go through all the grades of a full flatting and polishing schedule in order to get a good result. I’ve been helped greatly by some notes on a similar “Mary Kaye” finish which Steve at manchesterguitartech.co.uk has put online. There – the final finish colour looks quite similar to the one I’ve achieved, and Steve even manages to finish his guitar off with a much shortened polishing regime. Looks good to me. I’ll see how the finish polishes up in November, and then decide what to do with the build then.

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