“Mary Kaye” Blonde Fender Jaguar. Catching up with some lacquer repairs to the headstock

Pleasant, warm weather has returned – and with it, the chance to catch up on some lacquer repair work. I seem to have become overloaded with drum projects, recently – it’s good to have time to finally catch up with some guitar builds, (remember those?) In particular – the re-purposed Allparts neck, for my “Mary Kaye”, blonde Jaguar.

“Amalgamated” checking marks on the headstock

The neck has been stored away for most of the winter, since it was previously re-stripped of hardware, and I began to have a look at a few repairs. Last time I did any work on it – I was still heating the workshop to get it to a workable temperature. Now, at last, I don’t have to worry about that. The days are now mostly warm enough, and the humidity at the moment is about 50%.

I’d previously run the neck through a sequence of “amalgamation” and re-laquering steps, in an attempt to first stabilise, and then hopefully completely eliminate, some potential adhesion problems, splits, cracks and general “checking” to the headstock. By alternating applications of anti-bloom thinners with layers of new, clear gloss lacquer, and by gently flat-sanding the new surface every few applications – I seem to have managed to flood some of the chips, and get the solvents to “heal” some of the worst of the checking marks. This “re-amalgamation” of the lacquer, coupled with flat-sanding, has also allowed me to thin the overall lacquer load to the face of the headstock, and seemingly “bring out” the checking marks, so they now appear to have risen to the surface.

Now, after a few months for the lacquer to dry properly, cure and shrink back – the vast majority of the checking marks now appear as nothing more than shallow “rilles” in the surface of the lacquer. They’re hard to spot unless the lighting is just right – but if I run a fingernail across the surface – I can feel them easily enough. They’re quite rounded at the edges, and appear to be very shallow. I think they’ll fill properly with a few more applications of lacquer, and a little more careful flat-sanding. With luck – the headstock surface will then be smooth enough to take a good polish, and I can finally fit the new bushings, and commence the rest of the re-build.

Thinners / lacquer application with an airbrush

The spray booth is cleaned out and readied, and I protect the rest of the neck and fingerboard from receiving any mis-directed overspray. Since the lacquer on the headstock is now completely hard – I want to “open” it first, and soften or “gellify” it slightly – so that any new applications will be able to “melt” into it, that much easier. I’m using a small airbrush for convenience, and it’s powered by a hefty aerosol can of propellant. I prepare two jars of “sprayables”. One is 100% anti-bloom thinners, and the other is clear gloss nitrocellulose lacquer, prepared as a 50/50 blend of thinners and lacquer. Both the lacquer and thinners were purchased from Northwest Guitars – and if this turns out to be a convenient way to spray small areas – I may well try a few other spot repairs in the same manner.

First – I spray a coating of thinners. Enough to visibly wet the surface. The thinners evaporate quickly, but the existing lacquer will have softened almost on contact – the effect continuing for a few minutes, until the solvents evaporate. I then change the jars over on the airbrush, and spray an even coat of lacquer over the whole face of the headstock – feathering it slightly over the edges. This first coat is fairly light – but I can lay it on a bit thicker than with a usual, first “mist coat” – since the lacquer is already slightly soft underneath, from the thinners. This first coat ends up comprising of two or three “passes” over the whole surface. I vary the angle of each pass to try and keep the application as even as possible. The wet headstock is then laid flat, and the lacquer allowed to dry for about 15 to 20 minutes. Since I won’t need the airbrush for a while – I swap the jars over again, and use the thinners to clear out the nozzle, with a few short bursts onto some waste card.

Lacquer application to fill in surface defects

There’s no real need to “open” the surface again – so once the lacquer has become touch dry, I swap the jars back again, and lay another thickish coat of lacquer onto the face of the headstock. The airbrush stream is fine, and there’s quite an amount of pressure if the propellant isn’t properly adjusted – so it helps to be able to work into the light, to make sure the lacquer coat is applied as consistently and evenly as possible. The process is repeated a few more times. Each time, the headstock is laid flat to dry, and the airbrush nozzle is cleared with the thinners, so it doesn’t clog.

Lacquer application to headstock

Finally – after about four applications of lacquer – I can see that the surface “rilles” now appear to have been flooded with new lacquer. To all intents and purposes – they have almost completely “disappeared”. Only time for the lacquer to dry fully, will reveal if it’s a complete “cure”, or if I’ll need to apply more.

The fills where the string trees once stood, still look a little bit “short” of lacquer – but by the time I’ve flat-sanded the headstock again – I may yet be able to get everything completely smooth. It looks like the fills have darkened more than the maple of the neck – so they’re always going to be somewhat visible. However – even if there’s a slight, discoloured indent or two left behind – it’s still an improvement on the original, chipped and flaking situation, (and one of the repairs will be hidden underneath a new string tree).

The neck goes back in the drying cupboard for another month, at least. It’ll be interesting to see if the checking marks re-appear at all, as the lacquer cures – but I’m hopefull that the lacquer is now properly adhered to the wood at least, and that it’ll prove stable enough to allow me to finish the neck properly, and finally fit the gold headstock hardware for the build. We progress… (Slowly)… but we progress.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: