Candy Apple Red H/H Fender Jaguar. Spraying the nitro colour, and clear lacquer coats

I’ve already sealed, primed and begun the base coat for the candy apple red finish on my H/H Jaguar – and have taken the opportunity to test fit the neck and tremolo bridge whilst the finish is still being built up. This gives me a bit of flexibility, in that if I were to accidentally damage the finish anywhere, it would hopefully be early enough in the painting process to allow for an “invisible mend”. The wood of the body is well sealed and protected by the base layers of primer and lacquer – but there are still further layers of colour and clear coat to apply, and therefore plenty of thickness to cover most unfortunate eventualities – should anything happen at this stage. It’s not a problem, (as yet) with this H/H Jag – but it is something which has become something of an issue, and a block to progress with my JagStang build. But more of that in another post…

Patchy and incomplete base coat

My Candy Apple Red finish here, will comprise of layers of Translucent Red nitro over a Shoreline Gold basecoat. Both colours are rattle can lacquers by Northwest Guitars, and I’m following a “recipe” in order to exactly match a headstock which I previously painted in the same colour. So far – the body has been sealed and primed, and has used up the remains of a can of Shoreline Gold, left over from previous jobs. Although the base colour looks fairly consistent from a distance – under good lighting, and with a closer eye – it’s pretty obvious that it is still quite patchy, with some lighter areas of white primer still showing through. The latest order of lacquer for my next few jobs has now arrived – containing with it, a fresh can of Shoreline Gold. With the tremolo mounting holes safely located and drilled – I can now press on with the rest of the finish.

Completing the Shoreline Gold base coat

The body is cleaned over first, using a little naphtha. This cleans off any finger grease, and evaporates quickly – leaving no residue or moisture behind. The work is hung in the spray booth again, and the process of building up a light, but consistent base colour continues. The first application is, once again, a light “mist” coat – to soften up and help “burn into” the existing lacquer. Once this mist coat has become touch dry, the rest of the gold basecoat is built up with just two more complete passes. Approximately half a can – with regular checks to ensure that the basecoat is developing smooth, free from flaws, and with consistent colour value.

Completing the Shoreline Gold base coat

Any slight flaws – such as dust, or tiny fibres caught up in the spray, are best spotted and dealt with straight away. Usually, an extremely light rub with fine grit paper is enough to smooth the finish again, without leaving too much of an obvious mark. However – the gold finish here, has an element of metallic flake to it. Even light abrasion with a paper towel can appear to dull the finish. Any areas which consequently require faulting must be sprayed over again – enough to restore the colour consistency, and the finish “feathered-in”, so that the overall “fire” effect of the gold finish is also kept consistent. With a Candy Apple Red finish, the effect of the gold basecoat is often only really apparent when the finish is illuminated under strong light – but when the “sparkle” of the gold flake does shine through – any inconsistencies in the finish of the basecoat become all the more obvious.

It’s also worth noting that with metallic lacquers – the cans really need a good shake to get all that flake mixed in properly with the other carriers. With the paint properly mixed – a final light “dusting” spray application, over the top, is usually enough to “bring together” and unify the appearance of the gold base coat.

Beginning the Translucent Red colour coat

With the base coat given the usual time to become touch dry – the translucent red colour coat follows almost straight away. Using translucent colours from rattle cans has its’ diffficulties. The process would be so much easier with a proper gravity feed spray, commercial equipment and facilities – however – with care, it is still possible to get decent results. The key is to apply the coat as lightly as possible for each pass, and to keep the can moving all the time, so as to not “over-develop” one particular area. The first coat, as always, should be a light misting – but this will almost inevitably result in a somewhat patchy-looking finish. You just have to accept and believe that things will gradually improve, and become more consistent as the finish builds up. The problem with translucent paints is that any flaws in the finish are hard to disguise. You can’t spray more colour over to hide them, and you can’t rub them back either. With translucent colours – the painting approach needs to be even and methodical – almost concentrating more on the method and consistency of application, than on the results themselves.

I tend to paint the edges of the body first. By manipulating the body with the handling stick, I gradually work my way around each of the rolled edges – feathering the spray out, onto both faces. This essentially gives the flat edges a double application, and then “fades the application out” onto the main, flat faces. These are then given their own even coating – by moving the spray evenly, backwards and forwards, in a series of even passes – with the body hung vertically, and the spray applied “straight onto” each face in turn, (actually, at a slight angle to avoid creating blowback from the routed recesses). Although this theoretically applies just a little more translucent paint to the outside edges of each face – if there is any obvious, visible difference in density – it tends to look like a traditional sunburst effect, and therefore much more “planned”. Inconsistencies tend to get lost in the contour shading, and are much less obvious than they might, at first, appear. It’s much easier this way than trying to “even up” the finish on the flat faces.

Building up the Translucent Red colour coat

With each mist coat flashing and “going-off” quickly in the warm weather – it’s amazing just how soon the colour coat begins to come together. If anything – it’s perhaps a little bit too warm today. On one hand, the lacquer is less viscous and therefore sprays well. It also dries quickly between coats, so you can really move along with the job. However – on the other hand – the lacquer is flowing so well, it’s perhaps in danger of becoming too runny. There also seems to be a problem with some apparent misting in the finish. Initially, I don’t think this is classic case of “blooming” – usually caused by moisture in the atmosphere, or in the actual work. Here – the work is dry and the humidity in the workshop is well below 40% today. At first, I think what’s happening is that, in the warmth, the spray is either drying out before it’s hitting the surface, or some dried overspray is getting blown onto the surface after the lacquer has settled. Whatever it is – each pass is beginning to dry with lighter, matt patches evident in the finish.

Most of these patches do return to the proper colour again after even the lightest spray, but then sometimes they dry lighter again – so it’s beginning to suggest that the problem may be in the nitro itself, rather than anything to do with contamination of the work. Obviously – too much individual attention to resolving any of these problem areas, risks creating “patchiness” in the finish – but then so does leaving them to “see what happens”. I have to skate a thin line between sorting individual problem areas out with, perhaps, a quick localised spray “here and there” – against building up yet more complete coats of the translucent lacquer, in an attempt to keep consistency and “renew” the entire surface. Too much colour coat, and I’ll begin to negate the effects of the gold basecoat – yet dare I risk leaving, even a little, obvious “clouding” in the finsh – hoping that it’ll all just polish out? Building up the colour coat from here, becomes a balancing act between keeping things as even as possible overall – against having to deal with with the few obvious, specific, problem areas.

Building up the Translucent Red colour coat

So – as the translucent red is gradually built up – it becomes essential to periodically compare the colour against my original headstock. I can’t afford to push things too far. My “recipe” is still, just about, being followed – but I’m running out of room to “improve” on the finish. The best way to compare the candy apple effect is always to compare the finishes in strong sunlight. That way – the gold basecoat really shines through, and you can check the shadow tones over the gradients, and gauge the depth of actual colour over the top. The body is now a good, close match to the headstock. It’s had probably about two-thirds to three-quarters of a can of the Translucent Red in all – but the colour intensity now looks to be a good match, and the coverage appears reasonably consistent. Time to move on with the clear coat – but I’ve still got a few recurring problem areas to deal with, and further applications of clear coat just seem to continue the trend…

The clear coat is, as usual, built up with a series of even passes across the whole work. The intention is to build up quite a glossy, “liquid” coat – using something between two and three cans of clear gloss nitro lacquer overall. That should give me a thick enough coat to polish out, without too much of a risk of rubbing through into the translucent colour coat below. Each clear coat usually consists of three complete “passes” over the work – with the nozzle moving briskly and evenly over the whole surface. Moving evenly all the time. About 45 minutes between each coat – checking for stray dust and hairs, and cleaning away any loose overspray before beginning each subsequent coat. In today’s heat – the clear lacquer is drying in much less than the usual 45 minutes, and although some of the apparent blooming has faded as the solvents from the clear lacquer get to work – it’s still recurrent in one or two places. If I apply fresh lacquer over the top – it immediately disappears – only to re-appear as the lacquer dries. The only way to seemingly eliminate it from the finish, is to spray very light, localised applications over the top. However – I need a thick coat for polishing, and it just won’t build up enough if I apply all of the lacquer so thinly. I’m already too far into the job to go back… so I resolve to complete the clear coat, and then reserve a few, final light oversprays to reduce the problem areas as much as I can. With luck – I can “balance” the finish visually, and it’ll all polish out further down the line. We’ll have to see about that…

Finished body after application of clear coat

With final light “misting” applications to the problem areas, I manage to get the finish piece to look reasonably decent and consistent. At least the colour is a good match. However, on closer inspection, a few areas on the body still continue to display a slight milkiness in the finish as the lacquer dries. As I’ve already mentioned – this kind of “blooming” is usually down to moisture trapped in the lacquer as it dries and “gasses out”. (But today really isn’t that humid, and the work was definitely dry before spraying). I begin to suspect that the heat has meant that the lacquer has “flashed-off” too soon, and then dried before it’s properly released trapped moisture – (condensation?) – caused, most likely, by the de-pressurisation of the lacquer as it’s come out of the can. Whatever it is – it’s unsightly, and I still don’t know for sure if it’ll polish out

Nitro lacquer finish problems… Dusting?

It’s tricky to photograph – but the image above shows a particularly stubborn area. The fault looks just like dust, and feels slightly rough to the touch. It’s especially apparent here, but is also visible at a few other locations around the body. I hope it’s just dried overspray caught on the surface – it may simply polish out. If it does turn out to be trapped moisture, and a more classic form of “blooming” – then I’ll hope that the usual method of lightly spraying thinners over the finish, might help release some of the trapped moisture. Of course – it may just fade over time, as the lacquer dries, shrinks back and fully cures. I’ll just have to wait the usual alotted two months to find out. There’s no fixing it any other way at this stage.

Nitro lacquer finish problems… Sagging

Whilst I’m carefully checking over the piece before storing it away – I notice another couple of potential problem areas… (This really isn’t turning out to be one of my better efforts, and I’m still keenly aware of how poor my detail vision still is – even after my cataract treatment). Under proper strong lighting – two areas of additional concern pop out at me – and both appear to be caused by the colour coat “sagging” slightly. There’s a slight shadow in the colour coat on the rear of the cutaway “horn” – just visible in the image above…

Finished body after application of clear coat

…and another, much harder to spot, similar area, in-between the tremolo and bridge locations. (Much harder to photograph, this one. For a while, I thought it was a shadow from the workshop window). I didn’t spot either fault on previous checks, and can only assume that the additional load of clear lacquer has “melted into” the colour coat at some point, and has pulled it slightly – creating a “sag”. What would normally be just a minor surface defect in a clear or solid colour coat – easily removeable by careful flat sanding – has here, distorted the translucent coat below, and made it uneven over a small area. This ultimately reads as a shadow. Clearly – spraying “thick, liquid” coats of clearcoat on a hot day, has led to the, already less viscous, lacquer overloading and running. This, in turn, has slightly dragged the colour coat, underneath, with it. I think trying to deal with the apparent blooming of the finish has taken my eye off the ball. Whilst I’m normally super-careful to keep things even, to avoid runs and sags – I’ve let a couple get through here – and I’ve also, no-doubt, compounded the problem by over-spraying, whilst trying to “fix” the various flaws, as I’ve gone on.

Somewhat problematically – the faults are now, obviously, down in the colour coat – trapped underneath the clear coat. Even if I could get to them – they’d be virtually impossible to “even-out” anyway. Polishing the clear coat may “lose” the faults amidst all the glossiness and reflections – but I won’t be able to actually reduce them any. Fortunately – the worst flaw is on the back of the guitar body and the one on the front, (although in a more prominent location), is very hard to pick up unless you actively look for it. It certainly doesn’t photograph easily – (and I usually take that as a good indicator of something I may be becoming a bit “over-picky” about).

So – a few things to deal with, and a couple more reasons to hope that “a good polish will sort everything out again”. Unfortunately – I’ll just have to wait to see what happens. The nitro should have cured by the beginning of September – so the body is stored away whilst the lacquer does its’ stuff. I’ve got plenty of other tasks on the go, but with another job to spray already lining up – on spraying days – I obviously need to keep an eye on the temperature as well as the humidity – and especially at this time of year.

2 Replies to “Candy Apple Red H/H Fender Jaguar. Spraying the nitro colour, and clear lacquer coats”

  1. Hello there,
    I’m currently going through this exact same process. I have a mij Jaguar which I want to paint Candy apple red. I’ve already stripped the body of the old Olympic white poly. My plan is to paint the guitar body and headstock at the same time. I’ve just ordered the paint from northwest guitars. They do a kit now consisting of inca silver with transparent red to make the candy apple. I’ll be interested to see how it compares to yours with the gold undercoat? Looks like you’ve done an excellent job and I would love to see the finished product when you get round to buffing and polishing. I have a couple of questions… how long did you wait after putting the colour coats on before putting the clear lacquer on? And where did you get the replacement headstock decal from please? Excellent read and process by the way. Fingers crossed mine turns out this well.


    1. Hey Billy,
      I think the decal came from luthierdecals dot com. Alternatives sometimes come up on the usual online auction site, and there are other suppliers out there if you look online. I usually try and find decals which have a gold paint element for any metallic inks – rather than any “approximated” colour print. As it turns out, this particular one didn’t “bury” too well under the lacquer – and you can still see the outline. Probably my mistake. Sometimes the plastic of the waterslide reacts with the solvents. This can lead to fault marks crystallising in the lacquer, and sometimes the edges curl up. In the worst cases – the whole design can appear to distort. If I were to do it all over again – I’d probably spray the covering lacquer in many more, lighter passes – and build it up much more carefully. It’s a bit of a balancing act – the smoother you can get you final sprayed finish – the less polishing out you’ll ultimately have to do. You still need to be confident however, that you have a good solid coating of lacquer over the logo – so you can polish back without any fear of rubbing through.
      As far as waiting times before clear coat on the body – I’ve tried a few different ways on different builds. For this one, I laid a single coat of clear immediately over the final colour coat, (applying the rest, a day or so later) – but I’m not sure if that might have been the cause of the slight sag in the translucent coat, I noted in the article. (Spraying a liquid clear coat over a still soft translucent colour coat). I don’t think it matters if you leave things for a while. Sometimes the work flow means you have to leave the clear coat longer than you planned anyway. Just make sure that if you do happen to leave lacquer a while to cure – any subsequent overlaid coats need to be “misted” at first – to soften up the base again, and allow the coats to “melt” together.
      Good luck with your H/H. Let me know how you go.


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