the finish line

The closer I get to the end of a project, the more I have to remind myself not to rush toward mediocrity when I could take measured paces toward excellence. What I mean is that I get excited, and sometimes it causes me to overlook or undervalue the careful execution of the finishing touches.

I’m at that point with the guitar I’m building. Everything fits, everything looks good, and I just want to string the thing up and play it.

But it’s not finished yet. Literally.

I have finished a stable of electric guitars by now, and did one re-finish on an old classical guitar that had been painted and signed as a going away present by my well meaning staff at the last church I served.

Perhaps fortuitously, that re-finish taught me a great deal of what I would need to know in finishing this guitar.

And again, the primary thing it taught me was patience and attention to detail.

So after getting this guitar to the point where everything was structurally as I wanted it to be I sat it aside (again) and considered my next steps.

Step one: fill the grain. The top doesn’t require special grain filling, but the open pores in the mahogany and rosewood do. The only way to get an acceptably thin finish on a guitar like this (at least by my standards) is to fill the grain first. I used a water-based grain filler from StewMac for this one. I have previously used oil based fillers and while they’re effective, they’re a lot more hassle.

It sort of hurts your heart to slather this stuff on the beautiful wood, but it feels like mud and who doesn’t like playing with mud?  Anyway, application was easier than I anticipated and it did a great job of filling the pores.

I scraped the excess off, wiped it down with a damp cloth and lightly sanded everything to 320 grit, and then let it sit for a few days.

My next move was to apply a thinned nitrocellulose lacquer to the soundboard with a light tint in it to bring out the grain. I didn’t want to make the instrument look “vintage” as I’ve done with some electric builds, but I did want to lend a bit of color to the Sitka Spruce top. I also added a few lightly (amber) tinted coats of nitro to the neck. Again, everything hung to dry overnight.

Then I started building coats on the neck and body.  I’ve applied several coats of nitro (4) to both the neck and body and I’ll let that gas-off and set for a few days before I level sand those coats and add final coats. The final coats will sit for two weeks before I start wet sanding them and buffing them to a gloss.

Here’s how the front and back of the body look at the moment:


As I mentioned before, this is not my first finish rodeo, but it is new territory in some ways. I thought about french polish, but honestly I went with what I knew, and that is nitrocellulose lacquer. I’ve been very pleased with the finishes I’ve been able to get with it on electrics and it can be applied in an aerosol which minimizes the equipment I need. I used tinted lacquer from Guitar ReRanch (sparingly) but the bulk of the finish is Minwax nitro lacquer. The Minwax is the equal (or better) to many lacquers that I’ve tried. It applies evenly and smoothly and it hardens more quickly than some.

Here’s by high-tech spray rig:


And now, in the immortal words of Tom Petty; “the waiting is the hardest part…”


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