Sadly, it’s been entirely too long since I’ve made the time to work on my Tele project.

I could (and have) come up with a thousand excuses why, but in the end, they’re mostly just that – excuses. I did have a couple of things come up that were temporarily higher priorities, and wound up traveling a few weekends when I would normally get to the guitar project, but by far the biggest obstacle was my fear that I would sand through the clearcoat and wind up ruining my beautiful Butterscotch Blonde nitro finish.

If you’ve followed this project from the beginning, you know that I sanded through the first sand-and-sealer coats. Those are easy to fix by resealing and sanding, but If I did the same thing with the lacquer clearcoat, I would have to sand back to bare wood and start over.

This body has been hanging in my hall closet curing for over five months. It really only needed four or five weeks curing time before it was ready for this step.

You can see from the reflected highlights at the top left corner that there’s some “orange peel” texture in the clear coat. The point of wet-sanding the body is to remove this texture and leave a perfectly smooth surface for final polishing.

Most people start wet sanding with approximately 600-grit wet/dry paper. Since I’m paranoid about sanding through the lacquer, I traded off some speed and a bit of elbow grease by starting with slightly less aggressive 800-grit wet/dry sheets.

The plan was to use a large gum eraser (the tan colored type) as a sanding block, but the package I bought for that purpose disappeared. I found a foam fingernail sanding block in my daughter’s manicure set and appropriated that for use as a sanding block.

I soaked the sanding sheets in a bowl of warm water with a few drops of liquid dish soap as a lubricant. Whenever the surface started to dry too much, I just dipped the sheet in the bowl to pick up a little more water.

I sanded a small area at a time in a circular motion, occasionally wiping off the excess water to check my progress.

I looked for any low spots in the clearcoat, which show up as shiny “pits” in the surface like you can see in the red circled area in this picture:

I continued dipping and sanding until all the low spots were gone. The edges took the longest, since the edge of the body built up a slight “ridge” of lacquer when I sprayed it.

When the surface was a nice, even matte finish with no low (shiny) spots left, I flipped the body over and sanded the back, then the sides.

I used the block on all of the flat surfaces and as much of the sides as I could to avoid the ripples I would have gotten by hand sanding. I did have to sand the inside curves at the waist and horn by carefully holding the paper with my fingers and sanding with a feather light touch. This is where I held my breath, since it was where I was most likely to accidentally sand through the lacquer.

Once I got all of the low spots sanded out of the lacquer, I switched to 1000-grit paper. This took quite a bit less time and effort than the initial sanding, since the surface was already smooth. The finer grit is used to sand out the micro scratches from the 800-grit (effectively trading them for smaller scratches).

After sanding the top, back and sides with the 1000-grit, I quit for the day. I had to go to the auto parts store to pick up some polishing and swirl remover compounds so I can buff the clearcoat to a mirror shine.

Some people continue to sand with progressively finer papers all the way up to as high as 2000-grit before polishing, but a respected luthier on one of the guitar forums maintains that is a waste of time, since a power buffer can work nicely starting with the 1000-grit surface.

——–

I intended to pick up the 3M compounds, but the local Auto Zone doesn’t carry them, so I bought Meguiar’s “Clear Coat Safe” Polishing Compound and “Mirror Glaze” Professional Swirl Remover. These are also high-quality compounds, and about equally popular with the old hands at nitro finishing guitars. The total for both compounds was about $20 with tax.

The buffer I’m using is a 7″ variable speed polisher/sander I picked up on sale at Harbor Freight. It’s worth waiting for the sale; I saved more than $20 off the retail price. This tool is a little heavier than I thought it would be, it bears handling with extreme caution. The right power tool can save a lot of time and effort, but it can also do a lot of damage very quickly it’s mishandled.

I put a healthy dose of the polishing compound on the guitar body and buffed with a feather touch using a fresh wool polishing bonnet. You may have heard the old adage “let the weight of the tool do the work.” DON’T DO IT! This tool is much too heavy for that; it will cut through the clearcoat. I set the polisher just above the lowest speed to keep from burning through the finish. When the compound started to dry, I sprayed a little plain water from a spray bottle on the surface to re-wet it.

I buffed the surface to a light haze (like when you apply wax to a car)…

…then wiped the compound from a small test area to check my progress.

This part goes very quickly. The polisher shined up the 1000-grit sanded surface to a nice gloss in a couple of minutes. The buffer can’t reach the inside curve of the lower horn, so I hand rubbed that area with the corner of a spare terrycloth bonnet.

I cleaned off the polishing compound residue with a microfiber cloth and plain water, then repeated the process using the swirl remover and a fresh bonnet on the polisher.

Looking at the reflected sunlight coming in the window gives a fair idea of the level of shine I achieved.

I took it outside and inspected the finish under full sunlight to make sure I didn’t miss any spots, but that didn’t photograph well.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the results. The total time I spent wet-sanding and buffing the lacquer was right around an hour. As it turns out, my anxiety over this step was entirely unwarranted.

I don’t think I would have gotten better results if I had paid $250-300 for a professional paint job.

All that’s left is wiring and assembly.

Tele® and Telecaster® are registered trademarks of Fender Musical Instrument Company

By now it should be obvious to anyone following this project what the “twist” is that I referred to in the first post of my build (http://amateurluthiery.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/a-new-project-for-the-new-year-an-early-50s-blackguard-telecaster-with-a-twist/).

Keith Richards’ “Micawber” Telecaster is one of the most iconic guitars in Rock and Roll. Mine is a tribute to Keef’s legendary Tele, rather than a full-on replica.

It’s pretty easy to superficially match the cosmetic appearance of Keef’s axe, and I think I’ve done a fair job to this point (other than the nearly 60 years of use and abuse). “Relic” guitars can be pretty cool, but that’s not really my taste. This one will be more an impression of what a new 50′s Telecaster would have been like with Keef’s mods.

However, some of the particulars of Keef’s guitar are rather closely-guarded secrets and the subject of much heated Internet debate, particularly the wiring. Only Mister Richards, or one of his guitar techs, can settle this argument. I won’t claim to solve the mystery, but using what is known – combined with some common-sense deductive reasoning – I’ll try to build what I think is probably right.

It’s a rather open secret that the neck humbuckers Keef uses are original ’50s Gibson “Patent Applied For” (PAF) humbuckers. Because a humbucker can produce a somewhat “dark” tone, he turns his “backwards” so the magnet poles are about an inch closer to the bridge to brighen the output.

The bridge pickup is the subject of much heated debate. For a long time it was accepted that Keef used an original Fender Broadcaster bridge pickup, which would be the rarest of rare single coils (certainly less than 200 manufactured).

Lately some have argued he uses a ’40s Champion Lap Steel® pickup, since he only uses two pickup mounting screws, while others – based on interviews with former Fender employees – say he uses an early Telecaster bridge pickup rewound extra-hot to lap steel specifications.

The most intense debate of all is just how these pickups are wired in the guitar, and there just isn’t anything approaching a definitive answer. The most prominent theories I’ve read are:

1) The pickups are hard-wired to bypass the switch and use only the bridge pickup in case he accidentally bumps the switch with his energetic strumming. The neck humbucker is just for looks.

2) The guitar was rewired from its original configuration to late ’50s wiring. He always plays the guitar with the pickup selector in position #1 – bridge only. The neck humbucker is just for looks.

In my opinion, neither of these theories passes the smell test. Keef is a notorious “tone freak.” He is on record saying the only reason he plays vintage instruments is because he can’t get the same tonal quality out of new ones. It’s hard to imagine that he would buy vintage pickups that were already ridiculously expensive when he modified this guitar in 1970 or ’71 simply for their appearance.

It’s true that “Micawber’s” pickup selector is rarely seen in any position other than #1, yet many knowledgeable and discerning fans distinctly hear the humbucker’s tone when Keef plays. How can this be?

A standard Telecaster’s switch selects either the bridge pickup alone (position #1), both pickups (position #2) or the neck pickup alone (position #3). The knob closest to the switch is a master volume control, and the second knob is a tone control.

The very early Broadcasters/Nocasters/Telecasters, on the other hand, use a very different wiring scheme than what we’ve become accustomed to. Instead of volume and tone controls, they have master volume and “blend” controls. In position #1, the bridge pickup is active, and the second knob acts as a “blender,” allowing the player to dial in his desired amount of the neck pickup’s output. Position #2 activates the neck pickup only, with the blend control disabled. Position #3 activates the neck pickup with a tone capacitor to “bleed off” the treble response giving a very “dark” tone to somewhat emulate a bass, since this wiring scheme predates the advent of electric bass guitars.

The third position tends to give a very muddy, bassy tone and was never really all that useful; since the introduction of electric basses, this switch position has become pretty much obsolete (hence Fender’s 1957 redesign).

I’ve come to the conclusion that Keef very likely uses the Broadcaster wiring in “Micawber.” Have I proven it? Of course not, but frankly it’s the only answer that makes sense to me. I don’t believe he added the humbucker to his guitar simply because it looks “cool.” Broadcaster wiring would allow him to use the bridge and neck pickups together to dial in a unique voicing. The fact that he reverses his neck pickup to brighten its output, and uses an extra-hot single coil in a brass bridge to tone down its output, reinforces this to my mind. Plus, this guitar seems only to have ever been photographed in use with the switch in position #1 or (rarely) #2.

This is why I’ll be wiring my Telecaster with a variation of the original “Broadcaster Blend” circuit.

[As always, your comments and questions are welcome and encouraged.]

[Fender,® Telecaster,® Nocaster,® Broadcaster,® Esquier® and Champion Lap Steel® are registered trademarks of Fender Musical Instrument Company]

While waiting for acceptable weather to finish spraying my clear lacquer, I ordered some more of the parts I need for my guitar, so I can at least make a little progress on my build in the meantime.

One of the parts on my wishlist is a brass Telecaster six-saddle bridge. There is one company, Armadillo Guitars (http://www.armadilloguitar.com/main/), who makes such a part.

This is a very high quality bridge, but it’s pretty expensive at $135, and I’m trying not to let my build budget for this project get too far out of hand.

There are two other, more widely available, Telecaster bridges made out of brass: the Fender American Series, and the Gotoh “modern” bridge. Neither is available in bare brass though.

I looked into removing the plating from one of these bridges, but the processes to remove chrome or gold plating seemed prohibitively expensive, so I nearly resigned myself to a barely acceptable compromise.

Then I stumbled upon a thread on the Telecaster forum (www.tdpri.com) where another user was trying to do the same thing. He opted to buy the bridge in black and just remove the paint. (Now why didn’t I think of that?) He bought a used Gotoh bridge, since it’s similar to the bridge on Keith Richards’ #1 Telecaster, “Micawber.”

This is the first time I noticed the mounting holes are different between the Fender and Gotoh bridges. The Gotoh appears to be the right part to duplicate Keith’s guitar.

So, I ordered one black Gotoh Telecaster bridge from Warmoth Custom Guitar Parts (www.warmoth.com). They have, by far, the lowest price I can find for this part at $45 (compared to $110 on Amazon).

I removed the saddles and intonation screws…

…and the saddle height adjustment screws. Then I bagged the small parts so I couldn’t lose them while  the bridge remains disassembled.

I picked up a quart of “Aircraft Remover” from the local Auto Zone store. This product will remove just about any paint you can think of, including epoxy. It’s also the recommended stripper for powdercoating.

I coated the bridge plate heavily with Aircraft Remover and wrapped it in a plastic garbage bag, as recommended to allow the stripper more working time before it dries. I immersed the saddles in some stripper in a small glass jar.

The stripper is supposed to work in 10 minutes. I gave it a good 15 or 20 minutes working time before I checked on it. I wasn’t particularly happy with what I found…

At some point, it seems Gotoh stopped painting or powdercoating their black bridges. This one is plated in “black chrome.” The Aircraft Remover, of course, had no effect on the plated surface.

This sent me back to the drawing board. I was worried that after I have already spent so much on the bridge and supplies I might still have to buy the much more expensive bridge.

So I headed off to Google and the Caswell plating forum (http://forum.caswellplating.com) to see what the experts have to say…

By far, the most common advice was “take it to a professional plating shop to strip.” Even advanced hobbyists who do their own plating seem to regard chrome stripping as too much (or too messy and hazardous) to tackle.

So I called the local plating shop (Saturday), and found they’re only open weekdays from 8:00-3:00. So not only can I not drop the part off yet, I can’t readily get there when they are open, since I work during those hours.

I have to admit, the sheer ingenuity and determination I’ve witnessed on the guitar forums is somewhat infectious. I was looking for a DIY solution, and didn’t want to accept that it couldn’t be done.

A couple of the users on the Caswell forum said it’s possible to use a 30-40% muriatic (hydrochloric) acid solution to remove chrome without damaging the base metal, as long as the base isn’t steel.

Luckily, both Lowe’s and Home Depot happen to sell 31.45% muriatic acid as concrete cleaner. I had to buy two gallons, since they don’t break up factory cartons, but it was only $11 for both. I’ll have plenty left to clean the driveway and pool deck this spring. and it can also be used to balance the pH level in the pool.

Fair warning…this really is hazardous stuff. It can burn your skin badly, and gives off noxious fumes while it works. Work outdoors, and wear long sleeves, rubber gloves, goggles AND a respirator if you decide to try this.

The recommendation on the Caswell forum was to warm the acid to 120-150 degrees to strip chrome. I used a Pyrex mixing bowl (the same stuff as lab glassware) sitting in a hot water bath to bring the temperature up.

I put the bridge in the acid bath, and it started working pretty quickly. I wanted to get a picture, but by the time I got back to the bowl with my camera, I had a completely dechromed bridge plate.

I took it out and put the saddles in the bowl, stirring gently with a long-handled plastic spoon. In under three minutes all the black chrome was gone, even in tiniest cavities.

I rinsed the parts with the garden hose, and this is what I’m left with:

No, it’s not bare brass yet (you didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?). Whether chrome, gold or black, all of the bridges are nickel plated as a base for the final coating.

I already knew this was the case, so I ordered some nickel stripping solution from Caswell Plating (http://www.caswellplating.com/kits/metalx.html) a few days earlier.

———-

When I received the nickel stripping kit, I mixed a quart of solution and put the bridge plate and saddles in the stripping bath. The instructions say the solution will remove 2 mils of plating per hour. Typical plating would be about 1 mil, so I expected to pull a plain brass bridge from the stripper in a half hour or so.

As easy as it was to strip the black chrome, I hoped the nickel would go as smoothly.

It actually didn’t work as well as the directions suggested, but that’s probably because I don’t have a proper tank with circulating pump and heater. It actually took a few hours and a second preparation of stripping solution to get all but the tiniest traces of nickel off. Unfortunately, it turns out I still have a layer of copper plate to remove before I get to the brass.

I went back to the Caswell website, and found it would cost upwards of $350 to buy the materials and equipment to remove copper plate. I’m not about to spend that much on this; it would be far cheaper to throw this one away and buy the more expensive bridge I passed on in the first place. That’s not a particularly attractive option either.

So I’m left with a copper bridge. I’ll have figure a way to grind and polish through the copper layer to finally get to the brass base.

———-

Rather than either buy a couple hundred dollars more equipment and supplies to remove the copper plate or give up, I decided to sand the soft copper plate off the bridge plate and saddles.

I started on the saddles, using a #220 grit sanding sheet on top of a slab of manufactured stone countertop material. This perfectly flat work surface ensures the bridge’s flat surfaces will stay that way. The #220 removed the copper pretty easily, so I sanded the scratches out with #320, which left a nice, even matte finish.

It only took a couple of minutes to get each saddle down to shiny brass. I finished the complete set of six in about 20 minutes.

The bridge plate wasn’t quite so quick and easy. The plate was cut to shape and had its holes and bridge opening punched out on a punch press. This distorts the metal so it doesn’t lay completely flat. It didn’t take long sanding on the flat stone slab to see how warped the metal was.

I need the bridge to lay as flat as possible on the body to reduce feedback, so I had to sand the back of the plate completely flat. This turned out to take quite a bit of time and effort. After about 25 minutes there were still a couple of sizable low spots evident:

It took well over an hour of sanding to get the back of the plate completely flat.

I didn’t remember to take pictures while I was sanding the front. It took at least as long as the back, and was much more tedious. All the inside corners and the distorted edges of the pickup cutout and holes had to be sanded with fingertip pressure. The stone slab was of no use on the front.

Once I got all the copper off with the #220, I went over it with #320 and #500 before I reassembled the bridge.

This is a pretty decent approximation of the bridge on Keith Richards’ “Micawber.” In fact, I’ve read but cannot verify that the bridge on Micawber is actually the same Gotoh bridge with no plating.

I’m pretty happy with my final result, but I’m not entirely sure it was worth the time and effort. If I needed another, I might be inclined to just pay the $135 to Armadillo Guitars for their ready-made product. At the very least, I’d get an estimate from the plating shop for stripping the multiple layers of plating from the Gotoh bridge to see which is more economical.

[NOTE: Immediately after I stripped the black chrome from the bridge, the weather was nearly perfect for spraying lacquer. There was no wind at all, so I sprayed the last of my clear coats. The clear lacquer has to cure for at least four weeks before I can wet-sand and polish.]

As always, your comments/questions are welcome and encouraged.

Telecaster® is a registered trademark of Fender Musical Instrument Company.

[note: This post is slightly delayed. I had hoped to finish this step before posting the update, but it is extremely weather-dependent. I'm choosing to update now, rather than wait.]

The day after spraying the Butterscotch Blonde lacquer I woke to more beautiful weather, rather than the rain the weatherman promised. It was nice and sunny, and reached the mid-70s pretty early in the day. Not bad for Superbowl Sunday.

I’m reminded of the old adage: make hay while the sun shines. Given the gorgeous conditions for working outdoors, I think it’s time to start the lacquer clearcoats on my guitar.

I brought the body back out to my Rube Goldberg spray booth and wiped it down thoroughly with a tack cloth to remove any dust built up since yesterday. The thick, clear lacquer would preserve the dust for all time like a bug in amber (but nowhere near as cool).

My original materials list called for Deft clear nitrocellulose lacquer, which is available in stock at my local Lowe’s store. I subsequently read on both the Telecaster forum (www.tdpri.com) and the Guitar Refinishing and Restoration Forum (http://www.reranch.com/reranch) that the Deft clear lacquer is both soft and slow to cure. A highly recommended alternative is Minwax clear lacquer, which is available at many Home Depot stores (alas, none of the stores local to me). Then I found the Minwax is actually available in the paint section at most Wal-Mart stores, including the one closest to me. This black label can is the nitro. Make sure you don’t pick up the polyurethane.

As I did with the Butterscotch Blonde lacquer, I allowed the can to sit in a bowl of warm water for several minutes before application to reduce sputtering.

I sprayed three coats of three passes each, spaced about an hour apart. The can says you can recoat in 30 minutes, but I gave it the little extra out of an abundance of caution.

The three coats (and one additional pass – I lost count somewhere along the line) took nearly a full can of lacquer. There’s probably enough left in the can for 1-2 more passes. Completely clearcoating a guitar body generally calls for two full cans of clear lacquer.

When spraying the clear, you try to spray each pass “wet” (heavily) enough for the lacquer surface to smooth out before the solvents flash off the surface, but not so wet that the lacquer sags or runs. If it’s sprayed wet enough, the paint surface will be glassy smooth and require less wet sanding later to reach a high gloss.

The cell phone camera pictures don’t really show it as well as a careful examination in the sun, but it looks like I got the “wetness” of the coats just about right on the sides, which are really smooth…

…while the front and back have some light orange peel.

Modern automotive enamels are catalyzed finishes, which cure all the way through by chemical reaction – not so with a traditional lacquer, which is evaporative (that is, it dries rather than cures). This has both advantages and disadvantages for a guitar builder.

On the plus side, the outer surface dries to the touch very quickly, which reduces the chance of getting dust or stray bugs imbedded in the finish. On the minus side, the solvents have to evaporate from the outside in, which can take a while, especially if the paint film is relatively thick.

I’ll give the first few coats of lacquer a few days to “gas off” (evaporate) before adding more coats of clear. The next time I’ll try to adjust my spraying technique so each pass is slightly wetter to level the surface (hopefully without getting runs). The smoother I can get the surface out of the can, the less time and effort I have to spend wet sanding, and the less chance of sanding through the clear and ruining Butterscotch Blonde color coats.

—–

I decided to take off work Friday (I’m getting too old to get up early after late concerts). After taking care of a little necessary yard work, I got back to what I really wanted to do – work on my Tele.

The first three clearcoats had the better part of a week to cure, so I brought the body back out to my Rube Goldberg spray booth and wiped off the unbelievable coat of dust it built up hanging around for the week with a tack cloth.

I sprayed two more clearcoats of three passes each. I tried to spray a bit wetter this time around, and at least partially succeeded. The light breeze interfered slightly with the spray pattern from the aerosol nozzle.

There’s still a bit of orange peel on the front and back, though not nearly as much as the first coats. I’ll have to try to spray the final clearcoats when there’s no wind unless I want to spend way too much time wet sanding.

It was about 12° cooler out than last weekend, so even though I let the body hang in the spray booth for several hours before I brought it into the house, it still continued to “gas off” pretty strongly for a couple of hours.

Unfortunately, when I got up Saturday the wind was blowing 20+ mph , and the high temperature was only 53°. Sunday was even worse – in the high 40s, with winds gusting to 30 mph. I couldn’t to spray the final clearcoats quite yet.

I really wanted to finish spraying so the lacquer can cure for a month (or more) before wet sanding and buffing. That’s an unfortunate drawback to building in the absence of a proper workshop. Still, it’s better than putting off the project until everything’s perfect, since perfection is the enemy of progress.

[note: It's now been another week, and I still haven't had the right conditions to finish clearcoating the body. Patience now will pay off in the finished product.]

Tele® is a registered trademark of Fender Musical Instrument Company

As always, your comments/questions are welcome and encouraged.

I was bumming all week, since the weather forecast was for warm sunny weather through the work week, then cooler and rainy all weekend. It turned out on Saturday the only thing all wet was the weatherman himself. It got into the 70s and sunny with very little wind, so I was able to move forward with my paint job.

Before painting, I needed to remove the excess filler and sealer built up the string-through, ferrule and neck screw holes. I suppose I could actually have accomplished this during the week, but I didn’t want to get everything out and have to clean up to make so little progress. I cleaned out the holes using a handheld drill bit to carefully ream them clean.

I used blue painter’s tape to mask the neck pocket to keep the lacquer out. 3M makes a lacquer-specific tape in green, but I haven’t been able to find it for sale anywhere locally, so I made do with what I could get. I just need to be sure when I’m done painting the neck will still fit without having to perform any unnecessary surgery.

Since I don’t have an indoor workshop or garage to paint in, I needed to build a makeshift spray booth. I managed to come up with a pretty decent, workable solution without spending a dime, using materials I already had in the house.

I used duct tape and a few yards of plastic painter’s drop cloth to cover three sides of my patio swing’s frame. This created a large enough booth to give me good shelter from the elements and allow plenty of room to work.

I mentioned before how noxious the nitrocellulose lacquer fumes are, but I’ll repeat myself here. This stuff will make you seriously sick if you don’t handle it properly. Always wear a NIOSH-approved respirator mask and eye protection when spraying lacquer (or enamel for that matter – it’s not any safer). I got this dual-cartridge respirator from Harbor Freight for under $20. That’s a cheap investment to save the brain cells the lacquer would kill, not to mention the risk of emphysema further down the road.

I shook up my Reranch aerosol and allowed it to sit in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes. This helps reduce sputtering from the can’s nozzle and improves the spray pattern.

Now for a couple of helpful painting terms:

I paint in smooth, overlapping bars across the body, keeping the can an even distance from the surface and working from top to bottom. When the entire surface is covered, that constitutes one “pass.”

Three complete passes make up one “coat” of lacquer.

There are some useful tutorial videos available on YouTube. I recommend watching them before starting to spray with a $16 can of lacquer.

I paint only the front and back with the body hanging in the booth. After each pass, I simply turned the hanging body around to get the other side.

With the front and back painted, I clamped the paint stick horizontally to my bench top, allowing easy access to the sides. Much like with sanding, it’s easy to overdo the spray on the sides. I found one good pass pretty much equaled my full coats on the front and back.

Here is what it looks like after the first coat of three passes.

Butterscotch Blonde can be a really tricky finish to get right. It’s a translucent color, so it partially obscures the wood grain as you build up the color through multiple coats. You have to strike the right balance between the color depth and visible wood grain. The instructions on the Reranch website (http://www.reranch.com/solids.htm) say the grain should be about 50% obscured by the paint. The problem with this particular paint color is, if you go one too many coats, you’ll get something akin to baby poop yellow.

When I got done with the first two somewhat dry coats, I was almost where I wanted to be. In the end, I decided to quit at two full coats plus one additional pass.

I know the paint color looks somewhat splotchy and uneven in these pictures, but that’s not the case in person. The full sunlight creates some pretty harsh reflections, but it also makes it really easy to spot imperfections. Had I not checked in direct sunlight, I might not have realized I needed a touch more paint on the end of the neck pocket before packing up for the day and leaving the paint to cure.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

[Telecaster® is a registered trademark of Fender Musical Instrument Company.]

[Note:] I had hoped to post this update much earlier in the month. What should have been a one-week update wound up taking the better part of a month due to a combination of some minor mistakes on my part and the uncooperative weather. This is an inherent risk in working with the finishing materials outdoors – especially at this time of year.

I got up on New Year’s Day, and the weather was still (mostly) on my side. It was still warm enough to apply the sanding sealer outdoors, but the wind was blowing 10-15 mph with gusts forecast for 25. I sure couldn’t spray any aerosol under those conditions.

I was forced to either change my approach, or wait for the weather to change to better suit my purposes. At this time of year, it’s generally a good idea to get as much done as I can while the temperature’s right, since it could easily turn 20-30 degrees colder for the next month or two.

I had originally set out to buy the quart can of Deft brush-on sanding sealer, but it was out of stock at my local Lowe’s store so I picked up the (temporarily useless) aerosol. I checked online and the other store about 3 ½ miles in the other direction had it in stock. I went to that store and picked up a quart of brush-on sanding sealer and a good 2” brush.

Before I could seal the body, I had to block sand with 220-grit to remove the excess grain filler from the surface, leaving the wood’s pores filled. I didn’t take any pictures of the sanding, since that would be about as illustrative as pictures of grass growing.

I let the weight of the sanding block do the work rather than pressing down on it. The paper cuts just fine that way without gouging. I wiped the dust regularly and looked at it under bright light to make sure all the excess filler was taken off. The dried filler is white and opaque, so it would show up through my transparent butterscotch finish.

I put the body on my work bench outside and brushed the first coat of sanding sealer across the grain on the top and sides. It’s best to brush the sealer on in long, smooth strokes. That keeps it from leaving too many brush marks in the sealer, since I would have to sand them out later.

I let the top and sides flash off for about 20 minutes, and hung the body up to seal the back.

After the back was coated, I left it to dry for an hour. One nice thing about working with brush-on lacquer is that the brush can be wrapped tightly in saran wrap between coats – it doesn’t have to be cleaned until you’re finished for the day. That works out great for me. Cleanup ranks right next to sanding on my excitement meter.

I left the body hanging to dry for about an hour and a half, then went back and brushed a second coat of sealer on the front, getting down into the pickup and control cavities with the brush this time. Then I hung it back up to cover the back and sides with their second coat. I didn’t bother with pictures of this, since it’s exactly the same as the first coat.

At this point, I went ahead and cleaned out my brush and left the sealer to dry overnight.

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The next day it was time to dry-sand the sealer coats with 220-grit paper. The idea is to sand down any runs/drips and level the surface. So I sanded the entire surface, trying to get an even matte finish. Low areas on the surface show up as shiny spots. I used the rubber sanding block for the entire front and back, and as much of the flats and outside curves as possible on the sides. The tight inside curves at the upper and lower bouts, and a narrow section at the waist had to be done mostly with sandpaper backed by my fingers, though I was able to “block sand” a fair amount of the inside curve at the lower bout by wrapping the sand paper around a Bic lighter.

The goal isn’t to get a completely level surface with the first sealer coats, but rather to refine the surface to enable you to get a completely level surface with the second round of sealer coats.

After I sanded and wiped down the entire body, I noticed several deep scratches in the front of the body at the heel end. I don’t know how they happened, but they look almost as though it were gouged with a screwdriver. There was no way I could fill these scratches with sealer and end up with an acceptable final finish.

This meant I’d have to repair the scratches before I could move on, so I took my sanding block and sanded past the scratches 2-3 inches across the heel of the body in the process. This means I sanded past not only my sealer coats, but the grain filler as well, so I had to refill the grain in the sanded area.

So I went back according to my Reranch instructions, rubbed the filler into the repaired area and left it to dry for 20 minutes…

…then wiped it down with mineral spirits and left it to dry for an hour. After the hour was up, I repeated the fill/dry/wipedown, and left it to dry overnight once again.

The long New Year’s weekend treated me to perfect weather for applying the nitro sanding sealer to my Tele body. When I had to sand past the sealer and grain filler on part of the body to remove some scratches, it set me back by a couple of days – or so I thought.

After it dried overnight, I block sanded the excess grain filler level with 320-grit paper, and repair looked really good.

Unfortunately, the weather turned a little more seasonable for the rest of the week. We got stiff winds, daytime highs in the 40s and overnight lows in the 20s (originally forecast in the teens). These aren’t exactly ideal conditions for applying lacquer outdoors.

My next possible opportunity to reapply sealer to the repaired area would be the following Saturday when the temperature reached the low-mid 60s. Even then, I couldn’t apply the second complete coat of sanding sealer, since it would be much cooler and rainy on Sunday. You can’t apply lacquer in high humidity, since the lacquer will trap the moisture and either “blush” or blister.

It seemed my 2-day delay would stretch to a week or perhaps longer.

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I got a couple of surprises Friday. 1) The temperature got up to just about 70 degrees, and 2) I got off work a little before 3:30, so I had time to set up and put a sealer coat on the repaired and refilled area on the Tele.

I put one coat on the top, in the direction of the grain. I coated to just past the sanded and refilled area and on the sides, where the block sanding took off almost all the sealer from the first coat.

I let it dry for an hour, then added a second coat – across the grain this time. After an hour or two drying time for the thinner to flash off, I brought it inside and hung it up for the night.

The weatherman called it right, and I got perfect weather on Saturday for brushing on the sealer.

I brushed on two more coats. Reranch says to let it dry overnight before sanding it level. I decided to give it an extra day so I could be sure the lacquer wouldn’t load up the sandpaper.

I got the top and back level sanded to a nice, even matte, but even with a light touch on the sides I managed to sand through at both the upper and lower waist, with a couple of suspect spots at the upper heel and upper bout areas.

Another sealer application was called for on the sides before I could progress to the color coats. I’d rather be meticulous and take my time prepping, rather than be forced to sand it back down and start over later because the sealer isn’t right.

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Unfortunately, I was forced to contend with a spate of uncooperative weather for a couple of weeks. I had to apply my coats of sealer in between bouts of rain, fog and sub-freezing weather.

I do my sanding next to a window on the kitchen table – indirect sunlight is many times better than any amount of artificial light for spotting low spots and imperfections in the finish. Unfortunately, by the time I get home from work during the week, there’s not enough remaining daylight to set up my materials and do any sanding. The weekend came again, and Saturday the weather was so bad it never got brighter than twilight all day long; the day was a loss as far as my project is concerned. Sunday I got enough light to do a little sanding, so I went to it with the 320-grit and sanding block on the front and back and handheld paper on the sides.

I discovered the secret to hand sanding the sides: use a LIGHT touch. Feather-light finger pressure on the sandpaper leveled the sealer quickly – anything more would have caused me to sand through again and have to start over. I sanded until I thought most of the high spots were taken down, but the light started to fail, so I waited for better light to finish up so I wouldn’t sand through again.

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Yesterday was sunny and beautiful, so I broke out the body and sanding supplies. It seems I really did get it just about done last Sunday. It only needed a little light touch-up, mostly near the edges where the sealer built up a ridge when I brushed it on. It took about 10-15 minutes of careful sanding to put the final touches on my surface, then I sanded the sealer out of the sides of the neck pocket so the neck would fit again. It’s surprising how little sealer it took at the edges to make the pocket a much too-tight fit for the neck. The body now has a nice, even matte appearance, ready to spray on the Reranch aerosol Butterscotch Blonde lacquer.

This weekend is much too windy to spray aerosols outdoors, but I need to set up a makeshift spray booth on the patio first anyway.

I hope the weather forecast for next weekend changes. Right now it’s supposed to be nice and sunny through Wednesday, then rain through the weekend (again).

I had a lot of fun with my first project, customizing my Daphne Blue Bullet Strat® into my own “signature model,” but I really wanted to build my own guitar.

Since I have neither a garage nor shop space to house the necessary machinery for a scratch build, this will actually be a “partscaster” project – assembling a guitar from parts, rather than raw materials.

I intend to document each step of the project in some detail for the benefit of anyone without guitar building experience who might decide they want to follow along.

Here is what I have gathered so far for the project:

The body is a one-piece swamp ash 1951-’69 style Telecaster body from B. Hefner Company (www.bhefner.com). My kitchen scale died some time back, so I don’t know its weight, though subjectively it feels very light to me. That will turn out to be a good thing for my broken-down back when the finished guitar comes in at a bearable weight.

I purchased a maple Squier® Classic Vibe® 50s Telecaster® neck from a member at the Squier-Talk Forum. Necks like this are regularly available on eBay with the stock Kluson-Style tuners. This neck came with a set of Sperzel-style locking tuners installed. I would normally be inclined to use the vintage style tuners, but there’s a good reason (which will become apparent further into the project) for using the modern tuners on this particular guitar.

I gathered the materials for a good nitrocellulose (“nitro”) lacquer finish. The oil-based grain filler and Butterscotch Blonde nitro lacquer came from the Guitar Reranch (www.reranch.com). The Deft® nitrocellulose sanding sealer, mineral spirits and lacquer thinner came from the local Lowe’s store. I have read others’ experiences that Deft clear lacquer can sometimes take a very long time to cure, so I decided to use Minwax® clear lacquer instead for the clearcoats. Neither Lowe’s nor Home Depot carries the Minwax lacquer in my area (though Home Depot does carry it in some locations), so I picked it up at Wal-Mart. It took some research to verify that the Minwax lacquer is, indeed, nitrocellulose.

The other finishing supplies include: #220-grit sandpaper, a rubber sanding block, cheesecloth (actually gauze) and a tack rag from Lowe’s; and #320, 800 and 1000-grit wet/dry sanding sheets from the Wal-Mart automotive section (for final sanding the lacquer finish).

All of the finishing materials are solvent-based. Allowing them to contact your skin will cause extreme irritation and remove your skin’s natural protective oils. Do not handle these materials without protective gloves. I use blue nitrile gloves; I have read (but not independently verified) that lacquer thinner will eat through latex gloves.

Before you begin the finishing process, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you go to www.reranch.com and read the instructions in “Reranch 101” thoroughly. If you still have any questions, there is a wealth of information online, especially at the Telecaster® Forum (www.tdpri.com) and the Guitar Refinishing and Restoration Forum (www.reranch.com/reranch). Get your questions answered before you waste time and expensive materials learning lessons you should have learned from someone else’s mistakes.

The body came a couple of weeks ago, and it has been handled quite a bit, so before I started the grain filling process, I gave the surface a quick wipe-down with a piece of cheesecloth dampened with mineral spirits to remove any skin oils from the surface of the wood. Since the grain filler itself is oil-based this step might not really be necessary, but I’d rather not take any chances.

An added benefit of the mineral spirit wipe-down is that it really shows off the wood’s grain.

Since Swamp Ash is such an open-grained wood, the first step in achieving a smooth finish is grain (pore) filling. If this isn’t done first, the finish will soak into the wood’s pores like a sponge. As the lacquer cures it will shrink further into the pores, leaving a rough finish surface.

I applied the oil-based grain filler I got from the Reranch store a small amount at a time, rubbing it into the grain with my gloved fingertips until the entire top, sides and back were covered.

After a few minutes, the filler started to harden, so I took an old credit card and scraped across the grain to remove the excess filler from the surface, but leaving it in the pores.

After 20 minutes or so additional drying time, I lightly wiped the body again with the cheesecloth and mineral spirits to remove the excess filler on the surface of the wood, while leaving it in the pores, and allowed it to dry undisturbed for another hour.

I did the grain filling at my kitchen table (protected with heavy brown Kraft Paper). The low-odor mineral spirits and oil-based grain filler are not especially volatile solvents, but I still recommend opening a window if you’re going to use them indoors. Luckily the New Year’s Eve weather here cooperated, so it was plenty warm to work next to an open window.

DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE ANY OF THE LACQUER PRODUCTS INDOORS! They contain high levels of highly toxic volatile organic compounds. Use them only a well-ventilated workshop (or outdoors) and while wearing a proper respirator.

After the filler dried for an hour, I applied another coat – repeating the filling, scraping and wipe-down – and left the filled body to dry overnight.

Comments and questions are welcome/encouraged.

(Fender®, Squier®, Bullet Strat® and Telecaster® are registered trademarks of Fender Musical Instrument Company).