Applying the
Color Coats


Pigmented Translucents (Blonde)

Clear Coats

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The three most dangerous words in the English language are "All you gotta' do...." So it is with refinishing in a solid color.  Recently I have found myself answering many questions about what I once considered an easy process. (Easy, that is if you know how).... This section will address the basic steps for refinishing in a solid color such as Fiesta Red or Surf Green. Metallics such as Lake Placid Blue Metallic and pigmented translucents like Blonde can also be applied using these methods. ReRanch 101 should be read in conjunction with this section. While the basic techniques of stripping and grain filling are covered in more detail there the process is the same. As with any of the finishing techniques offered on these pages, the steps represent one method. Other products and techniques may also result in a successful outcome.


(Note: If the old finish is a polyurethane finish you will have a difficult time completely stripping the finish back to raw wood. It is acceptable with poly finishes to sand the old finish with #220 dry and use the old finish as the base. If that is to be your direction skip ahead to the section on priming).

After stripping the old finish sand the raw wood with #220 dry sandpaper, followed by #320. If you completely strip the old finish the grain of the wood will need to be filled. (Maple is a very close grained wood and a grain filler may not be needed). Alder, ash and mahogany will need to be filled and are listed in order of the openness of the grain. An oil based grain filler is recommended. Brands that have been found acceptable are Old Masters, Bartleys, and Lawrence-Mcfadden. (In fact, I haven't encountered an unacceptable oil based filler. I have found though that water based fillers sometimes swell and then shrink when top coated with lacquer. They will work but may require two or more applications. For that matter oil based fillers may shrink after drying overnight and require another application but they remain stable when top coated). For most finishes use a natural colored filler. The dyes used in darker fillers may over time find their way through the color coat.

Apply the filler by wiping across the grain. You can use a course cloth or your fingers to wipe the grain in. After it has dried about ten to twenty minutes the excess can be removed with a cloth dampened with mineral sprits. After about an hour repeat the process and let dry overnight. If you have removed most of the excess with mineral spirits the remaining filler on the field of the wood can be sanded off (use #220 again) in a few minutes. It is also a good idea at this time to reopen any of the screw holes in the body. Use a toothpick or small drill held between your fingers to clean out any filler in the holes. The body is now ready for a sand and sealer coating.

Sand and sealer is used to give the color coat a level base. It is also helpful in filling scratches whic are too deep to sand out. There are four types readily available. Shellac, water based, lacquer and vinyl. I have had great success with the nitrocellulose sand and sealer from the Parks Corporation. It is available from many wood working stores such as Wood Craft but is also sold under the "Pro Finish" brand in Home Depot stores. (Parks has a store locator at their website). Home Depot sells Parks sand and sealer only in gallons but a gallon is a bargain at around $15.00.

The sand and sealer is brushed on. Brush on the first coat and let it dry about an hour. (It will be dry to the touch in minutes). Brush on a second coat and let dry overnight. When dry block sand  with #220 dry sandpaper. The goal is to remove all the shiny spots (i.e.; pits) but you don't have to get them all yet. When reasonably flat and matte over the entire body paint on another coat. Let dry an hour and paint on the forth and final coat. Let dry overnight. Re sand with #220 followed by #320 but this time all the shiny spots must be removed. If you accidentally sand through the sand and sealer repaint that area with sand and sealer and sand flat again. If sand throughs are not corrected the color may appear different in that area. The grain of the wood may also show if sand throughs are not corrected. When completed the guitar will appear matte, flat and show no ridges or runs. If the screw hole have again been filled now is a good time to reopen them.

The last step before applying the color coats is to apply a white primer coat. B.I.N.s makes a white pigmented shellac in an aerosol can that will cover the grain and prevent any previous finishes from bleeding through. The white background will also let you apply an opaque color coat with less paint. You can find this sealer at most hardware stores and again, at Home Depot. Spray on two coats. When dry you may notice that the surface feels rough. Sand off the roughness with #320 dry and respray. Sand again. If the surface now appears smooth and all grain is opaqued you are ready for the color coat.

Applying the Color Coats

One of the most asked question relates to how many coats are needed. My answer is to spray on a couple more coats than you think you need. That is; spray until the white is completely covered and then spray two more coats to be completely sure you haven't missed a spot. When spraying hang the guitar from a hook. As a practical matter you will find it easiest to hang the guitar and spray the top back, and sides in sections. Then when dry lay the guitar flat.  Use a block of wood in the pickup and/or control cavities to suspend  the body an inch or so above the work area. With the guitar laying flat you will find it is easier to spray the sides in the waist section, bottom, cutaways and any other areas that offered a difficult spray angle when the body was hanging.

Spray with the gun or aerosol can approximately 12" to 18" from the surface. "Wetness" refers to the amount of paint applied with a pass. If the pass is too dry the lacquer will dry too quickly and not flow resulting in a rough surface. The flowing of the lacquer will give a flatter and smoother surface thereby reducing the amount of sanding and finish work required. Too wet of a coat will results in runs. The secret of course is to apply the paint in passes somewhere between the two extremes.

When first starting err on the dry side. Subsequent coats will remelt much of the "overspray". Adjust the distance from the surface and the spray time of each pass to control the degree of wetness and therefore flow. If you are using the Guitar ReRanch aerosols note that the nozzle fan will rotate to give either a horizontal or vertical spray pattern. Choose the pattern that feels best to you. (To avoid spraying yourself be sure to remove the nozzle from the can before rotating the fan).

If you get a run or dust in the paint STOP! Let the lacquer dry a few hours and lightly sand out the imperfection. Use #600 wet for this sanding. If you sand too soon you may push any dust deeper into the lacquer and also run the risk of gouging the preparation coat. With the imperfection corrected reshoot that area. When you have the white primer completely covered with color shoot a couple more passes to doubly insure the coverage is complete.

Before preceding with the clear coat it may be necessary to flat sand the color coat. If the color coat appears smooth sanding before applying the clear coats may not be necessary. If the surface feels rough due to overspray or has "orange peel" sanding will be needed. Definitions are in order here. Overspray refers to paint on the surface that dried before it reached the surface. Orange peel is caused by the paint drying before it flowed completely smooth and flat. (The surface will appear bumpy and not unlike an orange peel). Overspray can be sanded off by lightly sanding with #600 or #800 wet sandpaper. Orange peel will take more aggressive sanding. Use #400 or #600 wet. Sand until the surface is smooth and all the bumps are gone. (When sanding to remove orange peel expect sand throughs that will need respraying).  When the sanding is finished wipe the guitar with damp towel to remove any dust. Now inspect the guitar. Check for thin spots where the white shows through and spots where the lacquer is drying into the grain. When checking for thin spots it is best to examine the guitar in bright light or sunlight. Look for thin spots especially around the bottom strap button, the sides of the peghead, inside the cutaways and at the top and back edges where color may have been sanded off during the flat sanding.

If you find spots where the grain texture is showing you probably missed an area with either the grain filler or sanded through the sand and sealer coat. Lacquer will fill these areas but only for a short time. As the lacquer dries the grain texture will reappear. These areas can be corrected by painting the area with sand and sealer, sanding flat and respraying color over the area. Similarly, "weak" spots that allow the primer to show can also be spot sprayed at this time.

Spraying Metallics

The metallic colors can be applied using the steps noted above. However, because of the nature of metallic colors a somewhat different color coat application is required. Metallics have small silver or colored aluminum particles in the color coat. It is these particles which give metallic paints their ability to show different colors when viewed from different angles.  Metallic paint also contains what is called a "flop control" agent. This agent helps to hold the small aluminum particles in random angels to the surface. It allows the particles to "stand up". Without the flop control agent the particles would lie flat and the color would lose it's iridescence.

When spraying metallics too wet of a coat will overcome the ability of the flop control agent to stand the powder and may cause a spot that appears to reflect light differently than the surrounding area. To prevent this it is best to spray the color coat slightly dry. You may find that hanging the guitar is not the best for spraying metallics. Try laying the guitar flat and spray holding the gun or aerosol a little further away than is needed for a non metallic solid color. Rather than going for a good flow "dust" the paint on. Spray and let gravity work for you. As with non metallics if you have a run or "flat" area you can repair the area by lightly sanding and spot spraying just that area.

Sanding will also disturb the reflective qualities of the particles. Therefore, it is best to not sand a metallic color coat. Once the color is consistent spray four coats of clear coat (note: this is a revision to the original instructions. Two coats of clear may offer too little protection against sand throughs in some cases). Lean toward the dry side for the clear coats. If the unprotected color coat is sprayed with too wet of a clear coat the clear coat can also flatten the metallic particles. When dry sand the clear coat smooth. If needed now (or any time after clear coating has begun) any imperfection can be repaired, color coated and re clearcoated. The guitar is now ready for the series of clear coats that will protect the color and give the deep shine you expect.

Pigmented Translucents (e.g.; Blonde)

With a translucent color the grain should show through to a degree. With Blonde and Butterscotch Blonde the grain should be obscured about 50%. The steps for preparing the body for a translucent finish are the same as outlined above but without the primer coat. The color is sprayed directly over the clear Sand and Sealer coat.

The pigmented colors are an opaque paint thinned to appear translucent. It is possible with enough coats to apply an opaque finish with these paints. Because of this it is best to first spray a practice piece to judge the coverage. The color coat should be sprayed in light coats to avoid too quick of a build-up and to prevent streaking. The passes should be sprayed slightly dry. Do not sand the color coat before clear coating.

Applying the Clear Coats, Final Sanding and Polishing,

With the color coat smooth and consistent the clear coats are ready to be applied. For the clear coats it seems that all the spraying can be done with the guitar in a hanging position. Wipe the guitar down with a tack cloth before shooting to remove any dust. Except for the first two coats over a metallic finish the clear coats can be shot fairly wet. In fact unless a wet coat is shot over another just applied wet coat runs are fairly rare. Details of spraying the clear coats can be found in ReRanch 101.

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