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First Project: Refinishing a Samick Jazz Bass and looking for tips and advice

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by dms123, Mar 22, 2016.

  1. dms123


    Mar 22, 2016
    Hi there everyone, I am a newcomer to this forum embarking on my first refinishing project. I have been reading up on the different refinishing projects here, and let me first thank everyone for all of their amazing knowledge and experience shared here, what a wonderful resource.

    I have a few questions about my project, with the goal of hopefully making few mistakes as possible (although I know that is how you learn). I know these have been covered in other threads, but I am hoping to get ideas for all aspects of my project covered in one spot, and maybe it will be helpful for other beginners like me on their first try.

    First some quick details:

    -The bass I will be refinishing is a Samick Greg Bennett “Fairlane” jazz bass copy, like the one here

    I picked it up this weekend at the local flea market for only $25 and it plays and sounds great except for a buzzing sound I’ll need to figure out (I noticed that is temporarily remedied by pulling the cable in the 1/4” jack to the side).

    I was excited to find this bass since:

    -My only other bass is a P-Bass type (entry-level Washburn XB-100 I got on clearance) so I have been wanting a jazz bass for the increased versatility in tone.

    -Since I started reading this forum a few weeks ago I have been wanting to find a cheap “project” bass for fun

    -One of the 2 electric guitars I own is a Greg Bennett strat copy, and I have been very happy with it, so I had faith in the general quality of this instrument (within its class of course)

    I want to refinish it for a couple of reasons:

    -I don’t really like solid colors on my instruments, and the black it came in is my least favorite color

    -The black finish is extremely dinged up, this thing was covered with crud and really beat up on a cosmetic level

    So I’d like to refinish it to a natural stain that shows the wood underneath. According to the internet, this bass is made out of Agathis, like many budget basses, so I realize the wood grain pattern may not be that pretty, and only once I strip it will we see if its disparate pieces of wood, etc.

    Now on to the questions after all that long-windedness :)

    1-For stripping, I have both a heat gun and a can of “citristrip” coming from Amazon (along with some gloves and safety goggles). I am having trouble deciding which would make more sense to use.

    Since I have already taken the bass apart, I can tell you that the coat of black color is not super thick, at least where you can see the cross section of the top by the pickup cavities.

    One thing I was not able to remove, when disassembling the bass, was 4 cone shaped metal washers that are inset into the 4 “bolt-on” holes” in the back of the body. If I use a heat gun, I wasn’t sure if those would get overheated or even melted when I am stripping the paint near them.

    2-Once the color is stripped I know there is a lot of sanding to do, but even after reading I am a little unclear on people’s recommendations for what grades of sandpaper to progress through, from rougher to smoother, before staining. 320/220/120, etc?

    3-Once all the sanding is done and it’s time to clean it in preparation for staining, I know that you need to clean it (clean off any errant sawdust) and people often seem to use alcohol or mineral spirits? I wanted to make sure I understand why people use this over plain water. Is it because they evaporate and leave the wood nice and dry, whereas water would absorb in and get the wood wet?

    4-For the actual staining, I was planning on using Howard Feed and Wax, which I already have a bottle of, but please chime in if you feel that there would be a better solution when working with a wood like agathis. I prefer more satin and matte wood finishes to high gloss, so I wasn’t planning on doing any type of shiny top coat with anything else

    5-I gather, from reading other forum threads, that you apply multiple coats of the howards and each coat will make the natural finish a little darker. However between each coat, I am not clear if:

    -You do any type of fine sanding/buffing of each dried coat of Howards, before applying the next one, and so what you use to do so

    -How long do you typically wait between coats, and how do you know it’s really ready for the next coat (I live in Hawaii and it’s very humid here)

    6-Is there anything special finishing step you would recommend once I have put on the final coat and am happy with the darkness of the finish

    All righty, as if I haven’t bugged you guys enough, here are some other miscellaneous questions related to the project:

    1-The rosewood fretboard was covered in really stubborn dirt and filth, I cleaned it as best I could with a microfiber cloth dampened in warm water, and it’s much better, but in general the surface is still much darker than the thin side of the fretboard, where you see a nice dark cherry color of rosewood.

    So, I’m trying to figure out if I clean it properly, should it be that same lighter color, or is it normal for the top of the fretboard to darken with use. I have a bottle of "Gerlitz GGH Guitar Honey Fingerboard Oil” coming to restore it a bit (the wood seems very dried out) but I want to make sure I have gotten of all the dirt and filth as best I can.

    2-The pick guard is white colored, which will look OK with a natural finish, but ideally I’d prefer a tortoise-shell color. I can’t seem to find replacement pickguards for the Fairlane bass and from what I can tell, the shape and screw holes is not quite the same as a standard jazz bass, it’s a bit different. Any ideas where I could have one made and is it expensive. May not be worth it.

    3-While most of the screws were in good shape, the ones holding in the pickguard and the truss rod cover are very rusty. Are these a standard screw size and how does one make sure they are getting the right type.

    Living in Hawaii, the best resource for me is Amazon when possible, since Prime still works here and we get free shipping on many items, whereas other vendors charge lots to ship here, even for tiny items, or sometimes won’t ship here at all.

    4-The knobs that came on the bass were strat style white knobs, as opposed to the jazz bass style, or P-Bass knobs the fairlane comes with. When I order better looking replacement knobs, do I just make sure I am getting ones for normal 1/4” fully round shafts?

    5-The last thing I was worried about, since Agathis is a softer wood, is making sure the bridge is nice and secure when I screw it back in, I wasn’t sure if that type of wood can handle having a bridge unscrewed and screwed back in.

    Do I need to worry about this, and if so, any ideas for making sure the holes are nice and tight? What do people put in screw holes they are re-using to make sure the screw has a nice tight grip, especially for something like a bridge where heavy bass strings are pulling on it?

    Thanks in advance for any advice you all can give me, I know these are a lot of questions and they have likely been covered many times before. I am very grateful for any assistance that anyone can give!
  2. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    Welcome to the luthier's corner, you are invited to keep reading! :)

    Couple of thoughts:

    That Samick is likely to be Agathis plywood. Nothing wrong with it, but it may be better suited to a solid colour or burst depending on what you like. You can check if its plywood in the edges of the neck pocket and pickup routes.

    The metal neck ferrules (cone shaped washers) need to come out - they can be pushed out from the backside.

    Sand with 180, 220, 400 and use a block on the flat surfaces - important to avoid sanding divots into the body. :D

    Howard's Feed n' Wax is basically a furniture polish, not a finish per se. That said, you can actually use it as a finish, but it penetrates and it would be a pain to refinish over that stuff. Consider Tru-Oil or just a plain clearcoat.

    If you can find some pure lemon oil (d-limonene), use that to clean the fretboard, it will get everything off and will enrich the wood.

    You can get replacement parts from lots of different suppliers. I like Allparts because they will ship nearly everything to Canada. You're right that if you're not CONUS, you get the shaft! :D

    For the pickguard, you may be best off getting a large blank and then tracing yours to get a new one that's an exact fit.

    For your bridge screws, its probably not an issue, but you can put a little wax on the threads of any screw you're driving into wood to help it ease in a little.

    Please post up your progress into this thread and ask, ask and ask some more. This place is an amazing resource! :D
  3. dms123


    Mar 22, 2016
    Thanks Beej for the helpful comments. My paint gun and citristrip will not be here from Amazon for a few more days, and in the meantime I will definitely keep reading as many restoration threads as I can.

    I hear what you are saying about agathis plywood being a better candidate for a solid color, but those are not really my thing and I'd also like to avoid the whole spray painting thing. Once I have the paint stripped, I will upload a picture of what the agathis looks like and we can all see what type of grain and uniformity of wood I do or don't have to work with. Fingers crossed.....

    I will make sure to pop out the ferrules, thanks for the tip on how to get them out.

    Interesting about tru oil vs the howards as well, I will keep that in mind.
  4. dms123


    Mar 22, 2016
    OK, so I have gotten started with stripping the black finish off off the bass. Still a lot to go but I posted some pics so far to show what the wood looks like underneath. Pics below.

    I opted to use a heat gun vs. paint stripper, since I read that paint stripper, especially less toxic ons like the citristrip I have, do not always make that much headway with these types of finishes.

    As predicted with agathis, the finish (at least so far) is nothing exciting, not really any interesting grain that I can see so far. In fact, the top of the wood has more of a speckled, particle board type appearance, not sure if that is a layer of sealer on the top, or some thin layer of other type of wood glued on top. When I look deeper in the neck pocket it looks more like normal solid wood.

    I did some very preliminary sanding on the stripped section I did so far, with 60 level sandpaper, just to get a better idea of the wood. I think that the lighter parts you see are where I have sanded past the dealer coat (if that's what it is) and the darker parts are where it is still there in the wood.

    This was my first time stripping paint and I started on the back so any mistakes I made while learning would be less noticeable. So far the one error I made was getting a little too aggressive with the metal scraper, there were a few spots where I took off the paint put also shaved off a thin layer of the top of the wood (I eventually got a feel on how to keep this from happening). We'll see what those spots look like once sanding and oiling is done.

    One thing I am still having trouble with is removing the 4 ferrules, poster Beej mentioned can be pushed out from the backside, but these ones seemed really stuck in there. I tried popping them out from the other side using a thin drill bit but no dice so far, and I worry I will be stripping the threads for the neck screws that are inside inside the wood if I mess around too much?

    Here are pics of where I am at so far. Any and all advice welcome!


  5. friskinator

    friskinator Supporting Member

    Apr 5, 2007
    Montreal, QC
    Unless you're planning on filling in those gouges on the back and spraying primer/solid color/clear coat on the whole body, there isn't much you can do to cover them up. Considering how the exposed wood looks, a solid color would be the best way to go, IMO.

    I've gotten neck ferrules out by finding a socket that fits inside the hole, then tapping lightly with a hammer on the socket until they pop out.
  6. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    Ahhh, you can buff that out. :D

    Actually, as long as you don't mind changing the shape of the body a little, you can carefully sand over those with like a 80 grit on a block, but do the entire back evenly to avoid reshaping too much. If you're handy with a random orbital sander, you can probably use it to remove the paint from the front to give you look at what you're dealing with. Be careful because they can easily cause divots that will look smooth but show up under finish. Blocking it back is always best after sanding down. Watch the scraper, you should have to use little to no force with a heat gun. Watch for burning, but go slowly and let the heat do the work.

    This sucker has a new life in it yet... :)
  7. dms123


    Mar 22, 2016
    Okey dokey, finally made some more progress, pics below.

    Got the rest of the paint scraped off. Took quite a while, especially on the sides.Never was able to get the ferrules out but was careful not to aim the heat gun too close to them.

    Then got to work on the initial sanding. Still at the 60 grit stage and tons more to go. What I have found is that underneath a very thick coat of some kind of sanding sealer coat, there's actually a kind of nice looking wood with some nice dark grain lines that sort of remind me of spalted maple (which this bass definitely is not :) You can see on tiny spot at the edge where I am starting to finally get through the dealer coat to the bare wood, and the wood itself looks much nicer than the shiny speckled flat appearance that the dealer coat gives. I dabbed a tiny bit of the howard's feed and wax on that section just to get a rough idea of what things may eventually look like.

    Couple of questions at this stage:

    1-The sanding to get the sealer coat off is taking forever and I am an impatient dude (not a good quality when woodworking). I am using a flat sandpaper block, would it be appropriate and quicker to use a small handheld random orbital sander?

    2-I have the front and back fairly smooth and am at the point of trying to get the dealer coat off, but still have a lot more sanding to do on the sides. This is hard to do with the sanding block and is also hard to do with a loose piece of sandpaper in my hand. What do people usually do to reach these spots? I think I heard something about taping sandpaper around a dowel or tube?

    Thanks again for everyone's advice so far!




    Last edited: Apr 7, 2016
  8. dms123


    Mar 22, 2016
    Got more rough sanding done on the top, removing more of the sanding sealer coat. The wood is nothing special looking but nicer than I thought at first, once all that sealer is removed (or whatever it is).

    Laid the pick guard in place and lightly traced its border in pencil so I could remember the areas I don't need to worry about, saving muscle and sanding grit.

    Tiny dab of Howard's in the corner just to get an idea of what it may look like when done

    I got the J-Bass knobs for $5-ish from some ebay seller, they fit fine and seem to be of good quality (This used bass came with stratocaster knobs for some reason, which looked very wrong)

    Still tons more work to do but getting there slowly.

  9. charlie monroe

    charlie monroe Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2011
    Buffalo, NY
    My MIM Jazz came with Strat knobs.

    That grain doesn't look bad at all. It's subtle.
  10. wraub


    Apr 9, 2004
    ennui, az
    previated devert
    With all that sealer off, this should be quite nice looking. Maybe a black pickguard for contrast, might complement the natural...

    Keep up the good work.
  11. Actually, I think heat may be the key to getting these bad boys out. I'd try using a soldering iron to heat them up (carefully) and use a bent coathanger, stuck through the hole, to yank 'em out.

    +1 on the grain :thumbsup:
  12. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Drill the holes through then neck pocket slightly bigger than the holes in the ferrule, and drill down to the ferrule but not threw it. Then push them out carefully with a punch from the top side of the neck pocket.
  13. dms123


    Mar 22, 2016
    More progress on the sanding, my father-in-law is visiting and he is into projects so he has been helping with a lot of it. He shook his head in dismay when we saw me sanding against the grain and getting all these deep scratches in the wood (I protested that the finer stages of sandpaper take care of that)

    Thanks to everyone so far for the advice on getting the ferrules out. This may be an ignorant question, but at this point would it the OK to just leave them in? They don't seem to be getting in the way of sanding and I thought that when I apply the oil finish I could fill in the holes with a bit of tape so no oil/wax accidentally gets int the metal, but leaves the wood exposed.

    Interesting suggestion on the black pick guard. This Samick bass does not use the standard jazz bass pick guard shape, and I could not find replacements for it, so i think I am stuck with the white one it came with since I don't have experience with cutting my own and I don't want to sink too much money into the project by getting one made. I don't mind the white color too much but ideally I was envisioning a white pearled one, I think those always look nice with natural wood stain and a bit more unique than tortoise shell (although that's always a classic as well).


  14. wraub


    Apr 9, 2004
    ennui, az
    previated devert
    This looking good, definitely keep at that sealer.
    Even the spud dude approves. :)
  15. dms123


    Mar 22, 2016
    OK, made some more progress

    1-Sanded off rest of sealer with 60 grit

    2-Did complete sanding pass and beveling of edges with 150 grit, then 220, then finally 400. By the time we got to 400 the wood was nice and smooth

    3-Cleaned wood thoroughly with well-worn rag and denatured alcohol

    4-Applied 1st coat of Howard's Feed and Wax using a different well worn rag.

    Pictures below are shown with 1st initial coat. Apologies for the crappy cell phone pics, when everything's done and put back together I will take some ones with the real camera and good outdoor lighting.

    3 key questions at this point:

    1-With just the 1st coat of Howard's the bass is looking nicer than just the raw wood, but that 1st coat really didn't get it much darker, and so far it is definitely lighter than I am going for.

    Am I correct in understanding that successive coats will gradually get it at least somewhat darker?

    2-How do I know how long to wait between coats, that each coat is completely dry/finished/ready for the next coat?

    Do I wait something like an entire day between coats or is a few hours sufficient? The Howard's seemed completely soaked in and dry after just a few minutes, but I don't want to rush the process.

    3-Is there anything type of buffing anyone would recommend I do between each coat or at the end of the last coat. I picked up some "0000" super fine steel wool, I know if I use that I have to make darn sure there are no metallic shavings left when I put the pickups back in.

    You folks did warn me that an agathis body that was painted would likely have some mis-matched wood, and looking at things now that definitely seems to be the case. Having said that, the grain is still prettier than I expected when I started, and I have definitely learned a lot so far even with this very modest project.



    Last edited: Apr 11, 2016
  16. dms123


    Mar 22, 2016
    Here's where we are at with 5 coats of the Howard's, one per day for the last 5 days.

    So far the 5 coats have made the wood a little darker, but also have made the agathis take on a warm, golden color that is similar to the Howard's itself.

    Will do a few more coats and see where we are at, as long as the wood can continue to absorb that much, so far it still seems to be.


  17. dms123


    Mar 22, 2016
    And we're done! Here are some final pics with everything put back together:






    In the end the final pics you see are with 9 coats of Howard's Feed and Wax. I was originally planning to do more, but by the end it seemed like it was not really absorbing anymore or making any improvements in color or appearance. Perhaps more coats would have paid further dividend but I was getting impatient :)

    After the final coat of Howard's was applied and dried for a long time I gave the still unassembled body a very light buffing with 0000 steel wool, didn't really seem to do anything but I was under the impression this was a good last step to do?

    The other thing I did was to sand all of the shiny protective coating off the back of the neck, for this I used 220 sandpaper with a very light touch. After it was all sanded, I gave the neck a light buffing with the steel wool as well and then applied a thin coat of Howard's there as well. The neck now feels 100% better, before it was way too grippy and sluggish, now it feels smooth as silk. As an added bonus, the sanding took away these 3-4 large dings/dents that the former owner had somehow put into the back of the neck coating.

    I was happy to find that I was able to get the buzzing issue (as mentioned in first post) fixed by soldering in a new 1/4" output jack, probably a good idea to do anyway since the old one was rust city.

    Overall I am pretty happy with the results, and it is definitely prettier and more unique than the black color it started with. Having said that, here are 2 things that could be better:

    -I have never had an instrument with an "open pore" unsealed wood finish before, it feels a bit off when I pick it up to feel the bare wood, even with how it is smooth and waxed. Not sure if more coats of Howards would have alleviated that to some extent, or using something different like Tung Oil

    -The different pieces of wood glued together are not the greatest, especially the lighter colored piece on the horn side of the front. But, I knew this going in and the grain overall was better than I expected for wood that was in a budget instrument and meant to be painted over.

    I wanted to thank everyone for all their assistance with my first ever effort at this kind of thing, everyone's wisdom was very much appreciated. Even though this was a super basic project, I have definitely caught the bug and will be keeping my eyes peeled for more project instruments out in the wild!
    afa3 likes this.
  18. looks great!

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