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My first DB project, stain/finishing questions

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by unbrokenchain, Jun 9, 2011.


  1. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Asheville, NC
    So I've been playing electric bass since I was a kid, but I finally picked up my first upright recently. It's a ~10 year old German bass that's been set up to play rockabilly. I'm a bluegrass player myself (have been borrowing and renting uprights for the past year or two), and I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do to tailor it to my needs. However, the main issue I'm having is that the bass has been painted. Yeah.... Krylon spray paint.... The PO took his time with it, but I'd still much rather have it just be a nice dark stain.

    So what's the best way to restore her dignity? I plan to sand very carefully, but should I be concerned about sanding the sides too thin? Also, once it's down to bare wood, what's the best stain and finish to use? Is Minwax a crime? Should I get Shellac from Stewart MacDonald? I'd like to have it black but still able to see some wood grain.

    The bass sounds great and I'm sure it'll sound even better once the paint is gone and there's a wooden bridge on it rather than the lexan one that's on it currently. I just want to make sure I do it right. Any advice?

    On a different note, the bass came with a K&K Rockabilly Plus pickup. I'd like to eliminate the fingerboard part of the pickup and just keep the piezo part. Any harm in doing this? Should I just trade it for a different one?
     

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  2. George700DL

    George700DL

    Jan 9, 2009
    Maryland
    Wow, nice urinal cake color the previous owner used:)

    I wouldn't sand it - there are chemical strippers to take care of it. Look up messages by Molly on this forum - she and her husband have done a lot of this type of work.

    George
     
  3. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    Did you find that paint job here in town?

    j.
     
  4. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Asheville, NC
    Got this bass from a guy near Greensboro. Literally could only find one bass for sale in this area which was a Shen at Acoustic Corner. I played that one for an hour or two, and it's pretty, I just felt like there wasn't much depth to the sound. This one sounded way better even if I wasn't thrilled about the paint. It's funny, though, everywhere I take this thing people tell me to leave the paint. I'm torn, I know it'll be a lot of work but I can't help but wonder how much better it'll sound. Think it's worth it?
     
  5. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    I'd vote for leaving it alone - its pretty distinctive! ;)
     
  6. bassphase

    bassphase Supporting Member

    Jul 26, 2004
    San Francico Bay Area
    So is having 4 toes and a third eye!. I don't think I could handle the bile green paint job much less the melting yellow things.

    The new owner was all set to sand it. H e should be overjoyed to learn about paint/finish strippers that are much less work.

    He can't make it any worse.

    bob
     
  7. I doubt that replacing the finish will affect your sound significantly. Paint may be suppressing the upper-mid-to-high freq. and overtones a bit. But Bluegrass bass is all about a good thump, not thumb position right? If YOU like the way it sounds and looks leave it alone. But if you keep it, practice a lot, people are not going to forget you. :eyebrow: :)
     
  8. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Asheville, NC
    I'm gonna go for it, the color has kind of grown on me and I get a lot of "everyone's gonna know it's your bass," but I don't think I can leave it on there. Besides the looks and sound, the paint has this kind of gritty feel to it that's less than pleasing to the touch, and there are quite a few nicks and chips that I'd rather not touch up. And if I truly want it to be "my" bass, then I feel I should put some creative effort into it as well.

    After searching around for a while it seems like Citristrip is my best choice for removing the paint but not affecting the glue on the instrument. So I figure I'll go that route, does anyone know how long I need to wait after Citristripping to apply stain?

    I can't seem to find any straightforward information about which outer finish to use.. is shellac ok on its own? It appears that I can't just use tung oil because it won't be protective at all, do I need to varnish it? I'd rather not.. what about nitrocellulose? Polyurethane? Hmm.. choices... I'm waiting for a new set of strings and a new bridge to arrive before I embark on this, so I can do kind of a complete makeover, but I'm hoping to have the bass out of commission for as short a time as possible. I just love playing it too much.
     
  9. bassphase

    bassphase Supporting Member

    Jul 26, 2004
    San Francico Bay Area
    Refinishing your bass will be time consuming. You don't want to rush it or you won't like the results. If you can't endure the time off from playing maybe you should wail until you can. Or borrow another bass.

    Citristrip should work fine. It may take 30 min to soften the paint and you may need to apply it twice. I've never stripped paint off of a bass --only more traditional finishes. Once it's softened, you can gently scrape if off. It may come off in sheets. Work on ONE area of the bass at a time. Don't work on such a large area that the finish starts to harden again. You will likely need to touch up sand with 800 grit sandpaper. Don't oversand. Your finish will take several coats regardless of the type you choose. Let each coat dry before continuing.

    Shellac IS a traditional violin family finish, So is oil based varnish. You could do a tung oil finish as well although there are oil based finishes that are tougher like Waterlox or Tru-oil. The wipe on oil finishes are the easiest and you can add dyes or paints to them to color the instrument if you like. You can also add dyes to shellac too. Watch this video to see James Condino do a french polish with colors (dyes).
    How to Create a Sunburst Finish - Fine Woodworking Video

    Don't even consider nitro or a poly finish. If you go the shellac route, don't buy the premixed hardware store variety. Buy shellac flakes and mix with alcohol.

    If you've never done this before, you might want to practice.
     
  10. George700DL

    George700DL

    Jan 9, 2009
    Maryland
    Amen.
     
  11. ctregan

    ctregan

    Jun 25, 2007
    Syracuse N.Y.
    Try using a scraper first, with no stripper. A razor blade will work fine.

    The problem with chemical strippers and paint is, the stripper will turn the paint into a liquid, that will seep into the pores of the wood. Then you will have to sand like crazy to remove the impregnated paint.

    Good luck!
     
  12. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    Wouldn't there likely be a coat of the original finish under all that paint? I would think the wood was fairly well sealed, and that the liquified paint might NOT sink into the pores.
     
  13. rgarcia26

    rgarcia26

    Jun 9, 2008
    Miami Florida
    Guys what about using a heat gun and a spatula, I know sanding this bass can be a daunting task, even with chemicalsĀ… I heard that when you strip paint with a head gun there is not need for sanding or very littleĀ….
    I am not saying doing it, I am wondering if this was can yield better results??? Or there is a down side? I got a heat gun from Amazon.com for $23.. its works well ;)
     
  14. tstone

    tstone

    Nov 16, 2010
    San Francisco, CA
    If the bass is glued together with hide glue (and it almost certainly is), a heat gun may cause the glue joints to start coming apart.
     
  15. rgarcia26

    rgarcia26

    Jun 9, 2008
    Miami Florida
    for sure u are right but being carefull not to heat any joint that may come apart...???

    Well may be after all not a great idea.. but I know that strip paint isnt easy
     
  16. I've never removed paint or clear coat from an upright, but I have from solid-body electric basses using a citrus-based paint and varnish stripper. I was pretty amazed at how well it worked! Just spray it on, let it sit for a bit, gently scrape it off with a simple plastic scraper. The old paint and clear coat just oozed off and I only had to spend a nominal amount of time sanding what was left behind away.

    I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination so please verify this will be OK for an upright. But I can't imagine it's all that much different and I was really blown away by how much easier it was that trying to sand through all that finish and paint!
     
  17. tstone

    tstone

    Nov 16, 2010
    San Francisco, CA
    I agree, I think chemical stripper is the way to go. That's what furniture refinishers use, and they can get a highly satisfactory result. The only caveat I would offer is that if the bass is finished with a catalyzed polyurethane or polyester finish, the stripper may not work. Good to try a test in an small unobtrusive area before you commit.

    You might also want to invest in some scraper blades and a burnisher. They will help you in the hollow areas and help prevent sanding swales. Here's one source:

    Search results for "scraper burnisher" at Stewart-MacDonald

    I would also add that I don't share the aversion to polyurethane finishes that others have expressed. Modern products like Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane finish -- in either satin or gloss sheen -- are extremely easy to apply and allow the amateur to achieve a durable and attractive finish. The end product is super thin and bears no resemblance to the thick gloppy catalyzed poly finishes one sees on commercially produced electric guitars and basses.
     
  18. George700DL

    George700DL

    Jan 9, 2009
    Maryland
    Same here, I like wipe-on poly. You can make it as thin as you want by cutting it with mineral spirits.

    For my upright, I used plain old Formby's oil varnish, which they call "Tung oil finish", but which has nothing to do with tung oil.

    George
     
  19. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Asheville, NC
    well, after careful consideration and a trip to James Condino's shop, i've decided to go with my original plan of sanding it. James warned me that any kind of stripper, including citristrip, has the potential to delaminate plys and separate glue joints. his advice for finish was pretty much whatever i can get my hands on, since even a beautiful sunburst + french polish is not going to significantly raise the value of this bass. so i sanded down about an 8 inch square right beside the endpin and applied a black stain. the sanding looks like its actually going to be the easy part, 100 grit to 220 seems to work well and a razor blade and wire brush in the corners makes quick work. i also used the wire brush on a bit of the scroll to see how well it would work, and i don't think it's going to take me very long. the stain, however, is pretty thin and runny and so tough to work with when the surface isn't horizontal. i haven't selected an outer finish yet. i have a show tomorrow afternoon so i'm leaving the bass alone for now, but i'm thinking monday i'll dive into it.
     
  20. DC Bass

    DC Bass

    Mar 28, 2010
    Washington DC
    Mark the position of your sound post top and bottom with something like a pencil. It will certainly fall after you have the strings off, and this will save you a LOT of heartache. A dental mirror will help you to see the top at reset time. :)

    Good luck with your project! I'm in the middle of helping a friend refin a bass at the moment too- fun! :)

    Joe
     

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