Refinishing a bass in a small apartment: report

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by fishdreams, Jun 4, 2018.

  1. fishdreams

    fishdreams Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    Endorsing: Arkham Vacuum Tube Amplification and and Martin Keith Guitars
    So. Years ago a friend gave me an old 48th St Custom jazz bass, with neck issues and rusted strings. Even then I could hear and feel there was this wonderful, lively kick in the in the 50-100hz area, often absent in jazz basses. However, that big fat tone also always sounded a bit lifeless in character, regardless of pickup experiments, replacement neck and what not. Fast forward and I decided to get rid of the poly finish, refinish, and add a new fretless Allparts neck, that I purchased unfinished. Since I wasn't sure if this would get me the great jazz bass I thought might be hiding in there, I decided to do it myself, instead of spending a lot of money on having it done. The process had to accomodate using a Brooklyn apartment shared with Mrs. Theretheyare.

    1. Stripping and sanding
    This was the worst. Back in the day I used to get fast and decent results using chemicals (Kleen strip) but on this rockhard and thick poly this was hopeless. I found that below the original orange, there was a solid white finish, and then some sort of substantial plaster-like substance below that, that almost felt like concrete. I ended up damaging the body with the scraping and still being left with gobs of finish and plaster all over the place. After I stuck the body away in the hallway over the winter in frustration, I got myself Home Depots cheapest heatgun in the Spring ($18) and tried again. This actually worked very well, so now being Spring i could sit my self downstairs, outside on the stoop, with a sanding block and 60 and 220 grit paper, and finally get the body in decent shape. Part of the fun was chatting with the neighbors and passers by while doing this. But the best part after getting off all that plaster, was the discovery that all these years a beautiful swamp ash 2 part body had been hidden under that crap.
    2. prep and finishing

    All finishing having to be wipe on, I decided to use minwax Water Based Wood Stain and Birchwood Casey Tru Oil Gunstock Oil. I asked Mrs. Theretheyare to pick the stain color and she wisely chose Tangerine.

    I prepped the body by sanding with a 220 grit. Then I wetted the body and let it hang overnight to raise the wood grain, and sanded it again with 220, and repeated this 2 more times. I did not use a primer prior to wiping on the stain, which probably would have been better for this very porous wood type. I wiped in 3 layers of stain with pieces cut from old t shirts, in circular motion working my way all over the body. It almost made it solid color, and actually closer to fiesta red; however, it looked quite even.

    I then wiped on thin layers of tru oil, length wise motion. I used again parts cut from old t-shirts folded into a bundle, but i did find that with the stickiness of tru oil it is very easy to get pieces of cotton fluff on the body. Make sure to use clean cotton for this that hasnt been washed too often.

    After 5-6 layers I let it cure for 2 weeks and polished/wet sanded with micromesh pads. (Stay away from steelwool; it makes a mess). I soaked the pads in a container with water and a drop of dishwashing detergent, working down the grits from 1800 to 8000. The wet micromesh is easy to work with without sanding off the tru oil immediately. After each round make sure to wipe off with a wetted paper towel. (you'll see yellow streaks in it afterwards showing the tru oil that came off) This made the finish look already quite good, working to a even matte. 3 morelayers of tru oil followed and another week to let it cure (I found 2 weeks is better) and another round of micromesh, and I ended up with a very nice finish that has an almost semi gloss sheen.

    Meanwhile I had also tru-oiled the Allparts neck (minus the ebony fingerboard). Since maple is so dense, this was a super easy process. 6-8 layers and then wet-micromesh, then 1 more layer. With the micromesh the back of the neck feels fantastic.

    To me the best thing about this finish is that it just feels fantastic to the touch, once sanded/polished with the miocromesh. Finally I put on a new mint pickguard that i also wet-micromeshed to get that new-plastic sheen off. Put back together, the tone is definitely livelier and the bass is also lighter in weight than i remember it to be. Sofar I'm quite happy playing it, and I may have indeed turned a good jazz bass into a great one. Yesterday I used it in a session and next weekend its first gig is coming up. We'll see!

    20180603_155438_001.jpg 20180603_155407.jpg 20180603_155523.jpg

    While I would have done a few things differently in retrospect, I'm very pleased with the results.

    So in short:
    • Strip with a heat gun
    • Materials are cheap ($12 for the tru oil, $14 for the Minwax Stain, $12,- for the micromesh, a few bucks for sandpaper, $18 for the heat gun) and the project could be could be done inside the house as long as windows were open (Only the bulk of the sanding happened outside). I hung the body to dry from a wire coathanger on an guitar wall hanger, and the neck form another wire coathanger on a nail in a window pane.
    • Wipe on tru oil as thinly as possible in an even layer, making sure to wipe off all excess. Take your time and be patient. It is not difficult to do, and wiping on a thin layer of truoil takes like 5-10 minutes each day. But in my experience the final results really depend on the care taken in the sanding prep process first, (every tiny un-eveness will show with this type of thin finish; not necessarily a bad thing, but if you want a mirror like surface, you'l have to sand it that way), allowing the tru oil enough time to dry between layers (1 day each) secondly, and finally allowing for enough curing time before wet sand/polishing with micromesh (I found that 2 weeks really is better than 1 week)
    • The next time, if i had another porous wood (and in the case swamp ash, porous in an uneven way), i'll definitely use a primer, so I wouldn't have to use 3 coats of stain in order to get some evenness.

    Thanks for taking the time to read!
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2018
    chapito, Axstar, Microbass and 5 others like this.
  2. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    Thanks for the detailed report and excellent pics! Good looking bass you got there.
    As someone who has been putting off doing a hand-rubbed finish on a raw Warmoth body for going on two (or is it three?) years now, it's encouraging to hear that the process is doable in a NYC apartment. I've been trying to promise myself that 2018 is the year I'll actually get it done, and your post is providing some much-needed inspiration!

    What brand of micro-mesh are you using?
    theretheyare likes this.
  3. fishdreams

    fishdreams Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    Endorsing: Arkham Vacuum Tube Amplification and and Martin Keith Guitars
    These ones, i see StewMac has them for the regular price Micro-Mesh Soft Touch Pads |

    I am by no means a woodworking pro, so i'd say it's quite doable! And another aspect i kept in mind: if I wouldn't have liked my work, contrary to that damn poly finish, tru oil sands off in notime, so no problem to start over or send it elsewhere as a clean body.

    Good luck!
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2018
    Bob_Ross likes this.
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