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Stripping: so just how far do I need to go?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Jim Baritone, Jul 12, 2012.

  1. Hi again.

    Many thanks to everyone here at TalkBass - I've learned more here in six weeks than in many years of just hanging out with bass players.

    When I first came to the forum, I joined (hijacked, I guess), the thread about adding a 2nd pickup to a 62 Gibson EB0

    http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f57/m...ighter-pickup-871779/index2.html#post12752050. At the time, I posted a couple of pics of my fairly sad looking EB0, which had a a not-very-good refinish job back in the late '70's when I first got her.


    Since then, I've been having an active discussion about pickups and controls over in that forum,
    but "Finish Envy" is starting to rear its ugly head.

    First of all, there was this nice EB0 example, refitted with Darkstar pickups, and beautifully refinished complete with custom pickguards and cavity covers made from exotic wood laminates. This started the drooling....:


    Then, I ran across another couple of really nice refinishing jobs, like this one:


    and then last night this one, which is the same colour as my own EB0 was when it came from the factory:


    My first order of business when I came to this forum with questions was to repair/rebuild a very old and not very compatible pickup pair. That job is now under way - not finished, but moving along with plenty of good advice from the members over in the Pickups & Electronics section.

    I'm back here in the Luthier's Corner because after seeing some of the really beautiful examples of how an EB0 can be brought back to a great looking bass, I have made up my mind (with fear and trembling in my heart) that after the electronics are sorted out, I would really like to restore the finish to a high quality. So, a few questions:

    1) Is this a job that someone with good amateur/hobby woodworkig skills can or should tackle? It is an honest-to-God Gibson '62, not a jumped-up Epiphone, with no major damage like broken headstocks, and a really pretty piece of redwood in the body.

    2) If not, is there any part of the job that can be done at home before turning it over to a professional luthier.

    3) If I strip the existing finish, which I've now determined is clear polyurethane over redwood stain, how far should I go? Remove the existing finish with heat and/or stripper? Sand into the crevices and corners to get the buildup out?

    4) If the answer to (1) and (3) is yes, is it a reasonable proposition to do a really good quality re-finishing job at home, taking whatever time is needed, and using the proper materials and finishes?

    I'll add here what I've said elsewhere: money is an issue. I am now disabled and not allowed to go back to "regular" work - probably for good - and I live on a small pension. So, any part of the job that I can do with "sweat equity" is a good thing - I have time, since I'm now involuntarily retired, and I have motivation. I know that the finish is not going to affect how the bass sounds, per se (witness Mike Wood's collection), but it would be a bonus to have a good looking bass to go along with what I hope will turn out to be a good-sounding bass.

    I'm sure this question is not a new one - I ask it mainly because of the nature of the existing finish, which is not only looking increasingly fugly, but was done with a wood stain onto the bare sanded mahogany (I have tracked this info down from the person who did it).

    I had originally thought I could bring the existing finish up to a reasonable standard with wet-sanding and a lot of buffing, but the more I compare it with others out there, the less likely this seems.

    And, I'll be honest: I don't know enough to be sure I'm even asking the right questions.

    So please fire away - any and all ideas and suggestions (Okay, maybe not "take it out and burn it") will be a great help.

    Jim Bari
  2. oldrookie


    May 15, 2007
    Avon, IN
    Just my very amateur opinion...

    I'd sand it back to bare wood, spray on coat of shellac, fill the grain (I use joint compound tinted black-makes the grain pop) sand it back to get the grain level, spray another coat of shellac, spray on the color coat, spray on shellac, than start spraying on the lacquer.

    Once you've got the lacquer depth where you want it, wet sand it down (start at 400 grit, got to 1500) and then buff it out.

    Don't skimp on the grain filling. Your bass seems to have a very noticeable texture to it. You'll see that the ones you've posted don't. In order to get that glossy finish you'll have to get the suface perfectly flat so the light will reflect evenly off the bass. This is not something you'll be able to sand down to. You'll need to build the surface up, then sand to flat.

    The good news is that it is easy to fill the grain. As I said again, I use joint compound tinted black. Cover the entire bass with thin coat of joint compound. Once you sand it down only a tiny part of the compound will remain in the grain. You can see the effect on my bass. Do a search for a Slow Refinish of a Peavey Fury.

    If you don't have the tools to do that, I'd consider sanding it down to bare wood and start working Tru-Oil into the bass. I haven't done a true oil finish, but lots of threads here about how to do it. Looks to be the least tool intensive process. Can be time consuming, but you do seem to have the time to do. (Sorry about the disability issue you are struggling with.) Not sure, not having done one, of just how much gloss is created.

    Too bad you are so far away. Just got a new spray system and am looking for things to perfect my technique on. :)

    Good luck
  3. Meatrus


    Apr 5, 2009
    Just to underpants, any further and you might get arrested....:).

    If your keping it with a natural finish I would go the truoil or tung oil route. Very easy to get excellent results and cheap!
  4. Davidmh


    Jul 12, 2012
    Wales, UK
    As a noob you can take my advice with a pinch of salt if you wish - I won't be offended:bag:.

    Have the job done by a named professional. Otherwise you risk losing mucho money of you botch it.

    You want to practice restoration - buy a beat-up Epi and practice on that.
    This is a sound Gibson we're talking about. Even the botched job from the late 70's is now part of the history and patina of the guitar.
  5. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Well, the thing with finishing is, if you have your mind made up that this bass is going to be refinished, why not give it a go yourself. The worst that can happen is you do a bad job and have to pay someone to redo it. As long as you don't do any damage to the wood.
  6. I'm assuming when you say "joint compound" that you're talking about the premixed joint compound used when putting up walls using drywall/sheetrock. Didn't know you could get it tinted, but then that's just an example of things I don't know.

    I can see your point about filling and sanding to a truly smooth finish before anything else is applied, such as a solid color re-spray. I know in auto-body work, even the slightest imperfection when filling and sanding the Bondo filler shows up like a beer mat on a billiard table when you shoot colour over top of it. Been there, done that. At least a guitar isnt as big as a pickup truck....

    I have done a Tru-Oil finish on a coffee table, oak with maple ends. As you say, it's a very slow process - months, even, but the resulting finish is pretty good. I found surface prep to be pretty important when I did that - Tru-Oil doesn't hide any imperfections.

    I do kind of favour spraying it to a solid color - at this point, at least - simply because it's the best way to get a really ultra-glossy finish. I think I'd farm out the spraying to a pro, though - either that or practice a lot on some junk bodies first.

    Thanks for all of your helpful suggestions. Food for thought there.

    Jim Bari
  7. Yes, there's no doubt you can get excellent results with Tru-Oil or Tung Oil. As I mentioned, I did a coffee table with Tru-Oil, and the result was (and is) very durable and attractive.

    I've also used Tung Oil on a number of rifle stocks, particularly on some that came from China or Russia. They have some beautiful wood, but the finish applied at the factory is not pretty (although it might be durable). I have one Chinese rifle, beautiful wood that I can't even identify as to name, but a bit like a walnut, that i stripped and re-did with Tung Oil. It took all winter (and winter is a long time up this way) but the Tung Oil brought out the highlights in the wood beautifully. I chose Tung Oil because the original piece of wood used to make the stock was absolutely superb, and all I really wanted to do was bring out the beauty of the wood and provide some kind of protective layer. So far, it's worked out well, although I don't haul it through the bush like I do with some other rifles - this one's strictly for the range.

    Thanks for your comments and suggestion.
    Jim Bari
  8. David,
    No, I'm not offended. There's logic to what you suggest, given the age, overall condition and history of the guitar. I guess the two questions/problems there would be how to choose the named professional (I don't know if we have any within, say, a thousand mile radius), and secondly the cost. I know that good pros are expensive, regardless of whether you are talking refinishing a guitar or rebuilding a computer network. Hell, I used to make my living by being "the best" in a small niche that was nevertheless in regular demand.

    I might have to save for two or three years before I could go this route - might be worth it. One thing I do wonder about going to a pro is if there's any part of the job I can do beforehand, myself. I don't want to eff it up, but there are donkeywork parts and skilled parts to any job of that kind.

    Your idea about buying a beat-up bass and practicing on that is an interesting one - Not many Epi's hereabouts, but quite a few Squiers, a few Peaveys, and one ARIA-STB P-bass clone that appears to be solid alder, but which is currently layered in duct tape holding the strap to the body.
    Too bad it's a P-bass - I like a narrow neck (small hands).

    A good thought though, and something to learn while I save up to send the Gibson to a "named pro". (I guess the other part of the "named pro" equation is sorting the sheep from the goats - who's a real pro and who is a wannabe....)

    I appreciate your take on this - again, more food for thought. Buying a junker and practicing using filler, as was suggested earlier, kind of go together.

    Jim Bari
  9. Biggbass


    Dec 14, 2011
    Planet Earth
    I have a Telecaster/Partscaster that I'm about to refinish. Right now it's an orange/ pumpkin color with heavy poly. (I bought the body already finished-1 pc swamp ash)
    I was just about to strip it and sand it then decided to have it refinished by a pro... thinking of going with Sea Foam green nitro with it. I've refinished several pcs of furniture over the years but I think this will turn out a lot better if I have someone who knows how to do it right tackle it. But I was wondering the same thing about stripping it. I've already steel wooled (0000) the shine off of it and thought maybe I'd put some stripper on it and take it down to the wood and sand it. But all I've had experience with is the stripper you buy at Home Depot for stripping furniture, which seems a bit too harsh for this wood.
  10. True enough. Although, as others have suggested, doing some practice first on a "dog" might take longer, but yield a better result in the long run

    I have John Glenecki's books on doing a spray-can refinish using lacquer. Very interesting reading - I'm not sure that lacquer is the best route, but he makes some good points about preparation.
  11. Yes, from what I'm reading about nitro finishes, taking it to a pro may be the best way to go. The other thing that pro's know (or should know) are the best ways of removing the various kinds of "old" or existing finishes, not all factory.

    I bought a Squier Strat - a clone of the "Tom Delonge" Strat, with a single humbucking pickup at the bridge and one volume control. I bought it mainly to learn to play guitar, but its the sort of guitar that might be a good candidate for refinishing practice. Trouble is, the previous owner had it beautifully set up by a pro luthier, and the action is now so nice, compared to an off-the-wall Squier Strat, that I'm reluctant to take it apart. Buy another, I guess...
  12. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    I think a nitro lacquer would absolutely be the best route for this bass. I'm 90% sure that it is what the original finish would have been.
  13. oldrookie


    May 15, 2007
    Avon, IN
    If you would like to try a refinish and you like narrow necks...go with the old Peavey. Trust me...great bass, highly underrated and the neck is nearly Geddy thin.
  14. Ah heck, I just wrote a reply extolling how much I liked the old Peavey basses, and got timed out. There's one 250 miles away which I can't lay hands on at the moment - can't travel - but it's a beautiful one-owner lovingly cared-for piece, and I WANT IT!!
  15. I think you're correct. Unfortunately, nitro lacquer is one of the finish types I have absolutely no experience with.

    Plain auto-body foo-foo can lacquer is bad enough; look at it the wrong way and it runs. This may be where I'll need the skills of an expert.
  16. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars

    I find nitro pretty easy to spray, especially after the first few coats, the way it burns into the previous coats makes it pretty easy to not get runs in the finish.
  17. i want purches branded sitar.Sorry but truthfully the one who wears the username "The What" is dead on the money. Strip Clubs are just adultery
  18. 2behead


    Mar 8, 2011
    I'm thinking this is the situation right here. Especially being it has already been refinished once. I finished a bass and it came out quite nice. I sanded with down to a fine grit. Stained, subtlety shaded it to my liking. Then I hit it with a high quality lacquer in VERY thin coats. followed by a french polish with ........Linseed oil? I don't remember what I used, I think it was pure or strained linseed oil and a wet dry 800+ grit paper, the finer the better. You want to keep the dust on the bass with the linseed oil as you sand. That is how it ends up with that glow. What i ended up with was a very thin consistent coat rubbed out to a beautiful shine. It may take you quite a while but as long as you are Patient it should come out fine. Don't expect it to take you a night or 2. The worst that can happen is you end up taking it in and having a pro do it and you are out the money for materials.
  19. I did. I did !
    I managed to get hold of a guy with an old Peavey listed in another city, and he sold it to me. Looked it over via videoconference, looks in excellent shape. It's 250 miles away, and how it will get from him to me is still up in the air, but at least I've got it waiting. :hyper:

    I've been thinking of something I could try before anything else: use 800 grit paper and oil on the existing Polyurethane finish. Then go to finer and finer grades. Then buff the heck out of it on the cotton disk.

    Worth a try, maybe? At least until I can get organized for a full scale stripping job. On the other hand, may be a waste of effort. Think I'll try just a small area on the back and see if this makes any improvement, even temporarily until I can do a proper job.

    Jim Bari

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