Just finished clear-glossing and fitting up this Thinline Tele for a customer.

Been a bit of a slog. I usually take about 6 weeks for a nitrocellulose respray – about 10 days to spray all the coats and the remaining time for the finish to cure to a point where it is hard enough to be polished without burning through.

As ever, nothing goes smoothly. Prior to the job I bought new sprayguns and a new compressor and have had a rare old time calibrating the new kit to give me the same results as my previous. I had to get fluid feed, spray pattern,  air feed, air pressure and ratio of lacquer/solvent just right in order to emulate my previous results.

Easdy enough to play about with one variable, but with 5 to contend with life gets a bit fraught.

So I had three attempts to finish this guitar. First two crazed badly so, back to the drawing board – strip back to the wood, re-seal and start again!

3rd time lucky – adjusted thinners and added retarder to get a more fluid coat and thankfully i seem to have found the magic combination.

After flatting, rubbed down with 3m Gold 800g dry paper themn on to 1000g and 1500 g wet and dry. Onto the buffing wheel and an hours work bringing it up to the mirror finish.

If you are using a buffer you have probably experienced frastration getting into the cutaways on Strat or Tele. Some guitars ar even worse – far tighter and more angular. To cope with this I remove one of the buffing wheels from each pair making the job much more civilised and go back to doubling up the wheels to polish the body.

Results as shown..!

 

 

custom tele 1

 

Custom Tele 2

 

custom Tele 3

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At last, The Holy Grail !

November 14, 2014

This is a some what belated post as I have had a rather busy summer and haven’t had to time to catch up with myself. Lots of setup work, but also some interesting repairs, which I hope to get around to writing up soon.

Anyway, no doubt you are wondering what the hyperbole in the title refers to…..I guess you could say, I’m feeling rather excited.

At long last I have treated myself to a genuine StewMac guitar-dedicated Buffing wheel. It’s sent as a kit, and I had a memorable weekend assembling it and building good solid mounting  for it

 

DSCN1328

 

Now, I understand that this would not be desperately exciting to most people – however, for me it represents a massive saving in effort. Before, I would have to spend a lo-ong afternoon finishing a guitar to a high polish. Now I can achieve better results in less than an hour and I no longer have to mess about  wet- sanding with carbide paper and MicroMesh™.

The buffer has two wheels driven by a 3/4 hp motor with a two to one pulley system, which gives a rotation of 715 rpm. This is crucial – there are plenty of buffers available with  1425 rpm, which is dangerously fast for buffing. With a delicate nitro finish, lingering too long on any spot would result in the finish being burnt off.  More chillingly, at that speed, should you accidentally dig the edge of the instrument into the wheel, it will be dramatically snatched from your grasp and hurled groundwards !  So the nice thing about the StewMac Buffer is the neurosis-free operation!

I’m still getting used to it and have polished some necks and fingerboards with amazing results. With the medium paste wheel, the scratches from the finish sanding are rubbed out even if I’ve stopped at 800 grit, and a nice warm glow appears in the finish. If I want to get the professional mirror glaze I transfer to the fine paste wheel and achieve my result with not too much effort.

If it’s so wonderful, why didn’t I get one ages ago?….. Well the chief drawback is the cost..the complete kit is about $640 ..not a bad price, but by the time you have paid airfreight and HMRC have extracted their pound of flesh, the dollar price transforms into pounds! For this reason I have put up with using car polishing systems and endless hand finishing….but no more!

Will show the results of the first full guitar polish I do.

 

 

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Tenor ukes

June 6, 2014

Just a short one today. On top of a day of re-spraying the Guild and touching in a chipped Telecaster. I managed to string and set up my second tenor uke.

It wasn’t too much effort – I had already made the saddle and fitted the tuners, so the only jobs left were cutting and fitting the top nut and doing the actual stringing. Well, here’s the result:

 

r186 Two finished ukes

 

The rightmost one is the latest. It’s almost identical to the first. The main difference is that it has a pine top instead of  Tasmanian blackwood. In all other respects the build details are the same.

As with every new instrument I was anxiously awaiting the outcome of my labours.  Two problems with playing this instrument after its first stringing – the body is suddenly put under a great deal of strain, and the top is pine.  With the first, an analogy is to imagine yourself trying to speak whilst carrying a heavy burden.  It’s difficult ! Eventually the body of the instrument accommodates and adjusts to the tension and starts to find it easier.

Secondly, pine is slow to mature and find it’s voice. It continues seasoning whilst on the instrument and as cellular changes progress the sound velocity of the top increases giving it a zippier tone. There’s also some evidence to suggest that pine  has to learn how to ‘speak’ ! This rather fanciful term describes the fact that a soundboard can ‘ learn’ to respond to the resonant frequencies it is subjected to,and that its responsiveness will increase, usually over a period of about eighteen months. At this point it plateaus, with some improvement in tone over the next twenty to thirty years. Classical guitars are a sensitive balance between structural requirements and sound production and often reach their peak at this point and thereafter, slowly die!  Segovia was notorious for ‘killing’ his guitars in a very short time, mostly because he strung them too heavily to cope with a very vigorous technique.

Anyway, after tuning, I tentatively tried the uke out and found a few problems with string height. I put a shim under the saddle which immediately improved the  attack and eliminated a slight fret buzz on the A string. Initially it didn’t compare well with the first uke, but I kept in mind that that had been strung for about a year and had had plenty of time to find its  voice. As I played it over the evening I could hear the sound opening out and began to see its potential.  I’m looking forward to comparing again in a year’s time (if they are still with me – both are already sold !)

My ukes are built on the same principles as my guitars. If you are interested have a look at the Philosophy and Construction section on this site.    http://www.yelvertonguitars.co.uk/custom-guitars/philosophy-and-construction/

These principles seem to prove as effective on ukuleles as they already have on my guitars.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with these outcomes. A very talented player tried out the first uke and compared it favourably to those by Peter Howlett ( if you are at all into ukes,you’ll know who I’m talking about !)

So, I’m now happy about offering these for sale. Whilst I would like to tweak a few aspects such as giving them 15 foot radius backs rather than 20 foot and changing the top radius to 25 ft from 30, I’m very confident that these will serve only to improve an already high quality instrument. With that in mind, don’t be laggard -get your orders in now!

At the moment I’m only making tenors but can offer low G tuning, six string instruments and/ or any configuration you can come up with !

 

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Re-finishing a guitar

June 5, 2014

Value for Money?       

I’d like to describe my method for re-finishing a rather battered old modified Strat, but before I do, I have a mini rant to get off my chest !

When prospective clients ask my cost for re-finishing say, a guitar body, I give them an estimate of about £180. Often,(not always), they seem to feel that this is WAY too expensive and that’s the last I hear of them !  I get the feeling that many of them think you just wave an aerosol spray can at the instrument and the job is done. This idea has been given weight by a number of sites offering re-spray aerosols and many guitarists are inspired to try a DIY re-finish job. Sadly the majority, unless they are incredibly patient and ready to learn, fall far short of the professional job they had hoped to achieve.

I have spent a long time learning the characteristics of different finishes, the techniques  to seal and finish certain woods, how to handle spray equipment, and how to rub out flaws in a finish and buff it to a high gloss. That didn’t happen overnight, as anyone attempting it for the first time will find.

The  Case in question.

A few weeks ago a Strat was brought to me to be given a 2K high gloss finish with a black base colour. Frankly it was in an appalling state. It had been given a black finish of some sort over clear lacquer, obviously a DIY job and then various paper motifs had been applied and lacquered over. The cutaways had been cut off and the body clumsily re-shaped to a sort of peardrop shape. On top of everything the body was covered in dings and scratches which had to be filled before the finishing could even start.

First step- remove all the applique and then take off all the finish down to the bare wood:

 

r01 Chemical strip

The best method for this was to use a chemical stripper, since the finish was reasonably soft. Modern finishes are far less straightforward. There are very few available chemicals that will touch a catalysed finish, leaving the options of using heat or scraping off with cabinet scrapers and sanding.

After the finish was off I came to a more resistant layer of lacquer which softened with stripper, but which needed more robust removal.

 

r02 Scrape down to wood

 

The tool I am using here is a cabinet scraper. It’s a rectangle of carbon steel which is ground at 45° on the longer edges. Using a hard steel burnisher, each edge is turned over to make it hooked. Used on wood, it creates very fine shavings leaving a surface which often doesn’t need any further attention. I’m using it here to take the finish off down to the bare wood.

 

 

r03 shaped scraper for curves

 

A rectangular scraper is ok for flat and convex surfaces, but difficult to use on concave surfaces. To get into the body cutout, I’m using one of my violin scrapers. It’s tear-drop shaped, so it forms a curve of changing radius allowing me to get into the tightest corners. By laying it over, I can scrape quite wide swathe – once you learn how to use it it’s a very versatile tool. I made all of my violin scrapers using the steel blade of an old saw, cutting and grinding each one to shape.

 

 

r04 Wirebrush control cavities

 

 

The control cavities had filled up with black grunge after the chemical stripping. This is always difficult to remove, but a mini wire brush mounted on a Dremel drive shaft made this fairly easy. It’s important to let the grunge harden, otherwise the brush just spreads a sticky mess round.

 

 

r05 Finish sanding

 

With the finish removed, I started finish sanding using successive grits from 80 down to 320. In the process I used clean sanding dust mixed with  CA glue (superglue) to fill the various dings and crevices. The process can be speeded up by using a CA accelerator spray. After spraying, the fill can be sanded without clogging the paper. I use an orbital sander on all the flat surfaces, but hand methods are needed to cope with the edges and any curved features of the guitar.

 

r06 Re-shaping edge profile

 

As the sanding progressed I became more and more unhappy about the body shape. I can only guess at the tools originally used to shape this, but it was clear that the sides were not perpendicular to the face and the amount of curve on the edges was inconsistent along the length of the sides.

A high gloss finish would only highlight these design flaws, so I decided to plane the sides into the perpendicular and then , used a router with a rounding over bit to cut consistent curves along the edges. This dramatically improved the overall appearance and with a certain amount of hand sanding I achieved the smooth transition from flat surface to curved edge so typical of the Strat.

 

r07 Shaped and sanded

With sanding completed down to 320 grit I started the finishing regime. The body is of close grained wood, probably alder or poplar, so no pore-filling was necessary. However  it’s always a good idea to seal the wood – this took a couple of wash coats of shellac, lightly rubbed down. The advantage of this is that shellac seals the wood and sticks to it tightly. Any finish applied sticks to the shellac, lessening the risk of finish chipping off.

 

After this I applied 4 coats of black catalysed polyurethane paint. Prior to this I had used an aerosol black paint which hitherto had always behaved well under clear finish. This time for some reason, perhaps a change in formulation, the black paint bubbled up as soon as clear lacquer was applied . and I had to strip the whole sorry mess off and start again ! Fortunately the finish was still soft and taking it back to the wood was a far easier business. By contrast, the PU paint behaved impeccably and stayed stable after the first application of clear lacquer.

Then began the  rather arduous process of building up sufficient depth of lacquer to allow it to be flatted down and polished. A common misconception is that spraying miraculously produces a wonderful gloss surface straight away. Not so – unless you have incredibly expensive equipment and an entirely dust free spraying area !

To build up the necessary depth of lacquer requires 12- 14 coats. so the routine is, spray a coat, leave it to dry, then rub out any runs or dust spots and apply the next coat. I usually do 4 coats a day and on the next day, I rub it out flat with 320 grit Lubrasil paper and start again. After the final coat I flatten with 400 grit paper and then spray a coat with retarder thinners. This creates a fine smooth coat which is still vulnerable to dust, but which serves to fill up the scratches from the previous rubbing down. This is left to harden and cure. With nitrocellulose, the longer the better. It’s polishable after a week, but if it can be left for at least 6 weeks it’s much easier to achieve that perfect finish. With a catalysed finish I find that about 5 days is sufficient, especially if it’s kept in a warm temperature.

The final coat is then rubbed down with 800 grit non loading paper. I use 3M gold Fre-cut paper. It’s not available in this grit in the UK so I have to get it from Stewart-McDonald in the States.

Then I switch to using foam backed pads with an orbital sander:

 

r08 100grit sanding

 

I start with 1000 grit then switch to 2000 and follow that with 4000. It’s best to use these with water and after use I wash out accumulated finish from the pads. The result is a deep sheen with hopefully all scratches eliminated. The high gloss finish is achieved by the next step.

 

 

r09 Buffing out

The final stage is buffing. The machine shown is a dedicated buffer. It looks a bit like an angle grinder, but angle grinders are far to fast, about 3000 rpm. The buffer has a variable speed control and I find speeds of between 1000 and 1500 rpm to be best.  Farecla G3 is used for the coarse buffing and burning is  avoided by spraying on a light mist of water to dissipate heat and provide lubrication. This brings the finish to a high sheen, but leaved swirl marks.

Ideally I would like to use a buffing arbour:

 

 

BUFFING-ARBOR

 

Sadly these are costly machines but can, if used carefully. reduce buffing and polishing time to about 1/4 of what I can presently manage.

The sheen is further deepened using a mop with Farecla G10 and for that final swirl-free deep mirror gloss I use 3M Machine Glaze. It’s a superb finishing compound with an added advantage that for complex areas, good results can be achieved by hand.

So there you have it – if anyone feels that I’m overcharging for the job, I’d like them to reflect on how much they would expect to be paid for the time spent – and of course I haven’t yet mentioned the cost of materials.

Support your local luthier, appreciate their hard won skills and pay up with a smile !

 

 

 

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In praise of the gentler(?) sex.

28 May 2014

Why do guitars have such long necks?   Well, your average guitarist will talk about scale length, the need to play different voicings of chords, etc., etc. However there is a deeper, much darker reason.  Ever wondered why guitar are often referred to as ‘axes’ ? A moments reflection will give the answer…… the long […]

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Bending guitar sides.

27 May 2014

This is in fact the crucial area of instrument making. The sides need to be symmetrical (mostly) and either conform perfectly to the original design. The bend also needs to be fairly permanent – if the sides start to spring back after bending, they won’t fit in the guitar mould without extra clamping. This in […]

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Christmas 2013

22 December 2013

Wishing all my friends and clients a very happy and peaceful Christmas and may your New Year bring you all you may wish for.   Once again I am back in harness albeit in a  rather more laid-back way. My treatment was a little more far-reaching in its effects than I had expected and it […]

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Normal service will be…………..?

10 May 2013

Dear friends and customers Sadly for me, I have to tell you that I have had to put my tools by due to the recurrence of an old illness which I am told was statistically highly improbable. Being an awkward customer I seem to have done everything to prove my doctors wrong ! The treatment […]

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Getting back in the groove.

26 January 2013

Had myself quite a long Christmas break. It wasn’t as if I had nothing to do- quite the opposite!  However pre Christmas I had a rush of repairs- most had to be done by the start of the holiday and I had to put aside my ukuleles to get them done. It left me ready […]

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Mando neck repair

7 January 2013

This image will surely freeze the blood of any stringed instrument player- a broken neck!   It gets worse… This type of break is known as a shake. It often is found in timber which has suffered a shock along the length of the wood fibres..and that is exactly the case here. This rather nice Ashbury […]

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