Refinishing a USA Gibson Special

BrianH

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Done spraying for the day and brought it inside. I can feel the little debris in the finish... should I do a light 600 grit sanding tomorrow on front and back where most of the little bits of fuzz and lint are visible? Can’t see them in the pics at least.

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Joe Desperado

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Not sure you have enough build coats yet to sand. You may be partially feeling the flake standing on its side/ends. Which is what it should do. I would spray another day, then sand once before final. You may not actually see the debris once you sand before the last coat.
 

BrianH

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Not sure you have enough build coats yet to sand. You may be partially feeling the flake standing on its side/ends. Which is what it should do. I would spray another day, then sand once before final. You may not actually see the debris once you sand before the last coat.

I can’t feel the flakes anymore but I’ll take your advice and do another day of coats before I start to sand! I’m very new to this.
 

Joe Desperado

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Some guys wait to the end to sand as you mentioned. But it’s a lot of work due to the orange peel I mentioned. Both work. But if you have a bit of debris I would go ahead and lightly sand after your next coats.
 

BrianH

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That’s what I will do! The 2-4 week wait while it hardens is going to be tough.
 

LtDave32

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I think I went a little too light on the neck as it’s semi transparent if you really look but I’m leaving it as is. I’m happy enough.

There's a lot to be said for that, actually. Much, much better to leave well enough alone than to chase after something.

Fender even made a signature finish by shooting thin; the Mary Kaye finish. Check this out:

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I just couldn’t seem to keep all debris and fuzz off the color coats finish even with tack cloths.

Brian, you'll be amazed what a bit of wet-sanding will bring out and make right. A lot of that fuzz and debris will disappear.

As you spray you will get orange peel. It continues to get larger and larger with each coat. After my build coats, I sand with 400 or 600 and get it as flat as I can without burn through. Stay away from the edges, though on a junior not as challenging. Then spray a few more build coats after that to restore the amount of material I sanded off. a few more times around and you should be set. Your orange peel should be pretty small which not only saves time during final wet sanding, but gives you a super flat surface/finish. That is when / how they look pro.


Joe is exactly right on the money there.

I shoot a few good lacquer coats, wait the next day, then hit it with some lubricant such as naptha, and a 400 sanding block. Just on the flats and then sandpaper cupped in my hand on the neck.

It cleans up the job. It flattens the surfaces and helps bring the whole slab to level. It makes for a better job to do that every 3 full coats or so. -with a gun. More for rattle can.

You do that, then do a 600 grit final sanding, and spray your very last clear coat, and she should flow out right nice.

As Joe says, orange peel builds on itself. The more you spray over it without sanding it back, the larger the orange peel will appear.

Nobody wants it to look like the sides of a refrigerator. All that orange peel. Labor-wise, it takes me about 10-15 minutes to level sand between coats.
 

LtDave32

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Some guys wait to the end to sand as you mentioned. But it’s a lot of work due to the orange peel I mentioned. Both work. But if you have a bit of debris I would go ahead and lightly sand after your next coats.

Friggin' bane of my existence, sanding that shit out. I'm doing it right now on an SG.

But it's the profession we chose, and it's what we have to do if we want those great results.

For the gun and compressor guys watching this, I cannot stress enough to use the factory recommended thinner for your chosen lacquer.

Don't use that hardware store stuff, it has too much acetone and it's too harsh, resulting in the lacquer skinning over too fast.

Believe me, I was made a True Believer after using the hardware store stuff for years, and trying the factory stuff just once.

And that's all it took. I've never looked back. And it's cheaper. Kleen Strip is $28.95 a gallon, Cardinal (my lacquer brand) is $26.00.

First off, the factory stuff is more "oily", far less acetone. It's even warm to the touch. Results with lacquer are simply amazing.

It made my paints and clear coats flow out like nobody's bidness. I'm serious. I theoretically just buff it with no sanding. There's literally no orange peel.

But I still sand it back, then wet sand after the final coat with 1500, then 2000. I want that perfect finish.
 

BrianH

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So I’ve basically got, say, three aerosol coats on as first two were misted. Does this sound like a decent plan?:

Three more wet coats, then lightly sand with 600 grit on a block. Lightly hit the neck and sides etc by hand with 600. 6 coats total at this point.

Three more wet coats and sand with 600 or even 800. 9 coats total at this point.

See how it feels and looks and put on anywhere from 1-3 or so coats (or more if I feel it could use it) and sand with 800-1000.

Then wait 4 weeks and begin sanding and buffing?

Edit: and THANK YOU, guys!
 

LtDave32

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Brian, make sure that "block" is soft. Rubber. Or even a stiff dish sponge, in a pinch.

Don't use a wood block.

I've also got this huge pink eraser that I got from the school supply section of Wal-Mart. Works great, but you have to wrap the paper around it and tape.

Water is fine for a lubricant. But if you get it in the holes for the pots, it will swell the wood, and it will crack the finish. Guaranteed.

You can rub Johnsons Paste Wax in the holes, you can take lacquer and a small artists brush and brush lacquer in there, but not after you've finished.

Also, if you use wax, you're liable to get on the surface, then any further spraying of lacquer will result in fish-eyes and such.

The easy alternative is to use naptha, lighter fluid, camp stove fuel, etc. All the same thing. Or VM&P naptha from the hardware store.

Naptha will not screw up any coats that follow. Naptha will not swell the wood if it gets in the holes.

You can sand after a week if you want. But with regards to buffing, the harder the lacquer, the brighter the shine. -usually.

Lacquer dries from the outside in, so one's never really sure what's going on inside the finish. So best to wait at least 3 if not 4 weeks to buff.

I live in the desert, so my wait times are greatly reduced. Two weeks tops. Those who live in more humid climates have a longer wait. But 4 weeks anywhere you are should work fine.
 

LtDave32

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So I’ve basically got, say, three aerosol coats on as first two were misted. Does this sound like a decent plan?:

Three more wet coats, then lightly sand with 600 grit on a block. Lightly hit the neck and sides etc by hand with 600. 6 coats total at this point.

Three more wet coats and sand with 600 or even 800. 9 coats total at this point.

See how it feels and looks and put on anywhere from 1-3 or so coats (or more if I feel it could use it) and sand with 800-1000.

Then wait 4 weeks and begin sanding and buffing?

Edit: and THANK YOU, guys!

Your spray schedule sounds fine.

Half of good results is patience. Gotta wait.

And you're very welcome. That's what this community is all about.
 

BrianH

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I plan to use naphtha as opposed to water :)

I have these soft foam packing squares I cut from some packing material. Not sure what they are, they’re not soft foam but not hard foam either. And they don’t seem to absorb water FWIW. I’ve been using those as sanding “blocks.”

I was planning to sand the higher grits with a RO sander using a foam adhesive with hook and loop. Like for say 1200-3000 grit or so since I ordered the hook and loop pads. And just for the headstock face, front and back. All else by hand. Polish with medium and fine compounds by hand. I’m not looking for super high gloss.

Hope all this sounds reasonable!
 

cmjohnson

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Think of it this way. Every coat is the base for the next coat. The quality of any coat is very dependent on the base coat. Nib sanding and flat sanding prior to another coat application can only HELP you to get a better finish. But you don't want to end up spraying one coat, sanding 90 percent of it off, spraying another coat, sanding 90 percent of it off, ad nauseum. Lay down a few coats, de-nib and sand it smooth, lay down a few more coats until your build thickness is where you want it. Then nib sand it, sand it smooth, and finally lay down your final top clear coats. Then look carefully at it after it's cured and decide if you want to wet sand and polish or leave it in as-sprayed gloss.

As for lacquer thinner, my favorite of all time is DuPont 3602S (now Axalta branded) and it's 50 bucks a gallon but it's worth it. I've found that it just makes all painting easier and better. When used for cleanup, it cleans more and better with less used. It's actually more economical than cheaper stuff, because it is so productive.

If you sand up to 2000 grit you'll be able to skip power buffing. You'll be able to bring the finish up to a mirror gloss by hand with microfiber cloths and good polishing compound, more quickly than you imagine.
 

BrianH

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lay down a few more coats until your build thickness is where you want it.
How do you gauge the finish thickness to where you want to be? I have no frame of reference really.
 

cmjohnson

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One way is to check the thickness of the film on whatever is getting overspray as you paint more coats on the guitar. Like on the tape on the fingerboard, or the stick you put in the neck pocket for a bolt-on neck instrument. If you're shooting consistent even coats over that spot along with all the rest, it should accurately tell you how thick your finish is building to.

Really, I think most of us go by number of coats applied, how much we sand off, and what looks and feels right to us.

I usually shoot automotive paints, which are heavier bodied. As a result, three clear coats is typically all I'll ever need.
 

LtDave32

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I plan to use naphtha as opposed to water :)

I have these soft foam packing squares I cut from some packing material. Not sure what they are, they’re not soft foam but not hard foam either. And they don’t seem to absorb water FWIW. I’ve been using those as sanding “blocks.”

I was planning to sand the higher grits with a RO sander using a foam adhesive with hook and loop. Like for say 1200-3000 grit or so since I ordered the hook and loop pads. And just for the headstock face, front and back. All else by hand. Polish with medium and fine compounds by hand. I’m not looking for super high gloss.

Hope all this sounds reasonable!

Please no.

Please, don't use an orbital palm sander during the finishing process. It's not that much work with a block and fine paper.

An orbital sander will find its way into going through the clear, the color, and right into the wood.

I would not be advising this if I hadn't seen disasterous results happen.

I know it's fine grit, and I know you'd be careful. But it's a power tool with weight that you cannot control like a rubber block and your bare hand.

Sanding goes like this:

First (finish) sanding is to remove orange peel, flatten the surface, bring to level all the little highs and lows created by the spraying process.

Second sanding and all thereafter are merely to remove the sand scratches from the previous sand paper.

If you leveled it out by sanding back before your final clear coats, then you shouldn't have that much to do.

Start with the finest paper that will produce results in getting rid of that last bit of orange peel. If you use 600 wet, then you will have 600 grit scratches to get out, and that requires going through the grits of 800, 1000, 1500, etc etc and a lot of elbow grease, and you'll see micro-scratches anyway.

So instead, start with 1000 grit. Most liquid polishing compounds will remove 1200 scratches, and heavier stuff will remove even deeper scratches to 1000.

Start with 1000, do the elbow-grease. It will be over sooner than you think.

Sand in one direction only. Then with the next finer grit, say 1500, sand in the other direction, perpendicular to the first sanding. The purpose of this is to see if your 1500 is enough to get those first scratches out. If not, keep sanding in that opposite direction until all your first-direction scratches are removed. Look at it at an angle to the light to see it.

Now that you know the 1500 did its job, move to 2000 grit and go back to the very first direction. Here, you're trying to remove the 1500 scratches. You get the idea.

After 2000, go to 2500 grit, again in a perpendicular direction.

After that, polishing compounds should give you what you want. A cheap orbital car buffer will produce excellent results. Better than your hand with less work.

This will take an afternoon of your time. Take breaks between grits, put some music on, crack a beer. You're not using power tools with cutting edges here, you can have a beer.
 

LtDave32

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Brian, I know this sounds like a lot of work. But it's more words to describe the process than it is actual labor.

Still, getting a fine finish involves labor. The better you work it, the better the results.

I do this for a living every day. I could take shortcuts with big power buffers and heavy-ass, high-grit compounds, but I don't have that big equipment.

I have a stand-alone buffing machine with two 12" wheels, one for heavier compounds and one for high polish.

But I did not get that buffer until two years ago. Before that, I used an orbital car buffer. Still, I got mirror finishes.

-But with a lot of wet-sanding before hand.

I went to Hollywood Guitar Center years and years ago, checked out a lot of instruments. I saw brand-new Gibson SG's and such with such a ripple to the body top and back, it looked like a cat's tummy. They just didn't bother to level sand the clear coats. They just shot a flow-coat of lacquer and that was it. Every one of them was like that. I go right downstairs to the famous, fabulous relic room, pull half a dozen vintage Gibby's off the wall, Juniors, SGs, etc and what do I see?

Perfectly flat backs and tops. Somebody bothered to wet-sand them before buffing. It took skill and skilled labor. Gibson obviously is not willing to pay for that anymore.

So I'm really big on that, the wet-sanding before buffing. Not everybody is. But I want it so flat and shiny that one could use it for a mirror.

So that's what I advise to get that kind of look, that kind of finish.
 

LtDave32

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Not sure you have enough build coats yet to sand. You may be partially feeling the flake standing on its side/ends. Which is what it should do. I would spray another day, then sand once before final. You may not actually see the debris once you sand before the last coat.

I can’t feel the flakes anymore but I’ll take your advice and do another day of coats before I start to sand! I’m very new to this.

Brian, after closely reviewing your pictures up top of the page, I'm going to agree with Joe. I don't think you've got quite enough clear over that metallic.

That's the bugaboo about rattle can lacquer. They thin the crap out of it in order to get it to spray out of the can, through that tiny orifice.

I know rattle cans of lacquer are expensive. Usually about $18 a pop. But err on the side of caution and spray over a metallic as much as you can afford.

You can have a thin finish.

You can have a metallic finish.

But you can't have a thin, metallic finish.

Those little metal ends that shine, they stand up at any damn angle. That's what makes it sparkle!

Unfortunately, that also requires much more clear over the top of those bits to avoid hitting the bits with sandpaper. That will ruin it.

The heavier the sparkle (now we're getting into "flake" territory), the more clear has to cover it.

This is why the usual method of doing a sparkle job is with a gun and compressor, as you can lay thicker coats down over it, and many of them.

I gotta say, you have done a marvelous job on the color coats. It looks absolutely perfect. It's supposed to look just as you have it before you start sanding back the clear.

Doing that will bring all the nice to it that you are looking for, trust me.
 

cmjohnson

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Dave's right. Listen to him.

Years ago I collaborated with a friend to do a really crazy finish on a strat project. We went for a metal flake candy apple red finish but we decided to go crazy and in the first clear coat, we added prismatic flake and even a little bit of blue glitter. So you have this candy apple red strat with metallic flecks in it in absolutely every color of the rainbow. It was shot over a gold metalflake base.

We got it looking really good...or really horrible, depending on your perspective. But it was flat, smooth, and very well polished. And boy, did that end up being a thick finish!

The guitar sold amazingly fast. Just days. So I guess somebody liked it.

As for using an orbital sander on a finish, PRS does it all the time. I've done it, too. BUT...don't do it on a nitro lacquer finish. It's OK when you're flattening a substantially thicker polyester or acrylic urethane automotive type finish, but don't do it on a thin nitro finish. It's almost sure to go very badly.

Even when I do use an orbital, it's only on the flat surfaces, I'm constantly dusting it off to identify the exact moment when I've sanded the area flat, and I use absolutely nothing coarser than 600 grit paper when doing it, to slow down the cutting action and allow me to follow with 1000, 1500, and 2000 by hand.
 

BrianH

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Please no.

Please, don't use an orbital palm sander during the finishing process. It's not that much work with a block and fine paper.

An orbital sander will find its way into going through the clear, the color, and right into the wood.

I would not be advising this if I hadn't seen disasterous results happen.

I know it's fine grit, and I know you'd be careful. But it's a power tool with weight that you cannot control like a rubber block and your bare hand.

Sanding goes like this:

First (finish) sanding is to remove orange peel, flatten the surface, bring to level all the little highs and lows created by the spraying process.

Second sanding and all thereafter are merely to remove the sand scratches from the previous sand paper.

If you leveled it out by sanding back before your final clear coats, then you shouldn't have that much to do.

Start with the finest paper that will produce results in getting rid of that last bit of orange peel. If you use 600 wet, then you will have 600 grit scratches to get out, and that requires going through the grits of 800, 1000, 1500, etc etc and a lot of elbow grease, and you'll see micro-scratches anyway.

So instead, start with 1000 grit. Most liquid polishing compounds will remove 1200 scratches, and heavier stuff will remove even deeper scratches to 1000.

Start with 1000, do the elbow-grease. It will be over sooner than you think.

Sand in one direction only. Then with the next finer grit, say 1500, sand in the other direction, perpendicular to the first sanding. The purpose of this is to see if your 1500 is enough to get those first scratches out. If not, keep sanding in that opposite direction until all your first-direction scratches are removed. Look at it at an angle to the light to see it.

Now that you know the 1500 did its job, move to 2000 grit and go back to the very first direction. Here, you're trying to remove the 1500 scratches. You get the idea.

After 2000, go to 2500 grit, again in a perpendicular direction.

After that, polishing compounds should give you what you want. A cheap orbital car buffer will produce excellent results. Better than your hand with less work.

This will take an afternoon of your time. Take breaks between grits, put some music on, crack a beer. You're not using power tools with cutting edges here, you can have a beer.
So you’re saying don’t even start with any sandpaper lower than 1000 grit when I’m done with all my clear coats?
 

BrianH

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6-7 clear coats or so in. Tomorrow I’ll start sanding flat surfaces, neck, and headstock face with 600 grit.

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