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Painting body and neck binding


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  • Painting body and neck binding

    I'm going to be receiving an unfinished guitar kit soon, with cream colored body and neck binding. I was trying to get an idea of whether or not it would be difficult to paint the neck and body binding black, as the kit is unfinished. Any thoughts / experience with this is appreciated.

  • #2

    Depends on weather you want to paint over the binding or tape it off and paint just the back of the neck.

    Normally you would tape it off, spray whatever lacquer color you want, remove the masking tape then use clear lacquer over the paint and binding.

    You want to be sure you use lacquer in this case because its the only finish that additional layers melt into the previous coats to make one single thick coat. Lacquer is and alcohol based finish that does this and its why they use it on guitars.

    Oil and poly finishes go on in layers like an onion. If you were to use poly for example, you'd have a visible seam where the tape was because the new coats don't melt in and blend with the old. Lacquer can be oversprayed for a seamless blend.

    Allot of necks that are bound aren't painted or they use a semi transparent colored lacquer so you can still see the wood grain. Its more difficult of course, but an instrument with binding is an advanced build requiring advanced finishing techniques to make it look good.

    The good part about using lacquer is if you do get come lacquer paint on the binding you can use some super fine sandpaper or steel wool to get the paint off the binding and smooth the paint line when the tape is removed. When you apply the clear coat lacquer over  the sanded edge, you wont see the sandpaper scratch marks on the paint, again because they melt together and fill the scratch marks.

    If you were to do the same with poly, you'd be able to see the sanded area below.

    Not sure where you're going to buy your paint and clear coat. On a painted body you often want to use shellac to seal the body, then sand it baby ass smooth before painting it. This prevents the paint from soaking into the grain and giving you a bad paint job. The pulpy areas of wood soak in more paint and can be duller than the hard grain if you don't shellac the body first.

    I'd be sure you do some major reading on instrument finishing before you begin. I've seen and read hundreds of disaster stories of finish jobs by those who could have avoided the problems if they only did a little homework and stuck with the techniques used that are tried and true. Finishing is difficult enough. You don't need to go reinventing the wheel and using the wrong chemical combinations because you are over anxious to get the job done.

    The key to a great finish is to take your time and do it right. The actual spraying doesn't take much time at all. Its the preparation before spraying and drying time between coats that takes time.

    A normal body takes about a week to do. If you attempt to put heavier coats on to speed the process you have longer dry times, paint drips and flaws that have to be fixes so it winds up taking even longer. If you use super light misting, you can put a coat on every half hour or so, then after a few, let it dry over night. '

    You can then sand out any prick marks or bubbles common as the gases escapes when it dries. If you begin to get a whitish color it means you are applying too much and oxygen is getting trapped below. The whitishness can be buffed out or it will eventually clear as it dries so don't panic is it happens.

    Keep the nozzle at least 6" from the surface. Too close and you'll get bad coverage and over saturation. Too far and the lacquer will be too dry and cause a powdery coating. If you do get a powdery coating that's OK, because like I said, the next coat will melt into the old to make a single thick coat.

    After the clear cost you need to use a buffing compound to give the clear coat a mirror shine. I'd stay away from auto buffing compounds which often contain silicones. If you get silicone in the frets, you'll wind up with the frets popping up out of the fret board, and then you're in real trouble.

    You can buy various grades of pumace buffing compounds designed for polishing. You can also buy the Jeweler Rouge type that comes in a semi soft block designed to be put on a buffing wheel like they use at the factories. Chances are you'll be doing it by hand. You'll want to use cotton cloths. Old T Shirts made of cotton are what I use because they don't scratch. Don't use paper towels. They contain wood and will be too abrasive.

    You can use wet sanding with ultra fine sandpaper if needed before pumicing the finish. It all depends on how good you are at the spraying. I do my sanding before the last coat so it goes on like glass and need very little buffing afterwards.

    For products, you can get Auto Body Lacquer paint from an auto Parts store. Be sure its lacquer, and not acrylic. Read the cans ingredients to be sure. I've tried acrylic and its not going to get you a professional look and its not the same as working with lacquer. I wouldn't work with water based lacquers either. With those you have to stick with the same manufacturers, undercoat, paint and clear coat in a three part application. Its usually more expensive and its really not designed for an instrument where you'll have your oily hands on the instrument. We know regular lacquer is resistant to sweat and oils and will last a good 50 years. Something water based? It may not wear well and who knows what reaction the surface will have to the hands no less guitar polish.

    There are some sites where you can buy nitro cellulose lacquer on line. ReRanch is one. Stuart McDonalds is another. You can use a normal autobody lacquer for the paint, then use a Nitro clear coat for a harder outside finish if you want. Since lacquer can sanded and oversprayed to repair dings and dents, I don't see allot of reason to spend the extra money on Nitro, but I know how to do repairs. Nitro is more durable because it has cotton fiber in it. It will be your decision.

    One thing you can't do.

    If you use lacquer based paint then decide to use Poly over it as a clear coat, its wont work. Poly will peel off lacquer like sunburned skin. If you use a poly based paint and try to use lacquer clear coat, the lacquer will crack and chip off the poly. Think of it this way. If you were to paint a plastic bottle with a paint that dries hard, then squeeze that bottle. You'd expect the paint to crack and peel off the plastic. Poly is plastic so the only thing that will stick to it is more poly. This is why I say, when you choose a finish type, stick with that base chemical from beginning to end.

    Shellac has the same alcohol based "Lac" resin in it so lacquer will bind with it. It dries hard enough for poly or oil to stick to it too. Shellac, Lacquer will work together.

    If you were doing a a natural finish, I usually recommend using Tung oil for beginners. Its easy to apply in a wipe on, wipe off application and you can continue to add coats until you get the gloss as deep as you want, even as thick and nearly as glossy as a clear coat lacquer coat. Getting it to wipe on clear is more difficult though. You have to use sponge brushes and avoid bubbles.

    I have applied Tung oil (which has allot of varnish in it) over lacquer before and had fair results. Its one of those exceptions to the rules, but it doesn't melt into the Lacquer and renew the old finish. It does go on like an onion skin, and if the Lacquer below does dry out and powder up, the Tung oil finish will peel off. Tung oil will yellow whatever is beneath it. Ive used it on bodies with nothing else. You don't need to use shellac (you want the full grain, and shellac is white or yellow in color). You can use a grain filler first to raise the grain texture.

    I've also used tung mixed with oil based stain to darken it. I had a set of chairs for my dining room table I bought as kits. The table was an antique dark mahogany color and the chairs were a light colored wood. I mixed Mahogany stain with the Tung oil and brushed it on in coats until it matched the table. Then applied clear Tung over. You'd think the chairs were made from the same wood. Its been 10 years and they still look great. Tung is super durable too, very hard to scratch or ding.

    As I said, read all you can before you begin, and I'd suggest practicing a little before you begin on a test piece of wood. Chances are, if this is your first finish job, you will not get a factory quality job done. You will make mistakes. Finishing takes allot of experience and its a messy sticky job. The trick is getting a flow down and not being overly focused on small issues that will be corrected as you go.

    Its like playing a lead part on a guitar and its show time. You have to bulldoze your way through the flubs and catch up because you can't stop in a middle of a song and redo it. Same thing happens when you apply a finish. The chemicals have to go on in a single layer quickly before it begins to dry. You can prepare the surface before you begin, and you can fix the flubs after it dries but you don't stop half way through a coat. Its show time and you bulldoze it. 

    Oh, also its winter now. Not sure where you're located but the temp must be at least 70 degrees when applying finishes. Too cold, too hot, or too much humidity and you'll have all kinds of issues. Like I said, Read the cans directions they don't lie. They put them on there for a reason and you may not know why and it doesn't matter if you follow them. You may only get half a can of lacquer to spray out if the can is too cold. Be sure you turn the van upside down and clear the nozzle between coats too. Nothing worse than a full can of paint or lacquer with a clogged nozzle. (That too is one the label)


    Good luck


    • #3

      All of this is great information, and I was thinking of going the lacquer route to begin with, but the tung oil also seems like a viable option as well. My family actually owns a custom cabinet and wine rack / room business, so I have access to a spray booth and various finishing materials.

      My plan was to actually leave the les paul unpainted, so a natural wood look and spray clear over this. The hardware and pickups are black, while the body and neck binding is cream colored, so my plan was to scuff the binding a little (if possible) spray a little layer of primer and then spray it black to match, and then clear over the body and neck as a whole.