How to get the REAL Vintage look on a maple neck

By Dave K

As I have worked on my “relic obsession” (and make no mistake….it IS an obsession!) One of the biggest challenges that I had was figuring out the best way to get that ambered 'vintage' look. The goal I was shooting for was that of a ’62 Strat neck & the color of the headstock & back of the neck (I wanted to start with a rosewood neck first. I plan on tackling an all maple neck at a later time).

The target neck has this cool brownish-goldish-amber finish (that’s quite a mouthful!). I wanted to make it look authentic; not only in color…but REAL vintage necks bring out the grain of the maple.

The most common way to TRY to achieve this is for people to add amber to their clear lacquer. It looks o.k…but as I stated before I have a RELIC obsession & “o.k.” is just not good enough!!

Also, the “amber-clear” technique actually MASKS the wood grain! Think of it as having plastic wrap over your Television screen….you can still see the picture, but it just isn't right!

Well…. here is my technique on how to make it RIGHT:

The first secret is that you have to stain the wood, not the finish. This is the ONLY way to really make a neck look like it came from 1962!

Here’s what I did to create the “secret sauce”

I used Color-Tone concentrated liquid stains from Stewart MacDonald. The colors you need are Yellow, Red & Tobacco Brown.

The mix ratio of yellow, red, and brown water stain for "vintage maple" is more art than science. I eyeballed it & had good results

BEFORE YOU START!!! YOU NEED TO USE SCRAP MAPLE! Don’t put this stuff on ‘till it’s how you want it to look on the scrap!

You don't want to test it on paper, it will just soak it up & not give you accurate results!

Now for the secret ingredients!

Start with full strength yellow in a bowl. Add warm water until the color isn’t too strong when wiped on your piece of scrap maple

Then add little drops of full strength brown and red to “amber” it.

When you think it's right, test it on your scrap maple & put on the clear lacquer. Remember, it won't look right until it's sprayed with clear lacquer.

If you REALLY want to bring out the grain, you can stain the wood and then sand most of it off again.

The grain will hold the color & the rest of the maple will sand back to natural. For an even more DRAMATIC effect, try it with black or silver stain to really make the grain stand out. Then, when you wipe on your final coat of stain and don’t sand it off, the grain is like 3D & comes right out at you! This technique looks GREAT on a birds eye maple neck!

You can wipe stain on with a clean rag or by spraying. I think it looks better & is far easier wiping it on.

Once you got the color, clear & results you were looking for on the scrap, repeat the process on your neck!

I have used “the REAL Vintage look ‘technique for refinishing a vintage neck AND for making a new one look old!

You will be amazed at how much better this looks, especially if you compare side by side with a neck done with the “Amber-Clear” technique!

Here are some tips:

· This technique raises the grain of the wood. Before you start staining make the wood damp to raise the grain. After it dries, sand off the rough spots with 200‑grit sandpaper

· To avoid streaks wipe with the grain (length wise)

· For best results, let the stained wood dry at least 48 hours before applying clear.

· PRACTICE ON SCRAP!! I used an old Maple Baseball bat & got very good results (I guess that would make it a “Batocaster”)

· A Little Color-tone goes a VERY LONG WAY!!!

· WEAR Gloves! Otherwise you will “relic” your hands for a VERY long time. Please, trust me on this one!

 

 


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