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Finishing A Guitar Without Sanding?


integra
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Hi guys. I'm new to this so I hope you'll excuse my (most likely) silly questions.

I've just bought an old guitar which I want to refinish. I've tried to do this once before and I ballsed it up when it came to sanding down the clear coat to give the guitar its shiny finish.

I've just been reading an article from Gibson on how they build their guitars. Gibson Guitar Build Article

Excerpt...

Once the lacquer is dried, they move on to the buffing area. There, these optimum lacquer coatings are buffed to a rich finish by utilizing buffing wheels containing a red wax, then yellow wax and then finally a high gloss polish.

So Gibson don't bother with sanding after the clear coat? My problem last time was that I managed to sand right through the clear and so I'd like to avoid final sanding altogether if at all possible.

Can I just use these buffing waxes at home, or is this something only possible in a specialist setup?

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If you can lay your lacquer down clean enough, ie. no orange peel, drips, runs, sags etc. then wetsanding should not be necessary. Thats how the pros do it. However, if your clearcoat consists of polyurethane then you need to sand between coats to establish a mechanical bond.

IMO, if you need to sand your lacquer then you screwed up either your prep or your actual painting.

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IMO, if you need to sand your lacquer then you screwed up either your prep or your actual painting.

Or you're not a professional painter... I can think of VERY few people outside of those that do it for a living that are capable of this. Heck, I know several PROFESSIONAL painters that have to. Granted, it's minimal and with super high grits, but still. To make a statement like that is pretty... well, if you get it, you get it.

Chris

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If you can lay your lacquer down clean enough, ie. no orange peel, drips, runs, sags etc. then wetsanding should not be necessary.

Thats how the pros do it

.

That is simply not true.

You cannot avoid sanding, rubbing, and buffing out your finish if a glossy, liquid glass look is what you're after.

The problem is that you don't yet really understand the process of finishing a finish properly, and are trying to sidestep the work involved, which you really can't do IF you want the liquid glass look.

And AFA the pros, there is a very particular way to do your very last coat so you don't have to do any more buffing to it, but hell yes there was levelling before that last coat got shot, and it has to be a very particular mix to get that, like 90% thinner and 10% product. Some might do it, other's don't. To say that that's how the pros do it is a completely misleading statement, it's ONE technique out of MANY that SOME choose to use. :D

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Another thing, I'd be SUPER surprised if Gibson did NO sanding. They said "once the lacquer is dry." They are talking about the FINAL steps. That quote gives NO mention to what steps they took in the spraying process up UNTIL curing. I'd bet a ton a money there was at least SOME sanding involved in there.

Chris

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I saw something on TV showing them making a Gibson or an Epiphone guitar and it went straight from lacquer to buffing once dry. But there are several things to consider.

These are professional painters with a set mixture that does not change. The guns are tuned to run that paint and that paint only.

Gibson uses large buffers with bonnets that are easly 24 or 36 inch diameters and 6 inches wide. Few people have buffers of this type without being serious into building. A buffer of this type makes it easier to polish without sanding. They also have people whose only job is to run the buffer, so they have a slight idea about what they are doing.

Gibson is not concerned with the best finish possible. They are concerned with profit. Level sanding, even if only using 1200 grit before polishing (the red compound will easily remove 1000 grit, usually it can do even coarser) takes time. Time is money. If people will pay $1200 for a guitar that was not level sanded, why spend 2 hours level sanding each guitar.

Gibson is not a great example either since they are known for having tool marks on their guitars still. Take a look at any factory guitar in a raking light and you'll be surprised at what you see. Almost none of them level sand, in a raking light you can see the surface is not perfectly flat or smooth. But in 95% of the lights you'll never notice it.

Next time you're in Guitar Center or Sam Ash or whoever pick up any guitar and hold is so you get a raking light and you'll be amazed at what you see. $1000+ guitars that do not have as smooth a finish as it appears, buffing marks, visible glue lines. But all of that is made up for with great advertising.

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And the last comment I have is that depending on your compound and buff station, the buffers actually, in a way, DO sand the finish, you can certainly remove a lot of finish with a buffing wheel and compound, and different compounds will remove more or less finish, some are more abrasive, others are for pure buff.

There is a point, and it's different for each builder, where they switch from sanding pads to polishing compounds, remembering that certain compounds are indeed doing some very fine sanding/product removal and there is a certain 'overlap period' between the two.

I still think the basic question is going back to understanding exactly how to finish a finish. If you only did it once, I'm sure you just need to fine tune your process. The most obvious mistake beginners make is to start their process with a grit way too rough, and again, different builders start their final buffouts at different abrasive levels.

I start my final process at 1000 grit, I think Perry starts at 2000 if I remember right...beginner mistakes are to start at 220 or 320, where the scratches are so deep you may well wind up with sandthroughs before you're done.

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A lot of the guys I talk to at work, these are real painters and detailers with formal training and 25+ years experience at painting anything and everything including cars, boats, motorcycle tanks, helmets, fenders etc and yes... guitars, say faint orange peel may be unavoidable to some extent but can still be minimized. They say you shouldn't have to use sandpaper to begin the polishing stages and I agree. I've managed a few guitars myself this way with poly, rattlecan and catalyzed Imron. I'm sure they have had bad days where a few swipes with some fine grit is necessary to get back on track but there is no sidestepping. For that matter, if you had to final wetsand everything in a production shop you would'nt be employed very long. It takes a lot of practice and good equipment to attain this level of skill but is still attainable

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I spent 4 years with Gibson, and have many friends that went to Nashville when they moved from Kalamazoo, MI. Gibson drysands to 600 with foam blocks to level the finish, then buff with hard rouge, rottenstone, and soft rouge for final polish. this has not changed in 70 years, and my last visit was to the custom shop 6 months ago, and they still sand to 1200 in there before buffing.

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Great info MusicLogic. May I ask what you did there? Sounds like you probably have some cool stories.

Southpa, you also have to remember that I can TECHNICALLY take ANYTHING straight to a buffer and make it shiny. That's not the issue, since if I took something with orange peel to a buffer and shined it up, it still wouldn't be a FLAT finish... it'd be a shiny bumpy one. Many products have several different levels of 'acceptable paint quality,' and as mentioned above, there's even a great deal of range within a single industry such as guitars. Most cars coming out don't actually have that great a finish when you get up close to them. The reason, as far as I can see, is that they are so huge it would not be financially reasonable to wet sand them a bunch. Also it's not necessary. They are HUGE compared to a guitar, and small orange peel, in the grand scheme of things on a large canvas like a car, is a lot smaller by comparison. Therefore, guys that mostly do cars, motorbikes, etc. may not be the correct people to ask, even if they have sprayed a couple guitars.

Chris

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