Many thanks to Miika Niemimen for this excellent tutorial. Miika's guitar project which cover was made for can be found here on the forums: Real gold top Les Paul
Hi folks! Thought I'd share what I created yesterday. I'm working on a gold top LesPaul (haven't updated the build thread lately, will soon).
Well, I wanted to make a custom trussrod cover with my own graphics and using material that would match the gold tuners and overall gold theme of the guitar. Brass looks very much like gold when polished so I went for that, but you could use other metals.
I recently learned an etching technique to make metal signs so I used the same method here. The technique is similar as making circuit boards so I'd start the search for chemicals at your local electronics component store. Sounds complicated and, yes, it does take a little testing but not very difficult at all. OK, I could have taken the brass plate to be CNC'd but that's really not my point - I really respect handcraft and want to do things by myself.
So here's the way to etch if you want to try it for your unique trussrod cover, or customize any other metal part on your guitar (metal pickup covers, pot knobs, scratch plates, neck mounting plates - you name it). WARNING: Be careful with those chemicals! Use protective gloves, don't breathe the fumes, don't mix them and dispose properly (not in the sink!)
Create your custom graphics. Photocopy/print it on overhead transparency film. You could use a negative image to create a darker appearance. ("Aurum" is the name for my guitar, latin for "gold").
Polish brass plate using steel wool
Cover brass with photo-resist laquer spray (eg. Positiv20)
Allow to dry for 24h (in dark!) or heat at 70°C (160°F) for 15min
Lay film on top of the metal and expose for 3min with ultraviolet light. I've heard you can use a standard bulb and expose for 1hr (haven't tried). The UV-light cost $5 at my local electronics store.
Develop the exposed plate in sodium hydroxide (NaOH) solution (7g/litre of water). The exposed lacquer will dissolve in a few minutes and the unexposed will protect the metal from dissolving in the next phase.
Wash the plate and look for any discontinuities in the lacquer. You can correct these with a regular permanent marker.
Treat the plate with ferrichloride (FeCl3) solution for about 1 hour (500g of FeCl3 granules per 1 liter of warm water). Look at the plate every now and then. If some part is not dissolving correctly use a needle to scratch the excess lacquer. If a protected area is eroding use the marker to protect it and you may be able to hide the flaw in the polishing stage.
The etching is deep enough when you can feel it with your finger/nail. You can enhance the eroded lines by applying gun blue (ask from you local gun store) with a cotton wool stick.
Polish with fine grit paper (I used 2000) and a woollen sock. Reapply gun blue and polish again if you're not satisfied with the darkness. Trim the plate edge with tools of your choice (eg. Dremel, file and sand paper). A layer of lacquer will prevent the brass from oxidizing.
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