Monday, December 27, 2010

Electric Guitar Building Update

Now that the Christmas holiday is behind me, I'm back to building my guitars. The Highline Legato is currently resting a few days so the lacquer top coat can cure before I wet sand and buff it out. Hopefully this coming weekend, I'll be able to polish the neck and body so I can put the two together. In the meantime, I've started work on another Highline electric guitar design which will be a single cut with a set-in neck. Here's a shot of the work so far:
There's no substitute for a sweet piece of Honduran Mahogany when it comes to making a guitar neck!
Tomorrow, I'll be getting a 2-1/4" thick, 35" long, 7" wide slab of Honduran Mahogany for the body. My plan is to plane down the thickness and add a figured Maple top, but that will depend on how the grain looks on the Mahogany after I cut the slab in half and glue the two pieces together. If the grain fails to inspire me, I'll start shopping for a nice bookmatched set of flamed Maple boards. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Top Coating A Guitar With Target Coatings Emtech 6000

For my current electric guitar build, I've decided to try out Target's Emtech EM6000 water based acrylic lacquer as a clear top coat. In the past I've used Hydrocoat's Resithane Plus with great results, but I wanted to try EM6000 because of it's burn-in capability, which the Resithane Plus lacks. What this means, is I won't have to sand between coats. That feature alone will mean a lot of time saved.

Instead of spraying on the EM6000 with an HVLP sprayer as I normally would have done, I decided to brush it on since other luthiers have had success with this approach. Water based lacquer in my opinion is harder to spray than nitrocellulose lacquer because it take longer to tack up. For that reason, WB lacquer has a greater tendency to run or sag before it sets up. This can be a real problem with all of the curves and angles found on a guitar.

Brushing WB lacquer, however, is not full proof. Regardless of the type of brush you use or whether the lacquer is thinned with either water or retarder, you can expect a significant amount of air bubbles in each coat you lay down. Fortunately, I chanced upon a technique which eliminated the air bubbles completely. I'll explain in a moment.

The first step in applying the top coat is to make sure the surface is ready. That means it has to be smooth with all of the grain and pours filled in. I started the prep work by sanding the guitar with 220 grit paper to get the surfaces nice and smooth. Because the body of the guitar is made from Honduran Mahogany, which is an open pour wood, I had to fill the grain. To do this, I wiped on a liberal coat of boiled linseed oil and sprinkled on some 4f pumice. The pumice turns clear on contact with the BLO and as I worked it into the wood, it generated wood dust to form a paste, which fills the pours and grain. I used my bare fingers to rub the paste with a circular motion into the wood. After the entire surface had been rubbed with the BLO/pumice/wood dust mixture, I let it dry over night. The next day, I wiped off the excess grit with a tack rag. Then I let the body dry for 4 days. The neck on the other hand, is made out of Maple, which doesn't require grain filling.

After the 4 day drying period, I was ready to start brushing on the WB lacquer. The process is simple. I dipped my soft, 2" wide brush into the can and spread it over the body and neck as if I were painting it. Since WB lacquer is rather runny, I had to be conscious of runs, especially down the sides. This was no problem as I caught them when they formed and brushed them back into the rest of the wet coat.

At this point, I was dismayed by the formation of thousands of tiny air bubbles. In many spots, the lacquer actually turned foamy. To rectify the situation, I immediately grabbed a small 6" square piece of clean, 100% cotton cloth, moistened it with water and formed it into a ball. With the first coat still wet, I rubbed the cloth back an forth in a pendulum motion from one end of the wood to the other sort of like a French Polishing technique. This effectively removed the air bubbles and spread the coat evenly over the surface. The only downside to this technique is that it leaves subtle brush marks in the surface. However, since I knew I would have to level sand the surface before buffing, I wasn't concerned.

Each coat went on about 30 minutes apart and after 16 coats, I decided that was enough. The instruction from Target Coatings recommends letting the finish cure for 100 hours before polishing. However, with so many coats, I decided to let the body and neck cure for a week.

Level sanding consisted of dry sanding the body with 800 grit silicone carbide paper. Dry sanding at this early stage of leveling allows you to better see what's happening on the surface. The WB lacquer turned to white powder as I dry sanded it and when after wiping the surface with a tack rag, I could easily see the high and low spots. The goal was to sand the entire surface to a uniformly matte appearance. It happened very quickly and I only had to apply very light pressure.

Once I was satisfied the entire surface was level, I began wet sanding very lightly with 1,500 grit paper dipped in a mixture of water with a few drops of Murphy's oil soap for lubrication. Then I switched to 2,000 grit to finish. At this point, the surface had become quite reflective. However, it wasn't shiny enough. The buffer would take care of that.

I buffed with two 12" soft flannel wheels. On the first, I used Menzerna medium compound to remove any remaining fine scratches left by the level sanding. Very light pressure is the key as too much will overheat to lacquer and cause it to blister. On the other wheel, I used extra fine Menzerna compound, which gave the body the much desired wet look.

I'll shoot some photos when time permits and post them here for you to see the results. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Coming Soon: The Highline Single Cut

While waiting for my water based lacquer for the Highline Legato to arrive from Target Coatings, I've started the planning phase for the next electric guitar design, which will be named the Highline Single Cut. This guitar was inspired by the Les Paul design, but with several alterations to the legendary guitar's shape.

As you can see in the sketch, the lower horn will be shaped a little differently to reflect my own personal taste. The top of the body will also be carved, but much less so than a Les Paul. My goal is a lighter body without sacrificing the tone you get from a slab of Honduran Mahogany. I haven't decided on a top wood yet, however you can be sure it will be something special.

The headstock will feature my Highline trademark shape and I plan to inlay the logo in Mother of Pearl. I'm not sure yet what I'll do for the markers, but a cool MOP shape is likely.

Of course I'll wind my own pickups for this bad boy and I'm thinking they'll be a touch hotter than a vintage style approach. I love the way Alnico IV magnets sound so that may be what I'll use.

Keep in mind this design is still rough, so it could and probably will change along the way. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Now here's an idea...

I'm thinking of redesigning the eGuitar Plans web site next year. One of my ideas is to archive all of my current plans and create a new feature which would allow you to tailor a guitar design to your own specs. You'd be able to choose from a dozen or so body styles, scale length, bridge type, headstock shape and pickup and control configurations. It's still early in the development phase so I'm not exactly sure how it would play out.

Monday, December 13, 2010

French Polishing... Is It Really Suitable For Guitars?

The short answer is no. Why? Okay, here comes the long answer.

I just finished applying a French Polish onto a guitar by using both a traditional mix-it-yourself approach and Behlen's Qualasole. Qualasole is a premixed shellac containing solvent and oil so it's ready to apply straight from the bottle. The mix-it-yourself approach requires dissolving shellac flakes into denatured alcohol and applying with a small amount of boiled linseed oil. I won't go into the details about how I actually did the French Polish (this site has great info on the technique), but it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. Both solutions went on about the same, but the Qualasole emits a horrendous vapor. WEAR A MASK!! I did one side of the guitar with my mix and the other with the Qualasole. After 6 coats of both, I let it cure for about 2 weeks. In the end, I felt the results, while they looked very nice after wet sanding and buffing, just aren't durable enough for an electric guitar. For one thing, shellac isn't alcohol proof. Maybe not a big deal for most people, but if you plan to play your guitar in a club where alcohol is served, you'd better plan on a different top coat. Also, despite the two week curing time, the surface was too soft. I could scratch it easily with my fingernail. I suppose the finish might harden with more curing time, but if that's the case, I'd just as well use nitrocellulose lacquer.

In the end, I've decided to strip the shellac off and try a new water based lacquer from Target Coatings called Emtech 6000. I've heard great things about this product, so I've placed an order for one gallon. Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

eGuitar Plans' Site Is Back To Business As Usual

I hope! I spent the last couple of days working with my host provider, IX Web Hosting and my shopping cart solution, FDHQ to get my site back on track. The problem was a hacker had compromised my blog by adding in malware to the blog's pages. The hack was discovered immediately and Google added the warning notice to my site. After working with my host provider, the entire blog was removed and security was strengthened. Then, Google inspected my site and removed the warning. Finally, my shopping cart was replaced with the latest version even though its security was never compromised by the hacker.

To prevent this problem from happening again, I've decided to replace my Wordpress blog with Google's Blogger. This means my blog will be hosted by Google rather than the server where my site is located. The only disadvantage is that my archive of past blog posts will no longer be available. That's okay by me. After all, I'd rather have the security of an offsite blog instead of a hacked archive!

The Blog Is Back

For those of you who noticed, I had to take down my blog page as a result of a hacker. I've created a new blog using Google Blogger instead of Wordpress. We'll see how this works. I like that it's hosted on Google's servers rather than the one where my site is stored.