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Steps for multi-color mirror finishes like you see on custom guitars?

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Forum topic by MikeyPiano posted 04-17-2021 03:18 AM 754 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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MikeyPiano

32 posts in 241 days


04-17-2021 03:18 AM

Hi,

What steps do you recommend to create multi-color mirror finishes like you see on custom guitars? I’m experimenting with open-grain wood (pine and meranti) and I know I want to end with a poly top coat for buffing – but it’s getting there from the raw wood that’s complicated in terms of the order of application and making sure layers work well with each other

1.What should I use first on the raw wood – oil, dye or grain filler?
2. Can I mix any of that together in a single step?
3. Is an oil slurry grain filler an option or should I go for something like aqua coat grain filler?
4. Is there a way to apply the dye so the upper layers don’t react to it?


17 replies so far

View Foghorn's profile

Foghorn

1212 posts in 468 days


#1 posted 04-17-2021 02:38 PM

Pine is a closed grain wood. Sunbursts are usually done on light colored woods. Are you using pine for the top?

-- Darrel

View Loren's profile

Loren

11192 posts in 4729 days


#2 posted 04-17-2021 03:33 PM

I think on guitar finishes they typically add colorants to the finish and spray it on after filling. This traps the colorant in the finish so it doesn’t bleed.

View Lazyman's profile (online now)

Lazyman

6988 posts in 2469 days


#3 posted 04-17-2021 03:57 PM

The green and the blue and clear one look like figured maple which is is often used to give the really cool patterns. The color gradients are often done using aniline dyes applied with an air brush to get the fade. Another technique that is often done with figured wood is to apply a dark trace coat with a black or brown dye for example and then sand it back until only the softer grain still has dye before applying the colored dye. I would bet that is how they did the green one. It looks to me like they applied a black trace coat, sanding it back less around the edges before applying yellow and then strategically spraying blue with an air brush to get green while leaving some yellow to pop through. I think that they use a spray lacquer for a clear top coat.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View darthford's profile

darthford

703 posts in 3005 days


#4 posted 04-17-2021 04:50 PM

One of my recent guitar purchases as you can see it’s mono colored. I can tell you the novelty of multi-colored wears off quickly.

Here’s an exception, this is a 2 tone burst finish on Ash. The black fading to amber works well.

Finally for something a bit different that goes well with black and chrome accents, maybe a fit for an art deco furniture piece this is transparent butterscotch blonde on Ash.

View Axis39's profile

Axis39

482 posts in 678 days


#5 posted 04-17-2021 05:37 PM

Here’s the steps I would take:

1. Sand smooth… like, as smooth as you want your guitar to be. be careful of grain lines (especially with pine as the hard winter rings tend to stay while you sand out the softer Summer growth)
2. Shellac sealer first (I like either mixing my own, or using Zinser SealCoat)
3. Grain filler (I like Aquacoat, but the oil fillers are another option. Whatever you pick, make sure it is compatible with any coats going over it)
4. Your polyurethane of choice – clear, a few coats… enough to sand smooth and evenly This step requires a bit of extra care to make sure you have no ripples or dips as these will show when you put the sunburst stuff on. Do more coats than you think you should.. Then, sand with a block and soft pressure
5. Add color to your clear and do your sunburst. Start with the darkest color. Typical Fender sunbursts are one color for 50’s style and 3 for 60’s style
6. More clear coat.
7. Even clear coats on top
8. Sand and buff accordingly

If you’re looking to make the grain pop more, yes, dyes and stains and than sanded back (like grain filler). It works best on maples and figured lighter woods.

Lotta info over that the Telecaster Discussion Pages under the Finely Finished forum. Also, more info than you could ever use over at Reranch.

-- John F. SoCal transplant, chewer uppper of good wood

View MikeyPiano's profile

MikeyPiano

32 posts in 241 days


#6 posted 04-18-2021 09:25 AM


Pine is a closed grain wood. Sunbursts are usually done on light colored woods. Are you using pine for the top? – Foghorn

Thank you, that’s good to know! Changes how I’m going to treat the pine, but the meranti definitely needs a grain filler.

So – I said “like guitars” but I’m actually building piano style keyboards :-) but I’d like to finish them “like guitars”. Current design has a pine top, but that may change after a few revisions.

View MikeyPiano's profile

MikeyPiano

32 posts in 241 days


#7 posted 04-18-2021 09:29 AM

I think on guitar finishes they typically add colorants to the finish and spray it on after filling. This traps the colorant in the finish so it doesn t bleed. – Loren

Yes, I’ve seen this method as well. I will have to experiment to see what layer to add the color. I do like the idea of adding the color after the base but before the final top coat.

A quick Google search reveals – yes you can tint/dye polyurethane … another thing to test out.

View MikeyPiano's profile

MikeyPiano

32 posts in 241 days


#8 posted 04-18-2021 09:31 AM

The green and the blue and clear one look like figured maple which is is often used to give the really cool patterns. The color gradients are often done using aniline dyes applied with an air brush to get the fade. Another technique that is often done with figured wood is to apply a dark trace coat with a black or brown dye for example and then sand it back until only the softer grain still has dye before applying the colored dye. I would bet that is how they did the green one. It looks to me like they applied a black trace coat, sanding it back less around the edges before applying yellow and then strategically spraying blue with an air brush to get green while leaving some yellow to pop through. I think that they use a spray lacquer for a clear top coat. – Lazyman

That’s a good point about the air brush to get the fade. I will get an attachment to test that out. I do like the idea of a ‘trace coat’ and then applying a different color over that.

View MikeyPiano's profile

MikeyPiano

32 posts in 241 days


#9 posted 04-18-2021 09:36 AM


One of my recent guitar purchases as you can see it s mono colored. I can tell you the novelty of multi-colored wears off quickly. – darthford

Yes, I agree, mono color designs are usually more elegant, those finishes you posted are gorgeous. I’d like to make stuff like the first one you posted, especially getting the grain to pop.

View MikeyPiano's profile

MikeyPiano

32 posts in 241 days


#10 posted 04-18-2021 09:48 AM



Here s the steps I would take:

1. Sand smooth… like, as smooth as you want your guitar to be. be careful of grain lines (especially with pine as the hard winter rings tend to stay while you sand out the softer Summer growth)
2. Shellac sealer first (I like either mixing my own, or using Zinser SealCoat)
3. Grain filler (I like Aquacoat, but the oil fillers are another option. Whatever you pick, make sure it is compatible with any coats going over it)
4. Your polyurethane of choice – clear, a few coats… enough to sand smooth and evenly This step requires a bit of extra care to make sure you have no ripples or dips as these will show when you put the sunburst stuff on. Do more coats than you think you should.. Then, sand with a block and soft pressure
5. Add color to your clear and do your sunburst. Start with the darkest color. Typical Fender sunbursts are one color for 50 s style and 3 for 60 s style
6. More clear coat.
7. Even clear coats on top
8. Sand and buff accordingly

If you re looking to make the grain pop more, yes, dyes and stains and than sanded back (like grain filler). It works best on maples and figured lighter woods.

Lotta info over that the Telecaster Discussion Pages under the Finely Finished forum. Also, more info than you could ever use over at Reranch.

- Axis39


Yes, definitely want the grain to pop. That’s interesting about the sanding sealer / aqua coat and then adding the color to the polyurethane – that’s a nice method. Noticed, two methods for the base – sanding sealer + aqua coat (more popular), there’s also Timbermate which acts as both sealer and grain filler – will have to experiment.

View darthford's profile

darthford

703 posts in 3005 days


#11 posted 04-18-2021 01:21 PM


One of my recent guitar purchases as you can see it s mono colored. I can tell you the novelty of multi-colored wears off quickly. – darthford

Yes, I agree, mono color designs are usually more elegant, those finishes you posted are gorgeous. I d like to make stuff like the first one you posted, especially getting the grain to pop.

- MikeyPiano

PRS (Paul Reed Smith) guitars which are known for highly figured wood finishes has a number of manufacturing videos on youtube. You might check them out.

View Axis39's profile

Axis39

482 posts in 678 days


#12 posted 04-18-2021 03:31 PM


Yes, definitely want the grain to pop. That s interesting about the sanding sealer / aqua coat and then adding the color to the polyurethane – that s a nice method. Noticed, two methods for the base – sanding sealer + aqua coat (more popular), there s also Timbermate which acts as both sealer and grain filler – will have to experiment.

- MikeyPiano

I have used Timbermate as a grain filler, and added color. It works great.

The reason I put shellac down as a sealer is to keep the color in the ‘right place’. In a lot of cases, without it, whatever colorant you use will ‘dirty’ up the rest of the wood. In other words, it adds a little bit of color to tiny pores that you didn’t really want color in… It lessens the contrast as well.

AquaCoat and Timbermate are nice because they are easy to sand and level. Which is the whole point, anyway. I keep meaning to pick up one of the oil grain fillers to give them a try.

-- John F. SoCal transplant, chewer uppper of good wood

View Foghorn's profile

Foghorn

1212 posts in 468 days


#13 posted 04-18-2021 04:50 PM


Yes, definitely want the grain to pop. That s interesting about the sanding sealer / aqua coat and then adding the color to the polyurethane – that s a nice method. Noticed, two methods for the base – sanding sealer + aqua coat (more popular), there s also Timbermate which acts as both sealer and grain filler – will have to experiment.

- MikeyPiano


Not much grain to pop on pine or meranti. Both pretty boring woods for the most part. You may want to choose different woods if you’re looking for interesting figure.

-- Darrel

View MikeyPiano's profile

MikeyPiano

32 posts in 241 days


#14 posted 04-19-2021 05:36 AM

Not much grain to pop on pine or meranti. Both pretty boring woods for the most part. You may want to choose different woods if you re looking for interesting figure.

- Foghorn


I figure I better use cheap wood first until I figure out a basic strategy for doing this. Kinda like learning to drive in an old beat up Toyota pickup before buying a BMW.

View MikeyPiano's profile

MikeyPiano

32 posts in 241 days


#15 posted 04-19-2021 05:39 AM

I have used Timbermate as a grain filler, and added color. It works great.

The reason I put shellac down as a sealer is to keep the color in the right place . In a lot of cases, without it, whatever colorant you use will dirty up the rest of the wood. In other words, it adds a little bit of color to tiny pores that you didn t really want color in… It lessens the contrast as well.

- Axis39


So does it make sense to use Timbermate or Shellac/Aqua Coat, and if I want more contrast – use a dark dye first, then sand it back a bit for the final color?

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