On the failure of spraying black lacquer

I haven’t updated here for a while, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on the guitar. It’s just that the semester was ending so I had less time to work on it, and certainly less time to update here. However, I finished painting the guitar, but with some compromises. People on the internet can be very cryptic, and I’ve seen the variations of “black is the hardest color to spray” peppered around different forums without any explanation. It never clicked why it’s so hard to spray until I started spraying clear.

I mentioned in the last post that I was getting some dust under the clear coat. Honestly, it wasn’t that dramatic, but I couldn’t just let those specks stay there. So what I did was spot sand where I got the dust, then respray clear in those areas, then shoot another coat. Of course, the new coat trapped dust also, and I had to repeat the whole processes. It felt like I was taking two steps forward and one back, and life is too short to be sanding so much, so I looked for some solutions online.

The first suggestion was to wipe off the body with a tack cloth between coats, and this is actually very helpful as it clears the body from all dust and specs prior to spraying it. The problem is that the spraying disturbs the surrounding dust, and the basement I spray in is just too big and dusty to not have random dust specks flying around. So it didn’t really solve the problem. Other suggestions were to build a temporary spraying booth and that’s where I was headed.

The temp spraying booth that looked the most promising was a PVC cage lined with clear plastic tarp. The idea was to build a 3x3x3 cube so that I could fit it in my storage unit without taking it apart after spraying. A better booth is one I could stand in, but I don’t have that kind of real estate available. The only problem was that no hardware store in Chicago was carrying 3 way PVC elbows, so there was no way for me to build that cube and make it sturdy.

I was pretty bummed because I really had no other solutions, but then it hit me. Get a huge bin from target, mount it on a wall, mount the guitar in it and voila! I got a huge bin, cut a little slot so I can hang it on one of the brackets I use for drying the guitar and started spraying. I also got a big spot lamp so I can see any dust movement. I don’t know if it was the improved lighting or the the bin (after all, it made for smaller quarters), but dust was flying left and right. Also, the bin, while huge, didn’t leave much room for turning the guitar to spray the opposite side or edges. I had to be very careful when turning it so that it doesn’t bump the sides of the bin. So overall the bin might have been an improvement, but it didn’t solve the dust problem completely and made spraying even longer. Now my options were to either spray clear and live with the small specks of dust, or finish the guitar in black with no clear.

It’s worth it to segue and discuss why anyone even bothers to spray clear. It makes perfect sense with metallic colors. Sanding them would smear the metal flakes around, so clear must be sprayed and then sanded and buffed. But what about solid colors? Some people say that it makes the color looks deeper and more vibrant and that’s true, but the reason it all started is because Leo Fender did it. Above all, Leo Fender was a businessman, and doing a whole guitar in colored lacquer is more expensive than spraying the minimal amount of color coats and spraying clear. The claims that the color is deeper with clear coat have some grounding. I did an experiment on my guitar by sanding down the clear in one spot all the way to the black, and then wet sanded and polished it. I also wet sanded and polished a spot that had clear coat. The polished clear over black did appear shinier, but I thought the difference was very minimal. It was so insignificant that it didn’t show at all in a picture, and it took looking it under several different lights to see the difference. (It should be noted, though, that the ultimate test is to have two larger pieces of wood painted differently and see how they compare.) Anyway, since I’m not a fan of super shiny finishes and I’m an even lesser fan of sanding out dust after every coat, I decided to finish the guitar with 4 more coats of black and no clear.

As of the writing of this post, I’m halfway through wet sanding (it’s been three weeks yesterday since I finished spraying), and there are some problems, but that’s for the next post.