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more... GuitarsGearDIYSeptember 2008

Building an Esquire for Under a Grand

Monica from Callaham won the “most expedient shipper” award, beating everyone by a wide margin, though to be fair, Scott from Musikraft made no bones about needing to manufacture my neck and body and I had no desire to rush him. Opening the box reaffirmed that Callaham was the right choice; all of the parts were carefully packaged and marked. Pulling the pre-wired control plate assembly from the box, I was particularly impressed; all of the soldering was spot-on and every bit of hardware exuded a very high level of quality – the Bakelite pickguard even had the circular spray mark underneath.

Musikraft kept the anticipation high with in-progress pictures of my body and neck

The next highly anticipated package to arrive was from Bare Knuckle pickups, with some added goodies thrown in, namely a set of Rotosounds. Once freed from the foam inserts, my jaw pretty much dropped from the level of craft and workmanship Tim places in his pickups. In fact, I grabbed the Callaham bridge and screwed in the Flat ‘50 pickup just for grins; the resulting combination had the same substantial feel as a really nice watch. A box from ReRanch showed up on one of many of this spring’s stormy days, but everything was well packed and survived the hour or so in the rain. Plus, there would be plenty of drying time while waiting for the neck and body to arrive.

Finally, after being taunted by Scott’s intermittent pictorial updates of my guitar’s progress, a package arrived from Musikraft. Of course, the first thing I did after opening the box was gently place the parts on the unfinished body to get a sense of how it would eventually look. I spent the rest of the evening poring over the tutorials on, reading through “ReRanch 101,” “Solid Colors, Metallic and Blonde” and “Fender Neck Refinishing” repeatedly, hoping some of it would stick.

I started off the following day by applying grain filler. Luckily, I had recently visited the Hamer workshop and had the good fortune of watching this exact process performed by someone who knows what they’re doing. The trick is knowing when the filler has flashed so the excess can be wiped off without being pulled from the grain. I started by mixing the filler with an errant chopstick, then applied the goo with my fingers. Once it flashed, I wiped across grain to remove the excess with some cheesecloth I picked up at the local hardware store. The next day the body was dry enough to hit with some #220 sandpaper. As with the entire process, good lighting is your friend, as is a jug of mineral spirits – a good wipe-down before sanding can make things easier. The light revealed that I hadn’t done the greatest job, so I slathered on another dollop of grain filler and repeated the process. Once I was happy with the results, it was time to spray some sanding sealer.

Spray and Pray
Applying sanding sealer involves shooting a coat, then after it dries to the touch – ten minutes or so – shooting another coat and letting it dry thoroughly overnight. I set up an impromptu spray area in my garage by hanging a repurposed coat hanger from a staircase. The idea is to build the sanding sealer up, then sand it the following day with some #220 to knock off all of the shiny spots, then repeating the process. According to ReRanch’s instructions, after the second coat, you again knock off all of the shinny spots with #220, then bring it up to #320, repeating the process if there are any sandthroughs. I sanded through on the sides a couple of times, adding a few extra days to this process, too.
The Difference Between a Coat and a Pass, According to ReRanch:

“Perhaps now would be a good time to explain “coat” and “pass.” A pass is just that – one spray pass. A coat is a number of passes, from 1 to ?. In the technique used to develop these pages, a coat is typically three passes. Sometimes two will sufficiently wet out a small area and sometimes four will be used. Five approaches foolhardiness. Six will almost always guarantee a run.

“If you are using a gun that is adjustable, a typical setting would be the fan set wide enough to cover about half the area to be sprayed and air pressure at 20 to 30 psi. Liquid feed is set to allow you to wet the area by slowing down the gun’s movement. The setting should lean more to light. A wetter spray setting may force you to move the gun faster to prevent runs. Control the tool – do not let it control you.”

In the meantime, I started on the neck. ReRanch suggests shooting the tint after the sanding sealer has been applied. Musikraft will ship bare necks, but they strongly suggest purchasing their necks with “sealed wood stabilizer.” I followed their advice when ordering, then called Scott to see what this finish would need. He let me know that it was safe to start as if it was sanding sealer and to just give the neck a quick wipe with naptha before spraying the tint.

Shooting the tint proved to be one of the bigger challenges of this project. Comprised of a dye in solvent, additional coats had a tendency to burn down and cause previous coats to run when sprayed too thickly. ReRanch recommends a light coat of lacquer when you think the color is close to “set” the tint and make sure the shade is to your liking. I did several things wrong with the neck during this process; the first was starting an operation as delicate as shooting tint before I had done much more than spray sanding sealer. Secondly, my work area didn’t have the greatest lighting, making the detection of subtle changes in shade – let alone the depth of the pass – more of a challenge. After a couple of spot repairs, the neck was ready for clear. I decided to set it aside and finish up once I was done with the body since they shared a workspace and I could use the added spraying and sanding experience.

Returning my attention to the body, I began spraying color. ReRanch suggests allowing the grain to be obscured by 50 percent. Shooting a few light practice coats on a scrap piece of wood showed that at that level of opacity the body’s beautiful grain would be too obscured for my liking. I shot a couple of light coats on the body until I achieved the color I wanted – just a touch darker than my Custom Shop Nocaster – while allowing the handsome grain to show through. The Butterscotch Blonde lacquer was deceptively easy to apply; once dry, there were just a few spots of uneven color which were touched up easily enough.

The next step was spraying clear, which happened to coincide with a nasty spill on my motorcycle. The requisite crutches had the potential to jeopardize the project – how would they affect this important step? The answer, in a word, was “positively.” The crutches – along with the pain medication – dictated that I take my time. The result was a less rushed and more thorough finish than if I had normal mobility.

I began spraying the clear per ReRanch’s instructions: spray in a clean, well ventilated area; learn the difference between a coat and a pass (see page 133); keep a tack rag handy; find the right distance away from the wood to get the right coverage; and follow the “rule of threes”: a coat is typically three passes, wait at least three hours between coats and shoot three coats a day, using a tack cloth before each coat. The final three pertains to the minimum amount of days typically needed to shoot a good finish. After drying overnight, the body is then ready for sanding, starting with #400, #600 then finally #800 before starting a new day of spraying. I wish I could say everything went smoothly, but that would be lying. Sand-throughs were all too common; in fact I don’t recall a day of not needing to touch up spots where I sanded through the color coat. While this typically added an extra day to the process, fortunately, I had nothing but time. There are a couple of touched-up sand-throughs where the Blonde is more opaque than I would have preferred, but ultimately, they aren’t that noticeable. To avoid running into the same problem, make sure the lacquer is going on evenly, block sand everything – Styrofoam makes great sanding blocks for wet-sanding – and make sure your sanding area is well-lit. It makes the entire process much easier.
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