Fixing a cheap guitar – Marble effect

I got rid of this guitar now. Its horrible fret access thanks to the Fenderesque bolt-on neck did it for me. I still have five other guitars that are not played nearly enough, so that’s not too big of a loss.

 

Well, I rarely ever find the need to write about anything, since, unless I do find anything that’s not already on the web (or at least it being hard to find) I usually don’t bother; secondly, while I’d like this blog to be mostly focused on software engineering, I couldn’t really specialise my personal blog to end up containg only a couple of posts, because the answers for most questions and problems in regards to software design and development that I face daily, are already somewhere out there, probably in Stack Overflow along with good to excellent and descriptive solutions.

Having said that, I wouldn’t care for the amount of visitors I get, since my purpose with these posts is the potential help they may provide to someone searching the web for a particular issue I may have commented on, not that I wouldn’t like to have more visitors, but as much as I’d wish to have a popular blog and even make money from it, I prefer spending my personal time on other things rather than writing (and admittedly, there are many better writers out there with far better skills).

Now that we’re done with the excuses about my non-software engineering posts, we can focus to a side project of mine that I’ve been doing for about one month now. So, on August I became the owner of an almost-new Jackson JS32T. Here’s a (stock) picture of it:

262904-1000x1000As a guitar, this is a cheap model; about €300-350 new (supposed you were able to find one), but I liked how well thought out the construction was. The neck is maple with a rosewood fretboard and feels great, almost greatest than all of my other guitars by being thin and “fast”. The body is Indian Cedar (not limited to that, but more on that later) and the rest is what you would expect in a cheap guitar: non-locking tuner, a no-name tune-o-matic bridge (but no tail-piece since it’s a string-through model) and Jackson humbucking pick-ups that are not the worst OEM pick-ups I’ve ever listened to. The only real downside apart from the cheap hardware, was that the previous owner had scratched the shorter pointy edge of the guitar and there was a lot of exposed bare wood. This had to be fixed.

Now, I decided this to be my project guitar. My first attempt on modding it was to change the tuners with LSR ones (details here). The tuners didn’t work out as I had expected, so I’ve put them aside, until I can find a way to replace the tiny screw-head with a proper thumbscrew (will post an update when done). I did however fork out the cash for a set of Schaller locking tuners and I am glad I did.

When I bought said tuners, I had decided to fully mod the guitar by repainting it and replacing all hardware with black painted ones. I had to do something with the pickups as well. They weren’t baaaad, but they were a far-cry from what I would consider great.

I went out and bought a set of EMG HZ H4/H4A ones. Big mistake. I am not sure what was wrong with these pickups, but their lower range was atrocious and their mids were way too intense. I may have assembled them wrongly, but those things are solderless and I am sure I double-checked everything. I pulled them out and installed them in another guitar I had but I’ll probably need to recheck the connections because the other guitar exhibits the same tonal characteristics and I can’t believe they’re really that bad. I had read some reviews online, they weren’t ecstatic but they were positive in general. An important lesson to be had then: if you want passive pickups, go for Seymour Duncans, if you want actives then go for EMG.

I did like the solderless construction of the EMGs because I’m really bad with a soldering iron and as such I forked the cash and bought me a set of EMG 81/85. Indeed, now I had a proper metal sound, with the characteristic compressed dynamics (along with the 18V mod) that EMGs are known for.
Update: I’ve since then replaced this with the HetSet. It’s based on the 81/60 set and sounds a bit clearer (has more of a magnetic pull as well). Not really worth the money to upgrade however.

 

It was time to paint the thing, because the stock colour is boring, plus I had to fix that exposed wood somehow. I thought of weaselling the work away by using a coat of Plasti-Dip. I did. The result was bad because I was bad at spraying Plasti-Dip properly and didn’t want to spend more money on cans “until I got it right”. The good thing about Plasti-Dip  is that it doesn’t affect the guitar’s construction negatively plus it can be removed at will.

I first removed the coloured lacquer using a wide putty knife; the thing had a plastic quality. Then I removed the 2 (or perhaps it was 3) layers of sparkly primer (I am not sure how to describe this) using chemicals, sandpaper and my father (thanks dad!). Now I had a bare wood guitar which unfortunately had a layer of MDF (or something) over the Indian Cedar. I wanted to do a semi-transparent paint-job on the guitar, not unlike what you’d do with a maple top, but that layer wasn’t helping. I thought I could remove it and perhaps apply another layer of wood (4A maple, yeah!) but due to the shape of the guitar, that’d get expensive. Very expensive to be worth it so it had to be some form of opaque paint.

I considered my options and found myself between a satin finish with a teardrop pattern inside (dark green-black to green in the center) or a marble effect which is uncommon on guitars. I settled on the marble effect, since a painter friend who decided to help had the colours required for this job and it would help reduce the total cost. So let’s see how the process goes:

 

Doing the Marble Effect on a Guitar

Here’s what we used (I will omit the volumes, because I didn’t make a note of them; sorry). Also, we used a paint sprayer (also known as a paint gun) and a professional air-compressor for the paints and acrylic colours and lacquer. You could use other methods such as a paintbrush, but I’d advise against using a rattle-can paint, if you want the paint to stay in place for years to come:

1. Primer.
2. Black Matte Base coat.
3. Light Silver paint.
4. Semitransparent Candy paint (we used red, you can use whatever you want).
5. Clear lacquer (we used lacquer for acrylic, your should match the paint type of the other steps).

 

After removing the paint from the guitar, I sanded every part of the surface to even it out. This step isn’t very important and but you shouldn’t skip it despite the primer. I don’t have a photo of this step unfortunately, but I did took advantage of the process to create a small cutway on the guitar by cutting part of it off, the result of which you can see in the photos to follow.

The first step then is to apply the primer and let it dry. When it dries you should try to even out the surface by using first a medium grit sandpaper followed by a wet fine sandpaper. The final result should be very very very smooth:2

After that’s done, it’s time to apply the base coat. We used a compressor-based sprayer and covered the whole guitar with a nice black paint like this:

4 6See how nice and matte the surface is? Despite that, be sure to sand the surface lightly. The point here is not to make the black layer nice and shiny, you have to make it gritty. Also, we completely forgot to sand the black layer at all and we had a bit of a problem getting the candy layer to stick.

The next step is important, because it’s responsible for the marble effect. What you want, is for your guitar to look like this:

8 7Well… kinda. You see, we botched another step by using white paint instead of silver. I won’t go into details about why this happened, but the point is that the white paint creates more contrast in the marble effect which isn’t something you may want, while the silver is subtler and exhibits some limited angle shift effects. You can also use gold paint which will make the end result darker, but might work better with some colour combinations. Nevertheless, the white paint did work well enough; you can see the results in the end.

The technique is simple. You spray a small amount of paint on the guitar, say the area of a hand’s palm (or even double that). Then, before the paint has a chance to dry, take a clean plastic bag and press it on the wet paint, reapplying and crumbling the bag as required. Even if you fail to do it properly, most just-dried paints would allow to bond with a fresh wet layer in order to allow you to retouch the result. Also, make sure that you try and make the end result as chaotic as possible; avoid having patches of pure paint of any layer. If that happens, just reapply paint and “bag it” until you’re satisfied with the results.

Let this layer dry (but do not sand it) and then apply the candy coat. We need to use candy paint in order to take advantage of its semi-transparent nature. You might be able to get away with using a thinned paint, but the paint should be at least metallic if not candy in order to have an acceptable glittery result, otherwise the silver layer won’t look nearly as good. Apply as many layers as you find comfortable. Here’s the guitar after no less than 4 layers of candy paint, one after the other with a 10 minute break between each layer:

bAs you can see, the white layer didn’t cause the damage I thought it would. If it were silver as it should have been though, it’d have lesser contrast and a more sparkly effect. Choose whichever suits your needs!

The next step in the process is to apply the clear coat. Despite the material of your clear coat, make sure that you apply a thick coating (we applied three layers), because when it’s time to smoothen out the surface and buff it, you need to take into account the unevenness created by the silver layer. We followed the 10′ break between layers methodology again and then let it dry for 2 and a half days. You could leave it longer until it cures, but we were OK with the hardness of the lacquer so far.

When the clear coat has dried, it’s time to sand the excess out and polish it. I’ve used the wet sandpaper method here along with lots of patience, followed by a typical guitar surface wax to buff it out. The end result (along with some of the old hardware) is this:

20130917_205323Not bad! I really liked the end result, even though I’d have preferred it a bit darker, only to differentiate it from the original paintjob, but it’s still a great result.

I ordered the new black hardware, 2 sets of ferrules for the string-through parts of the guitar, a roller nut tune-o-matic bridge (I just love these), a Graphtech nut, two black knobs (one with an abalone top, because I liked the contrast) along with a black 3-position switch, a black cover for the input jack and a black metal plate for the neck screws and a pair of black strap poles. The end result is the following:

20130918_213011 20130922_013907 20130922_013840

So there you have it. The guitar sounds great, when I compare it to my ESP LTD EC-1000 on the bridge position the sound is identical (they both have EMG 81 at the bridge with the 18V mod) and I have it permanently tuned it to Standard D. In all of the above photos you can see how the cutout is on the guitar, though in hindsight I should have peeled off more.

That’s all of my guitar modding experience for now, hoped you like the marble technique. If you have any questions about the process, feel free to ask and I’ll answer to the best of my ability.

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