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Thread: Taking the finish off an ES style guitar

  1. #1
    Mentor fender3x's Avatar
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    Taking the finish off an ES style guitar

    I would like to remove the finish from an ES style bass using the quickest, most environmentally friendly approach possible. Hoping that I can approximate at least one of those two goals...

    It's covered in Duplicolor primer, paint and clearcoat. It was soft for a long time, but never really got super hard. It no longer dents when I put a clip-on tuner on the headstock, but it feels a bit rubbery. It also comes off easily--and has anywhere that a stand has touched it. I am guessing that the high Florida heat and humidity did me no favors when I was finishing it.

    I am guessing that I'll need to take it down to bare wood. My inclination would be to sand it flat and then re-finish over the top in a solid color...but the finish just doesn't seem hard enough to do that.

    So, if that's the case, how do I get it down to bare wood most expeditiously? I am guessing that heat and chemicals are mostly out because they are likely to damage the binding.

    That leaves sanding, but there are all these curves.... I am open to suggestions about how to tackle this. I have orbital and non orbital palm sanders. I have an angle grinder that I could attach a flap sanding wheel to, but I am guessing that's too aggressive. Would be grateful for some advice on grits to get the paint off quickly but not go through the wood.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    GAStronomist Simon Barden's Avatar
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    On my ES-1 to remove the Tru-Oil finish, I just used power tools where I could, mainly my orbital sander with 180 grit paper and then just a lot of hand sanding.

    https://www.buildyourownguitar.com.a...l=1#post165686

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by fender3x View Post
    That leaves sanding, but there are all these curves.... I am open to suggestions about how to tackle this. I have orbital and non orbital palm sanders. I have an angle grinder that I could attach a flap sanding wheel to, but I am guessing that's too aggressive. Would be grateful for some advice on grits to get the paint off quickly but not go through the wood.
    Er yeh... unless you are carving, stay away from the flap disk.. ROS as Simon suggested, although I'd be inclined to use 120 grit rather than 180. It would work just slower.

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    Mentor fender3x's Avatar
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    I was afraid of that... In fact it's worse than I thought. I was hoping to be able to start with 80 or 100 grit. I am not trying to save the veneer. Just don't want to sand through the wood.

    BTW, I remember that build well.

  5. #5
    Overlord of Music McCreed's Avatar
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    What are you planning to refinish with?

    If you're going to paint again, you don't have to get down to 100% bare timber all over. You'll need to do primer again anyway, so as long as any residual paint is well adhered and abraded, you can prime over it safely.
    Making the world a better place; one guitar at a time...

  6. #6
    GAStronomist Simon Barden's Avatar
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    Iíd use 180 on the ROS to start with as a) the finish isnít hard (the reason itís being removed) and b) it is a curved, not flat, body, so it is very easy to sand too much off on the sharper curves. If its taking a long time, then switch to 120. My ES-1 Tru-Oil was very hard indeed, but a softer finish shouldn't take too long to get a lot off with a ROS. After that move to hand sanding for the finer details and concave areas. You can move to coarser grits here to start with as itís done by hand so a lot easier to control how much is removed.

    As you've already had a paint reaction and non-hardening, Iíd take all the finish off so you can truly start afresh. You donít know how the primer will react with any remaining paint. It may be fine, but it may not and you then end up in the same situation. For the sake of a bit more effort, Iíd want to be as sure as possible of it working.

  7. #7
    Mentor fender3x's Avatar
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    The top for sure needs a solid color. There are a bunch of patched holes in the top and a botched stain job under the botched paint on the rest. I suspect it will need to get it to bare wood. The paint doesn't stick to the primer that well, nor the primer to the wood, so I think both will need to go. When I've done a bit of test sanding it doesn't come off nice and sandy. It's not quite clumpy, just feels kind of soft.

    I don't have spray equipment but have had pretty good luck luck finishing using MTN94 spray paints. They are great for drip control, very forgiving, and sand beautifully flat. They go on sort of like a filling primer, and don't need an undercoat of primer.

    I may try the ROS on the top and back and headstock...maybe on the neck too? I don't want to change the shape, and the ROS is pretty aggressive. Probably more inclined to use the palm sander on the sides. Not as quick but more controllable. These ES's were not designed with refinishing in mind. They seem to have concave surfaces everywhere. The only truly flat surfaces seem to be on the headstock.

    Seems a shame to take the guitar apart when I finally get it playing and sounding to my liking, but sanding seems the next order of business.... so asŪ es la vida as they say in my wife{s culture.

    Thanks! I was hoping there'd be an easier way, but at least I can go at it knowing that elbow grease is the only viable option!
    Last edited by fender3x; 16-11-2021 at 09:41 AM.

  8. #8
    180 grit may be the way to go. I was using 240 grit on the blade for the axe bass and it was surprising how much timber it was removing in fairly short order, and that was on hard maple. Be prepared to have lots of disks on hand, if the paint is soft it is also probably gummy and will clog the paper in fairly short order.

  9. #9
    Mentor JimC's Avatar
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    I think I might try scraping before I got into sandpaper if the finish is as dubious as you suggest, at least to get down to the primer. Trouble is you really need a scraper with a convex blade to avoid corners of a scraper digging in.
    Build #1, failed solid body 6 string using neck from a scrapped acoustic (45+ odd years ago as a teenager!)
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    Build #3, Appalachian Dulcimer from EMS kit
    Build #4, pre-owned PB ESB-4
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  10. #10
    Mentor fender3x's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JimC View Post
    I think I might try scraping before I got into sandpaper if the finish is as dubious as you suggest, at least to get down to the primer. Trouble is you really need a scraper with a convex blade to avoid corners of a scraper digging in.
    It doesn't seem to want to scrape off. Maybe just hard enough not to... I may try the scraper on the neck with some heat, though. No binding there to melt there at least....

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