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Thread: Simon B's ES-3 build

  1. #1
    GAStronomist Simon Barden's Avatar
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    Oct 2016
    Reading, UK

    Simon Barden's ES-3 build

    I'm up to day 51 of my ES-3 guitar build already, although a lot of this has been waiting for stuff to dry, a week's vacation, plus waiting for decent weather (as I need to work outside a lot). So the first few posts here will be some catching up before it becomes live.

    Day 1. 11th September 2106. I'd ordered the kit a few weeks before this, and once it came (very quickly considering it had to come half-way across the world to the UK), I then spent some time buying what I thought I'd need to build it (and have since bought an awful lot more!). So day 1 is when I'd finished thinking about things and trying things out and actually got down to it's construction.

    The neck/body join when I had first tried it, wasn't that good e.g. there was a gap of around 3 mm between the heel and the bottom of the cutaway. So I was thinking that I'd have to work out what surfaces to sand back and by how much, in order to get a good fit. But as the days passed, the fit became better and better as the wood settled down after its travels, and eventually the fit became pretty good with maybe a 0.5mm gap at worst in places. Also, the angles the neck made to the body came back to what I'd expected, both in pitch and also with respect to the centreline of the guitar, so that by taking a straight edge and placing it along the edges of the fretboard, both edges were pointing at almost the same relative position on the drilled holes for the bridge posts.

    The neck pitch is such that there's not a great deal of height between a flat edge placed along the fretboard and the body at the position the bridge will go, which made me decide to run with a fixed tune-o-matic bridge rather than an ES-175 style floating tune-o-matic, as there just wouldn't have been enough height to fit one in (even modified) and get a decent action on the guitar.

    So here's the basic guitar body and neck after its initial sanding:

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    Day 2. Before I went any further, I knew I'd have to shape the headstock. I tried to think of an original design but I'm not so good at that these days, so I drew a loose approximation to a Gibson one, then got the router out, followed by the Dremel drum sander and ended up with something fairly symmetrical and pleasing to my eye:

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    The general condition of the guitar body was quite good, though there were various areas with obvious grain holes, especially around the edges. So after doing the headstock, day 2 was grain filling time, here are the body and neck hanging up to dry following the application of 'transparent' oil-based grain filler:

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    This requires several days to dry, so I left it a week before sanding it down nice and smooth (a long day's work!). It was only after applying the grain filler that I realised that there were both water and oil-based fillers and that oil-based fillers weren't supposed to take a stain (D'oh!). But I tried staining a test piece of wood that I'd put grain filler on, and it seemed to take it OK, so I decided to give it a go, starting with the sides.

    I must state that at this point I had decided to try and achieve an older Gibson jazz box style gentle yellow > red > brown sunburst on the top and back, but wasn't sure whether to burst the sides or have them a solid colour (like a typical ES-175). I have the StuMac guitar finishing book, so decided to stain the guitar yellow as the base colour, and spray everything else on top of that.

    So days 10 and 11 were staining days, with this the end result:

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    And on to the next post...
    Last edited by Simon Barden; 05-06-2020 at 04:27 AM.

  2. #2
    GAStronomist Simon Barden's Avatar
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    Oct 2016
    Reading, UK
    Day 13. After staining I left it to dry for another day before sanding it down and spraying it with a couple of coats of clear amber from a rattle can that I had left over from working on another guitar, partly to protect the wood and partly to take the edge off the yellow and make it a bit darker.

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    The grain in the top and back was looking quite nice and detailed. However the sides weren't quite so good. Had I done a burst finish on the sides, the areas which are traditionally light had various light marks in the wood running from side to side - either stress-marks from being bent or else due to the timber planing process - so at this point I decided that they were going to be finished in a nice and simple dark tobacco.

    It is also that this point that I was now held up by the fact that I hadn't actually got the air compressor and spray gun that I needed to complete the job. So it was time to investigate compressors and spray guns and matching them up and buying all the associated useful bits and pieces.

    So due to various delays due to the wrong bits getting delivered and chasing up non-call returning suppliers, I finally got my compressor and spray gun (plus vapour masks, goggles and gloves etc.) up and running on day 22 (3rd October) and ran over the guitar with several coats of clear lacquer.

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    It was now that I realised that my spray gun was oversized for the job (1.4mm2 nozzle), and was getting through lacquer at an alarming rate, so I ordered a mini spray gun (0.8mm2 nozzle) which came the next day. This has proved to be good for general spraying plus much better for the more detailed work (and far easier on the lacquer supplies), though the bigger one is good for getting nice even clear coats on.

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    With several clear coats on, the body was now looking pretty tasty on the top and back:

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    But despite calls from friends to leave it plain as a result, the issues with the sides and with things like the neck heel blocks being very visible...

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    ...convinced me that I was still going to sunburst it so that I could cover up these areas.

    The guitar now had to wait a few days for the lacquer to harden enough so that I could sand it down to a nice flat finish. After a good deal of wet sanding, there were still a few areas where there were still small dimples. Not wanting to start sanding through to the amber lacquer, I filled these areas in with clear lacquer using a small brush, sanded down, and repeated until I knew the guitar was nice and smooth with no glossy dimples showing up under an oblique light.

    So it was time to start sunbursting....

  3. #3
    GAStronomist Simon Barden's Avatar
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    Oct 2016
    Reading, UK
    Day 37. 17th October. Back from holidays, so it's time for more spraying.

    Longish day, so had time to apply the cherry:

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    And the first lot of tobacco:

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  4. #4
    GAStronomist Simon Barden's Avatar
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    Oct 2016
    Reading, UK
    Day 38. The lull before the storm...

    I finished spraying the tobacco so that the edges were dark, as were there areas around the neck pocket ...

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    ...but I wasn't quite happy with the evenness of the tobacco on the back. Some of the slight patches in the photo are just shadow, but it didn't look quite right.

    Day 39. So I tried tidying the back up with a bit of light sanding to thin out some of the burst areas, which didn't work well and I just ended up with a solid edge between the colours in areas.

    So I sprayed again to repair the back. I wasn't feeling great that day, my head was rather fuzzy and I knew I shouldn't have done anything - but it's autumn here and the nights are drawing in and the days are getting colder, so I wanted to press on whilst the weather was good.

    The back got a touch more tobacco and looked OK, but I then decided to 'seal' the back and front with a quick clear coat - which was fine until I scratched the front all through the sunburst to the base coat in a long wiggly line whilst hanging the body up to dry (the solvent in the lacquer had softened the paint underneath).

    I said a few rude words. (Actually I said rather a lot of very rude words).

    When I was feeling better on day 42, I had a go at repairing the top, first with a paintbrush for the scratched areas and then with spray over the top. And then I stood back...

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    OK, I've seen factory made guitars with worse finishes but it just wasn't right.

    So after getting a bit on urging on from my mates, it was time to strip the top and start again.

    It took the best part of two days to sand the top down. I probably should have stopped a bit sooner, but some of the lacquer was really well attached and wasn't being affected by hand sanding (and I didn't want to use too coarse a grade of paper to avoid putting deep scratches in the wood that would be hard to remove). So I got an electric detail sander which made life a lot easier, except that I then put some deep scratches in the wood that were hard to remove. As a result, I was pretty much at bare wood again all over, and had even taken the top layer of ply off in a couple of areas (which luckily would be darker areas when repainted).

    Although the body is supposed to be basswood, I suspect that the outer ply is probably something like birch (but am happy to be corrected) to get the grain figuring. But the basswood underneath is pretty featureless and fine grained, so I stopped sanding before I'd got quite all the old lacquer off, just leaving a very fine layer in places, just in case I sanded through in places that would be visible later. So I got it back to this:

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    Which some people loved in a shabby chic sort of way. But it wasn't staying like that!

  5. #5
    GAStronomist Simon Barden's Avatar
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    Oct 2016
    Reading, UK
    ...The lacquer on the body meant that I wasn't going to be able to use my water-based stain on the top, so all colour would have to be from the amber tinted lacquer. So I first applied a couple of coats of heavily thinned clear lacquer as a sanding sealer:

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    You can see how in some areas it's sunk heavily into the grain. So I used a brush to spot fill those areas with lacquer, often needing two applications, until the top was fairly even. Then a sand down to get rid of most of the high spots leaving only a few small low areas, then some amber coats then around 6 clear coats and by the end of day 46 it was back to this:

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    The lack of stain and all the sanding has lost me some of the grain detail, but there is still enough to keep it interesting.

    So then it was time to sand it all back to flat again and then by close of play on day 48, I'd finished sunbursting the top:

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    This generally seems to get a seal of approval from all my friends who've seen the picture, and it probably is slightly better than the original - though I could quite happily have lived with either of them.

    What I had put off until this time was deciding what to do the headstock face. I'd already seen photos of some wonderful inlay and binding work by people on this forum before signing up here. I'd got the StuMac routing adapter for my Dremel and had a go at cutting out designs, but I wasn't impressed with my results. A lot more practice was going to be needed before I tried anything fancy, so decided to keep it simple.

    I ended up getting a sheet of 0.15mm thick mother-of-pearl, cutting a simple design out with a scalpel and sticking it on the headstock face. The idea was then to build up the paint on the headstock until it reached the level of the MOP, then sand it all back flat.

    Here was the headstock a few days ago (day 48):

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    Not the best photo but you should be able to see the outline of the MOP under the paint (I was scraping the paint off the MOP after each spray).

    It's now day 51 and this log has caught up with reality. Today (31st October) I've sprayed the headstock a couple more times and after masking off the top and back of the guitar have been spraying the sides tobacco. I tried to do it with the guitar flat and the sides vertical but had a couple of runs as a result, so I'm ignoring those for the moment and will spray another couple of coats (hopefully tomorrow if it's not too cold) before letting it harden and then sand back the sides so that the finish is flat.

    Unfortunately, it's getting too cold to spray well - ideally it would be over 20C - but it's more like 13C today and it's supposed to be getting colder for the next few days at least. One of the reasons for the paint running as it's slower to dry. Last year we had some 20C days in November, so I'm hoping for a warm patch to allow me to continue with the spraying. Almost impossible for me to heat the garage up as I need the door and window open for ventilation (and with the compressor outside). I'm so close to fitting the neck and spraying the last clear coats, after which everything else can be done inside!

  6. #6
    Overlord of Music Andy40's Avatar
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    Oct 2015
    Nice work Simon. great write up. I know exactly how you felt...but sometimes you just have to do it from scratch again. Looks much better the second time around.

    At first I didn't understand the rush then I realised I bet its starting to get cold fast over there...sorry we are just entering summer...., plenty more spray days over here.
    Build #1 - ST-1 - Completed
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  7. #7
    GAStronomist Simon Barden's Avatar
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    Oct 2016
    Reading, UK
    Yes, ideally I'd have a nice heated workshop with a proper spray booth - but it's not going to happen (unless I win the lottery).

  8. #8
    Overlord of Music andrewdosborne's Avatar
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    May 2014
    Sydney, NSW
    Great thread Simon this is looking great. Awesome sunburst

    Sent from my Moto G (4) using Tapatalk
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    #Planning 5 String Bass

  9. #9
    Overlord of Music Fretworn's Avatar
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    May 2013
    Hornsby Area, Sydney, NSW
    Wow Simon, it must have takes a lot of commitment to sand back that first burst and start again. Many would have just said they would have to live with it. But the result is what is going to be a very pretty guitar.

    First Act ME276 (resurrected curb-side find)
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  10. #10
    GAStronomist FrankenWashie's Avatar
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    Jan 2016
    Glebe, NSW
    Nice save and kudos on the well written and detailed Build Diary! This one is looking to be a doozy, great job.
    Hand crafting guitars, because Death Rays are expensive.

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