I bought a bass which has definitely seen better days and would like to have a go at rebuilding it. I am primarily interested in taking the pale white lacquer off the body and neck and ending up with an instrument having a natural wood finish (in matte if possible). The questions i would appreciate your help with, are as follows:
1) How can i take the lacquer off? Wet sanding? Other method? If wet sanding it, what sort of grade of sanding paper should i get and what would be the key points to be careful of?
2) Sanding the neck. The neck looks more challenging than the body. I wouldn't like to touch the fret board (take it off, that is)...Any tips about this?
3) Are there any intermediate steps between sanding the instrument and applying the varnish?
4) What sort of varnish or "protective layer" should i apply to the wood once woodworking is finished and how? (apply by hand or using a spray?). I am after a clear matte finish.
Hey there! If you’re already familiar with woodworking, you can make quick work of the finish removal by using scrapers. That is, if you’re certain that it’s a lacquer finish, and not something harder, like Polyurethane or Polyester. If it’s one of the harder finishes, you could use a heat gun and a scraper, but it’s easy to wind up with burn marks on the wood. That would, I imagine, be counterproductive, considering you want a natural finish. There are also various chemical strippers that you can use to remove the existing finish, as well. The issue with that, however, is that it could interfere (stain/get into the grain) with the color of the wood. You can, of course, sand it all off, but forget wetsanding; get some 80 grit and go to town (carefully, of course). Use sanding blocks to keep everything nice and flat.
As far as the fretboard goes; are you sure it’s clearcoated? If so, pull the frets and sand it off using a radius block that matches the fretboard. You could strip the neck, too, but if you have plastic inlays (or binding), the stripper will eat them quickly. If you don’t want to pull the frets, you could scrape the finish from the fretboard with scrapers or utility knife blades, but you run the risk of botching up the radius on the fretboard. So be careful with that.
The entire paint process is a science and an art unto itself; I’d recommend going to www.reranch.com and reading their article called Refinishing 101. It’ll answer a ton of questions, for sure.
As far as the final finish goes, the easiest would be to oil it. I’d recommend gunstock oil (also called Tru-oil). It’ll give you the finish you’re after while allowing the wood to breathe, so to speak.
All of that aside, remember that there’s a reason why guitars/basses get painted with solid colors; what you’re going to find under the color most likely will not be gorgeous wood. You may find that the body is multiple pieces of uninteresting looking wood. You may not, but keep it in mind. Have fun!