Mod Squad(4)

October 20, 2005

Meet the Mod Squad’s resident hippie, Jonah Powell. Hailing from northern Michigan, Powell was only half an octave away from receiving his master’s degree in opera at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, when he quit school to join the Mod Squad. As do all mod-squaders, Powell learns the craft on his own guitars or those of his friends. One of his early assignments was to match the color and touch up the finish on his metallic blue Les Paul Studio. It’s a plain-Jane, but cool, LP model, and it was relatively inexpensive since he bought it with a messed-up peghead.

Following my advice, and insistence that he use only inexpensive tools that would be readily accessible to a D.I.Y.-er, Powell pulled off a great repair all by his lonesome self (well, almost). Great job, Jonah! You can stay another year.

[1] When Powell bought the guitar, the previous owner had already repaired the broken peghead. It was a good glue job, which is unusual. The bare wood area had been rough-sanded, but no one had touched up the paint. The photo shows the peghead after Powell smoothed the area with Unigrit sandpaper. Unlike CAMI grade North American sandpapers, Unigrit sandpapers are P-graded in the European fashion and have more uniform abrasive grit, which leaves fewer scratches.

[2] “I enlarged and feathered out the sanded area well away from the actual break,” says Powell, “starting with 220-grit sandpaper, then switching to 320- and 400-grit papers.” The sandpapers Powell used were non-loading, meaning they are designed to sand for quite a while without filling up with finish. “I clean the sandpaper with a toothbrush at times. Also, the scraps of wool carpet that we have on our shop benches are perfect for most sandpaper cleaning. I just brush the sandpaper over the carpet to unload it,” he says. After sanding the back and sides of the peghead, Powell feathered the sanding to the 5th fret, and degreased the area with Naphtha, creating a clean surface for the new finish to bond to.

[3] To match the color, Powell picked up a couple of bottles of nail polish that looked to be the right color. He was already at the salon for a perm (just kidding, those curls are natural). Mixed together, the two metallic-blue colors were an excellent color match.

[4] “First I used the mixture to drop-fill the bare wood dents and dings,” says Powell. “I applied the lacquer with plastic toothpicks that have an angled tip on one end. They make a perfect applicator for placing relatively thick lacquer into a nick or scratch. You need to drop the lacquer into the dent—you don’t want to brush it or spread it around. Drop-fills, being fairly thick, need overnight drying before they can be scraped, filed, and sanded.”

[5] After the guitar dried overnight, Powell prepared to spray, adding his color into clear lacquer in a small airbrush spray jar. He also added some lacquer thinner, at a ratio of about 50/50. “If you are only planning on doing this job once, don’t bother investing much in spray equipment,” he says. “Tons of mail-order tool catalogs sell disposable air brushes, and you can even find them in hobby shops and tool outlets for about $12. That’s what I’m using here.”

[6] Some show-off with lots of spraying experience (me) showed Powell how to use the cheap little airbrush. I made sure he practiced on scrap wood before I let him spray his own neck. He was proud when I said that his color match was perfect!

[7] Powell let the color coat dry overnight. The next day, he sprayed on several coats of clear gloss aerosol lacquer, waiting at least an hour between coats. Since it was a beautiful day, and he was only spraying a small area, Jonah did his spraying out the shop door. Jonah was a happy hippie for sure as he sanded out the final clear coat with 1200-grit wet sanding paper. He then buffed out the finish by hand with medium and fine polishing compounds. When the job was done, I marveled at how good the guitar looked.

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