Glossy finish using foam polishing pads

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Issue 244 June 04, 2015

After an unsuccessful finish repair, this guitar’s owner sent it to Dan Erlewine to fix the damage. Using a neat trick he learned from Erick Coleman, Dan builds the finish fast with films of dried lacquer. Then he polishes it with a hand drill and foam pads.

About the guitar in this video: This is a 2011 Les Paul Historic

In this Trade Secrets video:
  • A nasty divot in the finish from sanding too deep
  • Dodging with a spray gun for pinpoint accuracy
  • Dried lacquer films for quickly building the finish
  • Buffing to a good gloss with foam polishing pads

Video Transcription

[on-screen text reads: Stewart-MacDonald - Trade Secrets! Good Gloss with Foam Pads]

Nasty divot in the finish

Dan Erlewine: The owner of this two year old, Les Paul historic got a ding in the peg head and made the mistake of trying to sand it out and fix it himself. And he dug himself a hole. Then I had to dig him back out and I did. It's looking almost perfect, but I'll tell you, when it came in, it looked like this. And you can see that divot right down to the bare wood, which is the Holly that the peg head's overlaid with.

Dodging with spray gun for pinpoint accuracy

So what I did was feather sand out the lacquer to break that hard edge of the pit. And then I sprayed black lacquer that I mixed with clear lacquer, black ColorTone Stain, and black ColorTone Lacquer Pigment in an airbrush [on-screen text reads: Colortone Stains + Pigments]. And I used this piece of paper to dodge it, that way you spray through the hole and you only hit the area that you want. And I wanted to stay away from the Les Paul decal because it's right on the surface and it's very weak to begin with.

Using dried lacquer films to build the finish

If you're doing a big fill like this, and you want to get a lot of lacquer to fill quickly, take a pipette and pull some unthin lacquer out of the jar and drip it on a piece of Teflon. This is StewMac Teflon Fret Dam, let it harden, and you'll get a piece of film that's pure lacquer, but quite thick.

And you can spray a little thinner on the spot and lay this into it and it will melt down in. Spray and sand, spray and sand, always trying to not sand away, the Les Paul decal. When I'd sprayed all the clear than I needed, I sanded that final coat out with 1200 dry. And then I sprayed a flash coat to melt it all out.

That's what I learned at Gibson back in the '60s, the flash coat is four parts thinner to one part lacquer and a little lacquer retard I've thrown in, especially if the wood is humid. You need to give it extra time to dry then. This final coat has dried over a week. That's plenty of time. A week to 10 days is what I give it.

Sanding and buffing to a high gloss

I'm going to sand it out with 1500 paper before I buff it. And when I sand at this stage, I don't like to wrap my sandpaper around the block like it's often done. I don't like that round edge. It can pick up its own grit and make scratches. What I like is to use double-stick tape and tape the paper to the sanding block, leaving the edge just slightly upturn like a ski [on-screen text reads: Micro-Mesh Foam Sanding Block]. So I'm sanding flat.

That's good enough. And I'm starting with a flat small pad and a course compound [on-screen text reads: Foam Polishing Pads]. Make sure to mark your foam page so you know what compound was used on it encase you can't tell later [on-screen text reads: ColorTone Polishing Compound]. I went from the brown course to medium on that cone wheel. And I think that did it. Then I'm just cleaning up with some Swirl Remover on a piece of lint-free cloth.

You can use swirl remover on a foam pad too if you want to. This is looking good enough. I don't want to waste another pad right now. That's a little preservation polish, and I'm real happy with this. And I didn't have to go to a big buffer. I did it all right here with a hand drill. He's going to love it.



Dan Erlewine

Guitar Repairman and Builder

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