How to mix colors to match a Fender 2-tone sunburst

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Issue 328 April 04, 2019

Finishing recipe from Dan Erlewine: Dan shows how to mix up the amber and brown-black colors that recreate one of the favorite sunbursts seen on early Fenders!

In this Trade Secrets video:

Video Transcription

[on-screen text reads: StewMac tools + ideas for guitarmaking]

How to mix colors for a Fender 2-tone sunburst

Dan Erlewine: Here's a Stratocaster with the 1950s, two-tone Sunburst on it. Later on they came out with a red in it that was a three tone, but a lot of us just loved this original two-tone burst, which is an amber yellow base coat and a very dark brown Sunburst. It's not black. Fender called this Dark Salem Maple. This is my own strat. In 1992 when I was doing a Guitar Player magazine interview with Albert Collins, the great blues player and a hero of mine, he signed it for me at a concert. So it's really special to me.

And in our finishing book, Guitar Finishing Step-by-Step, written by Don MacRostie and myself, we use this guitar for recipe number 32 on a two-tone burst. And it's right there in the book, in the color pages, same guitar. Like I said, this is not one color or another. It's not a brown and it's not a black, it's a mix. Same for the amber. This is a yellowish brown. So what do you do when you have colors that you can't get in a spray can or off the shelf? You have to mix your own. And that's what I'm going to do here.

We made a cheat sheet to go along with this Trade Secrets recipe 32, and it's pulled right from that finishing book. The download link is in the video description. And by the way, if you're into this kind of work, click on the subscribe button while you're watching. You're going to want to protect your work area so you don't get lacquer and colors all over your good work bench. And since we're using a color that doesn't come in a spray can, I'm going to be spraying with the Preval Sprayer Units. You have the power charger that goes right on top of the jar, so you can fill the jar with your own color and then spray.

The body we're going to spray today belongs to one of my repair students, Blake. One bit of advice I have for Blake, and I told him, is that to use a Preval for a Sunburst is a little risky because you might get some speckles or spattering. If you wanted to go to a solid color and mix your own, you could get a really nice color job with Preval. But he's going to stick to the Sunburst and we'll see how it comes out.

Dan's vintage amber toner mix

First we make the yellow toner. That's going to be two ounces of lemon yellow [on-screen text reads: 2 Oz. Lemon Yellow Liquid Stain]. It's almost the whole bottle, but this makes a lot, you'll be putting the cap on this later and saving it for the future. Next I want four and a half ounces of lacquer thinner. That's a lot of thinner because this is a thin coat. You don't want a heavy coat of lacquer at this stage on a guitar. Now we want two and a half ounces of clear gloss lacquer. Now this is a bit more yellow than I want. I want it a little bit of a brown tint to it. And I'm going to use a very small amount of medium brown ColorTone [on-screen text reads: Few Drops Medium Brown Liquid Stain]. Perfect. It's kind of a yellow brown. We have a tint called vntage amber. This is my own version of a vintage amber. It's a yellow, transparent, lacquer toner. Not a lot of lacquer, lot of thinner and a lot of color. That's good for a number of Sunburst. Take her away.

Blake: Looks good to me.

Dan Erlewine: He went a little overboard. You really don't even have to spray it on the sides because that's going to be all blackish brown. Then he put about three coats of clear lacquer over this. Give us a good finish to spray the Sunburst on. Before I spray this, I want mask off the top because he's going to go around and spraying the sides all the way around into the cutaways and that will put over spray all over the guitar. A Sunburst you can spray off the instrument. You can have the gun here and go around, shoot that way. But on the rims you can't. So to be neat and clean, I'm going to paper this off and I'm cutting little holes in this so I can tape it down this way it won't have a whole bunch of tape sitting on it finished for too long. Cause tapes have a lot of sticky adhesive in them. And on fresh lacquer that can leave an imprint sometimes I think this will help us out a lot.

So now we're at the brown black shader stage. A shader is different than a toner. It's not transparent, it's made out of a pigment. This is black lacquer soluble ColorTone Pigment. It's real thick and very strong. Before we can make it, we have to make black lacquer. Black lacquer is the same lacquer that you would spray on a Les Paul peghead overlay. Or if you wanted to spray a black Stratocaster, you'd use black lacquer and you can mix that yourself.

Dan's brown-black shader mix

I'm going to make a small amount, two ounces of it, I don't need a ton and I need to get about one eighth of an ounce of pigment [on-screen reads: 1/8 Oz Black Liquid Pigment]. There's a little black line down there. That's good. Now I'm going to use a tiny bit of thinner [on-screen text reads: Few Drops Lacquer Thinner] to start getting this mixture into a little slurry. I want to cut this heavy, thick pigment into the thinner. I'm stirring it, this way it goes into the lacker faster and easier. Now I want two ounces of clear gloss lacquer, I'm going to stir that into the black, pick up any extra black that I didn't get. There's black lacquer.

Now we can make our brown shader, Salem Maple. For the Salem Shader, I'm using brown pigmented stain [on-screen text reads: 1/4 Oz Brown Liquid Pigment]. I need quarter ounce, it's like melted chocolate. To that, I'm going to add a third of ounce of the black lacquer that we made. That's not like adding black pigment. That would be way too strong. This is thinned down. It'll add black, but not as strong as a pigmented concentrate. This is going to need a little bit of lacquer thinner, just to thin them out a bit [on-screen text reads: Few Drops Lacquer Thinner]. Just a splash of soda. Get all that good stuff I can. Now we want four ounces of lacquer [on-screen text reads: 4 Oz Clear Gloss Lacquer], so I'm going to go right up to the five ounce mark. And this is ready to spray lacquer, so it's already got thinner in it. If it didn't, it could be too thick to spray. Brownish black, it's just the perfect tone. And now we're ready to Sunburst dark Salem maple. That's pretty darn good for your first Sunburst, man.

Blake: Yeah, I'm pretty happy with it. Still got some of the speckles you're talking about, so it's not as perfect as your Albert Collins.

Dan Erlewine: It's the second best looking one.

Blake: It's right.

Dan Erlewine: Yeah.

Blake: Yep. I can't wait to finish it up.

Dan Erlewine: Good job, buddy.

Blake: Thanks.



Dan Erlewine

Guitar Repairman and Builder

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