Bass Renovation Day 2

Bass Renovation Day 2

Removing the varnish and first sanding.


I started today checking out YouTube for ways to remove old varnish.  You tube is full of videos about this and there are a dearth of good quality shipwright restoring old boats.  These are invaluable as generally the finish they are after is durable and not unlike the finish required to really make your guitar sparkle. I decided that the best way to do the stripping was to use a heat gun and putty knife.  The original blade I was going to use in the first picture was actually too sharp for this and I didn’t think the plastic handle would cope with the extreme heat.  In the video I watched HERE, the guy used a putty knife but I decided on a wallpaper scraper, first because I already had one, and secondly, I figured the size of the blade would dissipate the heat a bit more gently.  In the event I was proved right but I didn’t really gain any speed advantage due to the width of the blade as only the varnish that is hot comes off, and since I had a fairly narrow nozzle on my heat gun, I guess it took off about as much each scrape as the guy in the video was achieving with his narrower putty knife.IMG_0539 IMG_0540 IMG_0541The varnish came off quite easy.  I estimate the process took less than an hour to be ready for the first stage of sanding.  IMG_0542I found that holding the heat gun above the blade as in the photo below gave a uniform blast of heat concentrated on the part I was working on.  I used the edge of the blade in the harder to reach parts. BEWARE though, if you look at the above photo, I lost concentration and burned the wood a little at the top of the hole where the bridge sits.  This is an easy process but it’s easy to go overboard with the heat gun. IMG_0548



IMG_0550 Once I got all the major bits of varnish off, I plugged in the electric sander and slapped on some 120 grit paper and went at the bits of varnish that remained after the heat process.  This was slower but I can’t emphasize the need to go back again and again, you will always find a bit you missed.IMG_0552IMG_0553

The wood on this guitar is quite old and dry, I think it’s a 1980s model and if you followed from the beginning, you can see it was pretty beaten up.  I’m not sure if it was used in such a damaged state or if it had been stuck up on a wall somewhere ( I got it from a guy who owns a bar that has a few old guitars on the wall as decoration), but there are quite a few stains in the wood that seem quite deep. I’ll be consulting on this in the next few days.


I used a blunt blade and sandpaper to get into the harder to reach parts, manual work always takes a bit longer, but you have to just keep going until all the wood is uniform and free of any traces of the old varnish.IMG_0554

The end of today’s session left me with a guitar that looks like this.  I will look at the neck tomorrow. That isn’t in such a state as the body was, though this throws up a mini dilemma.  I haven’t decided if I’m going to try to recreate the original sunburst, or go for another colour on the body yet.  If I do change the colour then the whole neck needs stripping and that throws up some issues with the logos and writing on the neck.  This is something else added to the snag list and I will write more when I have made a few inquiries to matching colours etc.  I do have a way of recreating the logo from vinyl and varnishing over it, or I could route the logo in and fill it with brass filings in epoxy, two techniques I have been looking at.  I still have some work to do on the scorch mark by the bridge hole as you can see, and even after an hour of good hard sanding, there are still dark patches and stains deep in the wood.  Another thing for the snag list, maybe there’s a way to somehow bleach the wood uniform again, or it could be I have to sand a bit harder.  It’s quite a big heavy guitar and could lose a bit of wood if I have to, but I don’t want to alter the shape too much or alter the balance as I won’t have the same luxury of removing a comparable amount from the neck.


The heavy sanding I did here corrected a few anomalies with the body.  There was a split in the varnish along the line where two pieces of wood had been joined which you can see running parallel starting from above the bridge, over the pickup and on over the start of the neck. When the varnish was cleared from there it was apparent there was a tiny gap had appeared.  As luck would have it, the sanding pushed wood dust into this tiny slit and it’s no longer visible.  I will inquire into weather the next stages will seal this in, as for now it looks fine and is sanded nice and flush again.  Did the split in the wood cause the varnish to crack there? Or did a hole in the varnish let in moisture that then dried and split the wood somehow?  Questions I’ll be consulting on.IMG_0555There were a couple of big holes in the back and I over-filled them with wood filler so that I can sand them flush with the wood.  Worst case here is that I may have to make the back totally or more dark around the edge up to the lighter strip that runs through the center, but that’s no big deal.  I’m not worried about the filled holes where the neck screws go, as there’s a chrome plate to go over them.

Look back on the first day

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