Monday, January 25, 2010

"Relic-ing" A Tele - A Bit of Fun

I've always had complicated relationships with guitars.  In college, I sang in a band and I still remember the lead guitarist giving me the "Son, put that thing down or you'll hurt somebody" treatment.  My best friend and bass player went on to win a grammy as a sound engineer, and I went on to take voice stuff more seriously and struggle with the instrument.

A parade of guitars have passed through my house.  The good ones (Ric 325, Gibson Nighthawk) usually ended up being sold when I needed the scratch.  The bad ones tend to hang around forever (Sigma DR-35).  I do still have my American-made Strat, and I have no reason to need another.

Yet, in a recent assault on the fortress of Mel Bay (blues scales in five positions!) I got the itch.  An ES-335, not a chance.  Maybe a Godin Archtop? Probably not  And while I couldn't justify a guitar for me, my younger daughter only has an acoustic, so we really need a second electric (I say, keeping a straight face.)

Enter the Grizzly fake Telecaster kit.  A fun project, a guitar that she can take to her scream-o band practice, and a chance to fantasize about being Springsteen, Joe Strummer, Keith Richards or Albert Collins.  After some jousting about the color, (I wanted butterscotch blonde, she wanted black) we settled on Surf Green and got started.

Let me be clear that this is not about any real luthiery work; this is mostly an excercise in finishing.  If you'd like to learn more about real instrument making, check out Khalaf Oud Luthiery .

The very helpful Guitar Reranch site gave me a sense of what I wanted to do, and a look into the cult and controversy of building, distressing (Relic-ing), and tricking out guitars.

The first and only real woodworking is the design of the headstock, and I've replicated the classic Telecaster look.  Draw the profile, cut, smooth with a spokeshave, sand, and set aside.  The biggest challenge was keeping the maple neck dust off the rosewood fretboard

Moving right to the finish, it seems that this is a cross between french polishing and auto body repair.  The steps include sanding, filling the grain, applying a sanding sealer, priming, painting, and then an application of clear coat.  However, like many woodworkers I know, this is all new to me.  I tend to stay in the shallow waters of hand applied finishes -- shellac, dyes, oils, and wiping varnish -- avoiding the rough seas of spray guns and lacquers. 

The common theme of all the finish steps seems to be "somewhere in-between."  The grain filler needs to be applied, then wiped off "somewhere in-between" the time that it is wet and the time that it will adhere within the grain.  The spray finish (from a can) needs to be applied at a rate "somewhere in-between" it starting to sag and it drying in the air (and becoming overspray.) That means that unless you are brighter than I, or very lucky, there will be mistakes.  I opted to go for the more-leaning-toward-overspray approach and applied the sealer over the filler.

As you can see, the finish after this step is "somewhere in between" a shiny finish and a nappy one.  Is this correct?  I don't know.  If you consult the internet you will get conflictng answers.  The Randall "Tex" Cobb look-alike guy in the house trailer says it doesn't matter.  The guy from the set of "Wayne's World" seems to think it does.  Who knows?  As this is my first attempt, I will  leave some as it is in the picture and spend 15 minutes on another area getting it glassy smooth and see if it makes a diference.  We will be distressing this so I can cover any blatent errors down the road.

As it hangs in its makeshift spray booth, covered in primer, it looks like one of those cheesy haunted house displays -- "This is what the devil will do to you if you play Rock and Roll!"

By the way, I haven't forgotten the Shoji screen.  I'm just looking for distractions.


  1. Not just rock and roll: Muddy Waters played one and so did Bob Dylan. Very cool!

  2. Omitting Dylan is a serious offense on my part (we share a birthday, and I like to think, a point of view!)

    In my mind I see him with a Strat, but that is later, say The Last Waltz time frame.

    Thanks for the catch.


  3. thanks for your sharing, and thanks for your share