While spraying, the cardboard mask is supported from underneath by a series of 1½“ screws that hold the cut-out about that distance from the face of the guitar. After grinding off the sharp tips, screw them into the topside of the cardboard so that the height of the cardboard can be adjusted from the top

     Also, when spraying, the cut-out will need a bit of weight on top of it to ensure that the spray gun doesn’t blow the cut-out mask out of place. Pictured are three MDF sanding blocks that are collectively heavy enough to hold down the cut-out.

​​      Pictured here was originally a Gibson ES-125 that Woody owned since his Fairbanks days. The back had to be taken off due to some interior damage before Woody owned it. While the back was off, and all the hardware removed from the soundboard, Woody put a cutaway and another pickup into the guitar.

     The soundboard was then stripped of its original finish and routed for a couple of Lindy Fralin pickups with volume and tone knobs. A three-way control switch was installed, and the output jack was relocated from the soundboard to a reinforced location on the treble side of the guitar.

     The pickups and the rest of the hardware were then removed, and the guitar soundboard was refinished. The guitar was set up as an ES-175 as shown here. I wish I still had it.

     The sunburst process is explained below.

    It’s a good idea to check out some photos online to see the colors and transitions that you like for your sunburst. There are options. Generally, the darkest outer edge of the sunburst top is opaque and the transition to the ‘backing color’ is only 1½“- 2” from the edge.

Backing Color:    Before the sunburst color is sprayed, the entire face of the guitar needs to be sprayed with the backing color. That is, the color that you want for the center of the soundboard. (Usually, the backing color is a yellow blended with red or umber. It is completely your choice.) Let this backing color dry 24-48 hours to ensure against dents in the next step.

Sunburst Cut-Out:     The next step is to trace a profile of the guitar body onto a piece of stiff cardboard. Using a scribe (or the like), draw a second line inside of the original cardboard profile, parallel to and about 1 ½” from the edge. Cut the cardboard profile along this inner line as pictured. The dark edges of the top are sprayed with the cut-out mask in place, revealing approximately 1½“ on the perimeter of the top. 

     1972 GIBSON L-50 ARCHTOP, back removed, carved solid-spruce top, layered maple back and sides.

      A friend of Woody's came into the shop a few years ago just curious to see what Woody Strings is all about. Woody showed him around and before we were done, he saw an old Gibson L-50 archtop guitar hanging on the wall.  I took it down and explained to my friend that Woody had taken the back off to repair the broken bass bars (braces) attached to the underside of the top.

     Apparently, the Gibson had been dropped on its face and landed on the bridge. Both of the braces, which ran from the heel block to the tail block, had been jarred loose from the top. One of the braces had actually snapped. Both needed to be removed and replaced.

Mask, Strip and Be Neat:   Add paper to mask the sides, back, and inside of the guitar as needed. Strip the soundboard a section at a time, perhaps 6-8 sections. Allow time for the stripper to work, then scrape the stripper and the finish toward the center of the soundboard onto some aluminum foil, then dump into a waste container that you can throw away later. This will help keep the sloppy mess under control

     After stripping the old finish from the soundboard, all bindings need to remain masked until a tinted finish can be applied. Masking the bindings will allow stain and/or a toned sealer to be applied without adding unwanted color to the bindings. With plastic bindings, fortunately, a little stain creeping under the masking tape is not a big problem. The stain can be removed with a few controlled, light strokes of a razor blade or X-Acto knife..

Sunburst Prep:      Masking the soundboard can be tedious. Woody wanted to leave the original bindings in place, so they had to be masked as well. Masking tape does not want to stretch laterally as it is being applied 'sideways' around the curves of the binding. The darkest part of the sunburst, however, is next to the binding. In the end there should be a crisp line between the black edge of the sunburst and the light cream color of the binding. Getting masking tape to do this is a bit of a trick. 

Strip It:      The first step is to mask everything except the soundboard. This includes the bindings that go around the soundboard.

     As with any refinishing project, all the guitar hardware was removed. Then the soundboard was stripped of the old finish. Woody uses ordinary paint and varnish stripper from a local hardware or paint store. Care must be taken to avoid dripping the stripper into the body of the guitar through the ‘f’ holes and the cutouts for the pickup and pots. Dripping chemicals into the body of the guitar will be difficult to clean up and will add a lot of work to your project.

     In the renovation part of this project, Woody had removed the back of the guitar to do some repair and make some changes. Dripping stripper onto the inside, back of the guitar was not an issue with this project. Still, it's easy to drip stripper where you don't want it and not-so-easy to clean it up.

     The soundboard bindings, sides and back, therefore, should be masked as shown below. Stripper can penetrate through one layer of ordinary newspaper. Heavy paper or least two thicknesses of newsprint should be used.​ 

     I hope that this month's discussion of sunburst finishing will at least get everyone started on the right foot if you try it. If you're the least bit handy with a spray gun, you'll do fine.


       Play safe... stay healthy.     

     Next, the pickup installation work began. It was decided to put a Lindy Fralin P-90 hum-cancelling pick up at the neck (ES-125 style). Lindy's shop is here in Richmond, and he was very helpful in selecting and harnessing up the hardware. I just had to rout the top for the pickup, tone and volume knobs, and the output jack. This was not difficult but there could not be any "oh-sh*t" moments once the router bit touched the 40-year-old archtop. 

     As expected, routing for the neck pick up cut about half way through the braces, so piggyback bracing was installed to keep the top reinforcement at full strength. The side was also reinforced where the output jack passes through.  All went wel

Spraying the Sunburst:     The tinted-dark, sunburst lacquer is sprayed with the gun pointing from the middle of the guitar toward the outside of the guitar at a low angle so that the outer edges of the guitar top get the full spray, only allowing a light dusting of dark lacquer to creep around the edges of the cut-out supported about 1½“ above the top.

     The outermost edge of the guitar is sprayed dark until it is opaque. The same is true of the upper bout down to the opening for the pickup. The backing color in the center should form a pear shape when the darker, sunburst is complete. 

Clear Coats:     The final step is to apply 2 or 3 coats of clear sealer to the entire guitar and rub down lightly with 400 grit. You DO NOT want to rub through the clear to the color coats below.

     Finally, apply 2 or 3 coats of clear lacquer to the entire guitar, allow a week to cure, and polish.

      I hope that this discussion of sunburst finishing will at least get everyone started on the right foot if you try it. If you're the least bit handy with a spray gun, you'll do fine.

July, 2021



     The top and neck were masked and the back and sides were cleaned, scuff sanded and sprayed with a semi-gloss, clear lacquer finish.

     This old Gibson now has new life...with a performing musician.  

PROJECT 1: Gibson ES-125 to ES-175 Conversion Project

    Presented below is the final chapter of Overview installments, thus completing the Home-Shop Guitar Building 'Book'. Step-by-step guitar building presentations have been posted here each month since June, 2020. For a complete 'book' on how to build an acoustic guitar from start to finish, check out Woody's Luthier's Journal for the last 14 months.
     The Foreword to the completed book is presented in the June, 2020 posting in Luthier's Journal.


​​​​      Woody has one more touch to add to the discussion of finishing a guitar. In the previous chapter, Woody detailed the steps in applying a traditional, clear lacquer finish.

    The subjects of this addendum are two different projects. The first project was to renovate and refinish an ES-125 that had been left too close to the woodstove. Woody installed two new pickups and added a cutaway to make it look and play like an ES-175.

     The second project was a renovation project with an old Gibson L-50 that had a broken brace inside. The back had to be removed, and the guitar had to be refinished when the repair was complete. While the guitar was open, Woody added a pickup and two control knobs for good measure.


JUST SAYIN'...     If you think that you would like to make a living building guitars, Woody's experience (and that of many others') is that repair, refinishing, and setup is where you can make enough money to buy time to build guitars. The reputation that you gain from repair and setup will help you sell what you build.


     As we talked I explained that the Gibson had been hanging on the walAs we talked, I explained that the Gibson had been hanging on the wall for 30 years or so and I always intended to repair it and install a pickup... but never got around to it. I've got more than one of these projects waiting for an incentive to take up and finish. My friend supplied the interest and incentive as he said that he might like to have the guitar when it was finished.

     Well, there's nothing like having a goal unless it's having a friend with a mutual interest in that goal.


     The first thing to do was to identify the true vintage of the guitar.  Woody has owned it since about 1980, and the Gibson serial number on the back of the head stock places it in the 1972-1975 range. That would be about right but I know Gibson serial numbers are... let's say, sketchy sometimes.  Everything else on the headstock, the decal logo, the Kluson tuners, plastic truss rod cover, looked to be the same vintage. Also, Woody knew that the previous owner, an Inuit (Eskimo), had bought the guitar new, sometime in the 1970s.

     Then came the replacement of the back and routing the binding rabbet, new bindings were installed and, finally, several clear coats of finish. The tricky part of installing bindings on this instrument was that the back and sides were already stained and finished so that there could be no sanding of the bindings to flush them up with the back and sides. The rabbet had to be cut very precisely to the dimensions of the binding, and the new bindings would have to be scraped down very carefully. I did NOT want to get into the color under the existing finish.