DIY Les Paul (finishing)

telecaster build
Blue Finish
telecaster build
No Lacquer Finish
les paul lacquered unbuffed
Lacquered Unbuffed Finish

After the first telecaster kit, I wanted to do a full kit without a pre-finished body. I am going to break this whole into a couple of posts and I want to focus on finishing a guitar and how I approached this Les Paul.I wanted a Les Paul when you could still see the flame or quilted maple and the one that I loved came out of the Gibson Custom Shop. I wanted a burst effect on the wood as well and then have that color wrap around to the back. The kit that I used was an Albatross Guitar LP mahogany and flamed maple top. It is no longer on the internet but I found this shop on Etsy.

After ordering the kit and hours of reading Facebook posts about this, I decided to use Keda Dyes. Keith was amazing in telling me how to achieve the colors that I wanted and super responsive. I ordered black, red and blue dyes to achieve the colors that I wanted.

For the blue, it was 12 teaspoon of blue dye to 8oz of lacquer thinner and doubled for the edges.For the medium purple, it was 12 teaspoon of the blue and red dyes with a couple extra drops of blue into 8oz of lacquer thinner. For the darker purple, I just doubled the amount of the dyes to the 8oz. The guitar was meant to be blue with a hint purple but I ended up liking the purple so much, I did the whole thing.

To apply the dye, I cut up an old white t-shirt and made some rags. With a well-ventilated garage and gloves, I applied the first coat of “normal” blue then sanded it back using 220 grit sandpaper and repeated just rubbing the dye in a circular pattern. I sanded between EVERY coat of dye. For the dark edges, I would blend it back into the wood with the “normal” blue. I would apply the dark blue and then on the edges of the dark dye, I would apply the normal blue continuing with a circular motion. For the purple, it was the same process as the blue but I made sure that I had enough dye to do the mahogany on the back and neck. Each coat was a 4 hour drying period.

After resting the wood for several days and since the back was mahogany, I needed to grain fill. I decided to use Aqua Coat. Using an old rag, I rubbed on the back and took an index card and gently pulled the excess off the neck and back. I let it dry for about an hour and then sanded it using 320 grit sandpaper and did it again. I sanded back one last time and let it dry overnight. The neck and back weren’t dark enough the next day so I reapplied the stain after grain filling and it was much darker.

Now, I need to seal my finish. This is highly debated and there is no right or wrong answer just preference. You can either go the Tru Oil route, poly or nitro lacquer. Most guitar companies will use lacquer because it’s quicker than Tru Oil. It takes roughly 30 light coats of Tru Oil and hardens like lacquer after time. I decided for this build, I wanted a gloss finish from nitro.

I decided to give Mohawk Tone Finish a shot and to be completely honest, I really liked this product. It was decently priced at $7 bucks a can. I only used three cans. So this process took about a week. I would do a light coat then wait about ten minutes and repeat then 2 more times. I would wait for 4 hours and do it again. I sanded back drippings and bad spots using 400 grit sandpaper then repeat the process about 5 more times till I was happy with the result.

I let the lacquer cure for 2 weeks untouched. Then buffed it out. To buff a guitar, I use the Stew Mac system but other people use car polishers to achieve the same results. I use wet sanding of 800 grit paper then continue up to 1200 grit. I then follow starting with the medium Stew Mac Polishing Compound and then continue up from there.

I really have come to appreciate the process of all of this because it has taken over a month to get that done but it makes me fall in love with the guitar even more because I know that I have built designed this myself.

Austin Riendeau

I make noise, sometimes call it music. I have background in Violin, Guitar and Bass.

Denver, Colorado