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Material Finish Tutorial Part 1

The beauty of a material finish is many fold. First it is an easy way to create graphics on a guitar if you're artistically challenged. Secondly, material (if it's the right type) has the ability to overcome contours which are just about impossible when doing a graphic using a printed photo or even some large decals, so lets get started.

The first tools you will need are a pencil or pen, and enough paper or a piece of construction paper larger than the size of your guitar body as pictured on the left below ( I just used regular note pad paper and some masking tape to make mine).

Flip your body face down on the paper and trace around it with the pencil as pictured above on the right. NOTE: If you're working with a material that doesn't have a special pattern to it you can skip over this part and move down to the covering the back and just follow the same directions for the front of the body. Once you have your tracing complete cut it out carefully with a razor blade or Exacto knife as pictured below on the left.

Keep in mind if you chose to use construction paper to make your template you can use the inside piece later to do a Poor Boy's Burst around your body so keep that extra piece handy!

Now comes the big part- Using your template to find the exact pattern you want from the material on top of your body as pictured on the upper right. Notice I also have a template for the head stock and it has a special strip through it to show me where the tuners will be (this helps in deciding ). When you have finished locating the perfect top for your project whip out your trusty roll of masking tape and secure the template(s) all the way around the edge's and go get mom's best scissors =o) as pictured below on the left.

Now carefully cut around the area you have chosen as pictured above on the right giving yourself an extra 1/2" to 3/4" for good measure. When your finished with that you can peal the tape and template(s) off and get ready to mount your material to the body!

Just a note for everyone: although it really is not a necessary thing at this point I usually give the cavity's and sides the final color I plan on using. This doesn't need to be perfect because chances are your going to end up refinishing them anyway.

OK make sure the surface your going to attach the material to on your body and neck if you chose to do so are clean and free from paint as pictured below on the left. Remember bare wood is where it's at for the best possible adhesion of the glue at this point.

Gather up your Titebond and a squegee plus a disposable brush at this point and place your project body on top of newspapers or a large piece of cardboard to protect your working surface as pictured above on the right!

Note: I always grab a disposable cup or glass bowl full of water to place the brush in when I am through because the glue is water soluble and even though it is an El-Cheapo brush I like to get as much mileage out of them as possible.

Now spread out a nice pattern of glue as pictured below on the left of your project area to be covered.

Use your brush to spread out the glue as pictured on the upper right until you have a nice even coat all around. If you like at this point you can also take a damp paper towel or rag and clean up any spill's that run down the side of the body since you probably have plenty of glue on it.

Place your material on the project surface and start squeezing out from the center but make sure you DO NOT create pockets where the pickup cavity's and Trem cavity are as pictured below on the left! You really want the surface to be as flat and smooth as possible at this point so take your time ( after all you have about 20 minutes before the glue starts to set and this should only take 2-3 of them tops).

Look at the picture on the top right and you will see that the material has flopped down over the side and attached itself to the body. Since it is still early in the game you want to avoid this as it will make trimming the material all that much more difficult so pull it away from the body as pictured below on the left. Yup this is one of those points where you need to babysit the body for at least 20-30 minutes to make sure nothing is going wrong with it.

Once the glue has set (about 2-3 hours) it is time to whip out your Exacto knife (with a fresh blade) and trim around the outside edge as pictured above on the right. The technique will come to you just remember to move forward as you cut on the down stroke. Using only fresh blades it should separate the material along the edge like a hot knife in butter so if the blade starts to drag replace it. I always try to lean the side of the blade up against the body when ever possible doing this and hold it at a 30-45 degree angle along the edge.

Also remember to hold the material if at all possible just ever so gently, pulling it from the project as you cut. Your going to end up with some fairly long strips as you go along as pictured below on the left. It is tempting to cut them off and start a new strip but my personal preference is to keep going as long as I can with the same cut.

If you run into an area where the glue did not hold like pictured above on the right, just give that spot a little extra material around the edge and continue on. It can always be repaired later when you are finished trimming off the excess material so leave it for now with enough to cover the area (pictured below on the left).
Even though you are careful when you flip the body over to inspect the edges you are going to see fuzz and a tiny strip of material all along the edge as pictured above on the right. Do not worry this is a good thing at this point and don't try to shave it off either. What has happened is while you were making all your cuts on the down stoke the material along the edge stretched as it was separating from the body. The reason you need this mini extra amount of material will become apparent when we go to finish out the top and smooth out the sides later so don't worry. Now that you are finished trimming out the guitar go ahead and make any necessary repairs like the one pictured below on the left.
Ever wonder why sometimes people put silly photos in a tutorial like the one on the upper right? Well it is to actually show you a neat little trick, drop a little of the glue as your doing your repairs and you can even spread it out if you care to. Use the droplet as a guide to let you know what's going on with the glue your working with, the clearer or more skinned it gets the harder the glue is getting on your project. Time to score some material for the back! Since we are dealing with a few more contours here you'll need to get a bigger piece of material than you did for the front as pictured below on the left.
As I said before, the beauty in working with a nice cotton blend or mix fabric is it's ability to stretch in many different directions. Go ahead and glue that piece down on the back but remember: in order to relieve some of the stress of the stretch your probably going to have to put some slits into it near the arch of the body where the contour is, as pictured above on the right (only come within a 1/4" when you do this to relief stress do not go all the way up to the body). You will also need to do the same thing as pictured below on the left around the back of the neck area and once again DO NOT go all the way up to the body with the slits.
You will probably want to babysit the body again and hand burnish the material along the contours as it dries. This is OK just remember not to let any pockets form where the cavity's are and after it has dried about 2-3 hours or more you can trim around the outside and the cavity's once again as pictured above on the right. Now we come to the handle if your doing this to a JEM Style body. Make sure you slice along the inside edge first and only continue till the contour of the handle reaches out as pictured below on the left.

Spread a little glue down along the bare wood and on the material and press it into place as pictured above on the right! When this is dry simply trim it out as you would any other edge. To give everyone an Idea I used a total of three brand new exacto blades just to trim this much smoothly, after all why waste energy and possibly mess up an entire project over less than a couple of bucks worth of blades? Whew =o)

Just when you thought we were through with the rough part along comes part two, smoothing out the material and the edge's and getting it ready for the final finish which is yet to come.

Now on to part 2!


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