July Guitar of The Month

July 07, 2017

Congratulations to Adam Bath from Elysian Pickups, LLC on being our July Guitar of the Month winner! Let's find out how how he crafted this gorgeous green monster.


"I've been using Mohawk lacquer since I first started spraying lacquer back in 2006. It's always been easy to obtain, the results are stunning, and it's an excellent finish. It also wears incredibly well with age, dries hard, and is ready to buff fairly quickly after spraying. I was really surprised when they reached out to me asking to write the July Guitar of the Month post, thanks Mohawk!

I've been building guitars since 2006, when I went to Roberto-Venn and got my first taste of in depth luthiery. Before that I had done tons of my own repair work, but never gone so far as to build my own guitar.

After Roberto-Venn, I set off on my own and tried to build a name for myself as Elysian Guitars. I did that full time until 2012, when I took a job with Collings Guitars, and really learned how to step up my finish game. Collings didn't use Mohawk, but it was still great experience in spraying, sanding, and buffing lacquer. After Collings, I went back to doing my own thing, and that's when I built the guitar that Mohawk choose to feature for Guitar of The Month.


This guitar features a khaya mahogany body, flamed maple top, and a bound maple neck with a rosewood fretboard (the neck was originally a Jackson neck). I completely reworked it, including the flamed maple head cap that I inlaid into the original binding. The stain was done with green and yellow aniline dyes from LMII.

The body for this guitar was CNC cut, the first time I ever attempted a carved top. It is a standard superstrat type shape, has Bareknuckle pickups, and has Schaller tuners.

Before I get started on the finish, I just want to share one of the most important parts to guitar building and finishing. Have a good sanding block that work well for your hands. None of my sanding blocks are off the shelf, they're all hand made. My favorite blocks are made from chunks of phenolic resin, with sheet rubber glued to them. The blocks are dead flat, the rubber is even sanded flat, and the end result is a perfectly flat sand every time. They're only big enough for the sand paper strips I use, and I have specialty blocks that I have made for getting into corners, for sanding recurves, and for sanding intricate carve tops. Teflon type materials make great blocks as well, as they're hard enough that they won't deform, and they're easy to shape.


I keep my process fairly simple. I start with sanding the body to 320-grit, after it's shaped to its final form. After the 320-grit sand, I raise the grain with a damp paper towel, then let it dry. After it dries, I sand it again with 320 grit sandpaper, and mount the body to a stick via the neck pocket, so I can hold it and place it on my drying rack. The stick is made from 1" Delrin, and is mounted to a square of MDF that closely matches the neck pocket shape.

After cleaning the surface of the guitar with Naptha, I taped off the body, leaving only the faux binding exposed. I sprayed two coats of Behlen E-Z Vinyl sealer, so that the stain won't penetrate the wood, leaving a crisp edge when I spray the stain on. After this, I remove the masking and start staining the body. I use alcohol based stains so that the grain doesn't raise again, and spray them out of an HVLP spray gun at low pressure with the knobs adjusted so very little stain comes out. On this, I sprayed the yellow stain on the top first, then did the darker green stain for the burst effect and the back. After the stain dries, I go back and scrape any overspray off the faux binding area for a 100% clear look. 



After scraping the binding, it's time to spray sealer on the whole guitar. I initially spray a total of 3 vinyl coats on my guitars, waiting about 15-20 minutes between them, depending on how hot it is in the booth. After these three coats, I apply my pore filler, in this case Timbermate's black pore filler. After the pore filler dries I sand it back with 320-grit so all that remains is the filler in the pores, then I do another coat of vinyl sealer, and quickly after that spray the first coat of lacquer so that it bites into the sealer.

For the first day of lacquer, I spray 4 even coats, waiting 45 minutes between coats, and cleaning the surface with a tack rag and Naptha before each spray. Cleanliness is the most important thing to getting a mirrorlike gloss from a guitar.

After those coats, the guitar goes on my drying rack overnight, and first thing in the morning I do a quick level sand, not trying to go too deep, just enough to get the lacquer to adhere. Most of the pores still show at this point. After the sand, I clean and then tack rag the surface, and spray another 4 coats, with the same 45-minute drying time in between. After those coats, it goes back on the drying rack for the night.

On the 3rd day of lacquer, I sand it until none of the pores show. If I can get all of the pores out then this turns into the final day of lacquer. If not, there has to be a 4th day, but I keep those coats light. The goal is to have only as much finish build up as necessary to avoid cracking after it leaves my shop. My finishes are typically 10mil or less. On the third day of lacquer, the guitar typically gets 3-4 coats, depending on how much I have to sand to get the guitar flat.



One step that a lot of builders miss that makes a world of difference is sanding the edge of recessed control cavities. I typically use a cylinder with some sand paper for this, and just break that edge enough so that finish doesn't build up there, and the edge stays nice and sharp. This will make fitting cavity covers much easier.

After this, the guitar cures for 2 weeks before any sandpaper touches it again. On my wet sand, I start with 800-grit. If there aren't open holes for water to get down into, then I just use water. On places like the headstock, especially the back, or where there are screw holes, like for a pickguard. I use Naptha as my liquid, so the wood doesn't swell. I typically do all my wet sanding by hand on guitars, but an orbital with 800-grit and 1000-grit pads does help.

The backing pads that come with most orbitals aren't flat. So, make sure you sand them on your sanding table from multiple directions, marking the surface with a white pencil so you can see where you need to focus. Flatness on sanding tools is paramount to a flat finish.

After I sand with 800-grit, going parallel to the grain of the wood, I repeat with 1200-grit, but go cross grain, perpendicular to the grain of the wood. I find this really helps to knock out the 800-grit scratches. After the 1200, I return to sanding parallel to the grain with 2000-grit. 


With buffing, I have several approaches. I use smaller wheels in the horn areas and most of the neck, and use larger wheels for majority of the body. I only use Menzerna buffing compound, using only 2 grits of it. After I use the pink compound, I either switch the wheel out or rake it off clean, then switch to their tan #3 compound. I find this compound is sufficient for my final buff, as I take so much of the scratches off with the 2000 grit. I have used the brown #8 cut in the past, but it's not really necessary if you start at 800 grit.

After the buff, I assemble everything, and start polishing with Novus #1 clean and shine. Then it's time for glamour shots!


If you would like to see more of my work, please feel free to follow me on any of the major social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.  And check out my website, it's a work in progress, but will soon have a functional store for my guitar pickups."

Thanks for sharing this with us Adam! If you have any questions about the guitar, our products, or anything touch up related, feel free to reach out. You can share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

Stay tuned for the next blog post - there's something new every Friday!








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