Refinishing a guitar – the hardware

I posted about actually trying to strip and refinish an Ibanez G10 guitar a while back, but I recently found this post regarding the hardware I put into it was still in draft state. So here is the how and why in regards to the pickups I put in the guitar. They cost more than the guitar did.

When I was refinishing that G10, I realized (shortly after the first coat of blue -you know, well before it started to look really cool) that it wouldn’t matter how awesome it looked if it didn’t sound great. The stock humbuckers really sounded pretty good as far as stock humbuckers go. I wouldn’t call them ‘meaty’ but there was definitely some well-designed, whey-and-soy-based-product there which simulated meat fairly well. They sounded resoundingly okay, but okay wasn’t good enough. Now that I have a guitar that I’ve taken down to bare wood, I figure a good part of my soul lives in it, so it needs to properly capture my emotions. Stock pickups just don’t do that.

I began playing guitar in about 1989. I started to get good at it somewhere around 1991. That is not to say that I woke up one day and had the skill to play, but more to say that Metallica’s Black album dropped on August 12, 1991. That album made learning to play the guitar easy. Easy, fun-to-play, crunchy riffs came one after another. Start to play with Enter Sandman, learn to double-pick with Holier than Thou, get a feel for weird time signatures with My Friend of Misery, all the while playing some fairly simple guitar licks. The next thing you know, the bizarre 7/5 time of The Four Horsemen’ (or the parent song, Megadeth’s Mechanix -though I have to admit the Metallica version is far better in sound, scope and lyric) doesn’t seem quite so bizarre. Oh my, how that album changed me.

Metallica, at that time, played on a multitude of instruments, but Kirk and James played ESP guitars fairly exclusively. They also used EMG pickups fairly exclusively. I’ve always wanted to have a set of EMG pickups in my guitar to see if I could emulate their sound. So, when it came time to choose the pickups to put in my still-in-restoration guitar, I obviously chose the John Petrucci signature series DiMarzio pickups.

This surprised even me.

Why the about face? I have no doubt that any higher-end pickup can handle some crunchy distortion with ease. I usually can’t tell a difference between major manufacturer pickups when it comes to the low-end grind. They’re deep, they’re meaty, and every major manufacturer can do it. While I’m sure that the same can be said for the clean tone coming from the neck pickup, I can also say that someone like John Petrucci probably has a bit more direct experience with the equipment than an in-your-face metal band.

I watched Dozens of youtube videos featuring the Petrucci signature set, the Dave Mustaine signature set, and the James Hetfield signature set (I never liked the way Kirk’s guitar sounded, so I didn’t look at those). What it ultimately came down to, for me at least, was two things. One was the amount of sustain that -literally any idiot- can get out of the Petrucci pickups. The same was not evidenced in a ridiculous amount of time watching videos for the other two pickup sets. The other was the artificial harmonics. If you’ve ever wondered why Jake E lee could hit a pinch harmonic at any point on any string, while you struggled to hit one on the seventh fret, the pickups are why. The Megadeth and Metallica sets of pickups were so focused on crunch that they seemed to miss part of the high end of the spectrum (at least in the dozens of videos I watched). The first thirty seconds of Dream Theater’s song ‘Pull Me Under’ kind of illustrates what I mean.

I think what ultimately sold me on the Petrucci pickups, though, was this video of Petrucci using them:

While I hate to urge you to skip past portions of his performance … If you jump in at about 6:30 you will see everything I mentioned above: amazing sustain, crunchy low-end distortion, pinch harmonics -literally anywhere on the string- and brilliant and bright clean tone…

Basically, if I can’t make it sound good with this set of pickups, I need to put the instrument down and move on. Which I may need to do. My results with the same pickups have not been as the video above suggests. However, I can nail a pinch harmonic nearly anywhere on the neck. Often even if that was not my intention. I’m damn happy with the choice. Jamaica — Fraud

Update 4/24/17

After making this post and sending a link to the company with this post, links to my social media posts, and my review on Tripadvisor (where I am slowly becoming an actual voice… level 4 reviewer with over 10,000 reviews read) they relented. They sent me an apology email this morning as well as a refund. That’s great. But they were still relentless cunts through the entire process so the reviews on all sites will stand. Stop jerking around your customers, assholes!

Original post 4/23/17:

VIP Attractions is evidently an airport service offered to those who arrive in (and depart from) Montgo Bay and Kingston, Jamaica. It is purported to be a ‘rush service’ through customs on arrival, and a bar to sit in while you wait for departure.

All of that may be true, but I wouldn’t know. I paid for the service, but never got to experience it. The company (linked above) absolutely refused to give me a refund.

I requested a refund about a week before my trip. The above-linked company said they could issue a refund if I filled out an ‘authorization to charge’ form for my credit card. I believe they did this under the assumption that I simply wouldn’t fill it out. But I did fill it out. Even down to figuring out how to digitally apply my signature and entering all other information, but approving them to ‘charge’ my credit card “-$160.00.

Less than five minutes later, I got a response from the above-stated company. The response said that they ‘couldn’t issue a refund because I had booked the service through MT vacations”. I have never heard of a company named ‘MT Vacations’, and have certainly never booked a third-party reservation through any company -especially one named ‘MT Vacations’.

I booked this service directly through the above-listed company. A fact I can prove with my credit card statement:

Do you notice how it says ‘VIP Attractions’ and doesn’t say anything about ‘MT Vacations’? I certainly noticed it.

Since VIP Attractions lied about my reservation in every conceivable way, and refused my refund request in every conceivable way, I can only assume the whole site is a fraudulent attempt to steal your credit card information.

Avoid this site AT ALL COSTS!

My first full guitar build: Semi-hollow body

So, after some promising but lackluster results with my attempt to refinish a damaged Ibanez G10 guitar I figured why not go whole hog and do one from the ground up? To add a ton to the degree of complexity, I decided to go with a semi-hollow body guitar for full build number one. To further add to the difficulty, I chose to dye the wood grain rather than paint over it. Because seriously, when you’re learning to ski, are you going to learn more on the Bunny Slopes or on K12? (and kudos to anyone who got that reference without clicking the link.

So I ordered up a kit and set to finishing it. The body looked like this coming out of the box:
The front had a beautiful grain that I figured I’d be able to finish without much of an issue. Seriously, it looked like I could just throw some blonde (or an equally light-colored) stain on it, lacquer it, and call it a day. That wasn’t my intention though. I bought this specifically to build for my oldest brother, Dennis, for Christmas. The guitar he is currently playing is a semi-hollow body one that I bought for him when I was about sixteen, and that is a damn long time ago. It is showing signs of age, and I thought he might like an upgrade. I was initially pleased with how good the grain on this one looked, because I figured it would be pretty damn easy.


The front of the guitar was a beautiful piece of wood in a butterfly cut, which made for a wonderful grain and some awesome symmetry. The back, on the other hand, looked like this. Since it is a sort of hybrid of acoustic and electric, the front appears to look more acoustic, while the back looks like an electric. That means that it is made of some nasty-ass basswood. More than that, the thought appeared to be ‘fuck the grain, just glue some shit together’. At least that’s what it looks like. I assure you that it looks every bit as bad as this photo (and probably worse). That was disappointing.

But since I figured I’d be able to get an easy home run out of the front, I started finishing the back first. I figured I couldn’t paint it, since I was only going to be dying the front, which meant I’d have to dye the back as well. This turned out to be a PROCESS.

I have to admit that after laying down the first coat of dye (I should mention that I’m using Keda Dyes for the entire finish. Mixed more or less as suggested) I was skeptical that I’d be able to pull this build off. After the first coat (which is still wet in the photo) it looked more or less like I’d taken a magic marker and ran it over the back a bunch of times. I think that may be my way of saying that I thought it looked pretty shitty. You can totally click through that image to see it in larger scale, though I wouldn’t suggest it.

But, after sanding back the black and laying down a coat of dark blue, it started to come around:

Those pictures were taken at the same time but from different angles and with different lighting. The dye was still a bit wet at the time, but I found it odd that one angle showed it a deep blue while the other angle hinted at it being almost purple.

Once it dried, the back began to give off a more even color regardless of the direction of the light. I sanded it back once more, dyed it once more (dark blue) and then layered it with about three coats of spray lacquer. The final result looked like this:

Not exactly the color I was hoping for, but there are enough interesting things going on in the cheap, basswood grain that it still looks totally finished (scroll up a couple photos to that first image of the back if you don’t believe me). The back came out pretty darn good.

Once I’d caressed the ass of this guitar to the point that I was happy, I had to start working the front. That was not such an easy process. I first thought I was going to do a sunburst pattern. Yeah, not so much. Here is the result of the first coat of stain toward that:

You’ll no doubt note the exceptional attention to detail as the dark blue around the edges very gradually fades to the light blue in the center. It’s like a gradient that’s using the full 256 million color capability of modern computers. Goddam seamless is what it was. A perfect sunburst pattern, but done in blue!

Yeah, even I wasn’t believing that bullshit and I tried really hard to believe it. To be fair, I knew it would be pretty stark with the first passing and I would lightly sand it back. I’d then cover it with lighter coats of just the light blue until it got to the point where the transition was seamless. I think I could have pulled that off, but I had to give up on the idea because … At the bottom of the photo (if you were holding the guitar to be playing it, it would be just above the top ‘F hole’. There are several areas the dye just wouldn’t penetrate. My assumption is that there was some sort of glue or solvent still present that the dye simply couldn’t touch. Regardless of why, I knew I couldn’t continue with the sunburst finish.

So I sanded the whole thing back. Not to bare wood, but enough that the light and dark blue no longer appeared to be separate colors. It took a lot of sanding, and I don’t have photos of it along that particular path, but once I’d sanded it back a reasonable amount, I layered the entire front in dark blue. And here is the result:


I put about a dozen arrows on that image to highlight the flaws, but they in no way point to ALL the flaws. The thing was fucked even after sanding it back and laying down a new coat of dye. It was just that bad (which is all my fault for not sanding enough in the first place. The surface looked so good to begin with that I started with 220 grit and worked my may to 600 grit. I never considered that I might need a coarse sanding).

The next step was unquestionably the most difficult part (mentally) of the entire process. I had to admit that I was never going to finish the project without basically starting over. I put some 90 grit paper on my orbital sander and, with a tear of regret, destroyed my masterpiece. I took care to sand heavily in the problem areas, but tried to go light in the unaffected areas. I also made sure to leave areas of blue amidst the fully sanded area with the hopes that the contrast would pay off later. After an hour or so (the first half with 90 grit, then 20 minutes with 150 grit, and another 10 with 300 grit) this is what I had:

While I’m not going to take the time to highlight every one of the problem areas again, you will note that I sanded all of the problem areas back to bare wood (a few of which I did highlight. Bear in mind that I was using wood DYE so there was no way to get it back to bare wood). Anyways, here is a photo pointing out a few areas I sanded back to wood while leaving other areas a much darker blue:

I want to note that I spent a lot of time making sure this sanding phase left light and dark areas. It was only when I had to sand the whole thing back that I decided I was going to call the project “Blue Velvet”. I hoped that leaving enough light and dark areas would allow me to pull off that effect in the end.

The good news is that my sanding worked out great. Here it is after a couple coats of dark blue dye and a bit of time to dry:

That is a pretty accurate photo of its state at the time. Probably the most accurate photo of any yet posted. The waves of color came out really well, but there was no … what? Pop? Luster? Sheen? I don’t know. It just lacked something.

When I began this project, I decided that I wasn’t going to finish the front with any sort of lacquer. Instead, I was going to finish it exclusively with Birchwood Casey’s Tru Oil. I arrived at that decision after reading tons of reviews and recommendations about finishing a semi-hollow guitar. Tru-Oil, they say, dries in such a way that it will add luster with each thin coat. The result of that will be that after 20 or 30 coats (and I easily put 50 coats on the front of this thing) each coat will dry differently and give the finish something approaching iridescence. Yeah, I was skeptical too. But after rubbing in a coat of Tur-Oil every half hour that I was awake over the course of two or three days, the finish really started to pop.

Here are a couple images of the final product (the dye and Tru-Oil was completely dry by the time I took these photos):

After all the time spent dying and Tru-Oil’ing this thing (it was definitely dozens of hours and probably hundreds) I was very pleased with just how well it came out. I did buy the gold pickups, gold bridge hardware, and gold knobs aftermarket (the kit came with silver accessories and different colored knobs). And trying to finesse all of those things into place through the f-holes on the guitar was extremely trying. Thankfully there are a lot of youtube videos to help you through wiring a semi-hollow guitar. What there aren’t a lot of youtube videos of is what to do when you try to finish a guitar and part of it simply won’t accept wood stain. I limped through it pretty well, but I wish I had been vain enough to video the process. I think you’d have to agree that from the photos at the top of the page to the photos on the bottom, I really nailed this one.

As a final note, The Fret Wire (the place I bought my guitar kit) featured MY GUITAR BUILD -dubbed ‘Blue Velvet’– on their website on January 2, 2017. So it may not be me blowing my own horn when I say the final product looks pretty damn good.

Refinishing a guitar – a work in progress

A few weeks back, I had the brilliant idea to try to use one of those websites to print out a ‘guitar skin’ to try to finish a guitar with some of the imagery from one of my book covers (no link to the site because the resulting image sucked so incredibly hard). Let me say here that I had absolutely zero percent confidence that it would work, and that confidence was not misplaced. Do not try any of these services for a photo-realistic image.

The image I used was one I created specifically for the project. That image was the full-sized version of this image (I am using a screen-friendly 2500×2000 version of it here, but the image sent to the manufacturer was a much less reasonable 10000×7800 @ 300dpi -which should have been suitable to print an image roughly 50×40 inches with reasonable detail):head

eyeIt turns out that they couldn’t pull off even an image even one third that size. To the right, you’ll see the eye from the above picture as rendered on the final print they sent me. This is literally the image, in 1:1 scale as printed on the ‘skin’ that they sent me. Not only is it not photo-realistic in quality, it isn’t even bad, 1996-ish, 14400 download over a sketchy connection quality. It is absolutely terrible. There are two reasons I am not mentioning the site which rendered this horrible image by name (three if you count potential lawsuits). The first is that I believe I would have received the same results from any of the guitar skin websites. The second is that the skins they sell really are pretty amazing, provided you choose from their selection of pre-made custom skins -which, while amazing, are probably rendered in about 256 colors. As mentioned previously, I knew going in that the thing was going to suck, but I rolled the dice anyway.

thewholethingSince my expectations were exceedingly low and I didn’t want to put this sticker on one of my real guitars, I trolled eBay for a couple of weeks to find a suitable victim. I ultimately purchased this Ibanez G10 (despite disliking Ibanez guitars, but for no real reason) because I got it for under 100 dollars and it had a double-locking Floyd Rose Tremolo (which itself costs more than a hundred dollars). The caveat with this guitar is that it had some horrible damage around the knobs (picture below) and at a couple of other spots on the front of the body. I didn’t think that would be much of an issue since it would be covered with the glorious ‘skin’ anyway. Note that the picture doesn’t do justice to the extent or depth of the damage: the paint was damage, the wood was damaged, it was far worse than I’d anticipated.


All of which didn’t matter since the skin sucked so bad.

ibanez1Once I realized that the guitar skin wasn’t going to work -and also having realized that the guitar actually sounded pretty good- I decided to try to finish the thing anyway. First up: get the old finish off. This is the early stage of that process, when I was using a heat gun to try to get through the clear coat. This was a laborious process which was very prone to mistakes. The correct amount of heat applied at the correct time was a difficult thing to nail down. It resulted in the spotty results you see here. And this took a very long time, for results which were … well … what you see here. After spending several hours trying to strip it with this method, achieving the results you see here, I finally gave up on that approach. My new approach was sandpaper. Sandpaper is cheap and I could throw a lot of it at the project, so, next step, sand that fucker!

In about an hour, using a 60 grit sandpaper, I got the guitar to the state you see here:

Well, I got the front of it to that state. The back and sides were still untouched:

At this point I was still thinking I could just refinish the front of the guitar and call it good enough. As my brother-in-law pointed out, though, that would have looked fucking horrible. So I resigned myself to sand down the back and the edges. Pro tip: to get to the inside curves near the neck, I emptied a 16oz Coors Light can (a number of them, actually, for unrelated reasons), refilled it with water and wrapped a piece of sandpaper around it. I used the sandpaper-wrapped aluminum can to hit a number of other places as well. Scholars may argue that I was doing so only to make sure I always had some empty cans lying around and they could be right. But, for the inside curves near the neck, the can worked perfectly:

The back was a much easier process, since it is almost completely flat, compared to the curves on the front and sides of the thing.
I thought it looked pretty darn good at that point. I also mistakenly believed that the finish was fairly smooth. It so wasn’t. What followed was a week of the most frustrating painting of my life.

5primerThis is what the guitar looks like after five coats of primer. While the image does little to show the imperfections in the paint, suffice it to say that if it looked as good in person as it does in the photo, I would have stopped right here. It did not, and I did not. I continued the priming process, which ran thusly: spray a coat of white primer, allow to dry, sand down the high spots (removing about 90% of everything I had just sprayed on), wipe it down, spray a coat of gray primer, allow to dry, sand down the high spots (removing about 90% of everything I had just sprayed on), and repeat. First layer white, second layer gray, third layer white, and on and on. I don’t know why, but the primer seemed to disappear into the same low spots in the grain like there was a vacuum sucking it in. I’m not talking about trying to hide the initial damage from the first image in this post; that was hidden easily with a bit of fake wood and one coat of primer. I’m talking about the actual wood grain not being smooth. And no matter how much primer I threw at it, I couldn’t make it go away.

I burned through -very literally- five full cans of primer during this process. This is what it looks like after the fifth can was empty and I finally enacted the ‘5-can-fuck-it’/mercy rule:

Unfortunately, even at full size, I don’t think you can see the issue with the grain coming through the paint. If it looked that smooth in person, I’d be pleased as punch.

silver So, to finish the guitar, I chose to try out something wildly different (at least for a guitar… I think) which is to use Alclad II Electric Blue to try to give it a bit of an anodized look. I decided before I started the process that I was going to try to give the final product some faux tiger-stripes in an effort to distract from the flaws in the base coat. The first step to using the alclad is to coat the guitar in their proprietary silver paint, which I did. That looks like what you see pictured here. Now, with such a shiny finish, you can definitely see some of the wood grain that was bedeviling me throughout the process. It sticks out, just as I thought it would, like the proverbial sore thumb. It looks fucking horrible. Thankfully, though, this is the base coat. I knew it wasn’t going to look great, and the results back that up. But I still had to lay down some color coat. I did that with the electric blue color mentioned above, taking care to add some thick lines every so often to give it some vague tiger-stripish looks. There was no specific method to this beyond adding them where I felt like they should be:

I started this process by lining around the edge of the guitar and the openings for the pickups and termolo with a fairly liberal line of paint. It doesn’t show much in the image, but I did so knowing that if I didn’t, it would naturally thin around any sharp edges because of paint run and my own tendency to stop before over-spraying. The result actually looks quite good, though not quite as good as the picture. It left me thinking I need to do a bit more and make the stripes a bit darker, but I ran out of paint. I ordered more paint to continue (and I also need to paint inside the opening for the tremolo and touch up the edges around some other openings) but it looks pretty okay. It will be a couple of days before I can take another crack at it, but on a scale of 1-100 on results, I’d say I’m at about a 71 right now.

After waiting an impossibly long three days for my additional paint to arrive (I ordered a second bottle of Alclad II Electric Blue and a bottle of a slightly darker Alclad II Cobalt Blue -which doesn’t exist on Amazon) I finally got to give this thing another coat. I really like the way the very dark cobalt paint is interacting with the lighter electric blue:


If you click the thumb above to see the full resolution image, you will see a lot of the wood grain that I simply wasn’t able to hide. And again, I’m sure it could have been hidden with the proper amount of time/sanding/patience, but I possess none of those. I mean really, if anyone is looking that closely at my guitar, it must be because I am playing so spectacularly that they have decided to perform some impromptu fellatio. If that is the case, they will be so deeply mired in the regret of their actions that they will be exceedingly unlikely to notice the wood grain through the paint.

The image is a fair representation of the actual color and look of the current paint, though. At the top right, there are a couple of lines of paint that look like they might still be wet; that is what they actually look like. They are absolutely dry, but they look wet. That is the only thing about the current state of the paint that I’m disappointed with.

For those of you keeping track at home (and I’ll admit that is probably a very narrow audience; even I wasn’t keeping track and just had to do some napkin math to come up with these numbers) the amount of paint on this guitar body right now is: 5 cans of primer at 12oz each, 1oz of Alclad Silver Candy Primer, 1.5oz of Alclad II Electric Blue and about a half an ounce of the Alclad Cobalt Blue which doesn’t exist on Amazon. Bearing in mind that a lot of the primer was ultimately sanded off, I think it’s still fair to say that the paint alone added a good quite a bit of weight to the guitar (discounting, of course, that a spray can of primer is probably two ounces of pigment and ten ounces of shit that evaporates. And I sanded most of it off anyway. Not to mention that I stripped the old finish completely off. The old finish had some fairly weighty epoxy like clear coat that probably far exceeded the amount that I added).

clear and dullThe next step was clear coat. The clear coat I chose to use in this case was Alclad II Klear Koat matte. I chose matte because I didn’t want it to end with a mirror-like finish which, in my estimation, would draw the eye to the imperfections in the wood a lot more than a less shiny finish. This image (at the thumbnail size here) does a pretty good job of showing how cloudy it looks after the matte clear coat. The matte clear coat went on quickly and in very thin coats. I had my airbrush set to 30psi for this process and, discounting all conventional wisdom, sprayed around twelve very light coats on day one, separated by about five minutes each (which is to say that by the time I got to the bottom, I started back at the top). Which is a fancy way of saying that I pretty much sprayed clear coat for an hour straight on day one. On day two, I repeated the process. I did no sanding between the day one and day two coatings.

I used so many coats because this is a guitar which will be picked up, swung around, and generally mistreated in the way a scale model car will not. There are at least twenty coats of clear coat on this, which will hopefully be enough to absorb some of the day-to-day abuse.

shinyHere is what the finish looks like after a bit of wet sanding and polishing compound. As I said, I finished this with a matte clear coat in the hopes that once sanded and polished (which simply must happen or it will look horrible) it wouldn’t be quite so mirror-like and reflective. That didn’t work. While this image does little justice to just how shiny the fucker is, suffice it to say that I can literally style my hair by the reflection in the paint. I’m trying to be upset about that, but really the finish looks so damn good that it’s hard to not be happy with the result. The finish does. The surface prep leaves a great deal to be desired.

Having now completed the painting and finishing phase of the project, I’ve had a bit of time to think through what I could have done to make this better. I think my problem comes down to that I was trying to do the traditional method of sanding->primer->base coat->color coat->clear coat. While that works for a lot of things (maybe even this thing if I had a bit more patience) I think a better route to go with this project would have been sanding->primer->clear coat (many, many layers)->finish sanding->base coat->color coat->clear coat. I say that because the finish was amazingly smooth after the layers of clear coat went on (it runs into the cracks/crevices and smooths itself to a nice, level finish) and I can’t help but thing that getting few layers of that between the wood grain and the base coat of paint would have made the finish look significantly better. In fact, I’m considering buying another junk body just to test that. If I happen to find a B.C. Rich Warlock guitar on sale for cheap because of shitty paint or broken electronics, I may just give this another shot.

If anyone has scrolled all the way down here, I’m sure you’re only interest is in what I used to finish this guitar. Here is the list:

  • Cheap heat gun (20 bucks at walmart or other stores).
  • Sandpaper -60 and 150 grit to strip paint (at walmart or any hardware store)
  • Sandpaper –1000, 1500, and 2000 grit to wet sand.
  • Primer – 5 cans of Krylon primer from walmart or any hardware store -though you won’t need nearly that much with proper surface preparation.
  • Alclad Silver Candy Base -1oz. Get it on Amazon or a hobby site.
  • Alclad II Electric Blue -2oz. 1 bottle wasn’t enough to complete the finish on a guitar.
  • Alclad II Candy Cobalt Blue -for the darker stripes. I got mine on eBay and it may have been discontinued because it is not available from any online retailers.
  • Alclad II Klear Koat matte -4oz. I didn’t use quite the whole 4 ounces, but I came pretty close.
  • Novus polishing kit from Amazon. If you purchase nothing else from the list, this is a must have. This stuff polished even my matte finish clear coat to a mirror-like shine. Well wort the money. You can buy smaller portions if you have no other potential projects.
  • Total cost of this project: including the guitar and heat gun, I’m just about $200 dollars into this project right now.
  • Was it worth it? For the experience, absolutely. For the finish of the guitar, I think so. I made a short video of the results to show the sheen:

    I’ll follow up with some notes about hardware in the future.

    Second Pancake Complete!

    I believe Q*Bert said it best when he said, “@!#?@!”. I could probably expand on that, but the eloquence of the simple phrase seems so fitting to describe project: second pancake. It’s finished now, and finished is such an apt term.

    The engine and interior really look very good on it. Even the wheels, decals, etc.:

    And then there’s the body. Jesus Fucking Christ. Everything that could have gone wrong certainly did. The initial attempt to install bare metal foil on the side trim resulted in having to strip and repaint it. The second shot at painting wasn’t nearly as smooth as the first. Still, I soldiered on. I went with the two-tone paint because I knew it wasn’t going to be a showpiece and I figured I could learn something along the way. That also went pretty well. Even the application of the trim paint wasn’t too bad. Then I Installed the windows. Evidently I got some paint on my fingers during the process which resulted in globs of paint on the top. I’m too many coats of paint in to care to try stripping it down and starting over, so fuck it. I’m done.


    I want to point out that what you are seeing on top of the fenders, hood and trunk lid isn’t imperfections in the paint, it is actual dust that collected because assembly of this thing took me so damn long. Once I had the body paint fucked up, I just kind of quit trying. But it’s done now and I can move on. Hopefully I won’t repeat the same mistakes on the next one. The next one was going to be an AMC Gremlin, but the wife bought me a Corvette model for Valentine’s Day (which I subsequently bought some wheels and paint for) and I am itching to get started on it. Crossing my fingers that I won’t make some boneheaded mistake that costs me the project.

    Second pancake nears completion

    emptyboxWith the neck no longer bothering me, I was able to get project second pancake to this crucial stage. All parts from the trees are now in place with the exception of some of the chrome and the windows. I’ve been applying decals along the way, so there will be little left to do once I have those in place. As with project first pancake, the most disappointing part of this one is going to be the body paint. I had such high hopes in the beginning… I just overshot my skill level in choosing a car with so much chrome for my second go around. I should have gone with something much more mundane. Oh well, you live you learn.

    interiorThe interior on second pancake is far and away the best feature. From the dashboard features to the two-tone trim and even the decals, this turned out really good. Rather than beating myself up for totally fucking up on the body, I really should be congratulating myself on how well I pulled of the interior. That’s not the way my brain works, though.

    rolling1The rolling chassis now completely assembled, there are a lot of things I could be pleased with: The engine compartment detail also looks very good. The weathering I did for the radiator came out very well. Those tiny decals for the wheel center hubs (not to mention the one for the center of the steering wheel from the interior photo) look great and were a huge pain in the ass to install -the wheels have an embossed Oldsmobile logo that matches the image on the decals. While you can’t see it from the photos, lining up the edges was a real challenge. A challenge that I don’t even think would have been possible without the use of Micro Set and Micro Sol. The tiny size and the contours just wouldn’t allow for a simple water bath to make the decals pliable enough to put in place. After using the micro set, it took another four or five applications of micro sol to get them to really sink in.

    Now that the rolling chassis is all outfitted, it looks pretty darn good.


    I got the interior painted tonight also, so all I have left to do is install the chrome and glass. Since the boy is more or less a lost cause, I’m going to apply the chrome in the factory finish. If my paint looked a bit better, I would probably take the time to do it in Bare Metal Foil. Since this one is now deemed a ‘pancake’, that seems like a waste of time. Hopefully I’ll have the glass and chrome in place by this time next week so I can get started on the Corvette model the wife got me for Valentine’s day.

    ’50 Olds chassis

    A recent neck injury has kept me from working on this one for a while, but I finally got around to finishing the chassis. In my last update, I had the engine mounted to the chassis and needed only a few minor parts added to the suspension to complete it. Then I ran into a major problem with installing the exhaust. In this kit, the pipes lined up with the header fairly well. The problem was that after I installed the engine, part of the frame was pushing where the pipes needed to be. Because of the small area I was working in, there also wasn’t a way to get a clamp of any sort to hold it in place. If I tried to glue it into place, there was going to be a sharp angle where the pipe met the header, and that wasn’t going to look good at all. With a bit of reluctance, I decided that my best shot was going to be to remove the engine and mount the exhaust to it outside of the chassis. With my trusty X-acto, I cut through the glue holding the engine mount and transmission in place and removed the engine.

    Even with the engine outside of the car, getting this exhaust lined up was still no small task. I had to line up one side, glue it, shim it in place with toothpicks and alligator clips and let it dry (I waited 24 hours) before moving on to the other side. After I was confident that the glue wasn’t going to fail if I touched it, I repeated the process on the other side. Here it is shimmed, glued and clipped together, all being held in place in my cheapy Helping Hands:


    This is the second side, after the opposite side was already heavily glued and allowed to dry for 24 hours. You’ll see the transmission and exhaust held in place with the alligator clips, the toothpick to shim it so it lined up right, and a big pair of tweezers to weight it down. I put a lot of glue on this thing. I wasn’t a huge fan of doing it this way, mostly because trying to mount the engine with the exhaust already in place didn’t seem like it was going to be particularly easy. Once it was glued up and dried, though, it went in fairly easily.

    Once that was in place, I still had to complete the suspension in the back. Some of these parts were very small and it wasn’t immediately apparent where they were supposed to connect. I ultimately got it all in place, but not without a bit of guess and check. It’s finished now. Here’s how it currently looks:


    The camera is far more critical of it than my eye is, but still it looks pretty good. This particular kit has an incredible amount of detail on the underside, particularly when it comes to the suspension. That required painting some very small parts after everything was already glued in place (some were flat black per the instructions but seemed like they should be silver instead). I’m getting pretty good at doing that kind of stuff freehand, but it’s not without errors. Here is that from another angle:


    Since I already have the interior mostly finished, there are only a dozen or so parts still left on the trees (not counting the chrome and clear). As far as assembly goes, I should have this thing together in a few more hours of working -which could take me weeks in real time.

    The word of God? Not so much

    When I was a kid, I tried to be the best little christian I could be. As a result of that, the following words are burned into my brain:

    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

    That has been etched so deeply into my memory that I couldn’t forget it even if I wanted to. It’s like the pledge of allegiance*: while I haven’t actively thought about it for over three decades, I remember it verbatim. So, while leafing through a booklet today while I was eating lunch -one of those books that is disguised as something other than the bible. You know, it has picture of a waterfall and a title like, “Ten easy steps to change your life” or something like it, then you open it up and get Rickrolled into reading the bible. I was surprised to see this:

    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

    I’ve added some italics to the passage above to highlight the changes. It has always been the argument of the church that the bible was the undisputed word of God. Sure, I’m talking about the gospel according to John here (purportedly written somewhere between the first and third century -depending on who you ask), but I’m also talking about the single most recognizable verse in the whole book. If they can change four words in the most recognizable verse of the bible in the forty years I’ve been alive, how can anyone believe that the rest of it isn’t, at best, paraphrased?

    I can already hear the arguments, “The words have only been changed to make them easier to understand.” Or perhaps, “The words may be different, but the message is the same.” Which are both valid arguments, but which in no way change the fact that the words were altered. I’m not arguing that the message changed, only that the words changed. It may not change the meaning, but if they’re brazen enough to change this verse right in front of us, just imagine all the other ones that have changed over the millennia. Maybe the message remained the same (although that seems unlikely since we are forever watering it down to discount all the brutality, murder and sex) but it seems like the best case scenario is that it’s God’s word filtered through a game of Chinses whispers involving tens of thousands of people and lasting for hundreds of years.

    Just saying.

    *What’s funny about the pledge of allegiance is that I remember it as:

    “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

    I highlighted a portion of the text there, because the way I remember it isn’t the way my Grandparents remember it:

    “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

    And even the version they remember wouldn’t be the same as the one their Grandparents remember:

    “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

    I wonder how our children’s children will remember it…

    He’s the one they call Dr. Feelgood…

    I’ve had terrible pain in my upper back on the left side for about three weeks now. I went to a chiropractor to try to determine the cause and he said I had a small tear in a muscle in that location. That, combined with a general tightness in the muscles which were overcompensating to make up for it, was all there was to it. Good enough for me. I hate doctors and only grudgingly go to a chiropractor (who aren’t really doctors)* to keep my spine in line or else I am in constant pain from nerves being pinched -a condition dating back twenty-five years.

    In this case, after three weeks there has been no improvement. Any motion of my head to the left or right hurts like hell. Turning it hurts pretty bad, but if I try to tilt it to one side or the other it’s unbearable. It’s actually kind of a fun game to play. It hurts worse the more I tilt it, so I can tilt it further and further to see where my pain threshold is -trying to beat my record each time. I wish I had the tolerance to actually get my head all the way to my shoulder, but I simply can’t do it. I don’t know if it’s me actively being a pussy or if my brain is hard-wired to keep me from knowingly causing myself enough pain to render me unconscious. Seems like something that shady bastard would do; he’s always scheming against me. It’s one thing if I grab a hammer and smack myself in the head with it -I can totally sneak up on my brain and he’ll never see it coming- but it’s different if I have to try to get my brain to be complicit in causing aforementioned pain. That bastard just doesn’t care about science!

    So after three weeks, I finally decided I’d better go to a doctor for a second opinion (or first, really, since chiropractors aren’t really doctors)*. Not able to get an appointment with a primary care physician on short notice, I had to go to urgent care. The one I chose uses the website to allow you to schedule your visit in advance. I was quite pleased to find that the appointment I scheduled for noon on Thursday meant I walked in the door at 11:51, was in triage at 11:59, in the exam room at 12:05 and actually saw a doctor by 12:10. That is nothing like any experience I’ve had with a medical facility to date, so kudos there.

    In the brief time I was alone in the exam room, I took time to look at the pain chart posted on the wall so as not to overstate my condition. That chart looked a lot like this:
    The verbiage on the particular chart I looked at was slightly different, but the gist was the same. After careful examination of the chart, I locked in my pain levels: level 3-4 constantly with spikes to 6-7 when I try to turn or tilt my head. When the doctor arrived, the first thing he asked was the pain levels, and I gave him my numbers. After I did, he asked for clarification. I said, “It’s a dull ache at all times, like someone is pulling or stretching at it. When the pain spikes, I have to close my eyes, clench my fists and face and concentrate on breathing for a couple of seconds while it passes.” He said that others would rate that pain higher. Looking back at the chart, I think others are overstating it. How much worse than “Cannot focus on anything except pain” can you get? I can’t possibly rate it a ten. I’ve never experienced a ten. I’ve broken bones, been in multiple car accidents, had a thumbnail ripped completely off (attempting to remove the leafspring of a car when a jack stand slipped), experienced dozens of cuts and burns requiring medical treatment, but I could always imagine a worse pain.

    I’d have to say, of all the pain I’ve experienced, having the thumbnail ripped completely off hurt worse than anything else. So imagine if you had all ten fingernails and toenails ripped of simultaneously -that would obviously hurt worse, but still not a ten. Because, what if while all those nails were being ripped off, someone grabbed both your nipples with a vise grips and ripped them off, too. Still not a ten, though, because what if, while all that was going on, they were also slowly breaking each of your ribs with a railroad spike and a hammer? Still not a ten, though, because what if, while they were doing all that, they were also simultaneously, and slowly, pulling every single hair out of your body with thousands of tiny little tweezers? Still not a ten, though, because, what if, while doing all of that, they were also forcing you to listen to Nickelback? All right, that might be a ten, but I certainly wasn’t at that level when I got to the doctor on Thursday.

    That digression aside, the doctor asked me a few questions and felt me up a bit. After that, he put on some rubber gloves to start the exam. After describing the location of the pain and bouts of numbness and tingling in my back and left arm, he began by feeling around on my upper back. He noted that I have a lot of scar tissue in the muscle there, but wasn’t able to identify a cause of the pain and numbness/tingling, so he ordered some X-rays. He said he didn’t see anything wrong with my spine, but followed that by saying that they were going to have a radiologist look them over for a diagnosis – which made me wonder why he said anything at all if he wasn’t qualified to do so. Then he gave me copies of the X-rays and sent me on my way.

    I don’t know why they gave me copies of the X-rays. I think I may have overstated my credentials when I chose to wear my “I’m the one they call Dr. Feelgood” ball cap to the appointment, but you’d think they would ask for something more than a ball cap as evidence of my medical training. After all, it said ‘Dr Feelgood’ not ‘Chiropractor Feelgood’*. But give them to me, they did. So I’ve spent several hours going over the images trying to determine the cause of my pain (which, in many states, would be enough to certify me as a chiropractor*).

    The thing is, the images are fucking terrifying. Take a look at this one (the left is on the right and vice-versa):
    I’m obviously not qualified to be making any sort of a medical diagnosis, but what the hell is that spot about a third of the way down from the top and a third of the way in from the right? It looks like that rib is snapped in half. But that’s not the side with the pain, so I’m ignoring it. Follow that rib across to the other side and look at the one above it. This one I have in both the cervical spine X-rays and the thoracic spine X-rays, so I have a better view of it:
    About halfway down and two-thirds of the way across, what is that? Is that normal? It puts me in mind of when you crack a pencil but not all the way through; the top is splintered but the bottom remains intact. Of course it could also be (and probably definitely is) just a trick of the light, which is why radiologists have to go to school for this instead of starting out with basically zero medical training (like chiropractors*).

    So now instead of thinking I probably have some minor problem causing a nerve to be pinched, I think my entire ribcage is crushed, broken and splintered. Thanks for giving me the X-rays, guys!

    *I make a lot of fun of chiropractors in this post, but it’s just that: fun. I don’t mean to in any way diminish the profession or the countless minutes of online schooling they had to attend to get their licenses**

    **Damn it, I did it again.

    Cross-posted to

    50 Olds Chassis

    I’ve been snapping photos as I’ve been working on the 50 Olds, but I haven’t posted any of them in a while. Consider that remedied!

    body3When we last left our hero, he had just completely fucked up an otherwise near flawless paint job on the ’50 Olds Coupe with incompetent usage of Bare-Metal Foil. That pissed him off quite a bit. He soldiered on, even knowing it wasn’t going to be as perfect as he had hoped. Here is a fairly good representation of the state of the car once the trim was painted with basic Testors Metallic Silver instead.

    newspaperLargely due to the knowledge that the body was already pretty fucked because of gouging issues in the current paint, I decided to go ahead and take a crack at the two-tone finish that I had previously decided against. This is an ill-advised way to go about this. When I decided to tackle it, I already had multiple coats of paint in place as well as the trim already painted. I used Tamiya Tape to follow the curves of the molding and then used FrogTape to hold the newspaper to the body, as well as using it to block the windows to keep from getting gloss black on the interior.

    twotoneUsing the tape on the inside probably wasn’t strictly necessary, but I didn’t want to have to try to maneuver sandpaper around on the inside of the car to remove the gloss before I paint it to match the interior. Here you see the finished product. I later used a brush to touch up the areas around the door edges where the black didn’t completely coat over the original maroon, and I had a bit of a bleed issue where the tape wasn’t applied well enough at the top of the door trim, but otherwise it came out very good. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but that top has a mirror-like sheen to it and it really helps to draw the eye away from the horrible fuck-ups imperfections in the maroon body paint.

    Next I went to work on the engine. This kit advertises 135 pieces. While I’m not going to count them all to see if that is accurate, what I do know is that there are about 25 of them that go into the engine (not counting decals).

    enginerealWhen I initially looked at the engine components, I was a bit confused as to how they all went together. I’m used to a more standard 350 type motor with a short Quardajet carburetor and the intake/carb setup on this one didn’t look anything like that. To make sure I was assembling it properly, I sought out photos of a restored 50 Olds for comparison. That motor is pictured here to the right. The other oddity about it is the air filter. That big black cylinder on the firewall side of the motor is the air filter. Again, I’m more used to seeing the frying pan type air filter in older cars, so this one took looking at to understand.

    engineIn an attempt to make the transmission look a bit more realistic, I bought some Aluminum Metalizer and Gun Metal Metalizer to paint it. With the parts already primed, and after taping off the engine, I used the aluminum to paint it first. After that dried, it looked a little too smooth for my liking, so I took the gun metal spray, held the can at about 18 inches away and hit it with one very light dusting to give it a bit of texture. The result was quite appealing. After that, I slapped together the major engine components, painting them after assembly to hide the seams (the green, that is. Things like the belts, pulleys, etc. were painted still on the trees). It came together nicely. It isn’t nearly as bright a green as the image would suggest, but just like the body paint, it simply won’t photograph in a reasonable shade.

    fingerIn the last photo, you’ll note that I still had some work to do touching up the paint on the distributor, intake and belts. I put that off while I assembled the rest of the it. This kit is fairly detailed, including such parts as a starter, oil filter and ignition coil which also needed to be placed. In addition to that, it also boasts some of the smallest decals I have ever seen. In the photo of the real car engine above, you’ll see the words ‘Oldsmobile Rocket’ painted on the gold strip on the valve covers. To the right you’ll see the decal to replicate that on the model. It’s resting on my fingertip. I cut the strip from the decal sheet about three times the size of the actual decal so I could grab onto it with some tweezers to get it into the water and back out. For an idea of scale, you can see my leg hairs, the faded blue ink from a horrible prison tattoo and the maroon fabric of my shorts also in the picture. I mean, this thing is small.

    enginedecals2When I finished with the painting and assembly, I started placing the decals. I was sure happy I bought a 6-Piece Stainless Steel Tweezers Set to handle them. I really like this particular tweezers set because they are all stainless, come in a variety of sizes and have two different sets that can lock to hold things in place. One of those simply work backwards from normal tweezers (at rest, they are closed, you have to pinch to open them). The other locking set has a small pin in it that you slide toward the tip to lock them in place. Both have been invaluable for this model. Here you will see the finished engine with the decals in place. I have put some arrows on the image to highlight the four decals visible from this angle. There appears to be a haze over the decals, but to the eye they are crisp and bright. I applied these under a magnifying glass so I was sure I had them right-side up and was quite surprised to see that the camera managed to capture the text on the oil filter.

    As an aside, I’d like to know who came up with the step numbers for these model kits. This kit has 135+ pieces but is divided into only ten steps (I think it’s only 9 for the stock version). I don’t even think Ikea furniture averages fourteen pieces per step and people constantly clown on them for making difficult to assemble products (as another aside, I never understood that. I’ve never had a problem assembling anything from Ikea, nor do I personally know anyone else who has). I think it must be the same guy who decided that there needed to be six Vitamin B’s, despite the fact that there are twenty letters of the alphabet without a vitamin assigned to them. Better yet, since it has now been shown that a Rubik’s Cube can always be solved in 20 face turns or less, that would be less than two steps according to the guy who numbers model kits.

    shocksOne thing I can say as I get older is that I learn way faster than I did when I was younger. I don’t mean that my brain absorbs information faster or anything like that, more like I don’t forget mistakes and am more apt to remember serendipitous events. Such was the case when I went to work on the chassis of the model. My short experience building these things has taught me that modeling glue will quickly strip paint. When I started to work on the shocks, which were primed in black, I used that knowledge to my advantage. I put a dot of modeling glue on the tip of my thumb and rolled the coil of the shocks through it to strip away the primer. Once the primer was gone, I was able to use a dry brush technique to get silver on the coils without any of the paint running into the black portions in the center. Was stripping the paint first necessary? For me it is. If I attempt this without first stripping the paint, it will bleed onto surfaces where I don’t want it because the finish is the same. Once the finish is stripped, it only goes where I want it to: the stripped area.

    chassisI used a variety of paints to finish the front end of this thing: metallic silver, grey, flat black, semi-gloss black, aluminum metalizer, gun-metal, gun-metal metalizer and Model Master Schwarzgrau The last of those is also the color I used for portions of the interior. I didn’t follow the instructions for which colors to apply or where to apply them, instead I combined my knowledge of cars, a bit of common sense and a touch of artistic license to come up with something that looked more like one would expect the underside of a car to look than all semi-gloss black as the instructions suggested. The result was pretty good, but I did get too many layers of paint in a few places.

    chassisdetailHere’s another view of the assembled front end with a focus on the suspension. You’ll note that the paint stripping and dry brushing really paid off on the shocks. The tie rods, linkage and stabilizer look like you’d expect. You can almost imagine that the parts can move. They can’t, of course, but you want them to look like they can. I’m quite pleased with how well the front end of this one turned out. I only hope I’ll be able to bring the rest of it together just as well. After this, I had to take a break after working on it for a few hours to let parts dry and my eyes rest.

    bottomcomponentsWhile I was painting the transmission earlier, I used the same metalizer paints mentioned above to finish other components for the underside of the car. One of my biggest annoyances with the GTX model was how cartoony and fake the exhaust looked. Using the aluminum metalizer, followed by an extremely light dusting of gun metal, I was able to get this one to look almost like a real exhaust system. The problem now is that it just looks a little too good. I don’t think exhaust pipes look this good even on brand new cars. Next time, I may add a bit of brown in splotches before painting it with the metalizer to see if I can get some hints of rust to show up. Or, who knows, maybe I will screw something else up along the way and serendipity my way into a better finishing technique.

    enginemountedThe last thing I did before putting the frame aside was to mount the engine. I’m gong to need this to be good and dry before trying to route the exhaust because test fitting shows that it doesn’t line up quite as well as you’d want it to. It’s going to take some tweaking to get it connected. This isn’t an issue with my building of the model, but the kit itself. Even before putting the engine in place, the exhaust didn’t line up.

    wheelI had also painted the wheels when I painted the body, and was curious to see how they were going to look. I skipped ahead to step seven and put one of them together. The wheel is four pieces total (plus the tire and the pin) with two making the wheel (painted maroon) and a chrome ring and hubcap. This is what one of them looks like assembled. The tires in this kit are nice. They came in a separate bag and don’t have any molding marks on them. I didn’t have to sand, trim or otherwise modify them in any way to get what you see here. That part, at least, should be easy.