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Refinishing guitar, veneer?

Ape Factory

Member
Messages
2,504
I have a used guitar I bought from GC sight unseen. I asked for a detailed description on the phone but they sent an email several hours later, at 10:30 at night, with additional photos showing a large chunk of finish removed from the bottom right edge of the guitar. It's an Ibanez S540FMTT, 1995. I'd planned, at the very least, to swap out the gold hardware.

Now I'm thinking complete refinish. Initially I thought I could just strip down to the flame maple veneer and then refinish. Not so, definitely wishful, uneducated thinking on my part.

I can refuse the guitar once it arrives. What I was thinking however, of stripping it and sanding it down just as far as needed to do a new top veneer and possibly a bottom as well. I'm leaning towards natural hog on the bottom with no veneer.

So I started looking for veneer sources and the different types of veneer available. I'd like to try something different from the normal flame or quilt maple, burl, etc...and go with either blackened ash or zebra wood. I'd stain the zebra wood with a transparent black or something of that nature. I'd like to do a natural masked binding (hope I'm using the right terminology there) and then a transparent color dye (probably red) on the back.

Now being a veneer, do I have to put a coat of clear over the top? I'd like something a bit more natural with no gloss.

The S540 isn't exactly a "carved" top but it's not perfectly flat like say an RG or JEM series guitar. Fewer actual curves on the top and bottom plane compared to a JS series guitar.

I do have a friend who makes super high end furniture in town who may be able to help but I'm not opposed to shipping the body out either. I just don't want to spend $500 refinishing the guitar.

So is the veneer thing a bad idea or is it something that's fairly doable?

A few photos of the guitar in question (GC supplied photos, not mine)



An example of where I'd like to go with this. Notice the lighter natural (masked?) binding.


Zebrawood veneer


Blackened Ash



This is a project I'd like to have a bit of fun with and actually learn something in the process. I know it'd probably be easier just to go out and buy something but most feel the early 540's are special. Assuming it's in good working order and uber playable, it'd be great to turn it into a real looker.
 
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R3deemed

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7,819
I would just refuse the guitar when it arrives.

You're talking about spending a good chunk of change to get an OK guitar looking good. If it was something you could do yourself, I suppose that would be something else.

There's plenty of S540s out there that you don't have to jump through hurdles to get a nice one.
 

Ape Factory

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Messages
2,504
I've actually had quite a hard time finding something decent, especially one that isn't pink, yellow, blue or black. Nothing older (2002 and older) that's really hit me and a lot of rubbish out there and a few "fakes" too. There have been a few in the $2K range but that's out of the question. Plus a lot of individuals state the early S540's are as good, if not better than anything being produced today even by some of the boutique vendors.

I think a lot of this I could actually do myself. Possibly even the veneer if it doesn't need to applied with a vacuum system and I could get away with gluing it on and putting a big bag of sand on top (I've got LOTS of sand by me). Veneer is pretty darn inexpensive too. I've paid more for cheesy guitar knobs!

I have a nice S5470 in flame maple arriving today (probably in the next few hours!) so this is sort of a book end to that one.
 

Stike

Member
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14,090
I don't know much about veneering but I think for the shape of that body vacuuming is needed.

I think if you were very careful you could sand it down without hurting the veneer, there is a sealer coat over it and to me it looks like a translucent color and not a stain. Try sanding with something fairly aggressive like 120 (3M Gold paper is best, t will say 216U) on the back) and when you hit color switch to 220-280. The factory sealer will be a good substrate.
 

Ape Factory

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2,504
I was told Ibanez puts the color directly on the veneers and there's no sealer. Came from a shop that does JEM replacement bodies. I'll experiment with it and see first. That woudl be great if it's indeed true.

I think my friend has a vacuum system too but I don't want to take up too much of his time. I also have a really good luthier who creates his own instruments from scratch as another (much more expensive and less fun) option.
 

R3deemed

Member
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7,819
I guess I bump into them quite a bit, or so it seems. I have "soft spot" for them as my first 'good' guitar (since given away LOL) was a red '88 or '89 (I think) S540. No S540 I saw since could touch that one--they were always different somehow... [/nostalgia]

It seems to me that you could paint over that damage and get pretty good results. It doesn't look from the pic that there's any wood damage.
 

Ape Factory

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2,504
Yeah that was the prerequisite. I replied if there's wood damage, cancel the order. We'll see!

I've been scouring the internet looking for a decent one and haven't found "the one" yet. I've gone through all the catalogs and there are a few years that have guitar finishes that interest me but there's nothing like fulfilling your own vision. I just want to make sure it's technically possible.
 

Mark Robinson

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
8,901
If there is any rolled over radius at the edge of the body, you are screwed my friend. Vacuum or not, the veneer will not conform, and you would have to reduce the body outline by drum and belt sanding or sawing, to get an edge that makes any sense.

You would be better off digging through the Warmoth showcase for a body closer to what you want, set this one aside, have fun with an unfinished body etc.

By the way, that booge on the edge of the body is repairable IMO. Little bit of black, some clears over that, polish it out.

That's a pretty guitar, and if you strip it and try to laminate it, it's headed for the bin. YMMV etc.
 

Ape Factory

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2,504
Thanks for the feedback Mark. I'll get some detailed images up once the guitar arrives. The "S" series bodies are pretty unique and nothing really has the same feel as they do. And unfortunately NO ONE makes replacement bodies like they do for RG's, JEM's and even Satriani or Radius models. Strange...

Plus it's "old" wood now right? Has to be sonically superior to what you can acquire today :)

Edit: I suspect that's why it's a "burst" with black edges; There's a radius there. I've also thought about what it would take to do real binding (ok, getting someone else to do it and the cost) and going that route.
 

Ape Factory

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Messages
2,504
The S5470 just arrived so I took a few quick shots with my iPhone. I've got the photo studio torn down at the moment and if I have a chance to get it up and running, and shoot a few better images today, I will.

The flame top on the S5470 seems to either be thicker than paper or it wraps around an edge. There's a very small trace of the flame pattern on the radius and then there's the binding just below (see pics). Maybe it's a thin maple cap as opposed to a true veneer.

I would assume the contours on the early S540 model is very similar.


You can see it's not flat except on top around the pickups/tremolo and then slopes down on either side of the center left to right and towards the back.


The edge and binding




So based on how I "think" they did the S5470, doing the S540 in the same sort of way may be out of the question.
 

Stike

Member
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14,090
A good friend scored a 540S (not a flame top) for $75 in a pawn shop. It was kind of beat so he left it with me to refin. and said when I eventually sold it I could give him $75 then and keep the rest. I should buff that thing out, looks pretty sharp in cobalt blue metalflake.
 

Mark Robinson

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
8,901
That's a beautiful guitar, you can do "anything" with it sonically, and the Ibanez folks have their details straight. Have fun with it!
 

Ape Factory

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2,504
Ok some studio detail shots. Saving the overall stuff for the NGD thread :)

It's definitely a veneer. I've not handled any veneer first hand so I can't say that it's a super thick or thin veneer. I also can't tell if the binding is real, inlaid wood binding or if it's a mask and natural clear. I always thought mahogany had a red tint.





You can see the shape of the body. Yeah, a lot of dust. If I were doing this for real it'd be dust free. Lemme tell you how fun it is to achieve zero dust.




Really tried to show the contours with this one...


Shot of the jack hole, still has polish in it. Will be cleaning that out when I get home. You can kind of see the thickness of the veneer and clear in this shot.


If anyone is curious, shot with 5DMkII, 180 macro, 85 1.2 for the most part.
 






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