The Finishing Department
Finishing is the bane of guitar makers. The finish can dramatically alter the the tone of the finished guitar depending on how it is applied.
The thicker the finish, the less tone/volume is produced.
The thinner the finish, the more susceptible to damage (climatic and physical) the guitar is.
Based on the above, every guitar maker faces a battle to find the perfect thickness for their guitars. You have to take into consideration who is going to be owning the instrument, where the instrument is going to reside, and how much abuse the instrument is going to take as a result of playing technique. The finishing on our guitars is not a static procedure it is constantly changing and evolving. We are always experimenting, altering, and working with new products. With this in mind, this section of the tour is a snap shot of how the paint department was in 2006-2007.
The bodies and necks come in from their respective sanding departments and are first blown off with high pressure air to get a good close look at the wood and do a third inspection (There were two previous inspections in Body sanding). The bodies and necks are then wheeled into the spray booth and wash coated. Wash cost is a ultra-thin coat of what is often referred to as "sealer". Basically this coat of finish allows the next layers of finish to stick to the wood surface. The woods (Particularly hardwoods like rosewood) have many resins and oils, and the Polyester Finish we use does not like to adhere to it - So a barrier coat of sealer is needed.
David applies wash coat to an OMV-09
Julio sprays the second wash coat onto an L-05
The sealer is allowed to dry for a full 24 hours. We then return the guitar bodies to the Body sanding department where they are now inspected again (Though the wash coat is thin, it is still finish and once applied allows you to see fine detail in the wood that you could not see previously). If there is any glue or gaps, the body is sanded and then re-wash coated again - and in turn another 24 hours has to pass. They are then quality checked again to ensure there is no glue, etc. This goes on and on until the rack is perfect. Once the rack is perfect, two more layers of wash coat are applied (wet) and the body is allowed to sit for 24 hours more. The majority of our production delays comes from ensuring perfect finish.
The next stage of the process is pore-filling. The pore filler we use is a thick completely transparent polyester based paste. The pore-filler is rubbed onto the guitar by hand using special durable sponges and wiped down with lint-free paper towels. This step seals the pores in the wood preventing future coats of finish from sinking through the pores.
Pore filling a LV-09 neck
The guitars and necks are then baked in our ultraviolet "oven" (Though no heat is involved, only light). The pore-filler and our base/top coat are non-catalyzed - they dry only when exposed to ultra violet light (Similar to getting a filling at a dentist). We have constructed ovens with special HID (High intensity Discharge) lights which produce light both in the visible light spectrum, and in the ultraviolet spectrum. Each oven has 8 lamps in it, which are strategically placed to expose the guitar fully to ultraviolet light. It doesn't take long to dry, only about 25 seconds - Yes you read correctly - 25 seconds.
Baking a P-09 in the UV oven
Once the pore filler is dried, it is scuffed to create better finish adhesion between it and the first layer of base coat. After that, we start spraying the base cost. The base coat and top coat are the exact same material - Ultra Violet cured Polyester. We apply three wet coats (with a set interval of time between each coat) and then the guitar or neck is left to sit for several hours wet (remember it will not dry unless exposed to Ultraviolet light) to allow the finish to settle. It is then dried in the UV Oven - for another 25 seconds.
David applying base coat.
Once the base-coats have been dried, the bodies are sanded (to allow the next three layers of finish to adhere) and then sent back into the spray booth for top coat. However, if the body is destined for a sunburst it takes s different path. The bodies are brought into the small climate room and Wendy Larrivee precision-tapes up the binding and rosette so that the sunburst can be applied.
Wendy Larrivee taping off the back and sides of a D-60 Sunburst
(See those lovely A and F style mandolins in the background?)
The taped up bodies are brought back into the booth so that Jean Larrivee can apply the sunburst. People often ask why we charge such a premium for the sunburst - Well the answer is simple: They are an enormous amount of work to do properly. The binding has to be taped off, then painted, tape removed, edges scraped, steel wooled, touched up, etc. Jean used to hand paint every sunburst, but has since trained our painters to do the job.
Jean spends a Sunday afternoon with some tobacco.
The bodies are then top coated with three more layers of polyester, and then baked again. With the body and neck now painted, they can technically be moved on to buffing right away - but just to be safe, we like to let the guitars' new skin settle for a week or two. The guitars are brought back into a climate controlled room where they just sit and settle.
Painted bodies drying in the climate room.