Episode 041: Enter Sandman

Paul and Dave explore neck finish, and how easy it is to get rid of gloss for a faster, smoother feel.

Show notes

  • Types of finishes
    • Glossy
      • Often polyester for modern instruments
      • Nitrocellulose lacquer in some, esp. older
    • Satin or matte
    • Tung oil or Linseed oil
    • Bare wood?!?
  • What kind of finishes are on your basses?
    • Glossy is easy to detect
      • it’s extremely shiny, like the finish on a new car — if the body’s in good shape, neck will look like that
      • Friction can get high especially if you play heavily on the neck
    • Satin/matte
      • Less shiny than the body finish, reflections of lights may look slightly soft or blurry
      • A good satin or matte finish will have far less friction but still protects against moisture
    • Tung or linseed oil
      • Seals the wood against moisture but doesn’t provide a lot of finish
      • You’ll feel the wood more than with other finishes
      • To finish properly you usually have to sand and refinish several times
      • Tung oil especially requires a big time commitment — it takes significantly more passes to get a great finish
      • Linseed oil is always the “boiled” kind — this means it will cure faster, otherwise you’ll be waiting literally weeks between coats
    • Bare wood
      • It’s generally a bad idea for a new bass
      • But you’ll find road warrior antiques that have been beaten down to wood
      • Wood absorbs moisture, sweat, and gunk from your hands, yuck
  • Cleaning the back of the neck
    • Naphtha is a good solution and is safe for all finishes if used lightly and sparingly
    • Highly flammable! Don’t smoke or do this near a fireplace.
  • One way to go from a glossy feel to satin
    • 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper and #0000 steel wool, naphtha or other suitable  cleaning solution for back of neck (distilled vinegar even works but might make your guitar smell like a pickle!)
    • If you have a rosewood fingerboard and/or binding, tape it off with painters tape or masking tape, maybe headstock too if it’s finished or you want it unaffected
    • Remove the neck for best results, but you can just tape at the joint
    • Tape over the pickups! Very important due to steel wool bits
    • Clean the back of the neck first
    • Start with 600 grit sandpaper — tear off a piece and fold so you can keep a hold of it
    • Sand up and down neck (not sideways!) with short strokes and light pressure on the neck
    • Tap out the sandpaper if needed between passes, or use a fresh side — a half a sheet will normally more than suffice for one neck
    • Within 2-3 passes of the whole neck, you should be able to detect a big difference in the finish
    • Wipe with a clean dry cloth
    • Now switch to #0000 steel wool which is even finer — you can dig in just a bit more than with sandpaper because it’s going to do less scouring per pass — a couple passes should suffice
    • Optionally, vacuum around the pickups to remove any errant steel wool bits — I don’t find this is a problem in most cases if I’m holding the bass upright in one hand while sanding with the other
    • Remove all tape and voila, you’re in business!
  • Not the only way to do it
    • You can easily use a coarser sandpaper like 350 or 400 grit to start, remove more of the finish (stop when you start seeing wood dust), switch to 1000-1500, and then once done, wipe down with linseed oil, let it sit for 15 minutes or so, then wipe down the excess

Photo by David Rangel on Unsplash. Music: JahzzarPlease Listen CarefullyspinningmerkabaUrbana-Metronica (wooh-yeah mix).