Monday, May 9, 2016

Refinishing A PRS Custom 24 | Part 1

If you read my previous two posts about my good friend Reggie Tan's Music Man Luke guitar, what I didn't mention was that Reggie had also sent in his PRS Custom 24 for a refinish at the same time.

His PRS, built in 2004, had developed a strange cloudiness in the finish and the turquoise was slowly fading from the original blue to a faded green for some reason.

PRS Custom 24 Turquoise
PRS Custom 24 in 2008 before the finish started to cloud

PRS uses both acrylic urethane and polyester in their guitar finishes, laying down the poly basecoat before spraying it over with the acrylic. The acrylic urethane is supposed to give the guitar the look and feel of nitrocellulose, without having to deal with the labor intensive application of nitro in a factory setting.

I strongly suspect that PRS's layering of the two kinds of finishes -- combined with Singapore's crazy humidity -- caused the finish to go cloudy over time. And unlike Reggie's Music Man Luke where the finish was literally flaking and falling off the body like potato chips, I have seen quite a number of PRS guitars with cloudy finishes. 

PRS Custom 24 cloudy finish
PRS Custom 24 before refinishing. Note cloudy, green finish

When Reggie mentioned he wanted to get his Music Man Luke refinished, I recommended Luca Quacquarella. 

Reggie wasn't familiar with Luca's work but meeting our Italian friend and seeing the quality of some of his other refinishing projects convinced Reggie enough to entrust both his Music Man Luke and his PRS to him.

PRS Custom 24 cloudy finish
Finish clouding is apparent. Could it be humidity?

I remember that Luca's initial reaction to being asked to refinish the PRS was one trepidation. 

He explained that with the guitar's carved top and tough polyester finish, it would take considerable time to strip the guitar down to bare wood. He also mentioned that he couldn't be certain if he could strip off the original turquoise stain entirely -- too much wood would need to be shaved off. Wood stain goes deep into the pores of the wood and now the turquoise had turned a sickly shade of green! To be fair, he asked for a couple of days to consider taking on the project.

Reggie had a specific finish in mind -- a transparent light blue stain to show off the flame maple in the center and a darker shade of blue on the outer edges, sprayed in a sunburst fashion.

Needless to say, Luca had his work cut out for him, if he agreed to take on the project.

The Big Refinish

The first major task was stripping the poly finish off the body's top and back, the headstock, as well as the back of the neck.

There was some discussion about just refinishing the guitar's top only. But given that the finish was also starting to get cloudy on the back, neck and headstock, a complete refinish of the entire guitar was decided.

A major overhaul. 

PRS Custom 24 cloudy finish
Even the clear finish on the neck and back weren't spared

Luca spent the most time sanding the finish off the carved top by hand, being careful not to flatten out the original contours. Once the poly finish was completely sanded off, the original turquoise stain was finally visible. Which tells me that the cloudy clear polyester topcoat was yellowing as well, causing the finish to take on the green hue. Yellow and blue equals green.

PRS Custom 24 finish stripped
PRS body stripped revealing turquoise stain underneath

There was still a good amount of the original turquoise stain in the wood after he was done, but rather than try to take off more wood, he decided he would apply a blue stain over it. 

Again this was a close judgement call. Too many layers of stain and the top gets too dark.

PRS Custom 24 turquoise stain
Beautiful flame soaked up the original turquoise stain

Fortunately, the Custom 24 features an inlaid Paul Reed Smith logo in beautiful abalone on the headstock which meant one less thing to worry about. The headstock could just be stripped and clear coated, unlike the Music Man Luke where the logo had to be painstakingly recreated.

PRS Custom 24 headstock
Stripped PRS headstock with inlaid Paul Reed Smith logo

After a couple of coats of stain, the guitar was allowed to dry thoroughly before applying pale blue clear lacquer. Luca is old school and very much a traditionalist when it come to guitar finishes.

He prefers to work with nitrocellulose instead of polyurethane, even though nitro is far more tedious to apply, requiring multiple coats with ample drying time and a thorough wet sanding between coats.

PRS Custom 24 nitrocellulose lacquer
All nitrocellulose finish. Shades of things to come!
(Photo credits: Luca Quacquarella and Reggie Tan)

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Refinishing A PRS Custom 24 for a dose of serious guitar eye-candy! 

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