Completed 1968 Telecaster Bass: Candy Apple Red Restoration - UPDATED

  • Posted by Krishna
  • at 5/19/2009 01:27:00 AM -

A bit over a month ago, my buddy Henry called me up one morning - he had a line on a much mistreated 1968 Fender Telecaster Bass with a rough Barney Purple spray can finish, missing a bunch of the parts and with a few extra holes and badly in need of a complete makeover. He sent me links to a few pictures and asked me if I thought I could rescue the bass - I told him that the
the price was right and I was confident I could do something nice with it, without getting TOO extravagant in terms of price.

Henry brought the bass over pretty much as soon as he got it in the mail. The purple refin was in fact VERY poor - and it appeared that there were some pretty deep scratches under the finish too. The body had an extra route for a p-bass pickup, the original pickup hole was filled in with bondo - and there were several chips around the edges of the body. The neck had worn frets, the incorrect headstock decal and a loose skunk stripe on the back of the neck.

The pictures below show the surface of the wood a bit better and nice divot out of the edge of the body. Notice how nicely the string ferrules have been painted over as well .... sweeeeeeet ..... NOT !! ...

One the plus side - the bass did come with the correct and very rare lollipop tuners, which were also used on Jazz basses in 1966 and some Precisions in the 1966 - 1968 time period. The correct neckplate and the original control plate were also included - and it all came in the slightly crushed original case.

After some discussion - there were a lot of options for colors in 1968 - Henry decided on Candy Apple Red for his Tele Bass - a color I have seen on at least a few original examples. Candy Apple Red consists of a transparent red finish applied over a metallic silver or gold finish - Fender used silver, while Gibson used gold for their "Sparkling Burgundy" - their version of C.A.R. Its possible to do Candy Apple in any number of colors - I've seen green and yellow and about 1 1/2 years ago I did a G&L ASAT Bass in candy orange.

The first step was to disassemble the bass and strip that purple paint off and see what was underneath. Fortunately, the paint was indeed spray can paint and stripped off using Citrix stripper. There were many layers and lots of primer, but slowly the bare wood was exposed.

Notice the nice big hunk of white Bondo filling the original Tele pickup routing.

After many applications of Citrix and lots of scraping and fine steel wool, body was scrubbed down with lacquer thinner and then allowed to dry thoroughly for a few days.

Once the body was dry - I used a random orbital sander with a 150 grit pad to sand the front and back of the body, while I used 220 grit paper to sand the edges of the body. The body still showed some of the scratches from prior stripping - probably from someone using a screwdriver or chisel to scrape off the finish - but the scratches weren't as deep as they had looked at first.

Before I went too far with sanding the body, I decided to do the wood repairs - namely plugging the P-bass routing, filling in the big missing chunk in the edge of the body and a smaller missing edge on the bass side of the neck pocket. I routed out the P-bass hole to an even rectangle, so that I could glue a single piece of maple in place. I used some small chips of ask from the area around the P-bass routing to fill in the other two smaller repairs.

The picture below is the maple block clamped into place - I used Titebond and left it clamped for about 24 hours.

Once everything was set - I filled in some small gaps around the edges of the maple plug and a few other small dings here and there - and then sanded down the body again with the random orbital sander and a 220 grit paper for the edges. The scratches are still visible, and there is a bit of purple paint still in the fairly open grain of the ash.

I then began the process of sealing the ash - I brushed on two heavy coats of Parks nitro based sanding sealer. The sealer really brought out the color of the wood and started to make the body look good - but the grain was still showing.

Since the grain was still showing, I applied some oil-based grain filler - much as I would on mahogany - followed by sanding. Though the body wasn't as shiny and the wood didn't show its color, the body was now fairly well sealed and ready for priming. Notice that I did not dye the body yellow for this bass - I've realized that Fender stopped that practice around 1966.

As always - I used a white nitro-based primer - spraying on a fairly heavy coat - I got a few runs on the edges, but I knew I'd be sanding the body quite a bit and I was still concerned about the grain showing through the finish. Once the primer was dry, the grain was indeed showing through the primer. I eventually primed the body three times, wet sanding after each coat. As you can see - I also had to fill in a few small areas with some glazing putty.

Finally - time to start the color coats - beginning with the underlying silver coat for the Candy Apple Red. The silver color I used consisted of fine "bright silver" powder dissolved into clear nitro lacquer. I applied four coats of silver - with some wet sanding of a few uneven areas in between. The final silver coat I did sand - I just carefully and lightly sprayed it to get a very even color - since any flaws would be visible through the transparent red "candy" coat.

Several clear coats of gloss nitrocellulose will seal in the silver layer.

(UPDATED: May 20th, 2009)

After a few coats of clear nitro to seal the silver undercoat, it was time to apply the transparent red "candy" coat.

I am using my 1965 Fender Jaguar, which has an original Candy Apple Red Finish, as a reference.

The picture below shows how the different layers of the finish have worn through over the years - and reveals something pretty common apparently on C.A.R. Fenders - a "do over" on the finish, most likely because of a run or dark spot in candy layer.

The layers of the finish are as follows:
- bare wood
- white primer
- silver undercoat
- some sort of yellowed clear coat
- another silver coat
- a transparent cherry red coat (presumably with a mistake)
- another silver coat
- the final transparent cherry red coat

Two things to note
- there is NO Fullerplast sealer coat nor any yellow dye on the bare wood
- there appears to be no clear topcoat, or its very very thin

So back to the Tele Bass - for the candy coat, I used Stew-Mac's Cherry Red dye mixed into my standard clear gloss nitro, mixing in some lacquer retarder due to the kind of humid conditions lately, and thinning with straight acetone. I started off cautiously - because I didn't want to have to re-shoot the Tele bass like the guy doing the Jag 44 years ago !

The key is to get an nice even color on each surface - the surfaces can differ slightly from each other (the sides and back on my Jag are definitely a little darker though that could be from exposure to light), but variations in the density of the red on teh front or back will show up pretty prominently.

The first coat was basically a "misting" coat that made the bass a kind of pink champagne color.

As I felt more confident, I used a more strongly tinted color and slowly built up the density of the red.

Finally, after four coats of cherry red - the color had the depth I wanted.


Shortly after my last update to this post, I ran into a classic lacquer finishing problem - but one I hadn't encountered before: "fisheyes".

Fisheyes are the nickname for small ringed marks in the finish left when small bubbles form in an underlying layer of the finish - pushing up the overlaying layer - and then collapsing as the finish "gases off". The resulting marks do indeed look like fisy-eyes.

What happened on the Tele Bass was that there was still a significant amount of solvent in the silver coat - and I had quite rapidly built up many layers of candy red ontop. Because of the high humidity, I had been adding some lacquer retarder to the finish - which slowed up the entire drying process. I brought the Tele Bass body upstairs and hung it outdoors once it was dry to the touch - as my basement was still pretty cool and humid - and it had warmed up outside. Mistake !!

After a few hours, I checked on the body and was horrified to see a cluster of small bubbles UNDER the finish in the area on the back of the treble horn. DOH !!!!

The picture below shows the back of the Tele Bass after it had dried a few more days and the "fish-eyes" are plainly visible.

I did try sanding out the fisheyes - but since they were actually in the silver layer, they were still very prominent even after they were flush with the surface.

As with the factory finish "oops" on my 60s Jaguar, this left me with one option - sand the body smooth (not strip it) and respray both the silver and candy coat. I resolved to do the respray in fewer coats by more heavily tinting the red coat - and I also didn't use lacquer retarder, instead waiting for lower humidity days.

I set the body aside to set up thoroughly - and meanwhile turned my attention to the neck - which required some attention: the headstock had an incorrect replacement decal (for a Telecaster guitar) and the walnut "skunk stripe" was slightly loose on the back of the neck and actually sticking out a little.

After consulting with John Mouradian, I fixed the skunk stripe by first backing off on the truss rod adjustment, and then using my finger to work some Titebond glue into the small gap between the skunk stripe and the maple neck. I then clamped with skunk stripe down, using a small clamping caul to just clamp down on the walnut skunk stripe instead of the surrounding maple.

With the skunk stripe secured, I stripped the face of the headstock to bare maple to get it as clean and level as possible. I tried to force apart the E-string tuner crack, but it was very securely glued so I left it alone.

I then applied several coats of clear lacquer - lightly sanding between - and then used ReRanch's Amber Neck Dye blend to tint the front of the headstock and blend the edges into the existing finish on the back of the headstock. I sealed in the tint with a light clear coat, and then applied the repro 1968 Telecaster Bass waterslide decal. Once the decal had dried onto the finish thoroughly (24 hours), I protected it with a very light coat of clear lacquer.

After carefully pressing in the tuner bushing using wood blocks and a bench clamp, I installed the tuners and string tree.

Now that the neck was done, I returned to the body - wet sanding it thoroughly to get a flat smooth base again. I then started over with a light spray of silver, which I followed with a heavier coat an hour later to get a nice even silver base again.

Here's a little bit of the redundant respray ..

And here it is - after drying for a week - with NO fisheyes !

I thought I'd illustrate the wet sanding and buff out process in a few pictures.

To start with, I used a sanding block with 800 grit wet and dry paper for the front and back, and a folded over piece of 800 grit for the sides and edges. I wet the paper often and replaced it when it got any build up on it. The 800 grit was followed by 1000 grit, and then a final wet sanding, just by hand without a block, using 1500 grit wet.

This got rid of all of the orange peel or other uneveness in the clear coat - I was careful to sand JUST enough to get everything smooth and flat. The guitar now had a dull matt finish and was ready for compounding and buffing.

I started off with the regular grit compound and a clean pad on the automotive buffer I use - applying plenty of compound to start with and buffing it evenly for a several passes, then wiping most of it off and buffing it again with just a light glaze.

Then I switched to a lighter grade of a cream like compound and a pad thats more of a synthetic lambswool type of pad - and using a light glaze buffed the body further.

Now the shine was starting to come out - but there was one more step - and that was to use Meguir's Scratch-X to clean and further polish the finish. This part of the compounding was simply done by hand - using a soft cloth to polish and then clean, and working a fairly small area at a time. This resulted in a nice gloss - though what still looks like a vintage finish that's been polished - a very fine pattern of finish marks is visible in the right light.

Eventually the finish will also check - since I used a blend of non-plasticized and plasticized clear nitro for the clear coats.

Finally, the bass was ready for re-assembly!

The bass was fitted with an original control plate and a set of 1968 pots, capacitor and output jack and a reissue 3-ply pickguard, bridge and covers. The pickup is a Rio Grande pickup, with oversized pole pieces that I happened to have around. Some trimming was required around the pickguards neck cutout and the area where the control plate fit, but otherwise the bass went together nicely.

Henry and I had some doubts about how well the neck would play, given the heavily worn frets and the skunk stripe issue - but after a little setup, the neck played very nicely, with low action and a great feel. The bridge saddles had to be set up fairly high, but this put a great deal of downforce on the saddles, giving very good tone transfer and sustain. The neck to body fit was also excellent.

Here it is in the original slightly crushed hard case !

And finally, a few outdoor shots on a sunny Saturday:


Written by Admin

Aliquam molestie ligula vitae nunc lobortis dictum varius tellus porttitor. Suspendisse vehicula diam a ligula malesuada a pellentesque turpis facilisis. Vestibulum a urna elit. Nulla bibendum dolor suscipit tortor euismod eu laoreet odio facilisis.


  1. It Looks Amazing! I can't tell you how stoked I am that it looks this good.. Krishna you are the man!

  2. Looks nice Krishna, neat dutchman there. It's fun to see this old bass get a do-over! I knew the guy Henry bought it from back in the 80's in Miami and have seen the old bird in action.
    Looking forward to seeing the new deal!

  3. Be careful before you decide that a headstock logo is incorrect. There was a large print logo used on early Telecaster basses that appears to be a later 70's logo but it is original to 1968. The later '69 to '75 Logo looks like a mid 60's logo for Tele basses.
    Don't strip that logo off the neck without being 100% sure. I noticed that you didn't post a picture of the front of the neck.

  4. Hi, yes I agree better safe than sorry, but it was actually an early 60s style "spaghetti" logo and it simply said "Telecaster" as opposed to "Telecaster Bass" on it.
    I used the excellent book, The Fender Bass: An Illustrated History, by Black & Molinaro, as a reference - the book has a picture on page 50 showing the three styles of logos used between 1968 and 1971.
    The logo I'm putting on now is exactly the one you're describing - silver logo with a black outline - with Telecaster Bass in small font under the logo.

  5. I can't wait to see it in person! I love it!

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Having seen that when you got it and what it looks like now all I can say is what an awesome job you did on this(just like the other 3 basses i have seen that you did). your attention to detail is second to none.

  8. Really nice guitar bass!
    I dream to realize the same one.
    I'll wake me up soon... ;.) GHIS

  9. I notice you don't add dish soap when wet sanding, why is that?

    I always learn that the adding soap made it easier on the paint

  10. Really ? I've never heard of that !

    I go with standard automotive practice, which is to just use lots of water. I'll have to look that up.

  11. Taken from

    "The panel you are working on is lubricated with water as well as the paper itself. Some brands of paper must be pre- soaked for a specific time period before they may be used. Other companies make paper that just needs a quick dip in a bucket of water before you may begin. You should have a water bucket to soak the papers in, adding just a couple of drops of soap for better lubrication."

    I always use lemon base soap, but do this only on the final wet sanding section, cause im sure its not good to paint over after this proses.

    I have learned a lot from your blog, so this is my 2cents

  12. Where did you get the bright silver powder and what is the mixing ratio with lacquer ?

  13. Hi Paul, the silver powder is "Gold Leaf and Metallic Powders", Fine Silver 18, by Neuberg Ebel ( and I purchased it at Pearl Arts in Cambridge - but you can probably find it at many of the more "serious" art supply stores or online. I don't really know what the ratio was - I mixed it in until it seemed very opaque, I'd estimate something like two tablespoons of pigment in 12 ounces of clear lacquer.