1990 Les Paul Junior TV, Vintage style refinish

  • Posted by Krishna
  • at 3/01/2009 02:14:00 AM -
The Les Paul Junior TV finish is one of the classic vintage guitar finishes and also one of that has been re-interpreted in many ways on various reissues over the years. The worst interpretation in my opinion was Gibson's early 90's version, which was an opaque mustard color, with a slight greenish tinge.

In reality, the TV finish, which was also applied to Les Paul Specials and even a handful of SG-shaped Les Paul Juniors from the 60s - was similar to the translucent "blonde" finish applied to Fender Telecasters during the the 50s, 60s and 70s. Over time, depending on the thickness of the clear coat and the opacity of the color coat, TV finishes appear to yellow to different degrees - with some taking on a light tan color (the so-called "wheat" finish) and some turning a creamy yellow color.

A client brought me his 1990 Les Paul TV Junior for a refinish - initially precipitated by damage to the top of the guitar ( a number of deep dings from something falling on the guitar) - but also as an opportunity for him to replace the "mustard" finish with a 50's style TV finish.

After a bit of discussion and research by both of us, it was decided that the goal would be to show off the grain of the mahogany as much as possible THROUGH the TV finish - basically applying what was close to a 1956-style TV finish, as opposed to the more opaque 1959 style TV finish more commonly seen on double-cut Les Paul Juniors.

The dings in the top are visible in this view if you look closely.

The first step was to mask off the headstock and fretboard and strip the entire guitar down to bare wood. The finish came off fairly easily, with very little finish left in the grain. The mahogany of the guitar displayed a very tight grain, meaning it would be fairly challenging to really make the grain stand out through the TV finish.

Note the shadow of the pickguard on the top of the guitar - illustrating that the finish wasn't truly opaque - enough light penetrated to change color of the wood that wasn't covered by the guard!

Once the wood was bare - I used my dent steaming technique to remove roughly half a dozen small and medium dings on the face and edge of the body.

To emphasize the grain, I decided to use a technique described on the ReRanch website. This technique called for a thin fairly opaque coat of "blonde" nitro to be sprayed on the bare wood - more as a wash than a finish, such that the pores in the mahogany are not filled in with the finish.

Then a dark grain filler is applied OVER the light colored base, with the idea being that the filled grain will contrast strongly with the coated mahogany. This approach may very well duplicate the "limed mahogany" approach that's mentioned in reference to the TV finish. The challenge is in getting the filler ONLY in the pores - and removing the excess without removing the thin "liming" coat.

The finish that was used was based on the tint I used for a 1968 Telecaster refinish, but with some more amber and a little yellow dye added. This was then cut with clear lacquer and thinned down more than I would for a typical finish coat. A nice even light coat was sprayed on the entire instrument.

As you can see in this close-up, the grain was NOT filled by the wash coat.

Now came the grain filling operation - which is always messy. As a first step, a good solid coat of walnut colored, oil-base filler was wiped onto the guitar -working one surface at a time.

A scraper (and old credit card in this case) was drawn ACROSS the grain to remove the excess filler while leaving the pores of the wood filled.

There was still a lot of extra filler on the surface of the wood after this scraping, but the filler was allowed to dry for about an hour before the next removal step was carried out, using a soft cloth that was just a little damp with paint thinner (which will not attack the nitro wash coat). A very light touch is required for this step and work ACROSS the grain - take off less rather than more, otherwise you WILL pull the filler out of the pores.

After the guitar sat for another hour, I gently rubbed the surface - across the grain again - with a dry cloth to polish off some more of the excess filler. The picture below is the guitar after this step.

A few days later, I used 400 grit and 600 grit sandpaper - and a VERY light touch - to remove the rest of the extra filler and even out the color of the guitar.

The grain is well emphasized on the front and back of the body, but the tight grain of the neck isn't as emphasized, because it simply has smaller pores.

The next step will be to clear coat the guitar - and then slowly build up a translucent "TV" finish on top of this base.


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  1. what happened to this guitar? did you finish it??

  2. Yes - finally finished it - need to put the pics up and update the posting someday !!! :)

  3. I'm like a lot of ppl awaiting the conclusion to this project!!!!!

  4. The project is concluded but the pictures are not posted - sorry !! My internet access has been spotty for the last several months since I moved my shop to a new location.

  5. I am the owner of that guitar. Krishna did a great job with the nitro refin. He added some agent to the neck paint that I was not crazy about but I have come to like it. It is a great guitar and the only flaw is one small ding and the G string is slightly sharp, but that is Gibson's doing. The bridge is just slightly too far toward the neck. All other strings have perfect intonation. I had a shop replace the pickup with a Gibson 1958 P90 and Gibson tone/vol controls and capacitor with 1950 Gibson hardware. Unfortunately someone "borrowed " the guitar while it was in the shop and dinged it up badly. I think they had a punk rock party with my axe. The shop listened to my lawyer and paid for the refin, as they should have. Krishna resurrected it and really did a good job, I love that guitar. Mark D.