Surf Green 60s Style Makeover: Fender Precision Lyte

  • Posted by Krishna
  • at 5/10/2009 02:36:00 PM -
This was a fun project to take a fairly recent and "modern" Fender bass and modify it to give it more of a 1960s vibe.

The bass was a 1994 Japanese made Fender Precision Lyte, with a red photoflame sunburst finish on a super lightweight basswood body. Photoflame was a goofy finish gimic Fender used during the 90s in which some sort of printing process was used to print wood grain patterns into a transparent finish, such that a cheap piece of unfigured wood (such as basswood) would have the appearance of a piece of carefully cut flamed maple.

Besides the whole cheeziness of the idea, it also appears that the use of a thick brittle finish on a soft wood body can result in some really pronounced finish cracking - as the pictures below show, the finish was cracked all the way down to the bare wood and had actually fallen off in some areas.

The owner and I discussed some options - he was fairly sure that he wanted Surf Green as the body color and asked about matching the headstock - I suggested adding a custom white pickguard and a repro 1967 Fender Precision headstock logo to really give a 60s Fender look to the whole thing.

I showed the owner a sample panel of surf green with a white P-bass guard against it to give him an idea of what the final bass would look like.

I optimistically hoped that the existing finish would easily flake off - of course that wasn't the case - in fact the finish proved remarkably tough. I resorted to using aircraft stripper - the most potent paint stripper I had access to - and the nastiest stuff too! Even with the aircraft stripper, I need to use a lot of force with a scraper to get the finish off - which was a problem with the soft basswood body - the stripping process unfortunately resulted in a few chips and gouges on the body.

After a great amount of effort - the body was relatively clean - though some of the red pigment from the finish and the solvents from the stripper had actually soaked into the soft wood on the edges of the body, particularly inside the cutaways - which would add another challenge down the road.

After scrubbing the body with steel wool and paint thinner (mineral spirits, followed by lacquer thinner), I applied a small amount of wood filler to the gouges and some glazing putty to the smaller scratches.

The body looked pretty good, so I decided I'd rely on a few primer coats to get a smooth working surface for the color coat. As the primer dried - I noticed that the finish around the cutaways was not drying the same as the rest of the body - and after a while a slight reddish orange tint showed. This was remnants of the solvents and the red dye in the original finish leaching through the primer. I ended up letting the body dry for a week and then priming it with several thin coats over a few days - eventually there was no leaching of color - and the finish on the rest of the body was looking very good.

Then came the surf green color coat, which was actually white nitrocellulose that I hand tinted using two different Tintsall pigments - a blend of Pthalo Green and Grass Green. The nitro went on very nicely - I applied two coats, without any sanding between coats.

I also sprayed the headstock to match at the same time - the headstock had simply had a light sanding done since the headstock finish was not exhibiting any of the finish cracking seen on the body. Two coats of white nitro primer were applied prior to the color coats.

After some wet sanding, I resprayed a final thin color coat before applying a few clear gloss nitro coats to the body.

I then got to work on making the custom guard. I cut a paper template that was loosely based on a standard P-bass guard, but smaller in some areas to fit the smaller P-bass Lyte body, but expanded to fit around the four control knobs of the two pickup P-bass Lyte.

The body got a wet sanding (800, 1000 and 2000 grit) and then buffing with two grits of compound plus scratch-x swirl remover. I also applied a repro 60's "transition" P-bass headstock decal to the surf green headstock before sealing it with two thin coats of clear lacquer. It looks pretty cool with the gold hardware installed !

I cut the pickguard - carefully aligning the cutout for the staggered pickup - and then trial fitting the guard with the neck in place before I drilled any mounting holes in the guard.

I also waited until I had the guard mounted on the body before I drilled the four holes for the controls, which I did from the back (through the control cavity) to ensure that the holes would line up accurately. The came the assembly and rewiring - which was a bit tedious with the two pickups and active electronics - but finally the bass was done - and it was radically transformed!


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. Very nice job indeed! I have run into the same problem with my P Lyte. I found that using a heat gun worked the best for removing the finish. Just be careful not to burn the wood! Also, the original finish was actually using a vinyl "dip". I saw this technique done somewhere and remembered it. You are correct in that it was a cheezy way to put a high-dollar look on a cheap piece of wood.

  2. Very interesting article. I have a 95 with a similar finish, and yes, mine has similar visible cracking of the finish but not as bad.

  3. My question is how do you make a custom pick guard for one!