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Discussion Starter #1
I just finished my latest restoration project. This one is an early 2000s IC-300 Iceman. There was nothing structurally wrong with the guitar, it was all cosmetic. A perfect candidate to bring back to life.

It has a red dragon fabric top and the finish is a satin polyurethane. All hardware was upgraded and pickups are Ibanez Super ‘58s. These are the newer ones stamped S58-N & S58-B not the earlier ones from the 70’s/80’s.

This is only my 2nd attempt at a fabric top. It’s not 100% perfect, but from a few feet away you really can’t tell. There’s one spot where I started to sand through the sealer and hit the fabric. I was able to cover that up well enough where it’s not noticeable. It also took me a few tries to get the fade right. I figured out a few things to do differently to make improvements on the next fabric top. Overall, I’m happy with the way this one came out.

I haven’t really played it yet other than to strum a few quick chords to make sure the electronics work. The neck hasn’t had tension on it in a few years so I’m letting it adjust before I give it a full setup & take it for a test drive.

Here’s a few quick pics.

Iceman Red Dragon.jpg
Red Dragon Body.jpg
 

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Nice!
I'm definitely still planning to turn a 505 into a white/sakura Jem FP with a fabric top when i find the right beaten up 505 candidate to restore. Any lessons learnt from working with fabric finishes you can share? This looks awesome!

Almost has me thinking if I can't find the right 505 maybe do it to a fireman...
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Any lessons learnt from working with fabric finishes you can share?
Sand all the way down' to bare wood for anything you will be gluing fabric to so you get a good bond. You can use wood glue, but I prefer modge podge. In my tests, wood glue dried a yellowish color where Modge Podge dried clear. I've seen people use epoxy too but I haven't tested it myself yet.

This is the biggest thing... ALWAYS use a sharp blade when trimming off the excess fabric to get a clean edge. Otherwise you'll have spots where the fabric starts fraying out on the edge. There's not a real good way to fix that. The dried glue will dull the blade quick. I like to put a couple coats of sanding sealer before trimming the fabric because I find it gives a cleaner cut, but will dull the blade even faster. Have a big pack of x-acto or razor blades and change them out to a fresh one often.
.
 

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That is dangerously cool! Im not even an Iceman guy; but thats just super awesome! The headstock matching too? So sick!



From your mentioning here; one big thing -> Using epoxy is "the" method that would be found on guitars such as the floral pattern jems.... but its also done with vacuum bags using these special pads that absorb excess epoxy. Using epoxy without vacuum pressure is never going to provide you fantastic results; and while I have seen other people use epoxy as well, the end result isnt going to be great; and would absolutely require a million coats of clear to level. Part of the problem is the epoxy needs to saturate the fabric to get an appropriate bond; so youre left with either having spots that arent saturated through; which leaves it inconsistent, or you'll get "puddles" essentially. Since its ... well.. .fabric, you cant really level the epoxy safely to get it all uniform. At best you can squeegee it through; but this isn't really 100% effective, as the epoxy will tend to coalesce as it dries forming those said puddles again. Its also messy as hell. I've tried this a couple times with a couple fabrics, and its just not a great way to get it done. What I wound up doing was a "glue coat" and squeegeeing it through; then I used tape to form an "edge" and then poured a "fill" coat on top... this was great except for the forearm contour ruining everything haha. Since that guitar is actually completely flat; that might actually work rather well...

So yeah... if you dont have a vacuum bag rig; Id recommend not using epoxy here. Im personally not wild on modge podge; my wife uses it a lot for some things, but I cant imagine it would be an "inspiring" hold. I think you're right on the money with that sanding sealer though! What I would recommend to you in the future, they make clear urethane glues for fabrics and leathers; they dry nicely and are super clear. Basically take a thin coat of urethane glue on the body; then apply the fabric. Once its cured, do your sanding sealer business, and youre off to the races. On the so called "real" guitars, the fabric is epoxied in and is hard enough where they trim it using a router with a flush trim bit. Im wondering if enough coats of sanding sealer would make it stiff enough to do the same thing here; what do you think? Witness lines where the fabric was cut would probably drive me bonkers...
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I don’t know if sanding sealer would get everything hard enough to flush cut with a router. This particular fabric was very tightly woven so the glue and sanding sealer didn’t seep between the fibers much. I don’t think you would get that clean of a cut. Maybe with a loose woven fabric where the sealer could get all around the fibers maybe, but not with the fabric I used.

I’ve watched a few videos from that Texas Toast guy on youtube where he attached the fabric using epoxy & a mini paint roller. He rolled epoxy on the wood, laid the fabric down then rolled epoxy on top the fabric. He was able to flush cut with a router. That seemed to work well for him, but I don’t think I’d want to do it that way. It just seems like the roller would leave such a rough surface with the epoxy that you’d be sanding forever or have to be overly aggressive to get it flat. I don’t remember him saying, but maybe he used a self-leveling epoxy?

I’ll have to look into that urethane glue and try it out. It may be a better option than Modge Podge. I tested out Titebond, Modge Podge, spray glue, & various other craft glues. Between those Modge Podge worked the best. Everything adhered well, It dried clear, and didn’t react with anything.

Overall, doing a fabric finish isn’t much different than doing a regular finish. Once you get past gluing & trimming the fabric it pretty much the same.

It could probably use some refinement but this is how I did everything and it all worked well.

* Before starting anything make sure to iron out all of the wrinkles or crease lines from the fabric. Even though you are gluing it down, hard crease lines will still show.

Body Prep:
1. Get everything down to raw wood. Sanding, paint remover, heat gun… whatever works best for you.
2. Fill any dents or holes with your preferred method then do a final sanding with 220 grit sandpaper.
3. Tape the sides of the body with masking tape or blue painters tape. This is so any glue that runs over doesn’t get on the sides. You can just peal the tape off removing any overspill instead of having to sand it off.

Fabric Prep:
4. If you haven’t already done so, iron the fabric. Get the wrinkles and especially any hard creases out.
5. Decide on how you would like the fabric pattern to be laid out on the body then mark & cut the fabric about ¼” to ½” larger than the guitar body.

Gluing the fabric:
6. Before diving in to gluing make sure everything lines up how you want it.
7. Once you’re ready, spread the glue generously over the top of the body. You’ll want to use a glue that will dry clear and not react with the paint or finish. I used Modge Podge. Do your best to get the glue spread all the way to the edges without having a bunch spill over the side. If anything drips over it’s not too bad, that’s what the masking tape is there for.
8. Place the fabric on the body then starting from the center using a plastic putty knife or old credit card work the fabric onto the body. This also helps the glue penetrate though the fabric and saturate it. Pour some glue on top of the fabric and work that around and into the fabric. Your goal here is to saturate the fabric with glue and press it fully on to the body for maximum adherence.
9. Clean up any overspill on the sides as much as you can then remove the masking tape. The tape was just there to help keep the sides clean while you were spreading glue everywhere. You don’t want to leave it on and then have tape accidently get glued to something.
10. Allow the glue to dry/cure before proceeding.
11. Inspect the edges to make sure the fabric is fully adhered to the body. Apply more glue to any area that needs it then let it dry. Do a final inspection before proceeding.

Trimming fabric and applying sanding sealer:
12. Apply a few coats of sanding sealer according to the can’s directions to only the fabric. The number of coats you apply will depend on how thick you apply it. At this stage you’re not trying to fully build up layers yet. You’re wanting to stiffen the fabric on the edges and overhang so when you trim it, it leaves a crisp edge with no fraying. Any sanding sealer that spills onto the sides can just be wiped into the wood.
** How stiff to make the fabric is more of a feel thing. Sanding sealer doesn’t seem to get the fabric rock hard. You wouldn’t want it rock hard anyway. It just needs to be stiff enough to give a crisp edge when cutting but not so stiff that you have to force the blade through.
13. Once the sanding sealer is dry you’re ready to trim off the excess. Using an X-acto knife or razor blade trim the excess fabric off. Do your best to use smooth fluid movements when cutting to avoid jagged edges. You want to cut the fabric flush to the edge of the body. The blade must be sharp to avoid frayed edges. You want a good smooth cut. This is also the time to cut out the pickup cavities and such.
** I cannot stress this enough. Make sure you are always using a fresh sharp blade. It doesn’t seem like there is much to cut and one blade will do. Trust me you will go through several. The sanding sealer will dull the blade really quick and you’ll feel it start to drag. Change to a fresh blade when this happens. To give an idea of this, I used 2 X-acto blades just to trim the headstock; a fresh one on each side.
14. Now you can apply sanding sealer over the entire body as you normally would to prep for painting and/or clear coat. My technique is to apply a couple of layers, let dry, then lightly sand flat. Ensure that you are not being too aggressive with sanding where you go through the sealer and hit the fabric. Rinse and repeat until you have a perfectly flat surface. Remember, 90% of how good the final product looks is in the prep work.
15. From this point on everything else is the same as painting and finishing any other body. The main decision here is if you want to do a burst over the edges of the fabric. The burst finish will hide any minor imperfections from when you trimmed the fabric. If you did everything perfectly, you could forgo doing a burst. That decision is up to you.

Final notes:
- This works well for bodies that have more of a square edge like the Iceman I did or an RG. You won’t have a hard stop to trim the fabric on bodies with a more rounded edge like a Fender Strat. You’ll end up having a seam where the edge of the fabric meets the body. One technique I’ve seen used is to build up a layer of CA on the seam then sand and blend it into the body so you don’t have that hard line. You may be able to do similar with sanding sealer. Again I have not done this style so I cannot attest to what will work & what won’t.

-The glue you use is up to you. Modge Podge worked best for me. Wood glue dried with a yellowish tint, other craft glues didn’t adhere as well, and spray glue (3M Super 77) was messy, didn’t stick well enough & I was afraid would it react with the finish.

-My personal preference for finish on a fabric top is a satin polyurethane. I really don’t like gloss; I hate seeing fingerprints. I don’t have spray equipment and generally do wipe on finishes anyway so for paints & spray finishes I’m restricted to what I can get in a rattle can. I like Rust-o-leum paint & Varathane for clear poly. I want to try duplicolor paints, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Once you get the sealer down you should be fine to do whatever type finish you like. Just make sure that the products you use won’t react adversely with each other.
 

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Oh; my fault; I should have specified a couple things. Im used to using polyester resin for my sanding sealer. HOWEVER, some people use shellac as a sanding sealer... and considering your mention of no spray equipment; logic would leave me to believe youre using a can from the hardware store labeled "sanding sealer" here instead?

If thats the case; using polyurethane over top of that stuff isnt a good idea. Obviously appears to have worked ok for you here, but not a good idea to make a habit of. In all honesty, its still possible its going to peel up still. If you're using shellac, then ignore me completely lol.That said when you do projects like this, shellac is pretty much always useful to have around. Shellac is basically a universal barrier coat; as it can go on top of anything and not react; as well as anything can be applied on top of it and not react as well. So if you have a situation of having a gallon of sanding sealer and a ton of polyurethane; but dont want to buy different stuff? Bam Coat of shellac and youre good to go.

Honestly; for this application; I actually do want it to harden up like a "rock". I'm somewhat curious about the modge podge "glue down". I'll probably poke you for an update in a while to see how its holding up.

Anyway, thanks for the info and sharing the build.
 

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I don’t know if sanding sealer would get everything hard enough to flush cut with a router. This particular fabric was very tightly woven so the glue and sanding sealer didn’t seep between the fibers much. I don’t think you would get that clean of a cut. Maybe with a loose woven fabric where the sealer could get all around the fibers maybe, but not with the fabric I used.

I’ve watched a few videos from that Texas Toast guy on youtube where he attached the fabric using epoxy & a mini paint roller. He rolled epoxy on the wood, laid the fabric down then rolled epoxy on top the fabric. He was able to flush cut with a router. That seemed to work well for him, but I don’t think I’d want to do it that way. It just seems like the roller would leave such a rough surface with the epoxy that you’d be sanding forever or have to be overly aggressive to get it flat. I don’t remember him saying, but maybe he used a self-leveling epoxy?

I’ll have to look into that urethane glue and try it out. It may be a better option than Modge Podge. I tested out Titebond, Modge Podge, spray glue, & various other craft glues. Between those Modge Podge worked the best. Everything adhered well, It dried clear, and didn’t react with anything.

Overall, doing a fabric finish isn’t much different than doing a regular finish. Once you get past gluing & trimming the fabric it pretty much the same.

It could probably use some refinement but this is how I did everything and it all worked well.

* Before starting anything make sure to iron out all of the wrinkles or crease lines from the fabric. Even though you are gluing it down, hard crease lines will still show.

Body Prep:
1. Get everything down to raw wood. Sanding, paint remover, heat gun… whatever works best for you.
2. Fill any dents or holes with your preferred method then do a final sanding with 220 grit sandpaper.
3. Tape the sides of the body with masking tape or blue painters tape. This is so any glue that runs over doesn’t get on the sides. You can just peal the tape off removing any overspill instead of having to sand it off.

Fabric Prep:
4. If you haven’t already done so, iron the fabric. Get the wrinkles and especially any hard creases out.
5. Decide on how you would like the fabric pattern to be laid out on the body then mark & cut the fabric about ¼” to ½” larger than the guitar body.

Gluing the fabric:
6. Before diving in to gluing make sure everything lines up how you want it.
7. Once you’re ready, spread the glue generously over the top of the body. You’ll want to use a glue that will dry clear and not react with the paint or finish. I used Modge Podge. Do your best to get the glue spread all the way to the edges without having a bunch spill over the side. If anything drips over it’s not too bad, that’s what the masking tape is there for.
8. Place the fabric on the body then starting from the center using a plastic putty knife or old credit card work the fabric onto the body. This also helps the glue penetrate though the fabric and saturate it. Pour some glue on top of the fabric and work that around and into the fabric. Your goal here is to saturate the fabric with glue and press it fully on to the body for maximum adherence.
9. Clean up any overspill on the sides as much as you can then remove the masking tape. The tape was just there to help keep the sides clean while you were spreading glue everywhere. You don’t want to leave it on and then have tape accidently get glued to something.
10. Allow the glue to dry/cure before proceeding.
11. Inspect the edges to make sure the fabric is fully adhered to the body. Apply more glue to any area that needs it then let it dry. Do a final inspection before proceeding.

Trimming fabric and applying sanding sealer:
12. Apply a few coats of sanding sealer according to the can’s directions to only the fabric. The number of coats you apply will depend on how thick you apply it. At this stage you’re not trying to fully build up layers yet. You’re wanting to stiffen the fabric on the edges and overhang so when you trim it, it leaves a crisp edge with no fraying. Any sanding sealer that spills onto the sides can just be wiped into the wood.
** How stiff to make the fabric is more of a feel thing. Sanding sealer doesn’t seem to get the fabric rock hard. You wouldn’t want it rock hard anyway. It just needs to be stiff enough to give a crisp edge when cutting but not so stiff that you have to force the blade through.
13. Once the sanding sealer is dry you’re ready to trim off the excess. Using an X-acto knife or razor blade trim the excess fabric off. Do your best to use smooth fluid movements when cutting to avoid jagged edges. You want to cut the fabric flush to the edge of the body. The blade must be sharp to avoid frayed edges. You want a good smooth cut. This is also the time to cut out the pickup cavities and such.
** I cannot stress this enough. Make sure you are always using a fresh sharp blade. It doesn’t seem like there is much to cut and one blade will do. Trust me you will go through several. The sanding sealer will dull the blade really quick and you’ll feel it start to drag. Change to a fresh blade when this happens. To give an idea of this, I used 2 X-acto blades just to trim the headstock; a fresh one on each side.
14. Now you can apply sanding sealer over the entire body as you normally would to prep for painting and/or clear coat. My technique is to apply a couple of layers, let dry, then lightly sand flat. Ensure that you are not being too aggressive with sanding where you go through the sealer and hit the fabric. Rinse and repeat until you have a perfectly flat surface. Remember, 90% of how good the final product looks is in the prep work.
15. From this point on everything else is the same as painting and finishing any other body. The main decision here is if you want to do a burst over the edges of the fabric. The burst finish will hide any minor imperfections from when you trimmed the fabric. If you did everything perfectly, you could forgo doing a burst. That decision is up to you.

Final notes:
- This works well for bodies that have more of a square edge like the Iceman I did or an RG. You won’t have a hard stop to trim the fabric on bodies with a more rounded edge like a Fender Strat. You’ll end up having a seam where the edge of the fabric meets the body. One technique I’ve seen used is to build up a layer of CA on the seam then sand and blend it into the body so you don’t have that hard line. You may be able to do similar with sanding sealer. Again I have not done this style so I cannot attest to what will work & what won’t.

-The glue you use is up to you. Modge Podge worked best for me. Wood glue dried with a yellowish tint, other craft glues didn’t adhere as well, and spray glue (3M Super 77) was messy, didn’t stick well enough & I was afraid would it react with the finish.

-My personal preference for finish on a fabric top is a satin polyurethane. I really don’t like gloss; I hate seeing fingerprints. I don’t have spray equipment and generally do wipe on finishes anyway so for paints & spray finishes I’m restricted to what I can get in a rattle can. I like Rust-o-leum paint & Varathane for clear poly. I want to try duplicolor paints, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Once you get the sealer down you should be fine to do whatever type finish you like. Just make sure that the products you use won’t react adversely with each other.
Wow thank you, very useful!
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Honestly; for this application; I actually do want it to harden up like a "rock". I'm somewhat curious about the modge podge "glue down". I'll probably poke you for an update in a while to see how its holding up.
I think I need to clarify about the not wanting the sealer to be rock hard for trimming. It does/did harden like it's supposed to. I meant that you didn't want so many layers that when it cures & hardens, it's too thick to cut through; like trying to cut through a sheet of Plexiglas.

When I started hobby building about 2 decades ago (has it really been that long) with almost no knowledge & no one to show me how, I got to learn the hard way what works & what doesn't. Didn't take me long to learn never use Krylon for anything. That stuff flat out sucks. I remember the one guitar I use that on, the finish cracked, flaked off, and melted down to the bare wood. Nylon fibers from some indoor-outdoor carped melted the Krylon clear and paint. Of all the products I've tried Varathane has been ne of the best for me. I've been using it for a good while now. I can easily get it at the hardware store & it holds up really well.

I don't know why I never invested in spray equipment. Probably because I haven't really painted many guitars, and the ones I did paint rattle cans were sufficient. I like natural wood finishes the best and that's mostly what I've done. For those I like using a wipe on poly or linseed/tru-oil.

Fabric top is a new venture for me. The 1st one I did was about 6 years ago and I did pretty much the same process and used same products on that one. It was messed up in other ways when it sat underwater for about 4 days during a flood but the finish held up just fine. It didn't peal or crack at all and the fabric held tight. That one has been taken apart, but I still have the body sitting in a cabinet in the workshop. I was looking for some other parts and pulled that body out. I only glanced at it but didn't notice any ill effects.

Modge Podge for the glue, Varathane wipe on sanding sealer, Varathane wipe on clear gloss poly, then a few mist coats of Varathane spray on satin poly. Their sanding sealer says it's compatible with oil and water based polyurethane.

Varathane 1-qt. Woodcare Sanding Sealer-340444 - The Home Depot

Varathane 1 qt. Gloss Triple Thick Polyurethane-281541 - The Home Depot

Varathane 11 oz. Clear Satin Triple Thick Polyurethane Spray (6-Pack)-318290 - The Home Depot
 

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Ive done fabric stuff on "non guitar" builds, and carbon fiber stuff "attempts" on guitars myself. Not exactly apples to apples; ergo my curiosity in the matter.


Although I mentioned a coupled times, I guess im not explaining it. When you use epoxy to put the cloth on; the overlap IS stiff. I DO want this. You can use a router with a trim bit

16940



So the bearing follows the body, and will trim up the cloth excess perfectly smooth to the body. I've never used my sanding sealer stuff on cloth, nor have I used shellac or regular sanding sealer on cloth either; so I was more wondering if it would be able to get hard enough to route safely. (You REALLY dont want 30k rpm grabbing stray fibers, I promise). Gah now that I say that Im kinda spooking myself out; router tables give me the willies.


Spray rigs are kind of expensive to just hop into; and theres too many ways around it nowadays for most people. A lot of my recommendations are simply a prospect of "how many are you doing?". Are you doing projects all the time? Yeah maybe invest in a rig setup; 500$ gets you spraying NICE clear coats; and that includes the paint and activators. Hell, thats overkill but still. 300$ gets you spraying modestly decent PPG or whatever. It quite literally can pay for itself quickly after a few sprays. Conversely, it can be quite painful if you spray a bunch of stuff and lose track of time and forget to clean your gun lol. I typically do 1 -2 full builds a year, and projects all the time; so for me, it makes a lot of sense. For someone doing one project? Nah.








Good look on the sanding sealer compatibility. (y) I've actually seen a FEW people get that one wrong lol. Im not even sure "why", seems like itd be fine lol
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Okay, I didn't realized you were talking about trimming the fabric with a router. In that case, yeah you would want it rock hard. I've seen youtube videos of people doing that using epoxy. I would think as long as the fabric can get fully saturated that should work using epoxy. Sanding sealer might be a different story.

One thing I want to test is epoxying the fabric to the blank, then pour another layer of epoxy on top. Then see if I could cut, route, and sand without having the fabric fray. Obviously trying this on scrap wood before going at the real thing.
 
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