Jay Scott Guitar

Private guitar and bass lessons, jam camps, guitar building and repairs in West Chester, PA

Guitar Building: Dyeing A Spruce Body Orange

After the success of my black-dyed alder Esquire project, I thought I’d try my hand at an orange body. I was inspired by the orange finishes you see on Gretsch guitars, but didn’t have my heart set on that, since I had no idea what working with the dye would be like.

This is a very white spruce body with really cool knots. The knots and otherwise crazy grain made it a real challenge to finish-sand without sratching. After I sanded in my arm cut, I solved that problem by sanding the sides in sections, since “going with the grain” was not as straightforward a concept as on most of my past projects. The top and back didn’t pose any problems, but I did add a water-spray step to raise and then knock down the grain. I sanded to 600 grit, blew off the dust, and wetted the body thoroughly. I gave it several hours to dry, and used a rough hand towel, followed by a piece of white Scotchbrite, to rub the raised grain going across, not along, the grain.

It worked great! No scratches, a beautiful smooth surface, and a nice luster to the wood were the result. Time to screw on the finishing stick, and mix the dye. I used orange Colortone concentrate from Stew-Mac, and mixed it in a plastic container full of denatured alcohol. I tested it on the pine finishing stick, since it was fairly close in color to the the spruce. I made up some applicators by balling up a piece of cotton rag inside another piece, and tying them up with a rubber band.

The trick is to get the applicator very wet and keep it moving. The dye soaks in fast, and starts to dry quickly, too. Avoiding drips and runs, and re-wetting the applicator often with fresh dye, are critical to getting an even color without blotching. This took a little figuring out, but I like the result I got.

After two coats, the color was pretty Gretsch-y. It looked a little pinker than it appears in the photos, and I thought a little more color might be more to my liking. I wasn’t really measuring the amount of concentrate I added, though I did test the mix each time before applying it.

The third coat pushed it to the very cool flaming red you see here. Bye bye Gretsch! It is more orange than it appears in the photos (I think you’d need to mix a bit of amber to keep the dye a truer orange), and I suspect the Tru-Oil applications to follow will bring a little touch of amber to the color as they build up. That’s next. For now, I’m singing the praises of happy accidents!