Regular readers know I’ve been working with TransTint dyes lately. I did the orange Tele body and liked it so much, as did pretty much everyone who saw it, that I went looking for another color. I found this purple on their website and bought a bottle of the liquid concentrate at Woodcraft.
This project, like all my builds for myself, involved some loose experimenting. Not in any scientific way; more like, “What happens if I do this?”, and “What the hell is THAT??”. I bought a very lightweight two-piece swamp ash body from Larry Robinson at the 2015 Fall Philly Guitar Show to replace a three-piece body I’d bought from him a year or so ago. My intention was to move all the parts from the older Strat to the newer body. I figured that this was the closest I could get to a meaningful comparison between the two bodies. The older Strat sounded good but some people love the lighter bodies, so I wanted to see if I heard a difference.
Of course, that wasn’t enough. I decided to assemble the guitar with the body unfinished. Years ago I met a violin maker who told me that, in his opinion, violins sounded best “in the white”, or unfinished. You can’t play them without the protection of the finish for long, but he felt that even a thin finish changed the sound. Now, Strats and fiddles are different animals, but I’ve already heard the results of applying the thin Tru-Oil finishes I use on all my guitars. The guitars are acoustically brighter than commercially finished instruments tend to be (though there’s a LOT of variation there). What would I hear with no finish?
So off I went, and the short version is that I now had a much different sounding guitar. Strats are bright anyway, and this one had the extra top end I am used to hearing with the thin finish, plus a bit more. The guitar was also clearer and more open sounding than with the other body. Great bass response, which some people say can be an issue with a lighter body. So far, that has not been my experience; the orange Tele body is spruce, and also very light, and it has all the tone I want.
Most of the difference I heard I chalked up to the body weight, and this was borne out after the new body had been completely finished. No doubt the unfinished body was brighter and a touch livelier, but the effect was very subtle, and I don’t need more brightness than I’m already getting. Interesting, glad I did it, time to move on.
The dye concentrate can be mixed with with water or denatured alcohol. I tried the alcohol dilution first, since I’d had good results with that on the orange Tele, but it was harder to get an even, blotch-free color because the alcohol evaporated so fast. I switched to using water and solved the problem. I applied a few coats, to build up the color. I did some tests on pine, but pine isn’t swamp ash, and I couldn’t entirely trust what I saw. Easy to apply more, not easy to remove it.
Finally, I wound up with a dilution that was opaque in the plastic bottle when held a few inches away from a 100-watt bulb (scientific, like I said). This led me to the final dye tone you see above. The color changes amazingly under incandescent, camera flash, and sunlight, but looks cool everywhere. On to the Tru-Oil.
I wiped on eight coats, with plenty of drying time, and more light sanding (1500 grit) between coats than usual. I wanted a higher gloss this time, and no “brushy” look to the surface, which happens with Tru-Oil if you aren’t really careful. On previous builds, I’ve gotten great satin finishes rubbing out with 0000 steel wool, and more gloss from using the aerosol Tru-Oil (the mahogany Tele). The orange Tele got rubbed out by hand with Meguiar’s No. 7 after the steel wool, and that gave me a brighter satin than the steel wool alone did.
This time (another experiment), I went for a lighter rub with the Meguiar’s, just enough to knock down the shine a touch. It’s my glossiest finish so far, and I think it suits the guitar and the color well. The grain is clearly visible (I like that), the color is deep, and the surface looks as though it could have been sprayed.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the lighter body leads to a different sound. I like it! It’s a bit leaner in the bass, and the mids are complex but clear. The whole guitar is very responsive and fun to play. It’s a great chord guitar, but also holds together very well for single notes, and clean or dirty amp settings. The final experiment was a new bridge with narrower string spacing. That solved the E-string balance problem I’ve heard on every Strat I ever played, and completed this guitar. Enough workbench “science” for now. It’s time to play!