The Birth of Aradia (part VI)

Welcome back – it’s been a while. The last time I was rambling about this project, I was halfway through the French polishing process. Now, I’ve finished it. At the end of part V, I was entering into Step 6 – the second phase of bodying, building up layer upon layer of shellac over the surface of the guitar. The guide I was using recommended four-to-six such sessions to create the classic deep shine of a good French polish, with three coats being applied in each session. I got to the end of the fifth session and decided that was probably enough. Besides, I’d been hoping to get it finished in time for christmas.

Much like Step 5, Step 7 is best approached with caution. This is known as final levelling, and is much like the rough levelling carried out before except that you use a much higher grit of sandpaper and are only really looking to smooth out visible imperfections. A small square of 800-grit wet-and-dry was soaked in water to soften it, and a small amount of linseed oil was wiped over any patches that looked rough or scuffed. Gentle sanding in a circular motion, with a healthy helping of patience; the sandpaper can take a little while to flatten out some of the larger ridges, but you want to be careful not to burn through the shellac you’ve been so carefully building up. Of course, if you’ve been using a fairly thin shellac-alcohol mix, you should find that your finish is already quite smooth and doesn’t require very much levelling at all.

Step 8 is to glaze the finish and thus complete it. Some guides recommend using a very thin cut of shellac – mostly just alcohol with a small amount of shellac in it. The guide I was following suggested that, if your pad from the bodying sessions was still in one piece, there would be enough shellac soaked into it that you could just douse that in alcohol and glaze the guitar with that.

So that’s what I did. The trick with glazing is to work in straight lines and to press down quite hard, and supposedly the pressure hardens the finish. Apply one coat, leave to dry, and then repeat a few hours later. After a few glazing sessions, you can leave it to set – most guides recommend a couple of days to let the shellac “go off” properly.

I’d like to say that, once glazed, it was simply a case of popping all the hardware into place, stringing her up and plugging her in. As it happens, that was a bit of a challenge in itself: the fabric-wrapped wires from the pickup were a sod to get through the hole cut for them through to the control cavity (I’m still not convinced they offer any advantage over the more common, plastic-sheathed stuff); soldering the pots in such a small control cavity was also not the easiest job, especially when the last thing you want to is let that hot iron anywhere near your beautifully-finished French Polish job. And the nut needed cutting a bit further, just to lower the action to my liking. But at last Aradia has been completed. She’s even been bought along to a rehearsal, and I’m quite pleased with the sound. I’ll have to put together a little video so you can all hear her. Maybe I’ll pop that up with a little photo gallery soon as an epilogue.

No, really: I had to twist them round each other and douse them in WD40 to go through that hole

No, really: I had to twist them round each other and douse them in WD40 to go through that hole

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