Custom Painting the Kramer Dragon Guitar
This Kramer Kramertorium is an interesting shaped guitar – and the first Kramer I’ve refinished. The design brief for the artwork was as far as possible, for a design incorporating a Chinese style dragon, with an image something similar to the Great Wave of Kanagwa, some Japanese Kanji lettering and with a Samurai warrior on the back of the guitar. All great images that should work very well together – so here we go.
As you can see this is a really interesting shaped guitar.
And a sweet looking headstock shape too.
Can you imagine the Samurai warrior on there yet?
Anyway, with the guitar stripped out, it’s time for the first preliminary stages. The first thing to be done in this case is to mask out the fretboard.
I use wallpaper lining paper for this as it saves applying sticky masking tape all over the fingerboard. Just cut here slightly inside the edges of the fingerboards face to give me just enough of an edge to tape the lining paper mask down, but still leave the edges of the fingerboard clear.
When it’s done we’re ready to start.
Here the whole guitar has been rubbed down with 1000 grade wet and dry. This removes any polishes and roughens up the surface of the guitar ready for the artwork and the first applications of gold leaf. After this is done the whole guitar is very thoroughly cleaned with an alcohol based cleaner to remove any residue that might affect the next stages of the work.
You’ll note here that I’m not priming the guitar or stripping it back to the wood. This is a new guitar with a very, very thin finish, so effectively it is already primed and ready to go once the surface lacquer is rubbed back. So here the first part of the design, a representation of the ‘Great Wave of Kanagwa’ is drawn roughly in place on the guitar. I often draw guitar designs out in full on paper prior to laying the design down on the actual guitar, but here, as the front face of the guitar is already white, it’s actually quicker to draw straight onto the guitar itself.
This scene in the original painting is a daylight scene, here, because the background colour is going to predominantly black, I’m going to change it to a night scene, there is a moon to go in here yet. This should give the effect of some colour in the bottom half of the guitar, working up into pure black at the top where the Chinese Dragon is going to be living.
And here is the start of the Chinese Dragon – sorry, the picture is a bit fuzzy.
I try wherever possible to work the artwork into and around the guitar, so here, the Dragon is going to be standing on the pickups and the trem.
The Dragon is going to be done in gold leaf (against the black background), so these scales being drawn in here will all be done individually with gold leaf – going to an interesting project this one.
So there is our dragon drawn in place. Chinese style dragons are characteristically very much more reptilian, long and sinewy looking – and don’t as a rule have wings – that’s why he’s stuck up there on the pickups, poor bugga!
Reckon that flows quite nicely, and no, the Dragon isn’t afraid of the sea!
Now then, onto the back. Unlike the front which was white, the back of the guitar is black, so trying to draw the Samurai straight onto the guitar wasn’t an option. So after drawing round the shape of the guitar onto an A2 sized piece of paper, it was time to start roughing out a design for the Samurai. I wanted a fighting stance for the Warrior and mention was made in the design brief for full Samurai armour, so after lot’s of time spent tracking down reference pictures I ended up drawing this one out. The design is actually a drawing taken from a cast figure, altered and modified for the purpose here. I had intended for it to be just a simple outline drawing, but being keen on all things martial arts, once I started drawing this out I got kinda carried away with it, but, a day later – it was eventually finished.
I now have to draw some Kanji symbols in place that represent the owners name, then trace this drawing out and create a mask of the outline. Then apply gold leaf in the shape of the warrior. Once that’s sealed in with a lacquer coat, the fun begins.
Anyway, for now that’s the Kramer. There may be another update on this particular guitar in the next couple of days, but I’m going to be away from the 3rd of December for a week, so if there are no updates for a week or so that’ll be the reason why. Keep watching this one though – it’s going to be a cracker!
Been some time since the last update to this page, but here is some of the work done on the guitar in the meantime. Starting work on the back of the guitar, the first thing to do was to apply the shape of the Samurai Warrior onto the back of the guitar. This was done by tracing the outline of my drawing onto some Friskit masking film in white pen. The film was then laid into position onto the back of the guitar and carefully cut around with a scalpel. That done the excess film was removed and I’m left with a masked outline of the Samurai.
The next stage was to apply the ‘Size’ (gold leaf glue) to the warrior, and after leaving it to air dry for fifteen minutes, the gold leaf sheets were applied.
Once the glue had fully dried, in this case overnight, the excess gold leaf was brushed away and saved. So we’re left with a rough gold leafed shape of our Samurai.
The next stage was to mark onto the blank shape some guidelines of the design for the following detail stages of the process. Now I could outline the whole of the process in great detail, but that would give everything I do here away, so I’m afraid that the next two lengthy stages of this particular process aren’t shown here……………….got to keep some things to myself!
Okay, so here we have two (large) images of the very nearly finished Samurai Warrior.
There are still parts of this Samurai image to tweak before he’s completely done, but you get the idea. Once this is safely hidden away under a lacquer coat it’ll look as different again too. All that remains to be applied to the back of the guitar body is the Kanji lettering and the back is ready for lacquering in. Then it’ll be to work on the front of the guitar!
Back to work on the Kramer today and time to get the guitar moving along. First thing to do is to mask off the areas that are going to be worked after the first lacquering. These are the foreground and detail areas, in this case the ‘Wave of Kanagwa’ scene. This is done with Friskit film. The dragon is going to be done slightly differently to usual, so a different approach is used here. Obviously I don’t want to lose the dragon image I’ve drawn onto the front of the guitar, but for the technique I’m using to apply the dragon I need to paint the background colours over the dragon image. So to ensure that I don’t loose the dragon I also trace an outline of the dragon onto another piece of Friskit film. That way I have an outline of the main dragon detail, and a ready marked mask if necessary for a future stage of the process.
I also penned in the outline of the dragon to make the outline a bit stronger. The cardboard in the pickup and bridge apertures is there to level the surface on the guitar while I traced the dragon outline out, just helps to rest your hand on the surface without disturbing your tracing or Friskit film.
The saved dragon outline.
Next job was to start the actual airbrushing, so it was onto the paint bench.
First coat of the background colour is applied. This is eventually going to be from top to bottom, a black, into deep night sky, into lighter night sky and into ‘Great Wave of Kanagwa’ scene, by moonlight. But for now it’s just a pale blue starter coat!
Slowly the colour is built up.
You can see the masking film over the wave scene here. The wave scene itself will be painted in after this (background) stage is complete and the guitars had a sealer lacquer coat, as will the first of the dragons stages.
You can still see where the dragon is, which is a result. Still a lot of work to be done on this background, working in the black from the edges of the guitar smoothly into the night sky and getting the background right before the masking is removed from the foreground, but it’s coming along here.
The wave scene should look pretty cool when it’s done too, but for today that’s all. Will be cracking on with the Kramer again tomorrow. So…..
Here the foreground masking is being peeled away.
This work now needs to be sealed in with a lacquer coat before work on the dragon and the foreground detail can be continued.
But before the first (sealer) lacquer coat is applied, the edges of the guitar are merged into the foreground paint. Originally there was a sharp, though not very straight edge between the original black sides and the white face of the guitar body. Now the colour runs smoothly round the edges, much better.
Then it’s into the spraybooth. I prefer to lacquer my guitars when they’re horizontal as opposed to hanging them vertically. This creates it’s own difficulties when working with through neck guitars, but there’s always a way!
After the first lacquering session this is what we’re left with. See how even at this very early stage the colours are staring to work under the lacquer. This lacquer coat will be rubbed back almost back to the underlying paint, it’s just a sealer coat designed to protect the applied paint through the following stages, the priority being to keep what will be numerous lacquer coats as thin as possible through the refinishing process. Luckily one of the good things I can say about the finish on the Kramer was that the original finish was very thin, this gives me a bit more leeway as the refinish is applied, which is why the guitar wasn’t stripped right back to the wood initially.
The backplates are also lacquered in to seal the gold leaf detail applied to them.
Again, this is the first and comparatively rough sealer coat, but even here the gold leaf comes alive under the lacquer coat.
This really is going to look the dogs dangly bits when it’s done.
The back of the guitar after the first sealer coat.
Even with polyurethane 2k lacquers, though they are often flash dry after thirty minutes (sometimes less with fast acting hardeners), and fully touch dry after 24 hours, there is still a steady and continual curing (hardening), of the lacquer as the last traces of the solvents evaporate out of the finish into the atmosphere. This curing continues up until about three to four weeks after the guitar is initially fully lacquered and finished, depending on the particular lacquer used (With ‘Nitro’ lacquers, you can be talking months before they’re fully cured). The ‘Kramer’ here, once it was touch dry was then hung vertically and left for two days for the sealer coat to cure out. Normally, if I was just going to be applying more paint to the front of the guitar, 24 hours drying would suffice before rubbing down with wet and dry prior to the next paintwork being applied. But here, with the technique I’ll be using to create the dragon image, I need the lacquer to be harder before I can safely start work on it, hence the delay. This work was actually done two days ago as I update this page now, so probably tomorrow will see work resume on this guitar. The next stage is to (very carefully) rub the sealer coat back with 1000 grade wet and dry, then it’ll be ready for the interesting stuff.
Here the guitar is fully rubbed down with wet and dry……….
Front and back.
The next stage airbrushing wise, was to mask out for the next painting stage of the ‘Wave of Kanagawa’ scene.
The various sections to be worked on are masked and outlined in fine black pen to stop me getting confused……………it’s an old age thing! Then the selected areas are very carefully cutout with a scalpel.
Once all the sections are cut around and carefully removed the guitar is once again ready for some airbrushing.
Really nothing majorly exciting to see here as the paint being applied is in subtle tones to recreate something like the original, but different, if you see what I mean?
Here as much of the painting as can be done on this part of the guitar is now done. The next stage is to remove the masking film and apply some gilding to the guitar, both gold and silver. The dragon is being worked on now, but I’m keeping that process under my hat, hence the delay in updating the website. This guitar will very quickly be finished from the stage it’s at now and I will be updating this page over the next week or so, by which time the dragon will be in place and the Kanji lettering will also be applied to the guitar.
Okay, jumped a good few stages here and a good few days work too, but here the masking shown in the last picture is removed and the golden dragon has been applied using gold leaf.
Huge problems getting pictures of this at this stage as the gold leaf just reflects the light back……..
There is a massive amount of fine detail in the dragon that I’m struggling to take pictures of at the moment, I’m hoping that once a lacquer coat has been applied it might be easier???????….Hmmmm?
Here’s a slight better picture taken in natural light without too much reflection, this is prior to lacquering in.
Another new picture today.
Anyway, this is the overall effect at this stage. Still a fair bit of work on the Wave of Kanagawa scene to go in, but the overall feel of the guitar is taking shape. The dragon alone to get to this stage took five days – and some very sore eyes. Trying to do lot’s of fine work against gold leaf that reflects the light back at you is tiring on the eyes…………….or maybe it’s just old age! Next stage is to apply some silver leaf and a little more paint to the wave scene, along with the Kanji lettering, and then it’s into the spray booth for a coat of clear, but very much coming along now and very soon to be completed.
Ready for a lttle more work on the wave scene before the silver leafing is done.
Some of the sections of the design are carefully painted in and the scene starts to look a bit better.
Developing quite nicely here.
I’m really pleased with how this guitar is shaping up. It’s always nice when you get to this stage with a design and it actually looks right on the guitar. No matter how confident you might be that a design will work when you set out, it’s never until it actually get’s to this stage when you know for certain…………..and then breathe a big sigh of relief!!
Right, just got some finer detailing to put into the boats, then it’s time for the silver leaf highlights on the tips of the wave ‘fingers’ and on the sea below the moon. Just the lettering to apply then and it’s into the spraybooth for a lacquer coat.
Here the guitar has been lacquered, rubbed down with 1000 grade wet and dry and the silver leaf detailing to the wave scene has been applied.
Before the gilding was lacquered in a bit more detail work was completed on the dragon to give it a bit more depth, all that remains to be done on the front of the guitar now is a little bit of shadow work on the dragon to give it a bit more depth and work it into the overall design, then that’s the front done with the exception of the final lacquering and finishing.
Here is a photo graph showing the constellation of ‘Draco’ as seen in the Northern hemisphere. This constellation is named after a dragon, so when I was going to apply some stars to the night sky around the dragon it made sense to put in the constellation of Draco amongst some of the other stars.
Really not a good photograph this one, as the detail really doesn’t show out too well and the proces of applying a bit more depth to the dragon looks a bit odd with some of the surface still being flat (from the rubbing down after the previous sealer coat) and some of the surface being gloss over the dragon, where an extra coat of lacquer was applied prior to the blue tinting. This was for ‘insurance’ in case I made a mistake. Once the whole guitar body is fully lacquered, the whole image should really start to work as one and should look pretty cool.
Just the Kanji lettering to do on the back of the guitar and some custom lettering on the headstock…………..and it’s onto the final lacquering stages.
Here the guitar is finished paintwise and ready for the first finish lacquer coat. The dragon just wasn’t defined enough before, so a liottle more transparent black and blue was added to the bestie to give the feel of some shape, shadow and reflection of the colours surrounding it. Looking much better and more integrated now. The lacquer coat should make the colours pop out even more too.
But before the first finish lacquer coat can be applied to the guitar body, the Kanji lettering has to be applied to the back of the guitar. First of all the symbols are drawn out at the right size, they are then marked onto Frisket film, applied to the guitar body and carefully cut out with a scalpel blade.
The gilders ‘size’ (glue) is then applied to the symbols and allowed to dry out for ten minutes……..
Then a sheet of gold leaf is applied and carefully pressed down into the masking. This is then left for a few hours before the excess gold leaf and the masking material is removed.
The end result. This owner of this guitar is called Connor and the symbols above represent Connors’ name in Kanji.
Anyway, that done, it’s time to start the finish lacquering stages of the guitar body. I still have some minor work to do on the neck and the headstock, so I’m sealing in the body work with three coats of lacquer to protect it while I do the minor work on the rest of the guitar.
After the first coat of finishyou can see the overall effect. Bear in mind that this first lacquer coat is pretty rough, it’s basically levelling the surface of the guitar after the application of all the gilding and masked paint layers. By the time this has fully cured out, been rubbed down through the grades of wet and dry, been recoated, re rubbed down again and probably relacquered again…………then rubbed down through all the grits of wet and dry from 1000 grade to 2400, cut back with cutting compounds, first coarse then smooth, and then finally polished…….It should look pretty cool!
A slightly better picture to show the effect under the lacquer coat.
Lot’s of reflections and a far from perfect first lacquer coat, but imagine this guitar fully polished with all the hardware in place…………I’m starting to think that this could well be one of the ‘prettiest’ guitars I’ve painted yet.
Ready for rubbing down with 1000 grade wet and dry in preparation for the final lacquer coats.
Even so early in the finish lacquering stages, this guitar really does show out well, looking forward to when this guitar is perfectly smooth and polished up.
The original writing on the back of the neck was silver, which really doesn’t go with the rest of the guitar, so I’ve re-done it in gold, much better!
As you can see it all matches now. Here the guitar has been rubbed down and set up ready for the next finish lacquer coat. I quite often get asked just how many lacquer coats should a guitar have? Well, there is no set number of lacquer/clearcoats that a guitar should have. It all depends on the lacquer/clearcoat you’re using and how well the finish goes on. Ideally the finish wants to be thick enough to protect the paint and the wood underneath it, but thin enough so as not to ‘deaden’ the sound of the guitar. This is where, when applying multiple sealer coats (and of course finish coats), rubbing back between coats with wet and dry not only gives you a perfectly smooth finish, but also ensures that the finish remains minimal. When finish lacquering/clearcoating, once your guitars finish is smooth, even and shiney straight from the spraygun, you’ve probably applied all the lacquer coats you need to apply. Anyway………….
Here the backplates for the guitar have also had their last lacquer coat. These will need rubbing down through the grits of wet and dry before polishing up, but they’re not looking too bad.
Finishing one piece construction guitars is not as straight forward as bolt in neck guitars, which is why guitar finishers usually charge more for the pleasure. The trick is in getting an even lacquer/finish coat over the whole guitar. These girt big screws sticking up at jaunty angles from the bridge cavity may look crude, but they support the guitar off of the worksurface and enable me to coat both sides of the guitar (by very carefully turning it over), without any part of the guitars surface being touched while the finish is wet.
Likewise with the ungainly setup on the headstock………
The end result is a guitar that is now being allowed time for the finish to fully cure (harden) prior to the final rubbing down (where necessary) and polishing up. I will post some piccies of the guitar after she’s polished up, but really, the best bit is going to be when all the hardware is reinstalled, that’s when the design should really work and the dragon then, should really fit in with the overall design.
Here are a few pictures of the guitar after the initial rubbing down, polishing up and basic re-assembly.
The guitar now has the electrics and most of the hardware refitted and is ready for final setting up and fine tuning by Ben at Crimson Guitars.
The water streaked effect on the back of the guitar…………………just a reflection from the glass of the velux window above the guitar. Unfortunately this is still the best picture I have of the back of the guitar taken today. Same old problem of a too shiny guitar and a camera that desperately now needs replacing.
Not much changed on the headstock.
But this is one pretty looking guitar. Once Ben has worked his magic on her, she’ll then get a final polish up………….and hopefully I’ll get some better piccies of the guitar for the website.