An overcoat to protect
A Celebrity Signature
© Frank Ford 2007; Photos by FF

Every so often I'm asked to protect a delicate inked signature - you know, it's the kind of thing that happens backstage at a concert where, in the heat of enthusiasm, a musician gets a celebrity to autograph an instrument. 

This time, though, it was the celebrity who asked for my help.  Here he is rockin', rollin' and floatin' with his Telecaster during a weightless training flight:

It's that space-walking astronaut Steve Robinson, who plays lead guitar in Max-Q, a band consisting of half a dozen NASA astronauts. A while ago he had a guitar player hero sign the face of his Fender guitar with a gold-paint felt tip marker.  The guitar was finished with high gloss polyester so the marker paint didn't exactly weld itself to the surface.  In fact, the slightest touch with a fingernail would send a flake of the paint off into space. Not wanting to lose the signature, he quit using the  guitar for a while.  Now he wanted to put it back into regular service with the band.

I figured the only way I could keep the paint on the surface would be to bridge over it with new finish that would stick to the original finish.

In order to get a good bond, I'd need to roughen the finish considerably,without touching the signature, so I set about scraping right up to each edge of each line, working with a fine pointed knife.  After half an hour, I had some progress to report:


As I worked, my techinque and speed improved a bit, so I got the whole thing done in one day:

Once the close scraping was done I "scuff" sanded the rest of the face of the guitar with 220 grit:


There's nothing like good old shellac for bonding to impermeable surfaces, so my next job was to apply shellac over the signature, which, in addition to being a bit "flaky," was also soluble in all the solvents I'd be using for my finishing.  So, I couldn't afford to wipe the shellac directly on the gold paint for fear of smearing it.  Instead I used cotton swabs and "rolled" the shellac over the gold paint in two thin coats:

Once that bit of shellac was dry, I was able to wipe on a couple of nice wet shellac coats over the entire scuffed surface:

The new shellac base insured that my sprayed nitrocellulose lacquer would adhere well, so I proceeded with a regular schedule of spraying, leveling, pollishing and buffing:

The result is a signature that looks as though it was applied before the final coats of clear gloss finish. Now that I think about it, I guess that's just what it is.

I had a bit of trouble reading the signature, but Steve tells me it's a well known rocker named "McCartney."


Back when I first met Steve some 30+ years ago, he was just starting his career, and he did a bit of lutherie as a hobby.  In fact, he inlaid the fingerboard of this fine old Washburn banjo that currently hangs on my wall just behind the computer on which I'm composing this article:

So, I thought I owed him a bit of delicate work on an instrument. . .

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