REMOVING THE NECK NITRO
-- I used 3M "Sandblaster" stearated sandpaper, 220 / 320 / 400 grit, cut into 3-1/4" strips x the width of the sheet (9"). I only needed 1 strip of each grit.
-- 1/4" thick 3" x 3-1/2" piece of "scotchbrite" scouring pad to back the paper. The pad was placed 2" from the bottom end of the paper strip with the 3" sides of the pad facing the ends of the strip (allowing the paper to extend slightly on both sides.) The wrapped paper OVERLAPPED so the top end was close to the bottom of the pad's top side, when holding the pad's raw edges to the side. This made for a comfortable, stable wrap, with the thumb under & 4 fingers over the edge of the overlap & allowed the sanding "block" to curve nicely with the neck's profile. * The folds were NOT creased, just snug around. I would never press a crease or otherwise compromised section of sandpaper on the neck. When sanding I moved the paper's edge flush with the pad edge when "fading" the finish where required, at the terminations of the sanding.
-- One roll of 1-1/2" painter's tape. I used this to mask the fretboard & prevent the nitro dust from getting into the pores of that precious rosewood & for taping at headstock & heel. This is a low tack tape commonly used for fretwork & available @ hardware store.
-- Dust Mask, & a couple small clean cotton rags for wiping & "whiskering".
**I only wish I would have had some lacquer thinner to clean my hands. Paint thinner don't cut it all that well.
Deadly tacky, that nitro powder!
1.--Before masking the rosewood, I ripped off a length of tape about half the length of the fretboard & pressed it onto my bed sheet to slightly coat the adhesive w/ cotton lint to lessen the tack a bit. (not really necessary) Starting at the nut I tacked it down & laid the long tape strip one fret at a time (holding the other end taut & clear of the fret board with my other hand), aligning & pinching it around the fret at the edge of the board so dust couldn't get under the tape at the fret.(the whole fretboard edge was left bare). I left the strings on & "lint taped" over them. This is a bit tricky on top of the f.b. taping so string removal is really the way to go here. One doesn't want nitro dust in the windings. It was trying enough to clean my hands.
*** I would mask a maple fretboard as well because your free hand is often used to support the neck when sanding & you DO NOT want to touch an unprotected board using a hand that is tacky with lacquer powder. You can't use solvent to clean it & it's not easy to solve that problem once the residue is on the bass.
2.-- I also put a small clear plastic bag over the headstock & did some creative taping to protect the tuners from nitro powder. This isn't an art form- just functional. :^)
3.-- To protect the body , pups, & pots, I pulled a pillow case over & then a clear plastic bag over that & again with the creative bunching, folding, & taping around the neck pocket. I didn't want to chance scratching the burst with anything on the inside of the plastic.
I live in an apartment & don't have a work bench so I took the exercise into the common sitting room on my floor where there is good overhead florescent lighting. (& no expensive electronics to contaminate.)
Rather than set up on a table, I placed the body upside down on an upholstered chair with the neck projecting clear so the nitro dust could fall easily away from the bass onto a plastic drop sheet below.
At this point my heart was pounding as I hovered over the neck with sanding block in hand. Are you KIDDING me!!! I was about to deface a brand new, custom built, $4000 Sadowsky bass guitar.
Let me firstly qualify my sanding strokes people. ALWAYS with the length of the neck. NEVER, EVER, across the neck. I sanded holding the raw edges of the sanding block in the direction of the sanding, finger tips facing the side of the neck, for the most part, so the fingers could curve the pad over the curve of the neck. I always kept my sanding stroke to about half the length of the neck, moving location constantly. This is important to maintain "level" on the neck surface. It is also important to mention that the finger pressure over the pad on the neck was done only from the finger tips to almost as far as the 2nd knuckle to facilitate better feel & control of the area of nitro being cut.
*For anyone contemplating this operation, it might be useful to do a "dry run" of the various sanding steps, with just the pad without the sandpaper, to get a familiar feel for what you're about to do, especially the various hand positions required. It'll increase your confidence before the fact.
After the first few light strokes I settled into assessing what was developing. I started with 220 grit & after considerable light attack I realized that the nitro wasn't going to give in easily. This was new nitro with no wear. With all the talk of thin nitro neck finish, I expected the wood fibre to break through quickly. I kept wiping the powder away only to find that this wasn't happening. Keep in mind that the sanding strokes were long & smooth with only slight pressure to moderate the amount of cutting that the paper was producing. I moved evenly over the whole neck so I wouldn't mistakenly take too much in any spot. I kept tapping the pad to release the charge of powder & keep the paper "dependable" in it's cutting. Note: This is why "stearated" sandpaper is best. It releases the charge & doesn't accumulate dust buildup like regular sandpaper.
Remember that the nitro on my bass neck has no tint. I love natural maple. (almost as much as the Madagascar on the other side.....No Really.....Honest.) :^)
As soon as I first broke through some nitro it became apparent because there was a slight change in colour. I was actually relieved because I thought I would have to depend on touch, the finish being so white. It's almost like the nitro resembled a slightly "wet" maple in contrast to the bare "dry" maple.
Once the initial streak of bare wood was exposed, the sanding became more relaxed & predictable & hand pressure was far easier to gauge. The final couple patches of nitro required special attention. After the finish was completely removed, I did some long, easy "sweeps" to ensure that the whole neck was "level". This wasn't much of an exercise because I had paid close attention to the whole sanding development. It was "Perfect".
Note: I would suggest that there are some points in the sanding process where it is far easier to move yourself to the other side of the neck so you can see the fretboard seam better & the finger tips will face the seam for easier performance. You will understand this when the time comes. Place the sanding pad in your other hand for sanding briefly if you need to support the headstock for a moment with the other hand.
I should mention that although the masking of the headstock & heel wasn't an art form, the "fade sanding" at the SIDE edge of the headstock required careful "touch" to blend the finish w/ the bare wood. I used a small piece of 400 rolled on the bottom of my finger to finish up there at the 400 stage. It's a simple thing really. (I went back to it for a touchup later to adjust the fade to my liking).
The pad ran up the slope nicely at either end of the neck to form the "hard line" transition by keeping it flush with the slope. When finalizing this part of the 220 sanding, (& the 320 & 400 also), keep your normal hold on the pad but turn your hand so the finger tips are facing the hard line transition at both ends. This makes it easy to stand up over the work & see the line that you're producing.(just use short movement of the pad here).
The edge of the fretboard was sanded as far up as the bottom of the frets, where the fret ends were dressed on a slight bevel, making it easy to tilt the sanding block properly. I decided to leave the fret ends / fret slot covered w/ nitro while sanding the seam of the maple / rosewood (or maple) bd. I sanded the whole fretboard edge lightly with 400 grit to finish up. This just "polishes" the edge to make it silky.
This was pretty straight forward. I used BARE finger feel on my free hand to gauge the smoothing over the whole area. Very little sanding required relative to previous work. Rather than "whiskering" at this stage, I had decided at the start, to wait until after the 400 sanding.
This takes very little wood off & is basically a "satin finish" step. It was a REAL pleasure to experience this step.
Have you ever, after a special meal, run a liqueur glass under the hot water tap so when it is poured, the liqueur ("Cointreau" recommended) is warmed as it is tasted? THAT'S the effect I felt. LOL.
Wood grain is similar to a snooker table's cloth in that it has a "nap" where the fibres aline in one direction. (as does a man's beard). Hence the term "whiskering". If you wash your face & let it dry well before an electric shave, it props up the beard so you cut the whisker closer to the skin. The same thing results when you dampen wood & let it dry COMPLETELY. These short wood fibres can then be cut off by the abrasive.
I ended up whiskering 3 times. After the initial 400 grit sanding, I rubbed the whole neck lightly with the wet end of a clean dish towel, (soaked & wrung), making sure to remove any glossy wet spots. The maple looked uniformly a bit darker, but "flat" not shiny. After this I did NOT touch the maple until it was fully dry or I would have, in effect, pushed the damp fibres back down. When it was dry I could feel the whiskers on the surface & sanded very, very LIGHTLY with a small piece of single layer 400 without the pad until smooth again. ***I wanted to take off just the whiskers. Repeated, as I still felt improvement was possible after I wet the wood a 2nd time.. After the 3rd wetting the dried wood had remained smooth as silk, but I lightly 400 sanded (just feathered it) anyway ONLY in one direction from headstock to heel - against the grain. I wanted to make sure I got ALL the whiskers so I would be able to damp wipe/clean the neck when needed without raising any grain. I can always just feather the surface with a small piece of 400 for any reason.
Note: When dampening maple for the whiskering process the evaporation time is quite short, especially if there's air circulation in the room, because the grain is so tight that the water sits very close to the surface.
With softwood like pine or even the harder mahogany wood, the water sinks into the wood farther.
After the Initial 400 sanding to your satisfaction, I recommend going through the cleaning process - (remove the masking & covers & hand cleaning), & THEN take your time w/the whiskering, letting the wet wood dry thoroughly between each "whiskering". There's no dust involved so you can do it anywhere at your leisure. Just do the whiskering THOROUGHLY & do it all before you buff the surface or play the bass. You want the grain propped up, not pressed down, for the process. It's huge in the outcome.
I buffed the bare maple to a slight lustre to make sure the surface "played" well as if it had been played for some time. The surface was now absolutely immaculate in it's smoothness & very slippery. I also cleaned the flats well with rubbing alcohol & spot cleaned the bd. Had I removed the strings prior to work, I would have cleaned the bd w/ "Hydrate".
Note: It is imperative to clean off the nitro dust from the masking & covers before removing them to keep it away from the uncovered bass. If the bass is touched with tacky hands, the residue will be transfered & difficult to remove.
My jaw dropped when I strapped this baby on and it hit home what I had in fact just accomplished.
So many nuances surfaced that I wasn't expecting. Among the most impressive was just how overwhelmingly sensuous the feel & apparent dimension of the strings became. There's no longer a "feel" to the back of the neck as a distraction.
I suspect that this may not be for everyone, in the event that this article comes across as if I'm promoting the removal of neck lacquer. On the other hand, I hope that my experience proves beneficial to anyone inclined to do the same.
Personally speaking, I am left handed (play right handed) so my most dexterous hand is on the neck/fretboard. Moving around on a 4 string, 1-3/4"nut, P-Bass neck is , for me, EXQUISITE and justification for me to take this bass to the edge, as it were. "P-Bass Groove" just got a whole lot deeper for me! LOL
Thank you Roger, so very much, for helping me pull the trigger. Your thin nitro finish made this a feasible undertaking. I couldn't be more pleased.