19 December 2014

A Speedy Refinish of a Mahogany Ibanez RG321

I just bought an Ibanez RG321 MH (mahogany) on eBay. I have wanted to try one for quite a while and the price was low enough for an impulse buy. When I got it, it had a couple more scratches than were visible in the listing photos (a pox upon thee, seller!). One of the scratches was kind of deep, so the exposed wood was in high contrast to the guitar's dark stain.

Fig. 1. One of the eBay listing photos for the Ibanez RG321 MH.
You can see that the finish is not perfect, but the worst gouge
does not show up in this photo.

 I started lightly sanding it to remove the scratch. One thing led to another, and in only a couple of minutes, it looked like Fig. 2 below. If you have ever tried to sand a poly-coated guitar, you know that this amount of sanding can easily take an afternoon. The stain came off quite easily, so I kept sanding. While I was at it, I rounded the lower horn a little. The original was too pointy for my liking. It's not that noticeable, but woodworking is not my thing, and I didn't want to risk altering the guitar too much.

Fig. 2. In contrast to poly-coated guitars, getting down to this much
bare wood only took a couple of minutes on this guitar. Also note
the slightly more rounded tip on the lower horn.

Over the course of a couple of short evening sessions, I removed the neck, hardware and electronics, and sanded the body down to bare wood. The only tricky part was sanding the back without scratching the chrome string ferrules. I used an old razor blade for that (Fig. 3) to scrape around the ferrules. Keeping it flat and working slowly, I was able to remove the finish without scratching the ferrules or gouging the wood.

Fig. 3. Using an old razor blade instead of sandpaper to avoid 
scratching the shiny chrome finish on the string ferrules.

On each of the next three evenings, I put on a thin coat of tung oil, lightly sanding with fine steel wool between coats. I ended up with this:

Fig. 4. The body, after three light coats of tung oil.
Unfortunately, the seams between the different pieces of mahogany show up more clearly with the lighter finish. But I like it better than the original dark stain, which made the guitar look too dated. I just reassembled and restrung the guitar—here are the before and after pics:

Fig. 5: The guitar as purchased (left) and after refinishing (right).
Not a huge difference, but the scratches are gone, and I greatly
prefer the lighter finish.