It is amazing how followers this blog, and The Crow Guitar build have been very supportive and encouraging. And now the time for color coats has arrived. The back will remain clear to show the flame, but now the rest of the guitar can be painted.
Months ago when I embarked upon The Crow’s journey, I had a vision of it as a living, breathing creation. As the Workshop filled with crow and Kerouac prompts, The Crow guitar became more and more alive in my mind.
Even when working on other projects, The Crow was never far from my thoughts, and its presence hovered over the shop. Friends mentioned that they were noticing crows. People sent me crow photographs and stories. A stuffed crow arrived by FedEx.
I was concerned about the finish. The guitar’s construction was enough to make The Crow a singular instrument, but how was I going to finish the guitar in a way that reflected the theme completely? I knew it had to be black, but it needed something epic to convey the message visually.
One morning I spied a pair of crows in a tree above the shop—I shot a few photos and went inside. When I put the photos up on my computer screen I noticed how the light reflects off the feathers. The birds are black, and they are shiny, but it’s not an even reflection. This played right into my new obsession with lower-gloss nitro finishes. I had an idea, but it wouldn't be easy.
The Vintage Solution
From 1928 to 1941 the National company made resonator guitars from German silver (actually an alloy of nickel, zink and steel) as well as brass and steel. Some of them were nickel plated—others were painted to imitate wood like this rare Tricone.
Others were coated with what is now referred to as the “frosted” Duco finish. This paint got its name because it dried to a texture that resembled frost on a windowpane. It was available for a short time in a few colors including a greenish gold and a clear.
The original Duco paint was made with tar camphor—the stuff mothballs are made of. It fell out of favor and was discontinued and is considered a lost process by many. I thought that if The Crow could be done in a black version of this finish it would be the perfect thing. I don't think there ever was a vintage National in Duco black, but I was convinced that it could be done. The nitro-based finish would have to made from scratch using the original recipe in order to get results.
Starting with a 99% pure naphthalene compound, I added the black nitro and satin flattener until I got a solution that gave me the results I was looking for. It took about three weeks of testing to get a solution that would go through the gun yet still “frost” when it dried. I found that the paint is very sensitive to temperature and the thickness of the coat. It stinks to high heaven too.
There was no way of telling exactly how it would turn out, so I shot a ton of test pieces to get a handle on how to control it as much as possible. Once I had what I wanted, I sprayed a small sample on one page of the journal I'm keeping for the guitar.
The trick with this paint is that it can’t be topcoated with clear. Any application of finish over the Duco melts the pattern and it disappears. Once you’ve shot it—that’s it. This presents an interesting problem on how to deal with the binding. After some contemplation, I devised a plan. You'll have to check back here to see it.