The most remarkable thing about Keith Hiebner, the thing that commanded my attention the most upon meeting him, was his intense willingness to tweak and get something right. I noticed this as I was checking out pictures of guitars that he has made and sold. He talked in depth about the finishes, the laquer, the paint jobs, the hardware, everything. I was incredibly impressed with him, enough to drop off my beloved red Fender Telecaster for him to re-finish. Trust is a sacred thing.
Originally, when I asked Keith to do work on the guitar, I asked him to do a polyurethane finish, which is the finish that most guitars come with these days. Keith told me flat out he would charge me more for that, mostly because he hasn't had any experience with it. However, he offered to do a nitrocellulose laquer instead, and I'm glad I took him up on it. Naitro laquers, in my opinion, are clearly superior to polyurethane.
Briefly, vintage guitars tend to have nitrocellulose laquers because Leo Fender, the original owner of Fender guitars, stole the idea from car manufacturers. Leo was into making solid, affordable guitars in just the same way as car manufacturers were making cars. That ethos naturally extended to using the same laquer: Nitrocellulose. Nitro laquers, as a result, became all the rage in guitar manufacturing. That's not to say that it was easy to do a nitro finish; Keith told me that my guitar's finish would need about a month to dry, and I imagine that the old guitar companies ran into the same issue. It wasn't until at least a couple of decades later that guitar manufacturers started putting polyurethane finishes on guitars. It made sense at that time because polyurethane-finished guitars were now protected from scratches, and could better handle the wear and tear of use. It was a thicker finish, and polyurethane kept guitars in better "looking" condition. That, and it took less time to dry.
Guitar afficianados eventually caught up to the effects of polyurethane. They noticed that it tended to choke the sound of the guitar. Though this is not always the case, polyurethane finishes tend to hold the wood inside of itself, if that makes any sense. The finish is often so think that the guitar cannot vibrate quite as sympathetically with the strings. Nitrocellulose, as difficult and as temperamental as it is to apply, is quite fairly agreed to be the superior laquer, as the sound of the guitar is preserved. Good vibrations, indeed.
My Telecaster had a polyurethane finish, and a thick one. Though I very much loved the guitar as it was, I was curious what would happen when the poly was gone. Moreover, I had dreamed of having this guitar painted white for quite a while. I love the look of guitars that are barren of any fancy, bright colors. For me, it's a love of form and beauty of display; I like the look of guitars that are unadorned, simple, and direct. Keith Hiebner made that happen for me, and he was kind enough to send me photos of the process. Here goes nothing:
The Transformation of the Red Telecaster into a White Telecaster
Here's my red Telecaster before Keith worked on it:
Keither started by stripping all of the paint and the polyurethane from the guitar. He was surprised to discover two different varnishes on the guitar. You can see both for yourself:
He had to sand down the entire guitar, and in doing so, took about a pound and a half off of the overall weight. We found out that the guitar was made from six pieces of alder:
After sanding it down came the primer:
Next, the white paint:
Keith, being the good guy that he is, put on some new strings when he put the entire guitar back together. Here's the final:
When Keith brought the guitar back to my office, the tone had changed immensely. A good test of a guitar's sound is if it's pleasing to the ear when unplugged. In case you are wondering, it sounded great. After we plugged it into my amp, I was just completely overwhelmed. It had quite a bit more clarity, and the sound could be described as buttery. A few weeks later, I plugged the guitar into my usual pedal setup, in combination with some extremely expensive cables (they make such a difference). Again, the response was incredible.
Keep in mind that the only thing that changed was the paint job and the finish. We didn't change the pickups. It was crazy! The sound is now punchy and defined. It's an entirely new guitar.
If you have a guitar that you love enough to have refinished, I couldn't possibly recommend Keith Hiebner enough. If you have the dough, my suggestion is to look into buying one of his custom guitars, too. Rest assured, you will get yourself a quality guitar. Keith is really into guitars, and half the fun of hanging out with him is hearing him talk about them. I certainly learned a lot.