Michael Dresdner

straight talk about wood finishing

Hand applied sunburst

Q: How do you recreate the look of the old style hand applied sunburst used on Gibson mandolins from the 1920s and 1930s?
A: The somewhat rough look of the inside ring of the sunburst comes from the old style hand applied sunburst as opposed to one that is sprayed on. It’s a moderately difficult technique that I described in an article I wrote back in the early 1980s in Vintage Guitar Bulletin. It involves working dye from the outside in onto a surface already fully wet with the solvent of the dye, to prevent it from grabbing too much.
For example, with water-soluble dye, you start with a fairly weak dye mixture and a top fully wet with water. You work with two rags; one wet with solvent and the other with dye, and apply and wipe successively, creeping up on the color as you go.
Once the inside color is where you want it, remix the dye to a stronger concentration of the same color and do the same thing, this time staying close to the outside edge. The first dye blends into the undyed center, the second blends part way into the first dye, and so on. Do as many color gradations as you like and need.
It takes some practice and is one of those things that is hard to describe. It’s easier to learn if you actually get to see someone do it, which is why I have thus far avoided posting about it.