Gel stains work fine on most. The problem with pine is uneven
absorption. So, sanding can be important. Sand to 220. Shellac is a
wonderful conditioner, glue size works as well. It cases the
absorption of stain to be even. Always test over and over before doing
the whole thing. I never found the water based conditioners very good.
You should raise the grain with water if using water based finish
otherwise try sealing with 1/2# cut shellac. You can use orange
shellac dilluted if you want the orange color otherwise blond or other
nearly clear shellac. Shellac flakes last the best. Then stain, then
finish. You can dry brush as well which is taking a nearly dry brush
and brushing over a blotchy area trying to blend with a non blotchy
area, and even out color. Sometimes works great.