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Guitar Finishing - How To Finish A Guitar Body

Find out below the process and materials required to finish a guitar body in a variety of guitar finishes and for a selection of the most common and popular guitar woods.

How To Spray Finish a Guitar Body in Cellulose Paint

The table below summarises the steps required to finish a bare-wood guitar body in either solid colour or metallic cellulose paint. It assumes you are starting with a new, fresh, previously unfinished guitar body which has had its shaping sanding done, but otherwise is untouched.

  Wood Species  
Process Alder Ash Mahogany Maple Comments
Sandpaper available here.
Sandpaper available here.
Leave for minimum 24 hours before sanding. Available here.
Sandpaper available here.
Sandpaper available here.
Sandpaper available here.
Cellulose primer available here.
Use 400 & 600 grit wet/dry paper, dry. Available here.
Paint (Solid or Metallic)
Cellulose paint available here.
Metallic cellulose paint available here.
~ ~ ~ ~
Only if using a solid colour paint. Do not sand metallic colours.
~ ~ ~ ~
Use our Lightest Brown or Weak Amber to create an instant aged effect over paintwork. Available here.
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Metallic paints must have a clear coat. It is optional for solid colours - use only for vintage style, satin, or matt finishes.Clear nitrocellulose available here. Leave to dry for two weeks.
Use 600 grit wet/dry paper, dry.
Polishing kit and instructions available here.
Relicing
~ ~ ~ ~
Optional, of course. We recommend creating a pristine finish first and then relicing it back for an authentic appearance and long lasting finish.

 ✓  = Required,  ✗  = Not Required,  ~  = Optional

How To Spray Finish a Guitar Body in See-Through Tinted Nitrocellulose Lacquer

The table below summarises the steps required to finish a bare-wood guitar body in tinted see-through nitrocellulose lacquer. This type of finish will allow some of the grain of the wood to show through the finish, while also giving it a colour. Famous varieties of this type of finish are Blonde, Butterscotch, and all Sunbursts (as seen on Stratocasters, Telecasters, Gibsons etc.). It is also the finish used on the back and neck of some Gibsons, either using Heritage Cherry Red or Dark Rich Mahogany tints. Follow the process outlined below for creating a non-coloured clear natural finish (on both electric and acoustic guitars) - it is the same process, just without the colour coats.

Sometimes you might want to use a dye as well as a tinted lacquer to achieve your final colour effect. The main example of this is when you are finishing a flamed or quilted maple top - you use a water based dye to bring out the figure, then a spirit dye to give the colour, followed by a clear lacquer over the top. This process is detailed in the Figured Maple column.

  Wood Species  
Process Alder Ash Mahogany Maple Figured Maple Comments
Sandpaper available here.
Sandpaper available here.
Leave for minimum 24 hours before sanding. Available here.
~
Optional. This raises the grain on figured maple, allowing the black water dye to penetrate into the figured areas. Once sanded this highlights the figure and creates a 3D effect in the final finish.
Sandpaper available here.
Sandpaper available here.
Sandpaper available here.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Optional. Normally the colour is best applied by using a tinted lacquer later in the process, however a spirit dye is useful if going over maple which has previously had a water dye applied to it. Available here.
Cellulose sanding sealer available here.
Use 400 & 600 grit wet/dry paper, dry. Available here.
~
Ready mixed coloured nitrocellulose lacquers are available here. If you want to mix your own use our Clear Cellulose Sanding Sealer and add to it either our Lightfast Spirit Dye, or a solution of our Aniline Dyes to create a lacquer that will fade over time. If making a sunburst finish start with the central colour and work out from there. Optional for Figured Maple tops.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Use our Lightest Brown or Weak Amber to create an instant aged effect over paintwork. Available here.
All tinted lacquer finishes must have a clear top coat. Clear nitrocellulose available here. Leave to dry for two weeks.
Use 600 grit wet/dry paper, dry.
Polishing kit and instructions available here.
Relicing
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Optional, of course. We recommend creating a pristine finish first and then relicing it back for an authentic appearance and long lasting finish.

 ✓  = Required,  ✗  = Not Required,  ~  = Optional

How To Spray Finish a Guitar Body in Waterborne Paint

The table below summarises the steps required to finish a bare-wood guitar body in our waterborne paint. It assumes you are starting with a new, fresh, previously unfinished guitar body which has had its shaping sanding done, but otherwise is untouched. This waterborne paint should be sprayed on. It gives excellent coverage, is available in an increasing range of vintage and modern colours, and contains none of the harmful VOCs found in cellulose paint. The finish is hard-wearing, doesn't crack or discolour, yet is still thin like cellulose.

  Wood Species  
Process Alder Ash Mahogany Maple Comments
Sandpaper available here.
Sandpaper available here.
Leave for minimum 24 hours before sanding. Waterborne available here.
Sandpaper available here.
Sandpaper available here.
Sandpaper available here.
Waterborne primer available here.
Use 400 & 600 grit wet/dry paper, dry. Available here.
Waterborne paint available here.
Use 400 & 600 grit wet/dry paper, dry. Available here.
~ ~ ~ ~
Use our Light Brown to create an instant aged effect over paintwork. Available here.
Clear waterborne available here. Leave to dry for 48 hours.
Use 600 grit wet/dry paper, dry.
Polishing kit and instructions available here.
Relicing
~ ~ ~ ~
Optional, of course. We recommend creating a pristine finish first and then relicing it back for an authentic appearance and long lasting finish.

 ✓  = Required,  ✗  = Not Required,  ~  = Optional