How to Refinish a Guitar with Nitrocellulose Lacquer

What You'll Need
Small screwdriver set
Sanding block
Sandpaper (220 grit to 1500 or 2000 grit)
Sanding sponges
Latex gloves
Nitrocellulose lacquer (color of choice)
Wood sealant
Foam brushes
Clean rags

If your electric guitar has a worn-down or otherwise damaged finish, you can refinish it with a nitrocellulose lacquer, giving your axe a nice new look. After enough time, the finish on a guitar will begin to fade. You might find this gives your instrument unique character, but if not, refinishing is well within your ability. 

Step 1: Remove Guitar Hardware


Before you begin, remove all electronics, faceplates, knobs, strings and any other removable components from the guitar. This is easily accomplished, as a small screwdriver is usually all you need to remove the parts. Don’t forget to remove the tuning machine heads, the cord jack and the bridge as well. You have to strip the guitar down to its wood body. 

Step 2: Unbolt the Neck


Most electric guitars have the means to easily unbolt the neck from the body and separate it. Some hollow body guitars do not have this ability. In that case, you will refinish it as a whole. Cover the entire fretboard with tape, but leave the sides and the back of the neck exposed. 

Step 3: Begin Sanding


The bulk of the work will be in sanding off the old finish. There are other methods for stripping the finish off, but sanding is recommended as it allows you the most control. You may have to sand off several layers of finish. Start with grittier sandpaper attached to a sanding block for the broad areas. Curl it around your finger or a piece of dowel to get into the corners and curves of the finish. 

Step 4: Finish Sanding

After the layers of finish are stripped, finish the sanding process by using fine grit sandpaper to smooth the exposed wood. Sand sponges are useful for sanding the curved areas of the finish. Before you apply the lacquer, be sure all of the rough spots are smoothed and the old finish has been stripped evenly. 

Step 5: Refinish the Instrument

Read the directions on the nitrocellulose lacquer for application instructions. Apply it in even strokes. Use a foam brush to apply an amount of stain then work it in with a clean rag. Always rub it in with the wood grain, and work in small areas. Let the first coat dry. If any rough spots arise with the stain, sand them out lightly and apply a second coat of lacquer as evenly as the first. Wear latex gloves when applying the stain. 

Step 6: Seal


The last step in the process is to seal the newly-stained guitar. Apply a clear-coat sealant. The best-applied sealant is the kind with invisible lines. Don’t apply too much at once. The last thing you want are streaks to dry over the lacquer, marring your otherwise nicely finished guitar. 

Once everything is dry, reattach the neck, fastening the bolts correctly. Reinstall all of the hardware including tuning heads, pickups, knobs, cord jack and strings. With all of the components in place, your newly-lacquered guitar is ready to play.