How to Refinish a Guitar

Things You'll Need

  • Guitar tool kit
  • Sanding sponges
  • Sanding block or palm sander
  • Rubber gloves
  • Particle mask
  • Goggles
  • Wooden dowel
  • Stain
  • Lacquer
  • Paint
  • Decals
  • Masking tape

Over time, oil in your hands can cause the finish of your guitar to dull. Accidents can chip and damage the finish. Having a professional refinish your guitar is expensive. Learn how you can strip and refinish your guitar on your own and avoid the expense of a professional while having the satisfaction of maintaining your prized possession on your own.

Remove the strings and all hardware and electronics from your instrument. This means tuning keys, the bridge, pickups, the volume knob and cord jacks. Use a small, flat screwdriver to remove molding if your guitar has it.

Remove the neck from the body of your guitar. You want to cover the fretboard with masking tape. You could completely remove the fretboard, but then you have to do a refret job that isn't necessary. Apply the tape so it only covers the fretboard and you still have access to the sides of the neck.

Remove the old finish. You can do this with heat, chemicals or by sanding. Sanding is the best method, especially if you're doing it for the first time. Heat in the hands of someone inexperienced can result in excessive wood damage. Buy a sanding block, sand sponges and a variety of sandpaper. Take your time and make sure to follow the grain of the wood. Work with small areas and don't try to sand down to the wood on the first pass. Remove the old finish one layer at a time.

Use a wooden dowel wrapped in sandpaper to get the majority of the old finish off in hard-to-reach places, such as the curve of the horn on a guitar. Then use sand sponges to finish the job. When you've removed all of the old finish, go over the guitar and make sure there are no uneven spots. Remove manufacturer decals with the sandpaper. Use a small scraping knife if you need to, but make sure to keep the strokes light.

Refinish your guitar by first applying your choice of wood stain. Allow this coat to dry thoroughly before applying a clear coat of sealant. You can skip this step if the stain you applied is a sealant as well. Let the clear coat dry before you paint your guitar using a high-quality spray paint. Once this dries, you can use acrylic paint to add designs and re-apply your decals. You can order original decals from your guitar's manufacturer or purchase them from music store outlets. Apply a clear coat of lacquer and let it dry for several hours, then apply another coat if needed. When you've finished, give your guitar 24 hours to dry before proceeding.

Re-apply any molding you may have removed and give the molding a coat of sealant and lacquer. Then re-install your electronics, bridge and tuning keys. Reassemble the neck and body, and you're ready to play.


  • Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling stain and paint particles.

    Use goggles when sanding.

    Wear a particle mask.

About the Author

Carl Hose is the author of the anthology "Dead Horizon" and the the zombie novella "Dead Rising." His work has appeared in "Cold Storage," "Butcher Knives and Body Counts," "Writer's Journal," and "Lighthouse Digest.". He is editor of the "Dark Light" anthology to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.

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