How to Refinish an Acoustic Guitar: Intensive Guide to Properly Do It

As you use and abuse your acoustic guitar through the years, dents and scratches are inevitable. Unless you’ll put your guitar in a vault, you’ll have a guitar that’s still good as new. But, what’s the sense of buying a guitar and keeping it in a safe?

A guitar, like any other musical instrument, is mostly made of wood. Wood material, as you know, can expand and contract with different temperatures and humidity. While some guitars have a lacquer finish and lacquer don’t react to any weather changes, cracks can still occur.

The reason why lacquer cracks occur is that while the wood moves, the lacquer remains still. At first, the cracks seem small and look like a hairline. It’s smooth on the outside because the crack begins on the inside. In most guitars, the cracks never materialized on the outside, which isn’t something that you need to worry about. 

But, if your acoustic guitar has scratches and dents and you need to have it refinished, think twice. Getting a new finish for your old guitar decreases its value, especially for vintage ones. If you don’t mind the value and just want to have a new face and finish for your guitar, here’s a quick guide on how to refinish an acoustic guitar. 

Acoustic guitars come in different finish with different tonewoods used and the guide below is applicable for most acoustic guitar. So, whether you have the vintage model or the toned-down version, if you want to have it refinished, the following steps will be of help to you. 

Steps on How to Refinish an Acoustic Guitar

As mentioned, refinishing a guitar devalues it. But, if you want to refinish your guitar, here are quick steps and details on how to do it well.

  • Disassemble your guitar

Loosen the tuners and remove the strings from the guitar. Of course, it’s impossible to refinish your guitar with the strings on. But, if you the neck is crafted with neck-through or set neck configuration, then, it may be difficult for you to take the neck out. Simply make sure that the neck and the fingerboard aren’t affected.

  • Completely remove all the old guitar finish

Upon removing all the hardware and the strings, the next thing to do is remove the old finish by sanding. But, if you don’t want to remove the old finish, simply rough it up and refinish the guitar. If you’re unable to decide, here’s what you need to do:

  •     When using a stain, translucent paint or restore the original finish the guitar, you need to remove the old finish
  •     For solid paint or when you’re going to use a darker color than its original finish, you don’t need to remove the finish. Just rough up the surface and put a thick coat or finish. 
  • Use Orbital Sander 

Orbital sander is a good tool to remove the finish of your guitar. You’ll decide the grit of the sandpaper you want to use over the entire body using circular smooth strokes. Don’t use paint stripper. Though it’ll be easy, it’s toxic and may mess the process. Above all, it’ll remove hard polyurethane that most guitar manufacturers use. 

  • Use Hand Sandpaper

If you don’t have the sander, simply use the hand sandpaper. For fine crevices and curved areas, you can use the coarse grit or coarse grit sanding sponge. Once all the finish has been removed, it’s time to smooth the surfaces with fine sandpaper. Maybe you’ll use 120 grit sandpaper, then the finer 200 grit paper.

  • Remove all dust and mess

Once all the finish has been removed, it’s time to dust off all the mess. You can use a vacuum cleaner or you can dust the small particles away using compressed air. Likewise, you can thoroughly clean the surface of the guitar with a dampened or moistened cloth.

  • Use a Grain Filler (optional)

If your guitar is made of mahogany and other porous tonewoods, you might need to use a grain filler. This makes the surface of your guitar even. You need to choose an oil-based or water-based fill that’ll match the paint you’re going to use. Remove all oils with mineral spirits and let it dry. 

  • Now, you’re ready to refinish your guitar

In an open, dust-free and well-lighted room, gather all the things that you might need on refinishing your acoustic guitar. Ensure that all tools are ready so you won’t miss or mess the process.

  • Apply primer

Apply a primer that matches the paint you want to have. Maybe go for two or three thin coats to make sure they’re even and perfect. This will also dry the surface properly and won’t drip.

  • Painting the guitar

This is the fun part. Apply thin layers of paint and allow it to dry completely. But, if you want to apply a clear coat of paint, you need to wait for around one week for the thin colored coat to dry. For stain, you need to wet the guitar’s body to avoid blemishes and to add the stain easily.

  • Polishing the finish

Instead of dry sanding, polishing the finish requires wet sanding, starting from fine 400 grit sandpaper. From 400, you can get to 600 grit, 800 grit, 1000 grit, 1200 grit, 1500 grit, then 2000 grit. Don’t sand through the clear coat or the color. Be very careful when you sand near the edges and don’t sand the paint. 

Here’s a straightforward YouTube video on the restoration of an old acoustic guitar. 

Conclusion

Remember, refinishing an acoustic guitar will lower its value. However, if you feel the need to repaint or refinish your guitar, it can be done even at home. I hope this guide on how to refinish an acoustic guitar has helped you do the job. 

I just want to remind you to follow the safest way to remove the old paint  — no use of toxic and carcinogenic paint stripper. You should always use eye goggles and a dust mask when sanding. Lastly, use good paint respirators and ensure to do it without much distraction. Happy sanding and painting!

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