Guitar Refinishing

November 23rd, 2010

Hi-Speed Ready Strip
Source: Guitar Finishes

Guitar Refinishing:

When working with finish strippers care has to be taken to protect not only yourself but the guitar you are working on as well. Strippers are very caustic and you definitely need to wear protective eyewear, rubber gloves and a respirator.

Prepare the Guitar for Stripping:

Also beware that the chemical strippers that are used not only dissolve the finish, but the plastic binding thats are used on most guitars. Therefore, I would recommend that you completely cover the plastic bindings with paper tape 3M #233 is best. When you apply the tape, be sure to burnish the edges with your fingernail or a tool to minimize any stripper from seeping beneath the tape.

I would also recommend that rather than trying to exactly cover the plastic binding, give yourself a little wiggle room and tape about 1/8″ to 1/4″ beyond the plastic and onto the wood. The reason being that if any stripper gets on the bindings, they will melt and upon drying they shrink and will be damaged beyond repair.

Tape the sides of the binding separate from the top and back to more easily negotiate the curves of the guitar. Simply join the two pieces together to form a tight seal.

Also, to protect the interior of the guitar, stuff crumpled-up newspapers in the soundhole. Stuff more newspapers in the hole than you think is required, as the paper may shift as you work with the instrument.


Use a semi solid type of a stripper to minimize the stripper from being too runny and getting beneath the tape. Also the semi-solid strippers will stay in place much better on some of the more irregular surfaces of the guitar and thus give you a better stripping job. There any number of finish strippers available and they all seem to do a very similar job.

I prefer to use the lowest toxic material that I can and still get the job done. Here is one that I prefer along with the product description:

Sunnyside Corp. HS50 Hi-Speed Ready Strip: A fast acting paint and varnish remover, capable of removing 3 layers within 30 minutes. This stripper is environmentally friendly, contains no methylene chloride, no caustic or harmful chemicals. Hi Speed Ready Strip contains soy, which increases safety and improves speed of paint removal. It is biodegradable and easy to dispose of. This water soluble stripper is low odor, easy to clean, and can be applied with brush, roller, or sprayer. It will remove most varieties of oil or water based paints, varnishes, latex, stains, enamels, lacquers, and polyurethanes.

As you can see it will handle varnish, polyurethane and lacquers, is easy to work with, is about as non-toxic as you can get, and is biodegradable. So this is my product of choice.

Applying the Stripper:

Set the guitar flat of the workbench and use a cheap paint brush for applying the stripper. Start applying in the center and work your way out. Let the thickened mixture set on the surface and work for the specified amount of time. If you want to test the product, pply the stripper to a smaller area at a time, such as about 1/2 the top or back plate.

After the finish starts to bubble and wrinkle, take a small, dull putty knife with the edges rounded slightly, so as not to dig into the wood and carefully scrap as much of the old finish and stripper off the guitar. It is beneficial to use a scooper to scrap the reside into, to minimize spilling the stripper in places it should touch.

Clean With Steel Wool:

Immediately clean the area with #2 steel wool to cleanup most of the stripper residue. After this is complete, remove the masking tape from the binding and use a very sharp cabinet scraper to remove the finish from the bindings and the small perimeter of wood that the tape covered. You are likely to find that the stripper penetrated slightly beneath the tape, which is one reason you want to practice vigilance in moving right along with this project.

Go over the entire guitar surface with #0 steel wool and make sure you have all the finish off the guitar. If you find there are small areas left, work on these with the coarse steel wool to remove them.

Final Dry-Down:

You should hang the guitar to dry overnight so all of the fumes and reside evaporates from the guitar, and out of the pores of the hardwood.

Guitar Finishing Products:

Behlen Paste Filler Reducer
Behlen Paste Filler Reducer
A fine blended mixture of silica, pigments, and a suitable vehicle, it provides a smooth, glass-like surface for subsequent finishing coats.
Behlen Paste Wood Filler
Behlen Paste Wood Filler
The filler uses silica, pigments and a suitable vehicle to provide a smooth, glass-like surface for following finishing coats.
Behlen Sanding Sealer
Behlen Lacquer Sanding Sealer
This product produces a smooth, hard, clear, seal coat as a foundation for lacquer topcoats.
Shellac Flakes
Shellac Flakes
This is standard shellac and great for most application from sealer to finish. Available in 1 lb, re-sealable bags and multiple colors.
Behlen Vinyl Sealer
Behlen Vinyl Sealer
This sealer develops an excellent moisture barrier for the wood substrate, while providing a good base for all Behlen lacquer finishes.
Vinyl Sealer Aeresol
Behlen Vinyl Sealer Aeresol
This sealer develops an excellent moisture barrier for the wood substrate, while providing a good base for all Behlen lacquer finishes.
Behlen Stringed Instrument Lacquer
Behlen Stringed Instrument Lacquer
This high quality gloss lacquer is specifically designed for use with wooden stringed instruments.
Behlen Complete Guitar Finishing Kit
Behlen Complete Guitar Finish Kit
Everything you need to prep, apply and complete a finish to one guitar in a kit that is built around 4 aerosols:
Behlen Aeresol Lacquer Tint Encore Brown
Behlen Guitar Toner Encore Brown
Encore Brown is used to tone the body sides of acoustic guitars, which are typically darker than the soundboard.
Behlen Star Amber Aeresol Tint
Behlen Guitar Toner Star Amber
Star Amber is used to tone the sunburst of acoustic guitars, which are typically lighter than the edges.
Wood Tinting Kit
Mixol 10 Piece Woodworkers Tones Set
Mixol’s 10-Tone Woodworker’s Set is a convenient package of 10 colors that can create an unlimited variety of shades.
Behlen Lacquer Thinner
Behlen Lacquer Thinner
Behlen Lacquer Thinner is special blend of solvents formulated for use in Nitrocellulose lacquers to promote (thin) flow.

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