How to refinish an acoustic guitar in 11 easy steps!

How to refinish an acoustic guitar

As much as playing or learning how to play the guitar may be a fun process, the same cannot be said about acoustic guitar restoration. After using a guitar for some time, it is bound to give in to a little bit of wear and the last thing you want is performing with a guitar that looks all tatty, right?

Well, rather than buying a new one, the best thing to do would be refinishing it which is not at all an easy task. Because of this, I’ll let you in on how to refinish an acoustic guitar all on your own
Let’s dive into it.


First things first, if this is your first time, it’s important that you realize finishing repairs could be risky and as such, you shouldn’t experiment with your guitar if you got second thoughts about this. Additionally, if you have a vintage guitar, tampering with the scratches is not advisable since it is worth more with the scratches on it than without.

How to refinish an acoustic guitar

Step 1: Begin to take apart your guitar

The first thing you’ll want to do is disassemble your guitar and you’ll want to do is remove the string from the guitar. This could easily be done by clipping the strings away with a pair of clippers.

Next, go ahead and take the neck of the guitar by undoing the bolts on it but if it doesn’t have the bolts on, you’ll have to do the refinishing with the neck glued to the rest of the guitar. Once the neck is undone, you’ll have to remove the guitar hardware next using either screwdrivers or an Allen wrench.

After the disassembly, organize the parts well enough so that it won’t be a headache to put the guitar back together again.

Step 2: remove the old guitar finish

With all the hardware off, it should be easy to start the refinishing process. Here, you could do either of two things. First, you can remove the old finish completely or partially remove the finish by roughening it up and put fresh paint which will stick on the guitar.

If you’ll use solid paint, you will only have to rough up the guitar surface but keep in mind that using a thick coat of paint could diminish your guitar.

Step 3: further sanding

Using hand sandpaper will not do the job with ease completely which is why you should get your hands on orbital sandpaper. I’d advise fitting it with coarse-grit sandpaper and sand the whole instrument using circular, smooth strokes

Step 4: get the finer crevices in

Even after using a sander, there could still be finish on your instrument in which case you should have hand sandpaper to remove these. While doing this, pay attention to the curved sections of your guitar and you could also use a coarse grit sponge to do the job

Step 5: smooth the guitar as much as possible

The last thing you’ll want to do as far as removing the old finish is concerned is to do some fine sanding. This is best done using a finer grain of sandpaper. For the best results, use medium-grit sandpaper on the whole guitar and repeat the process with an even finer grit of sandpaper

Step 6: clean up your workspace

Once you are done with all the above, you are bound to have a mess which is why you should have a vacuum cleaner at hand to remove most of the dust that came as a result of the sanding process.

Step 7: get a grain filler

Though most people don’t want this, you could go for the unfinished look. However, with a grain filler, you should be able to make your guitar surface look as smooth as possible for when you start painting. This will come in handy when working on porous woods like mahogany.

For the best results, I’d recommend that you settle for an oil or water-based filler that matches the paint you’ll be using.

Step 8: get it ready for repainting and apply mineral spirits

First, apply the mineral spirit to remove any oils on top of your guitar. Once you have done this, wait for it to dry up to avoid ruining the finish.

For the painting process, have the guitar placed against the open side of the box to have the extra paint contained within the box. You should also make sure the room you are painting in is open- don’t mess up your furniture.

Step 9: Decide on the paint to use

For the fun part, if you want a solid color, find a durable paint such as one with polyurethane or nitrocellulose which takes longer to dry.

For a stained finish, use a water-based stain with a clear coat as well or choose an oil-based stain with oil-based finishes. You should also apply a few coats of primer before adding a new finish on your guitar and this should match the type of paint you’ll use. The primer should be applied in multiple thin coats.

Step 10: start the painting

Similar to the primer, apply multiple thin layers of paint and allow each one to dry fully. Also, before applying a clear paint coat, allow the colored one to dry for a few days.

If you want a stained look on your guitar on the other side, I’d advise that you first make it wet for easy application. The stain should be applied as instructed and be done in multiple coats until the needed look is achieved.

Step 11: final touches & reassembly

After the guitar has dried up for a few days, apply a clear coat on it. I’d recommend a nitrocellulose coat. Similarly, this should be done in multiple thin layers. You should then wait a few days before polishing the finish. Polishing should be done with wet sandpaper.

The sanding should start from fine grit to a rougher one. Be careful not to miss any scratches since they’ll be difficult to get out. Once you are done with everything, put your guitar back together again and tune it up before use.

Final verdict

We can now call it a day since that’s pretty much everything you need to know on how to refinish an acoustic guitar.

You must be patient with the process to avoid any mistakes in the long run and compromise the aesthetics of your guitar. You should also be gentle with the sanding process to avoid weakening the guitar surface.

Resources & References


Hi, I’m Adam Vachon, an avid learner and working in the product marketing niche for the last few years. The problem I faced when marketing products for manufacturers made me interested in starting GearsLoft.

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