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Nitrocellulose lacquer frequently asked questions

NOTE Lacquer should only be used in a well ventilated area. You should wear
a properly fitted vapour respirator during the application and drying of nitrocellulose
lacquer. Machine Mart sell an ideal respirator for under £20 including organic solvent cartridges.

All my lacquer is supplied in 400ml aerosols, which have adjustable elliptical nozzles allowing a vertical or horizontal fan.

It is illegal in the UK for anyone under the age of 16 to attempt to purchase aerosol paints. By ordering lacquer aerosols, you confirm that you are over 16 years of age.

I can supply lacquer to most of the European Union as well as the British Isles.

If you are looking for general information on how to spray a guitar, there is a series of posts in the blog on guitar finishing. More to follow soon!

Before you buy

Preparation

Recipes for authentic-looking finishes

Spraying technique

Other stuff

Q. Why do the colour swatches show two different colours?

A.

Where the lacquer colour shows a darker shade on the right hand side, it represents the colour of the lacquer when sprayed over with my Light Tint Gloss clearcoat.

Q. Can you send lacquer to me in (France, Sweden, USA etc.)?

A.

I can now supply lacquer to France, although shipping is expensive.

If you are in USA you can buy similar lacquer from ReRanch or in Sweden from GitarrDelar.se but I don’t know of any suppliers in other countries.

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Q. What about grain filler and sanding sealer?

A.

It’s essential for a professional looking finish to prepare your wood so that you have a perfect surface for the lacquer.

Sand to 320 grit to remove any pits or scratches.

Open pored wood such as ash and mahogany will require grain-filling. You don’t need to grain-fill maple and can generally get away without it on alder. I like the Rustins grain filler available from my shop but some people now are starting to use epoxies. I’ve recently tried  Stewart Macdonald’s water based grain filler but with mixed results in line with the reviews on the site.

See my  step-by-step grain-filling post in the blog.

The next step after grain filling is sealing, which is designed to give a smooth surface for the lacquer. You can just use lacquer if you wish but as it doesn’t fill
imperfections very well it can take a lot to get a smooth finish.

You can use a nitrocellulose-based sanding sealer under my lacquer and I sell a high build sanding sealer in aerosol form. If you are spraying a solid colour then my white primer will do the job well, plus it gives an even base for lighter colours, increasing their brightness.

Whether using sanding sealer or primer, always sand flat and if imperfections remain, spray another few coats, allow to dry and sand again.

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Q. Is this stuff I have compatible with your lacquer?

A.

I haven’t a great deal of experience mixing finishes and only use nitrocellulose so you would need to test any combination yourself before use.

Generally anything that is cellulose or shellac based should be okay but again, you need to test it to be sure.

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Q. Can I just use Halfords car paint?

A.

Although car sprays come in a wide variety of colours, many people have found that it doesn’t harden very well on wood and can stay soft for many months.

If you want a special colour making up, please ask as I can have most colours put into aerosol cans. It takes a couple weeks to get manufactured and is subject to a minimum order of 1 litre of lacquer (around £50) plus £12 per aerosol.

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Q. How do I refit the nozzle to the can?

A.

If your lacquer arrives with the nozzle detached, the best way to refit it is with a twisting action. Trying to press it in will probably result in you getting lacquer all over your fingers.

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Q. How many coats should I apply?

A.

It’s difficult to talk about coats as it depends how thick you apply it. Generally I’d expect three coats each of about 3 passes, and depending on ambient temperature, with between 5 minutes and 1/2 hour between coats. The transparent colours get darker the more coats you spray so you’ll need to spray enough to get your desired shade.

You only need to sand between coats if you need to remove an imperfection such as dust or a run. You should spray thinly enough so that runs don’t happen of course.

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Q. Any special tips for metallics?

A.

Yes! The technique that I use when I spray metallics is to dust the final coat of colour on from a distance, allowing the flakes to stand at all angles instead of flat on the body. Then I dust on the first few clear coats (so as not to disturb the metallic) before building up thickness. This technique give the strongest contrast.
See an example.

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Q. Any special tips for satin and matt finishes?

A.

What I do is to spray plenty of coats of Clear Satin lacquer (or Clear Matt) leave to harden overnight and flat sand with 800 grit. As ever when flat sanding, take care on the corners as it is all to easy to sand through.

Then I spray a final coat of Clear Satin (or matt) lacquer all over and leave it. No buffing! That way you’ll get a nice even sheen all over.

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Q. How many tins do I need?

A.

As a rule of thumb, refinishing a guitar body will take a can each of primer, colour and clear. It depends however on how well you prepare the wood, how economical you are and how much paint actually ends up on the guitar and this does depend on your skill level. Inexperienced refinishers may need more!

Preparation is also a key factor. Sand out those scratches first. Trying to fill them with lacquer can be a long and expensive process!

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Q. How long do I leave the guitar before buffing?

A.

The longer the better! I’d say a minimum of a week. I tend to leave at least 3 weeks.

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Q. Why do this buffing thing?

A.

It’s impossible to get a flat finish with lacquer so it is always flat sanded and buffed to a high gloss. See the Reranch site for details.

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Q. Why am I getting drips of lacquer on my guitar?

A.

If you press too hard on the nozzle, you can sometimes get a buildup of lacquer on the rim of the can (where it’s crimped closed) and this can sometimes drop off or be blown onto your work. It’s a good idea to wipe the rim every few passes.

You can mimimise the chances of this by hanging the body rather than laying it flat for spraying.

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Q. Should I invert the can to clean the nozzle?

A.

Some people suggest that after use you invert the can and spray to clean the nozzle. I DO NOT recommend you do this.

The nozzles do not tend to clog and cleaning them this way is a sure way to waste propellant, depressurise the can and end up with half a can of lacquer that won’t spray, or worse splutter lacquer onto your guitar due to low can pressure.

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Q. How do I get a butterscotch finish?

A.

If the body is ash (and it really should be as the look depends on ash’s strong grain pattern) then you’ll need to grain fill first. I like and use Rustins grain filler.

There are instructions for finishing blond at bottom of this page on the Vintage Guitar site.

Following this, to get an authentic-looking blonde finish with my aerosols:

  1. Sand the wood to 320 grit to remove any scratches.
  2. (optional) seal the body with sanding sealer or clear gloss lacquer.
  3. grain fill thoroughly and sand smooth to 320 grit.
  4. Spray several thin coats of sanding sealer to lock it all in and flatten. The aim is to get a very smooth surface for the lacquer. Repeat this step if necessary until you have a very smooth guitar body.
  5. Spray White Blonde gloss evenly so as to opaque the grain but not too much. Spray more white on the edges if you like as they were generally opaqued to hide any joins in the body.
  6. If you want a “butterscotch blonde” spray (lightly) tinted gloss to give an amber shade to your taste. For a creamy colour use Light Tint
    lacquer, for a full-on butterscotch use Tinted Gloss or for a more yellow colour, Clear Amber.
  7. Follow with more coats of clear gloss, and leave for 2-3 weeks to harden
  8. Finally flat sand and buff.

Don’t sand the blonde before the clear coat as it’s likely you’ll rub through and expose wood.

To sand at the end you should use progressively finer “wet and dry” papers (from B&Q etc.) used with water that has a little washing-up-liquid added. Don’t get your guitar too wet as if water gets in screw holes it will swell the wood and crack your finish.

Finish with P1200 paper and then use T-Cut to bring up the gloss.

The reason for the sanding and buffing is that it’s impossible to get a completely smooth finish when spraying.

If you wish you can substitute my Butterscotch lacquer for the White Blond and omit the tinting steps unless you want to further darken the colour.

More good stuff on finishing on the Reranch site.

These guitars were finished using my lacquer aerosols.

You’ll need:

  • 1 can Rustins Grain Filler (natural)
  • 1 can Sanding Sealer
  • 1 can White Blonde
  • 1 can (Lightly) Tinted Gloss
  • 1 or 2 cans Clear Gloss

You’ll also need grain filler (Craft Supplies) and some abrasives (B&Q, Homebase, Halfords) and some T-Cut (B&Q, Homebase, Halfords).

You might be surprised how easy it is to get good results. As you probably know, the key success factors are preparation and patience. Take your time and you’ll have a far better chance of getting it right. Always practice your spraying technique on scrap wood. It’s easier than stripping and repainting your guitar body! There’s a post showing the process of  spraying a butterscotch body here.

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Q. How do I get a 3-colour sunburst finish?

A.

Here’s how to do it (briefly)

  1. Seal the body with sanding sealer.
  2. Spray front and rear in amber.
  3. Spray Tobacco Brown band on edges.
  4. Spray red transition band including over all over the brown band.
  5. Follow with plenty of coats of clear gloss.
  6. After a few weeks hardening, flat, buff and polish.

You’ll need:

See Reranch 101

It’s a good idea to practice first on some scrap wood. Patience is essential. If you rush things, you’ll end up with a less than perfect job.

I apply sunbursts freehand but you can use a masking template held above the body so as not to get a hard edge.

See my sunbursting page and Project Guitar.

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Q. Do you stock Candy Apple Red lacquer?

A.

Candy Apple Red (CAR) is not one colour but a sequence of layers. See how Fender did it here: http://www.provide.net/~cfh/fenderc.html.

My colours work well to achieve a realistic Candy Apple Red.

The “recipe” is:

  1. White primer
  2. Inca Silver (or gold) metallic
  3. Clear Red
  4. Clear Gloss

You’ll find that the brighter CARs have a silver basecoat whereas the burgundy ones have a gold basecoat.

Dust the final coat of silver or gold on from a distance, allowing the flakes to stand at all angles instead of flat on the body. Then dust on the first few coats of clear red (so as not to disturb the metallic) before building up thickness and colour.

You need the Clear Gloss at the end for when you flat sand and buff you don’t want to rub through your red. See http://www.reranch.com/101a.htm#final%20polishing.

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Q. How do I strip the existing finish?

A.

To strip a guitar you have 3 options:

  1. Chemicals. I have had success with Nitromors but recently learned that due to new regulations controlling the use of methylene chloride, its formulation has changed and it now won’t have any effect on the majority of guitar finishes. It will strip nitrocellulose finishes, as will cellulose thinners, acetone or ethyl acetate (ethyl ethanoate).
  2. Heat. See Project Guitar How to Strip a Guitar Body (heat gun method)
  3. Abrasive. See Project Guitar How to Strip a Guitar Body (Time Honored Sanding)

You must get a smooth, faultless surface before doing anything else.

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Q. How can I age (relic) the lacquer?

A.

I’m no expert in weather checking but have had good results by putting Tele bodies into the freezer overnight. A couple of cycles of freeze/thaw works well. Add a few dings first and these act a centres for the checking. Here’s a  Telecaster that I finished and then distressed.

The ReRanch site has some information on aging finishes and hardware , and see the excellent article in Guitar and Bass Magazine “How To Relic A Guitar Body With A Nitro Finish – Step-by-Step” which uses my lacquer.

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Q. What should I use to give my guitar neck a vintage colour?

A.

You can spray my Tinted lacquer over bare wood or existing poly finishes. If the latter, scuff sand very lightly first to provide a key.

If you want to use a tinted lacquer you need to understand that the colour depth increases with film thickness – the more you spray, the darker it gets. If you want to tint the neck I’d recommend sealing first with clear lacquer, spraying the tinted to get the colour you want (matching the back and headstock). Then more clear to build up final finish thickness. That way when you buff you won’t be rubbing through the colour, making it paler in patches.

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Q. Do I need to mask the frets on a maple neck before spraying?

A.

There is no need to mask and you should spray right over the frets.

You can remove the lacquer using a scraper made from a small nail as pictured. The notch is filed in the nail head using a rat-tail file. Wear eye protection though as bits fly everywhere!

You will also find that the lacquer will easily chip off when you dress the frets.

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Q. Why has my lacquer gone cloudy?

A.

The milkiness (called bloom or blush) is down to spraying in humid conditions and it’s caused by moisture getting trapped in the lacquer. You can mimimise this by spraying thinner coats so that the moisture can escape before the lacquer dries. Often this milkiness will go away as the piece warms up or it can be removed by spraying more lacquer in less humid conditions.

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Q. Should I warm the aerosol cans is a water bath?

A.

No. I have never found this to be necessary. The propellant in the aerosols is butane which boils at just under 0°C so unless you are spraying in sub-zero conditions (which I don’t advise) then you should have plenty of pressure without warming the cans.

Warming the can also causes the volatile solvents to flash off which can cause a dry powdery finish as the lacquer cannot flow, and the rapid evaporation of solvent as the lacquer leaves the nozzle causes buildup of lacquer which can result in blockage.

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Q. Why is delivery so expensive?

A.

Lacquer aerosols are classed as hazardous and very few couriers will handle them. Those that do are trained appropriately.

I use a flat delivery cost, dependent on location as this is how I am charged by the courier.

Deliveries to areas outside of UK mainland are by sea and consequently take a little longer, typically 2-3 days.