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Creating a Sunburst Finish with Aerosols

The images and text below show you how easy it is to get a great sunburst effect using my nitrocellulose lacquer aerosols.

The guitar here is a SAGA HT-10 kit.

The first step is to mask off the top and the “faux binding” then to spray the back. Once dry, carefully scrape the edge of the binding with a sharp blade to give a clean line. This is pretty much the same process as for the gold top body elsewhere on my site.

Now mask off the sides. There is no need to be too accurate because the outer colour will cover the edges. Spray several thin even coats. Spraying too thickly will cause unsightly runs which are very difficult to correct on transparent finishes.

Here I have sprayed my base coat. I am aiming for a honeyburst so have used a deep yellow shade (my Clear Amber.) Before going any further, leave the base coat several hours and ideally overnight to harden. Be patient!

I removed the masking and then remasked for the brown burst, using my Clear Medium Brown. Again, I haven’t been too accurate with the masking as the binding will be scraped to give a nice clean line.

I reccommend that you spray “inside out”, i.e. angle your aerosol so that you spray from the centre of the guitar body towards the edge. This gives you better control over the edge of the darker colour and lessens the chance of overspray in the centre.

I sprayed freehand without using any masking in the centre. Also, ignoring my own advice, I sprayed from the edge to the centre! Maybe experiment and see what works best for you.

Note that my aersols are normally supplied with an elliptical nozzle. A round spray pattern is better for sunbursts, please let me know if you’d prefer a round nozzle when you buy.

Here the binding has been scraped back ready for the clear coat. Once the binding has been scraped and you are happy with the colour you can spray the final clear coat. This will cover the whole body including the “faux binding” and the top.

You’ll find that the clearcoat will help soften the sunburst, blending everything in nicely.

15 Comments on “Creating a Sunburst Finish with Aerosols

  1. Great article, really cool guitar. Could you please tell me what the exact color names are? I’m doing a similar thing with an acoustic guitar and it would be really helpful. Thanks.

  2. Is one 400 ml can enough to give enough clearcoat layers to one guitar body? Thanks.

    • Hi Phil, certainly not on its own if you want to produce a high gloss finish. There are several steps involved in finishing a guitar body and if you look at my posts finishing the butterscotch Tele, you’ll see what is involved.

  3. Hi, I’m re painting my acoustic guitar, I’ve sanded it down and stripped the old finish so it’s back to bare wood, I want white binding so I painted over the black ones with acrylic, my first question is ’cause I want to protect the bindings that I’ve painted over should I use a clear lacquer gloss instead of an aerosol? Also I’m wanting to do a sunburst like the above actually aiming more for a Gibson look sunburst like the hummingbird. Black and light so I was wondering what colors I’ll need and how much will I need?

    • You need to use my Tobacco Brown and Clear Amber (or Tinted Gloss for a lighter centre).

      This sunburst
      was done with Tobacco Brown over Clear Amber with a touch of black at the edges. In the picture it’s yet to have its clear coats.

      You’ll need a can each of the colours and maybe 3 cans of clear for the top coat to finish a whole acoustic.

      I’m not sure what to do about your bindings, might be best to remove them and reapply in nitrocellulose after the sunburst and before the clear coats. Painting bindings isn’t something I’d ever do.

  4. Brilliant job! Could you just tell us a little more about the Faux Binding as you call it–ie making it look like it’s got edge binding? Is it just the bare wood colour under the clear layer? How do you scrape it back etc (tools, techniques)? I have a project I’m about to start and would love to imitate the old Telecaster Custom look with edge binding (think Andy SUmmers!). All help gratefully received (couldn’t find any more references to this on your excellent site).
    Simon

    • Yes, it’s just the bare wood colour, like on a PRS guitar. You can mask it (I like the pale green 3M fine line tape which gives a clean line) then tidy the edge using a sharp blade. I just use my thumb as a guide but you can make a tool such as this if you find that easier.

      It’s tricky to do this convincingly on most Telecaster bodies as they have a radius on the edge. You really need a sharp edge on the body to make this work.

      • Thanks Steve, that’s really helpful, great links. The red guitar looks particularly realistic with the ‘binding’ visible on the top as well as the sides. Cheers, Simon.

  5. Hi, I am refurbishing a guitar body. I have sanded down to the wood but have had to use a matching wood filler. Would the method descibed above work with the filler. Would you recomend any sort of primer or base coat before the Amber..Many THanks

    • The method will work but you may of course be able to see the filler through the clear lacquer.

      The body I used above was already sealed but you should use my Cellulose Sanding sealer to make a smooth base for the clear amber lacquer.

  6. Hi, I got the three aerosols to do a tobacco sunburst from you last week and I am very nervous about doing it with spray cans. I have a nice ash Telecaster body but it has a few blemishes at the edges so I can’t do a Butterscotch finish. I haven’t done a sunburst before.

    Firstly, do your spray can nozzles have a ‘fan’ or a ‘conical’ spray pattern? A fan pattern would require the body to be spun while spraying to keep the gradient consistent.

    Is it best to spray with the guitar on a flat bench or hung vertically? I am worried about drips and splutters of the tobacco brown ruining the gradient.

    Should I spray a coat of clear BEFORE doing the tobacco brown? Would this make it easier to sand back if I get a splutter? Cheers, Joe

    • Joe> Firstly, do your spray can nozzles have a ‘fan’ or a ‘conical’ spray pattern? A fan pattern would require the body to be spun while spraying to keep the gradient consistent.

      They are a fan shape. I use the fan vertical. Best to put your body flat (that’s what I always do) on a workmate or similar so that you can walk around. I spray close to the edge of the guitar in sections, doing as much as I can in one pass and overlapping them. If you keep nice and close you should get a tight burst around the edge.

      I use an MDF template to practice the curves before doing the real thing.

      Joe> I am worried about drips and splutters of the tobacco brown ruining the gradient.

      Wipe the nozzle clean between sprays if necessary. Do not warm the can before spraying and don’t clean the nozzle by inverting it and spraying as this depressurises the can.

      Joe> Should I spray a coat of clear BEFORE doing the tobacco brown? Would this make it easier to sand back if I get a splutter?

      This is a good idea but it’s still tricky to rectify a mistake. You could spray the edge first and then the amber on top?

  7. Hi what type of respirator would you recommend when spraying nitrocellulose from a can

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