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I have bought an Ibanez electric guitar some time ago and the finish was really bad, the top coat was very wavy and not properly finished, like it had not been properly sanded. So I decided to sand it myself to have the coating leveled. Turned out that a sanded through the coating with 1200 grit paper, which indicates that the coating was extremely thin. The area where I sanded through initially was very small, but I then decided to strip off the whole finish in a larger area, please see picture below enter image description here

Here is another picture of the whole guitar body

enter image description here

Anyhow, now I am trying to find a way to repair it. I took it to a renowed luthier in the city where I live and they proposed to strip the whole finish and re-do everything, for some 800Euros. It is certanly the best thing to do, except for that it is very expensive.

So I have been thinking whether it would be possible to only work on/ re-do the area where I stripped off the paint i.e. the area with bare wood. My idea would be to:

  1. prep the area of bare wood. I have sanded a lot in this area, with 120 grit paper. So I'd need to sand it a bit more with a less abrasive grit paper (perhaps 600?). Perhaps apply sanding sealer, as in some areas, the wood is very porous, especially in those darker spots.
  2. apply a tinted lacquer on the area of bare wood. I have only found nytrocellulose tinted lacquer online, like this one.
  3. I would then apply a clear coat on the top of the whole guitar, potentially also not only on the front, but in the whole body.

I spoke to this luthier and he declined to do this himself for mainly two reasons.

  1. I sanded a lot in the area, like up to 1.5mm. So in the area of barewood, I still have some 3-3.5mm of the poplar burl top whereas in the untouched areas I have around 5mm of top. This is indeed an issue, but perhaps not insurmountable. I thought about, for example, correcting this with more clear coat on this area
  2. This might be the biggest problem: the materials of the original coating and the new one are not identical (according to him, the original coating has to be urethane), meaning that the clear coat with not react/ melt in an identical way. So according to him, when I'd apply the clear coat on the top of the two areas (the original one and the re-finished one), it is inevitable that the difference/the border will be visible.

I do understand that all of his points are valid. I have been wondering though, if my strategy can somehow work and I can get something done for something that, in terms of materials, would cost me less than 100Euros.

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    I would consider doing something obvious, like staining the sanded part blue, or your favorite color or have a friend paint a tiny mural on it, then put your clear coat on the whole thing, make it stand out as a 'feature' because trying to make them blend together is very difficult. Making it different on purpose can be cool, not quite getting things to match, can look cheap.
    – bowlturner
    Apr 4 at 14:11
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    Hi, welcome to Woodworking! Sorry but I think this question really answers itself. "It is certanly the best thing to do...." As you've already acknowledged again in the Comments, this is the approach that gives the highest chance of a good outcome. Virtually everything else comes with some risk of not turning out quite as you'd hoped, basically being unacceptable, leading to having to strip back and start afresh anyway, only now you wasted both the money and time the attempted fix took.
    – Graphus
    Apr 5 at 8:01
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    "would be possible to only work on/ re-do the area where I stripped off the paint" Because of the stain, I think the answer is an unequivocal no. I believe it is possible in theory (i.e. in the hands of a seasoned pro, and a particularly skilled one at that, who might for example apply the stain using something as fine as an airbrush, before then doing some further blending work with shop-made toning lacquer), but for you (anyone else really) the chances are slim to none you'll get a seamless blend. Be realistic about how perfect it needs to be that you can live with it.....
    – Graphus
    Apr 5 at 8:07
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    "So according to him, when I'd apply the clear coat on the top of the two areas (the original one and the re-finished one), it is inevitable that the difference/the border will be visible." I don't think this is technically correct, although I'd need to be more sure of certain details. But regardless it's understandable why he'd want to err on the side of caution and just dismiss this route, since IF it doesn't work you're left with only one alternative.... and the work undertaken to do the failed attempt must be charged for.
    – Graphus
    Apr 5 at 8:09
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    "I can get something done for something that, in terms of materials, would cost me less than 100Euros." Um, I don't think that's a realistic budget unless you already owned a lot of the required materials/equipment. You'll likely spend more than a third of the max budget on sanding materials alone O_O Where I am currently I could easily foresee the sanding materials costing in excess of €40 and nearing €50.
    – Graphus
    Apr 5 at 8:12

1 Answer 1

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I think at the moment you decide to sand over the varnish of your guitar you probably are at a point where you cannot expect to simply go back. If the guitar was simply varnished with something like a non transparent layer of nitro or polyester or something chances are that this could be done. But here you have a blended multicolor stain under a clear varnish.

Now theoretically a skilled person could retouch this to a point where it is not immediately noticeable. This would require trying to mix the correct stains to get as close as possible to the original, and then making the seam less noticeable. But you will not get a perfectly new state. And it is a lot of work.

Now, stripping down the varnish and revarnishing the whole thing is an option, but if you try to replicate the original look you again have to find the right colors and try to match that blended multicolor look. This means lots of effort and chances are high that the final result will look different.

Now, also a question is if spending that amount of money that is necessary to get someone to do this is worth it on an instrument which seems to be cheap enough for you to decide to sand over by yourself.

A good alternate approach would be to turn this into a feature. It is quite common on more expensive product lines (since this requires extra work) to essentially to such things: Sanding off parts of the surface, or doing things with colors and stuff.

In my opinion this guitar with that natural lower horn does look quite fancy. Why not simpy clear coat it? Or do something else that fits your liking. This can also be done professionally for a much lower price that stripping everything and trying to recreate the original varnish.

You simply taking a some similar stain and staining and varnishing that part will most likely not look great. So instead of trying to hide it, why not make is seem intentional?

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  • I see your point, thanks for the answer. It appears that it is a consensus that the chances that it is gonna look great are minor. No one I have spoken to told me, yes, it will be fine. Let alone done my me, who's not an expert. I have once refinished a guitar myself, was happy with the results, but here I guess it would indeed require quite a bunch of experience, the right equipment etc. To be honest I cannot see any 'feature' on the lower horn that would please me. So the options now for me are strip off the whole finish and either re-do everything or sell the body for a project
    – BCArg
    Apr 5 at 14:28
  • @BCArg How about for example using a contrasting color on the lower horn? Say, a dark red or something? Or maybe black?
    – Lazy
    Apr 5 at 14:44
  • I am thinking about it. I first thought about staining the wood with a wood dye, in blue, did not turn out well though.
    – BCArg
    Apr 5 at 16:55

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