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Best technique for REMOVING finish

Total Topics: 28
Total Posts: 67
I have a sad guitar that I found at a car boot sale (I believe you call them garage sales in the USA) and it is in need of a new bridge with some repair to the top and a new finish. I bought it purely to practice my techniques on.

I am not too concerned about the repairs to the top or making the new bridge but I was wondering what the best way to remove the old finish would be. After cleaning it up and looking at the 'grain' in the back and sides it looks like the back and sides have been finished with a laminated top surface. I say this because I can see that there is a grain patter that is repeated fairly regularly all around the sides and on the back.

I intended to sand back to wood and practice french polish, which is what i have decided to finish my first build with. Could this obviously cheap guitar be laminated in mass production and if so am I likely to get it back to bare wood?

Your thoughts as always would be appreciated.

Feb 07, 10 | 11:13 pm
Ken Cierp

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Total Posts: 2262
"Stripease" gel style paint remover works well on every thing but the two part poly finishes. Mask off the bindings and trim which are most likely plastic, the "Stripease" will melt those in an instant. Instead of using water as directed for clean up use paint thinner so that you don't puff up the wood.


Kenneth Michael Guitars est. 1978

Feb 08, 10 | 4:09 am

Total Topics: 27
Total Posts: 668
I used a gel type of paint stripper to remove the black spray paint that had been applied to a 1932 Dobro. It will take off every bit of finish, but fortunately left a little bit of the original sunburst stain that had been applied directly to the wood. Warning, as Ken says, it is nasty and will dissolve plastic binding, decals, and similar things - remove or mask carefully.

Feb 08, 10 | 5:31 am

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Total Posts: 65
Thanks guys ... what about the thought of the back and sides being laminated.

Feb 08, 10 | 7:47 am

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Total Posts: 668
I don't quite understand your comment about the grain pattern being repeated - do you think there is some sort of material other than wood laminated on the wood? We think of a laminated guitar as being all wood, but plys instead of solid - that shouldn't be a problem with a paint stripper (my old dobro literally is birch plywood). However if you thing the "grain" is something other than the wood itself (like a plastic laminate or maybe some sort of finish that is actually applied or stained into the wood) then there is a good chance the stripper will damage it.

The rule with any refinishing materials is to always try it on a small section of wood that isn't visible - maybe if you take the tuners off you could try it under one of them.

I can promise you that it will wrinkle anything plastic like binding or decals.

The other though is to sand down to the parent wood and remove whatever the "grain" material is - you might be surprised that it is fairly attractive. Start with the stripper and see what happens, then go ahead and sand. You will want to sand some anyway - the stripper will raise the grain a little.

btw - it is this kind of stripper that I use to remove nitro or waterbased lacquer on the top where I'm going to put the bridge - I don't try to mask the bridge location off when I shoot the finish, I just strip it afterwards. You alwayw want to make a wood to wood glue joint.

Feb 09, 10 | 5:42 am

Total Topics: 50
Total Posts: 272

Here's what I've learned to look for that 90% of the time works if you put all of these together when trying to determine if it's solid wood or not...

First off, look at the end grain inside of the sound hold (the wall of the soundhole it's self in the top). if the north and south sides of the inside of the wood have the consistent quarter sawn grain of the top then the top is solid wood. If it's got a weird cardboardy type of look to it then it's laminate. If your top is laminate then your back and sides are almost gaurenteed to be laminate also.

If you find out your top is solid wood and are in question about the back/sides, first thing I look for is a back center reinforcement strip. Cheap laminate guitars generally don't have them, but sometimes do. If there's no strip and no center seem in the grain, it's laminate although I guess there's always a chance it could be 1 really big piece of wood, so you'd have to check the back for no centerseem as well, if the back is consistant with the inside of the back and both have no centerseem you can look for figures/flaws in the grain that stand out, and flip the guitar over and see if you can pin point those same grains in both sides, if you can it's solid wood. If there is a standing out grain in the inside or a knot or flaw, flip it over and if there if no evidence of it at all, then it's laminate.

Also, if is a centerstrip, that doesn't mean that it is 100% solid wood. I would still check the figures/flaws and flip the guitar over and what not. usually you can look at the inside of the sides with a light too, and try to find certain grains that stand out.

This isn't an offical way to find out, but it's just something I've come up with from eyeing down guitars and trying to figure them out. There may be otherways, and maybe things that contridict what I just said, but it usually works for me.


Feb 10, 10 | 7:30 pm

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