Creating a Candy Apple Red finish

Ready for assembly

Below I’ll show how to achieve a Candy Apple Red finish on a Stratocaster body. Candy Apple Red is based on the old custom car technique of spraying clear lacquer over a metallic base coat, and was Fenders only truly “custom” colour, all the others being repurposed car finishes. I have itemised the process in my Lacquer FAQs.

I’m using the Guitarbuild body that I previously sprayed with a 2-tone sunburst. This is actually something that Fender often did as it’s not unusual to find a sunburst under a custom colour. I think this could be for one of two reasons: firstly Fender may have had a special order for a custom colour and not had any bare bodies so used a stock sunburst body or secondly they may have just been sunbursts gone wrong that were sprayed over to hide a mistake.

You can use a prepped body in sanding sealer of course!

The first step is to spray a coat of white primer to give an even base for the metallic layer.

Starting the primer coat
Starting the primer coat

Once the primer was on I sanded it smooth ready for the gold layer.

Primer coat complete
Primer coat complete

I’m using my “Gold Top” lacquer. I could have used a different gold or Inca Silver.

Here’s the first coat which you can see is quite transparent but it soon builds.

First pass of gold lacquer over the primer
First pass of gold lacquer over the primer
Gold lacquer layer is done
Gold lacquer layer is done

For the gold to sparkle under the red, spray the last coat very lightly, as described in my Ice Blue Metallic Telecaster post.

Once the metallic layer was done it was time to start applying the Clear Red.

The first few passes of red were applied very light to avoid disturbing the metallic.

Spraying the red, first coat very light
Spraying the red, first coat very light

A whole can of Clear Red has been applied. If I had wanted a darker red, I could have sprayed more coats.

Red colour building with more coats
Red colour building with more coats

You can see I have a bit of roughness to the finish at this point, caused by spraying in non-ideal conditions (a strong breeze!) I didn’t sand though as the clear gloss coats would smooth everything out.

The gloss top coat is shiny right out of the can
The gloss top coat is shiny right out of the can

I sprayed a whole can of Clear Gloss and then left it to harden. The reason for spraying a clear coat is that if the Clear Red were flat sanded, it would be made thinner (and therefore paler) in patches. Spraying a clear coat gives a barrier against this and maintains an even colour to the red layer.

The next step once the lacquer is hard enough is to flat sand to remove any orange peel. I started with 400 grit then went through 800 and 1200 to 1500 grit using a rubber sanding block on flat areas.

Flat sanding the final coat
Flat sanding the final coat

Once the orange peel was mostly eliminated I buffed to a high gloss using my favourite T-Cut on mutton cloth.

Buffing using T-Cut
Buffing using T-Cut
The buffed area gleaming
The buffed area gleaming

Here’s the finished body. If you look closely you might see that I’ve missed a bit of orange peel here and there that I’ll go back to.

Ready for assembly
Ready for assembly

All in all I used:

Plus the Sanding Sealer prep previously of course.

36 Comments on “Creating a Candy Apple Red finish”

  1. Hi!

    I’m looking to create the famous Tyler ‘Jimburst’ from what I gather it’s a silver metallic undercoat with a blue and pink?

    Do you have these colours to make this finish/ recommend how to go about it?


  2. Hi Steve

    Your strat body looks fantastic. Well jealous! I have an alder tele body that I would like to paint the same colour, I bought the silver and translucent red from Northwest Guitars but looking on Youtube, Brad Angove says basically “don’t do it” as it’s so difficult. I’ve done a small test on some ply and I can see what he means, it looks patchy. So now I’m worried about painting the body.

    I didn’t use white primer in my test, maybe that would make a difference? I did 3 coats of the silver – quite lightly – and 3 of the red.

    If you have any suggestions as to how I can do this without messing it up I’d be very grateful!


    • Yes I saw that video. Where’s the sense of achievement in just buying stuff?

      You do need to prepare the body very well and white primer or at the very least sanding sealer is a must.

      The best suggestion I could give is to buy my lacquer instead because it really is the best and to follow the method above.

  3. this was a great article! I would like to paint a guitar Candy Apple Green like Fender did on early 60’s Stratocasters. My question is what color should the undercoat be? Gold, Silver or another color?


    • I don’t know which metallic base coat Fender used in the 60s. They are using silver on the current Custom Shop guitars so probably that.

      Generally, using gold will give a brighter green, and silver a darker colour but this also does depend on the colour of the green lacquer and how many coats you apply.

      So there are a number of factors determining the final colour and you should probably experiment to find what works for you.

  4. Thanks for a great guide. Just finished the gold metallic undercoat and I’m happy with the look but it seems really rough. It’s evenly coated but I don’t know if the transluscent red and clear lacquer finish coats will cover the roughness. I know you say don’t sand but am I heading for trouble if I don’t? After the primer and sanding the finish was like glass so I’m really unsure now.
    Hope you can advise,
    many thanks

    • It’s supposed to be a bit rough from the dusting coat with the metal flakes standing up rather than flat, it’s this that gives the best metallic effect. Spray the first few coats of red lightly so as not to flatten the flakes then once well covered, build up the red.

  5. Hi, very nice work and helpful tutorial. I want to apply shoreline gold before I start painting with Candy apple transparent.
    My question is, have I to sand the gold before I start applying Red colour or have I let it be. I am.affraid that I damage the metallic effect after sanding the last gold coat.

    • Thanks, no don’t sand. I sanded the primer coat then didn’t sand again up until the end before buffing.

      Furthermore I recommend you spray the final metallic coat as a light dusting as described in my Ice Blue Metallic Telecaster post. This maximises the reflectivity of the metal particles in the lacquer.

      • Thank you very much for the fast feedback. How long do you take time to wait between the coats .
        I forgot to say that I am using nitro lacquer.

        • I spray as soon as the previous coat is dry. Just be careful not to spray so heavily that you get runs in the lacquer.

  6. Beautiful work, can you tell me how I can stop paint spitting. I have shaken them well and stood them in warm water during spraying.

    • I don’t recommend warming the cans as this can cause the solvents to flash off before the paint hits the work, resulting in a dusty finish.

      I’ve never known the cans to spit unless the nozzle has paint dried onto it, which may be a result of warming the can. The spray heads can be cleaned in a bath of cellulose thinners.

      Sometimes if the spray head is depressed too far, paint can build up on the crimped edge of the can. This can then be blown off by the spray causing droplets of lacquer on the work piece. Avoid this by regularly wiping any deposits off the edge of the can.

  7. I cant wait to try this… and other candied colors as well! I would love to show the grain of the wood though… any tips? thank you for breaking down the process… no wonder why the body shop charges so much!!! excellent guide

  8. What results have you had with other colours than red? Obviously candy red is the classic but ineas thinking of a purple…

    • I’ve used the clear orange and clear blue over silver, both of which worked well. Any clear colour will work fine, but bear in mind that using gold underneath will affect the final colour.

      For candy apple purple you should definitely use a silver base as a gold base will turn it brown.

  9. Hi,
    can i use silver instead of gold ?
    An i would like to make a replica of David Gilmours famous red strat. Do i need another can of translucent red ?


    • Yes you can use an Inca Silver base coat. The more red you spray, the darker it gets so if you want a dark red then you will probably need two cans.

  10. Thanks for the great guide. I’m working on an old strat copy which I’m refurbing and re-painting. Candy Apple is what I’m going for so the guide is very apt.

    One question I have is about painting over a stain. I have a P-Pass body which I want to finish with a red stain followed by a clear coat. The grain on the body will need filling to even it out so does this mean I won’t be able to use the stain/clear combination? What do you think?


    • I think you’ve got two issues. Firstly if you use a filler this will take the stain differently from the wood, potentially causing patches. The second is that your clear coat won’t hide anything.

      You might be better using a red lacquer which although clear does tend to even out colour differences.

  11. Thank you for the concise schedule for this finish. I am building a Flying V that I would like to do in the Sparkling Burgundy as Gibson called it. From what I gather is is just a Silver base coated candy apple and then just enough clear red to start it turning dark.

    I do have one question though and it’s something I cannot get a clear answer on is does one need to use grain filler AND sanding sealer? I know grain filler is suggested if the finish will show wood grain, but not too sure if the finish will be opaque. This is the first time for me shooting a nitro finish. I have poly down well enough.

    • You can spray another coat as soon as the previous is touch dry. How long this takes depends on the ambient temperature but warm conditions, a few minutes is enough.

      Keep the coats thin enough that they don’t run but wet enough for the lacquer to flow out.

      Take extra care around the cutaways.

  12. Hi there,

    Do you ever run into any issues wet sanding? I recently wetsanded a neck with very minimal amounts of water, and ended up with cracks in the finish. I can see on this there are soapy water runs near the neck holes and obviously you have had no issue. Would you recommend using white spirit or have any tips for using water sparingly? I’m scared to wet sand at all over holes.

    • Yes this is certainly a risk as water soaks into the wood, swells it and splits the lacquer.

      I do use water sparingly, wiping dry frequently and if any water gets into the holes I get it out quickly using paper towel.

  13. Looks good!! I’m currently doing the same thing to a Squire tele body. First time . I applied the first coat of gold paint and I’ll apply a second coat when it dries. I’m applying Duracoler CAR auto paint over the gold. I’m nervous lol. thanx for the info. Glen

  14. Lovely, finished one of mine the same way, although I prefer Meguires scratch x for buffing, each to their own :-)

  15. That is some beautiful work I own some early 60s fenders that my dad had bought us new I love that nitrous lacquer and you sure do a beautiful job I’m interested in building me a new strat and I’m trying to find someone who can finish it like the old days

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