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

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.

17 Comments on “Creating a Candy Apple Red finish”

  1. 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 ?

    Thanks

    • 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.

  2. 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?

    Thanks
    Dave

    • 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

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

  7. 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

Leave a Reply to Tobias W. Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *