Nitrocellulose lacquer for guitar finishing

Nitrocellulose lacquer for guitar finishing.

My wish is to only sell the very best quality items. Items I can be proud of and that I use myself.

Not all nitrocellulose lacquer is the same, beware of inferior types which will not give as good result. This lacquer will not craze under normal conditions (unlike some others!) but can be made to do if required so by freezing. 

My lacquer is supplied in 400ml aerosols. All colours, unless otherwise noted, give a glossy finish. It is of course a true lacquer, as used by top guitar makers since the 1950s and dries to a hard glassy finish, unlike others’ “pre-cat” lacquer.

My lacquer is used by numerous guitar builders and repairers in the UK, including Gibson’s London guitar repair centre.

* I’m sorry but I cannot supply lacquer outside of Great Britain at this time *

Please note that where the lacquer colour shows a darker shade on the right hand side, it represents the colour of the lacquer when sprayed over with my Light Tint Gloss clearcoat.

Examples of my lacquer in use can be found in the workshop blog.

74 Comments on “Nitrocellulose lacquer for guitar finishing”

  1. How do I finish the satin lacquer? Do I still go through cutting, polishing and buffing compounds…or stop after wet sanding to a couple of thousand grit?

      • Thank you for the reply. Should I wet or dry sand? Then I should leave for up to 3 weeks to fully cure….and then it’s good? (No buffing etc)

          • So leave to cure overnight, then I can sand…then final coat. And then how long to fully cure?

          • Lacquer doesn’t cure, it dries by solvent evaporation. Most of the solvent flashes off within minutes but it will continue to gas off for weeks, and as it does so the film thickness shrinks a little.

            How long to leave it depends on how thick your finish is as it dries outside in – solvent migrates to the surface. Also if you have a very tight grained wood such as maple you won’t see any appreciable sinkage into the grain but if you’ve used ash or mahogany you might want to leave it a week or too before flatting and the final light coat. This light coat should be able to be handled within the hour in reasonably warm conditions.

  2. Hi, no instructions came with your lacquer about drying times, best application mthods etc, which is a little surprising.

          • Thank you. Last thing, because I don’t see it there. What grit do you advise sanding with before applying the lacquer?

          • I generally use 320 grit. Please see the demos on the site and FAQs where this is demonstrated.

          • Read through the stuff thanks. I need to know more info about coats and decals, as I’ll be applying one. How many coats should I do before applying a decal, and how many once the decal is applied? Is there also anything special I should do with the coats before applying the decal, like lightly sanding etc.

            Thanks for all the help

        • Hi Chris,
          I’ve almost finished my es335 kit paint job, however I have placed an inlay on the head and am almost at the point of final coats and flushing/polishing the head finish but have run out of clear lacquer. My question is that I have sufficient Sanding Sealer – is this okay to finish off either or will I need another can of clear lacquer?
          Thanks in advance
          Ian Rothe

          • I don’t think sanding sealer is usable as a top coat. Especially if you’re spraying over black it might look a bit milky, and it won’t polish to the same level of gloss either of course.

    • Yes the lacquer is UV resistant in all normal circmstances but it will yellow if exposed to strong sunlight for an extended period

  3. Hi Steve,
    I need to add paint to fully re-finish a headstock fracture on a dark back Gibson Les Paul Traditional.
    From the serial number could you supply the correct colour paint?

    Regards – Rob

  4. I need to lacquer an old classical guitar with maple back and sides and spruce top. I’d like to spray clear gloss to retain all the natural colour and grain of the timber. Can I just sand and spray?

    • Yes you can apply the lacquer directly to spruce and maple without need for prior grain filling and/or sealing

      • Excellent thank you, I assume two or three cans for a complete classical guitar re spray?

        • It depends how good your prep is but you might be able to do a decent job with three cans.

  5. Hi Steve
    Sorry if it’s been mentioned here and I missed it, but… is there any temperature below which spraying shouldn’t be done? I was looking to spray a kit guitar this weekend, but it looks to be pretty chilly out there (into single digits). Thanks as always.

    • Low temperatures just extend drying time.

      Humidity is the greater problem as you can get moisture trapped in the finish. It’s true however that lower temperatures often mean higher relative humidity. I find that thin coats is the answer though.

      I don’t have any figures on what is acceptable but you’ll know if the lacquer blushes. My lacquers have high quality low-blush solvents so you can get away with higher humidity than some other paints.

      I spray any time so long as it’s not raining. I’ve even sprayed with snow on the ground. On the rare occasions I get blush, it generally goes when I bring the item inside or if not, another thin coat always fixes it.

      • Excellent, thanks Steve. Sorry for the delay, I only just saw your reply.

        Am just waiting for a calm day in double digits° and I’ll be on the case.

        Thanks as always!

  6. Hello. Do you have any tips for spraying a guitar in a garage?
    I will use a proper respirator and eye protection but wonder about overspray and paint mist in the air. Would a makeshift spray booth out of a plastic greenhouse work?
    Or just fresh airflow with 2 side doors open perhaps?
    Thank you

    • I would just keep the doors open for ventilation. You will find that overspray creates some fine dust so cover any surfaces that you want to protect.

  7. Hi,
    I recently purchased a pot of wine red touch up tint from you.
    The tint is the correct colour,but when multiple layers are painted on
    It is now a lot darker than the rest of the guitar.
    Can I lighten the tint with thinners or something else.(and repaint)

    Many thanks

    • I don’t sell wine red touch-up, I think you must have bought it somewhere else?

      However you will need to strip it off with thinners and start again, there’s no relaible way to lighten it.

  8. Hi, I’m planning to repaint my bass and am leaning towards white, would using your white blonde over metallic silver as would be the case for candy apple red work? Or is the paint going to cover the metallic aspect too much?
    I’m hoping to achieve a more metallic version of Olympic white but if this isn’t likely to work I’ll maybe just go with the regular Olympic.

  9. Hi Steve,

    I am building an acoustic guitar and wondered if I could use your clear lacquer to finish it? If, yes, how many cans would you recommend for an OM size guitar? The back and sides are rosewood, I assume I’ll need some grain filler too?

    Many thanks in advance,


    • Yes you can use my clear lacquer for an acoustic guitar and yes you will need to grain fill the rosewood back and sides and (presumably) mahogany neck.

      A clear filler such as Aqua Coat is probably best.

  10. Hi Steve

    I’m planning to do a copy of the Epiphone Coronet (batwing headstock) with a mahogany body, and would like to finish it in the cherry red similar to the one in your photos. Can you advise me please as to what combination of paint and finishes would be best and what I would require. The headstock front would be gloss black.

    Many thanks


    • I’m doing one myself at the moment and I’ll be blogging it when I have some time.

      You need to follow grain filler > sanding sealer > coloured lacquer > clear gloss.

      If you want a lighter red you can use my Clear Red or for a bit darker, the Clear Cherry.

      For the headstock face, after spraying the clear colour, mask off and spray the black. When just dry, scrape the edge clean then clear over everything.

  11. Hi Steve,
    Other half got me a DIY kit for my birthday so looking to get some paint etc off yourself for it, but I feel at a bit of a loss as I’ve never done guitars before. The body has already been sealed and is mostly well sanded, just a couple of rough edges so I would imagine i’d be fine going straight for a white primer? Either going to go Shell Pink or Olympic White so want a solid primer base down.

  12. Hi Steve,
    Such a great site. I’ve recently been gifted a build your own bass type kit, it’s been good fun and i’m learning as i go along and make mistakes. One thing thats really confusing me though is that I’ve sprayed with nitro lake placid blue. The majority of the body looks quite nice but in areas there are slightly lighter/dull patches. Would a layer of nitro clear over the current finish and then a light keying followed by more colour coats be something that would work/can be done.

    • I don’t think you need the clear lacquer first. If the surface is smooth, just spray mopre colour making sure you make even passes so the colour is consistent.

  13. Hi, very informative site.

    I have a telecaster that I am planning to copper leaf.

    Can I use Nitrocellulose on this finish? I want to keep the natural sheen of the copper leaf so my instinct is to use a clear satin. I’m concerned that this might matt the sheen. But a gloss might make it too shiny.

    Any thought?

    • Yes nitrocellulose will work. You can buff the clear satin to a shine and de-gloss the gloss using a fine abrasive, so you should be able to get any degree of gloss you wish.

  14. Hi Steve,

    I have a poly finish strat i was hoping to refinish with a nitro lacquer. The reason in doing so is because it can wear more naturally than the poly finish. Is this something that can still be achieved with your lacquer?

  15. Hi Steve, I’ve ordered a Sherwood green spray to re-finish a Strat I have. Looking at the two shades, I’d ideally like it finished at least as dark as the right hand colour swatch. I mistakenly ordered a clear gloss instead of the light tint gloss, will this gloss also make it appear darker or do I need the light tint type? Also, would the amber light tint gloss make it appear even darker again? Or would I be better just coating it thicker with the light tint gloss? Hope this makes sense, thanks in advance for your help!

    • The Clear Gloss will not change the shade. The Light Tint is designed to do that, or the Tinted Gloss but that will be more dramatic and harder to get an even shade. It’s harder to say which would be best but the Light Tint is a safer bet.

  16. Hi there, I’ve sanded a squier strat down to wood, should I give it a few coats of clear gloss cellulose lacquer before i paint it with Fiesta Red cellulose I already have then finally finishing with more clear.
    So what would you recommend and how many cans will I need ?
    Kind Regards

  17. Hi Steve, I’ve purchased a “Chibson “ Les Paul from AliExpress and using it as a project to upgrade and generally have a bit of fun with. The headstock came blank and I purchased a transfer decal from crox guitars.
    It looks really good now it’s on but I’d like to coat it with lacquer to protect it. I would expect the existing lacquer on the headstock to be poly, would this be possible?
    Crox guitars say the transfer can take nitro.
    Thanks , Stewart.

  18. Hi folks, thanks for taking the time to read my mail. Guys I’m currently restoring a 1961 Hofner Club and I want it Black like John McNallys (Searchers) Club 60. I was wondering if you mail your nitrocellulose products to Ireland? If so I want to order a number of items. Thank you.

    • Yes thanks I can send to Ireland, at least until the end of the Brexit transition period long may it continue.

  19. Hi,
    If I happened to find an old well made Les Paul Guitar made from solid Mahogany and wanted to keep the body plain wood after stripping it, could I just use your clear Lacquer and build up the coats and sanding in between?
    Or is there a clear Primer?


    • I offer a clear Sanding Sealer that is quick to build and useful for levelling prior to spraying gloss lacquer.

      You can just use the lacquer but it takes a lot more to achieve the same thing.

  20. Thanks. The headstock looks ‘as new’, extremely smooth and clean. I was hoping to give it a wipe & dry and then just spray it, so I don’t damage the logo or finish.

    • If you don’t key the old finish with light sanding then the new lacquer will not adhere very well and may chip and flake off.

  21. Hello. I only need to coat a headstock for now. Can this lacquer be stored for extended periods in the tin if I clean the nozzle with some solvent perhaps? The headstock looks too new for the much older body I’ve bought it for, and seems to have an almost matt finish, probably Fender’s ‘natural satin’. I’d like it darker with a glossy finish to protect it. Will I be able to spray this directly onto the headstock? Not sure if it’s a wax on there. It’s only for a Squire Affinity neck but I might as well get it right. Thanks.

    • Yes you can spray onto the Squier finish. Remove the hardware (tuners, etc.) then degrease and sand lightly with say 800 grit abrasive paper before spraying the lacquer.

      The aerosol should keep for years.

  22. Hello,

    I’m looking to give a nice glossy feel to an unfinished maple telecaster neck for a project. Do you have anything that fits the bill?

    I have a Jazzmaster which already has this finish and i’m trying to replicate it.

  23. looking to paint my guitar in a black cherry pearl finish. Cant seem to find the color anywhere. Can you help.


    • The closest would be to use the same techniques as for Candy Apple Red and spray more coats of Clear Red which will deepen the shade.

      Using a top coat containing black would obscure the metallic too much.

  24. I’m looking for Fender Taos Turquoise. Do you supply this? Or can you make it? Do you ship to canada or US New York state?

  25. Can the gloss clear lacquer be used straight onto water based stain ( when dry ) on my Les Paul kit guitar, thanks.

  26. If I am to paint a guitar body what would be the equipment I need. Base layer and top Coat to give it a really nice finish.

  27. I need to re lacquer the top of my guitar,i replaced the Fingerboard,in removing the old fingerboard with a steam iron it appears to have burnt the surface,I dont know if this is just the Lacquer or the wood.It is Cedar Top.any idea’s.thanks Rod.

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