Lacquer removal

Bob J

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Thinking ahead to a spring project, last year I built a tele from a kit, sprayed it with rattle can lacquer (a full can of stew Mac sonic blue, and quite a bit of clear spray lacquer from the hardware store). The finish had some issues but I have been fine with it, and it’s been a good guitar to learn on (both building and playing).
8309E67A-4286-487C-9714-F7CC45526330.jpeg

After building a few more guitars since (all with weight relieving) I’ve decided to put it on a diet. I’m going to plane off the back and hollow it out, and Reback it with 1/4” poplar or ash. Then repaint.

My question, what is the best way to strip the many layers of lacquer off before I start the woodwork? I will be repainting a solid color (I’m liking the buttercream color that Fender is using on their player strats), so it doesn’t have to be perfect, just smooth.

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Buckocaster51

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Acetone or lacquer thinner will take it off.

But using it is serious business.

You need to wear a proper mask, work in a well-ventilated are, wear gloves, have eye-protection, and deal with the rags/paper towels in a proper manner.

You probably do not need to remove it. Sand it smooth. Prime it. Apply your new color.
 

blackbelt308

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+1 on acetone. That is what I've used to remove lacquer. LT is too hazardous in the quantities needed for this job. Agree with the Buckster on all the safety issues.

I usually do the work on an old towel that I'm OK throwing in the trash when the job is done. Also use paper towels with the acetone and allow them to dry (doesn't take long) before discarding.

If you do a maple neck, remember that acetone will damage black plastic dots!
 

Sea Devil

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Acetone is one of the least toxic solvents out there in terms of absorption through the skin, but the fumes are another matter. And it does a fantastic job of removing lacquer. You'll need a lot of paper towels, though.

You could try liberally applying the acetone to the surface and covering with plastic wrap, then peeling off the plastic and scraping off the gooey mess trapped underneath. I'd check to make sure the acetone doesn't dissolve the plastic first. Aluminum foil could serve the same purpose.
 

Freeman Keller

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Most of the acoustic guitars that I build need to have the finish removed where the bridge is glued on - I use chemical stripper and it works just fine. I did a complete refinish on this one and again, stripped the lacquer with chemical stripper.


It will remove decals and probably screw up any plastic like binding or fretboard dots or whatever, and it seems to pull back stains. Spread it on, let set, scrape with a putty knife. See the link
 

Silverface

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I NEVER recommend solvents or stripper. They are messy, a respirator with prefilters is absolutely required (unless you don't care about your lungs) and most are flammable.


Most other pros I know use the same method I use - a heat gun. You should practice on some painted scrap wood so you learn not to cause burn marks - but a heat gun and steel scraper will remove nearly everything in 10 minutes. You'll need another 10-15 minutes for spot sanding. And they cost $10-25.
 

snarf_nyc

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Acetone and lacquer thinner work great for me, but I'm a little worried that wood loses some integrity especially if it's a multi-piece body. It just feels like each time it gets "washed" some of the life force is extracted from the piece.

I watched an interview with one of the Fender Custom Shop builders and he said that if a finish isn't looking quite right, they "wash" the body with lacquer thinner. That was kind of a revelation for me and now I will roll back anything that doesn't look right. It's torture but it's worth it in the end if its good wood!
 

Sea Devil

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It's worth mentioning that most pros wouldn't use solvents because they do this sort of thing all day every day, and long-term exposure is what's really dangerous. I'm all in favor of any approach that minimizes health risk and environmental damage, but fleeting exposure isn't nearly as hazardous as as years and years of daily exposure, which can seriously mess up your respiratory and nervous system and do irreversible damage to your liver and kidneys.

Respirator, gloves, safety googles, and a well-ventilated space free of sparks and open flame? That represents a set of risks that many people find acceptable once or once in a while, especially if no spraying is involved.
 
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Freeman Keller

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Lacquer refinish:

Stripper

IMG_6335.JPG


Old lacquer comes off with a putty knife

IMG_6336.JPG


Sand to bare wood

IMG_6341.JPG


Stain mahogany neck

IMG_6345.JPG


Pore fill

IMG_6351.JPG


Lacquer

IMG_6356.JPG


Sand, buff, reassemble, play

IMG_6359.JPG
....

Oh, and yes, I wear a respirator and latex gloves.
 
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Sea Devil

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Freeman, that looks great! I see there's no celluloid or plastic binding on that guitar. Stripper can destroy that stuff.
 

Freeman Keller

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Freeman, that looks great! I see there's no celluloid or plastic binding on that guitar. Stripper can destroy that stuff.

I would not have used stripper if it had plastic binding or decals or anything. I do use it to remove the lacquer from the area under the bridge and fretboard extension on acoustics. I've also discovered that chemical stripper will not remove most of the catalyzed finishes on commercial guitars, for that you need heat and a scraper.

It seems to leave a pretty clean surface. I wipe the bare wood down a couple of times with naphtha to remove anything that might have soaked into the wood before sanding but it seems to be pretty clean and the wood takes stains and pore filler just like it hadn't been finished.
 

dogmeat

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if you use stripper.... dump the stripper in a clear plastic garbage bag, insert the body, close the bag.

or do a piece at a time. pour the stripper on the body, cover with clear plastic (or Saran wrap) and spread the stripper out even underneath. you can watch it and adjust, when its ready, scrape the works off into the trash

scrub off the excess with scotchbrite or a choreboy and soap & water. if you don't want to use water, towel off the excess and rub it down with acetone. more acetone if needed

fine sandpaper for final cleanup
 

jimmywrangles

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Sand it, prime it and repaint. I wouldn't bother stripping it off as it's making extra work for yourself and costing more.
My work here is done.👽
 

Painter644

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I NEVER recommend solvents or stripper. They are messy, a respirator with prefilters is absolutely required (unless you don't care about your lungs) and most are flammable.


Most other pros I know use the same method I use - a heat gun. You should practice on some painted scrap wood so you learn not to cause burn marks - but a heat gun and steel scraper will remove nearly everything in 10 minutes. You'll need another 10-15 minutes for spot sanding. And they cost $10-25.
Heat guns are wonderful inventions but they won’t touch the thick sealer on old Squiers. I had a black body that I wanted to repaint but didn’t want it to get even thicker. Under the black was a burst but it mostly released with the black poly, so I couldn’t save it. But, the milky sealer was nearly impossible to remove until I realized I could tap it off: hit a piece of 2x4 with a 22oz hammer that cracked the sealer enough so that I could scrape and chip it off. The heat gun was completely useless on it.
 

Silverface

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Heat guns are wonderful inventions but they won’t touch the thick sealer on old Squiers.
By "milky sealer" do you mean the clear coat or undercoat?

The clear comes off fine; you just have to work right on the edge of bubbling and burn. Professional quality heatguns have variable and multiple "maximum" settings, several nozzles and at least one "scraper/nozzle". The $7 ones from Harbor Freight and similar types are junk IMO, and a good way to achieve a burn finish!

Undercoats also come off, but not what's penetrated the wood grain- and a Squier normally has a multi-piece body and plain grain under opaque finishes.

It would also be very unlike Fender to apply a black finish - the most difficult to apply consistently smooth - over a previous finish. That sounds like someone else applied the black. The Fullerton facility did overcoat glitches with lacquers - but the overseas facilities making cheaper Squiers have a policy of just trashing bodies with fouled finishes - and that goes back to the MIJ days.

Generally some wood sealer always remains, no matter the type - and if it's pigmented you don't do a stain, dye or clear finish unless you sand - and take some wood off in the process.
 

Painter644

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By "milky sealer" do you mean the clear coat or undercoat?

The clear comes off fine; you just have to work right on the edge of bubbling and burn. Professional quality heatguns have variable and multiple "maximum" settings, several nozzles and at least one "scraper/nozzle". The $7 ones from Harbor Freight and similar types are junk IMO, and a good way to achieve a burn finish!

Undercoats also come off, but not what's penetrated the wood grain- and a Squier normally has a multi-piece body and plain grain under opaque finishes.

It would also be very unlike Fender to apply a black finish - the most difficult to apply consistently smooth - over a previous finish. That sounds like someone else applied the black. The Fullerton facility did overcoat glitches with lacquers - but the overseas facilities making cheaper Squiers have a policy of just trashing bodies with fouled finishes - and that goes back to the MIJ days.

Generally some wood sealer always remains, no matter the type - and if it's pigmented you don't do a stain, dye or clear finish unless you sand - and take some wood off in the process.
Under the clear, then under the black poly, then under the sunburst was a milky, semi-opaque layer of sealer; it was thicker than the three top layers combined. There have been others who found bursts under mid-to-late ‘90s Affinities and Bullets, not just me. These bodies have a mysterious “story” - alder, full thickness, and routed either to SSS or a swimming pool. I read, but can’t remember where, that they might have been Japanese bodies sent to China (all marked “Made in China”, not “Crafted…”). Again, mysterious…

There are myriad Strats and Teles with “repaint” and relic jobs coming from Fender. Wild West seems to be a prominent supplier:
E5286916-A7D5-4528-AF7E-42C1D5BB7880.jpeg
 

Silverface

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There are myriad Strats and Teles with “repaint” and relic jobs coming from Fender.

Those are intentionalluy - and carefully - made that way essentially as "artwork", and extremely expensive. All speciqal finishes like that are not from the production line - lacquer work is done in the custom shop Custom Shop - NOT the regular production line! Those are typical of nothing but work done by a small team.

Early Japanese Squiers from the 80's are pretty much equal in quality to American Fenders and desirable on the vintage market - and exceptions where factory recoats over problem finishes were not common, but have been seen.

But cheap Affinity models and similar inexpensive guitars were not "double finished" at the factory, which runs on a high-production system. It's never been cost effective, and any seen like that had the "second finish" applied elsewhere. This a subject that was discussed at length with both Fender management and production line managers.

It simply wasn't cost effective once they ramped up to high production numbers, nor did the polyester finishes hold up very well when multiple entire systems were applied. This especially holds true once they shifted production to basswood. And while early 2000's Squier Affinity models were usually alder (or Asian woods similar in density, weight and grain to alder), the bodies were slim in depth and most opaque finished bodies were 4 - sometimes more - pieces. 2 or 3 piece bodies were reserved for sunbursts.

But if they had finish problems they simply cut those bodies up. They started doing the same thing in Fullerton in the late 70's; it was easy to "double finish" in lacquer, but problematic with high-build polyesters, where adhesion and cracking problems occurred when we ran "aging" tests for them through a weatherometer. I ended up being allowed to keep dozens of finished bodies and necks with issues that were extras left over from finish tests we did for them at Sinclair paint in LA. When I had the sales rep ask Fender's tech people what to do with the leftovers he was told they didn't want them back, because all they would do is cut them up and trash them.
 




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