Learn About Instrument Finishing + Finish Repair

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Trade Secrets! Issue 177 November 08, 2012
A shrinking pickguard cracks the guitar top!
In Dan Erlewine's shop: This Martin D-35 has a cracked top due to the pull of a shrinking plastic pickguard. Dan fixes the problem and shows how to keep this happening from happening again.
Trade Secrets! Issue 64 June 26, 2008
Adding color to hide glue for an invisible repair
Dan Erlewine's got a neat trick for a mandolin repair, and he makes his pitch to get us all to join the hide glue club!
Product Instructions A-BUFFERBASE
Buffer Base Plan
Instructions for building a wood platform to securely mount the buffing arbor and motor onto a bench or stand.

Online video available
Burn-in Procedures Using Behlen's Lacquer Repair Kit
A demonstration of the proper technique for repairing a nitrocellulose lacquer finish using the Behlen Lacquer Repair Kit.
Trade Secrets! Issue 212 March 13, 2014
Coloring new binding to match the old stuff
We've watched Dan Erlewine repair this 1930s Kay over the previous 3 Trade Secrets. It's time to finish it up. Elliot John-Conry of EJC Guitars ages Dan's patch of new plastic binding so it blends in with the old binding around it. About the guitar in this video: This 1930s Kay Deluxe is a fixer-upper that Dan Erlewine repaired in order to sell. Now that it's in great shape again, maybe Dan'll keep it!
Product Instructions I-1850
ColorTone Aerosol Finishing Kit Instructions
Tips and instructions for achieving a professional finish with the ColorTone Aerosol Finishing Kit.
Product Instructions I-3881
ColorTone Aerosol Guitar Lacquers
Application instructions for ColorTone Aerosol Guitar Lacquers.
Product Instructions I-5577
ColorTone Clear Grain Filler Instructions
Directions for application
Product Instructions I-3863
ColorTone Fretboard Finishing Oil Instructions
Directions for using ColorTone Fretboard Finishing Oil.
Product Instructions I-5230
ColorTone Liquid Pigments for Lacquer
Directions for using ColorTone Liquid Pigments for Lacquer.
Product Instructions I-5360
ColorTone Liquid Pigments for Waterbase Lacquer
Directions for using ColorTone Liquid Pigments for Waterbase Lacquer.
Product Instructions I-5032
ColorTone Liquid Stain Instructions
Directions for using ColorTone Liquid Stains.
Product Instructions I-1201
ColorTone Polishing Compound Instructions
Directions for using ColorTone Polishing Compounds and Swirl Remover.
Product Instructions I-5880
ColorTone Tinted Aerosol Guitar Lacquers
Application instructions and a finishing schedule for ColorTone Tinted Aerosol Guitar Lacquers.
Product Instructions I-5570
ColorTone Waterbase Lacquer Instructions
Directions for using ColorTone Waterbase Lacquer.
Product Instructions I-5575
ColorTone Waterbase Retarder Instructions
Directions for using ColorTone Waterbase Retarder.
Product Instructions I-5573
ColorTone Waterbase Sanding Sealer Instructions
Directions for using ColorTone Waterbase Sanding Sealer.
Trade Secrets! Issue 157 February 02, 2012
Dan Erlewine's low-tech "spray booth" for a small shop
Dan Erlewine shows how he sprays finish touchups in a small shop with no spray booth.
Product Instructions I-3161
Don't mix buffing compound
An overview of the basics of buffing with compounds.
Product Instructions A-BLUEGUITAR
Finishing a Blue Guitar
Dan Erlewine shows how to achieve a PRS-style finish with stains and aerosol lacquer. Introduction
Product Instructions A-BLUEGUITAR_6
Finishing a Blue Guitar, Final sanding and rubbing out
Part 6: Dan Erlewine uses sandpaper and polishing compounds to achieve a PRS-style finish using liquid stains and aerosol lacquer.
Product Instructions A-BLUEGUITAR_3
Finishing a Blue Guitar, PRS-style binding
Part 3: Dan Erlewine shows how to achieve a PRS-style finish using liquid stains and aerosol lacquer.
Product Instructions A-BLUEGUITAR_4
Finishing a Blue Guitar, Sealer and scuff-sand
Part 4: Dan Erlewine shows how to build sealer coats and drop-fill any imperfections that may occur for this PRS-style finish using aerosol lacquer.
Product Instructions A-BLUEGUITAR_2
Finishing a Blue Guitar, Staining the guitar
Part 2: Dan Erlewine shows how to apply the stain for a PRS-style finish with aerosol lacquer.
Product Instructions A-BLUEGUITAR_5
Finishing a Blue Guitar, Topcoats and touchup
Part 5: Dan Erlewine sprays the clear topcoats to achieve a PRS-style finish using liquid stains and aerosol lacquer.
Product Instructions A-BLUEGUITAR_1
Finishing a Blue Guitar, Wood preparation
Part 1: Dan Erlewine shows how to prepare the wood for a PRS-style finish with stains and aerosol lacquer.
Trade Secrets! Issue 114 May 27, 2010
Fixing a badly worn neck: super glue as both fill and finish
Somebody's wrung this guitar's neck with years of string bending -- the wood is gone from the edge of the fingerboard. The customer doesn't want a new neck, so Dan Erlewine improvises a great solution.
Trade Secrets! Issue 174 September 27, 2012
Fixing a small chip in your guitar's finish
This issue of Trade Secrets is a video: Dan Erlewine demos three of his favorite finish repair tips: 1. Super glue drop fills. 2. Frank Ford's razor blade trick. 3. Strip-sanding with fingertip pressure.
Trade Secrets! Issue 46 October 18, 2007
For ebony streaks, use black fingerboard stain
Erick Coleman shows why black fingerboard stain is a standard item in any guitarmaker's shop, including the big name builders.
Trade Secrets! Issue 5 November 23, 2006
Give your buffer a haircut, and store it on the wall
This week's issue is about instrument finishing: a good tip about setting up new buffing wheels, and an idea to save space in your workshop.

Online video available
Trade Secrets! Issue 244 June 04, 2015
Glossy finish using foam polishing pads
After an unsuccessful finish repair, this guitar’s owner sent it to Dan Erlewine to fix the damage. Using a neat trick he learned from Erick Coleman, Dan builds the finish fast with films of dried lacquer. Then he polishes it with a hand drill and foam pads.
Trade Secrets! Issue 161 March 29, 2012
Hiding an "evil smile" peghead break with the Razor Blade Trick
After gluing a broken peghead, Dan Erlewine still a finish repair to do. In this Trade Secret, he shows you how to save time by using amber super glue and his favorite razor blade trick.
Product Instructions A-SHELLAC
How and why to mix fresh shellac
Dan Erlewine shares his experience working with, and knowledge of, shellac.
Trade Secrets! Issue 119 August 05, 2010
How Boogie Fever led to a Neck Transplant
Erick Coleman's buddy wanted a guitar just like the one he saw on Soul Train in the 1970s. Curing his Boogie Fever required a neck transplant, but Fender's Micro-Tilt neck adjustment makes that tricky. Here's how to do it.
Trade Secrets! Issue 97 October 01, 2009
How to clean a guitar that REALLY needs it!
Rock's a dirty business, but somebody's got to do it: Dan Erlewine cleans up a Les Paul that hasn't had a bath in four years -- and 650 gigs!

Online video available
Trade Secrets! Issue 251 October 22, 2015
How to finish an acoustic guitar bridge
A small finishing job like this is easy. After the bridge popped off this classical guitar, Dan Erlewine replaced it with a new one. In this short video, he shows how simple it was to put a finish on the new bridge before gluing it on.
Trade Secrets! Issue 110 April 01, 2010
How to French polish for a fast finish without spraying
Dan Erlewine finishes up a last-minute present for his granddaughter: a tiny-size Gibson J-45. With her birthday just around the corner, he needs a good finish and he needs it fast!
Product Instructions A-HOWTOHOLDIT
How to Hold a Spray Gun
How to use spray equipment to get the best possible coverage.
Trade Secrets! Issue 116 June 24, 2010
How to match color on vintage binding repairs
Working on an aged Les Paul, Erick Coleman has to sand part of the yellowed binding. The sanded spots are a glaring white mismatch. Erick makes turns the repair invisible with a little ColorTone spray and stain.
Trade Secrets! Issue 196 August 01, 2013
How to notch the saddles on your Les Paul
Erick Coleman uses a hammer and X-Acto knife before filing. On this video he also talks with Dan Erlewine about how a 1954 Les Paul went from Bondo Mess to Relic Goldtop, with multiple luthiers contributing to its restoration.
Trade Secrets! Issue 54 February 07, 2008
How to spray a sunburst using aerosol cans
Erick Coleman uses tinted aerosols to recreate a vintage Strat 3-tone 'burst.
Trade Secrets! Issue 151 November 10, 2011
How to strip a modern poly guitar finish
Erick Coleman's got a Fender bass with a purple metallic finish. He wants to spray an 1960s-style sunburst, but first he's got to get that hard plastic coating off of there...
Trade Secrets! Issue 40 July 26, 2007
Lacquer drop fill: hiding a scratch on a customer's Les Paul
As Dan Erlewine was packing a customer's Les Paul for shipment, he noticed that somebody in his shop had scratched the top! Time for some fast finish fixing -- here's how he made the scratch go away.
Trade Secrets! Issue 82 March 05, 2009
Making custom-colored patching filler baking soda
Dan Erlewine's cooking with baking soda and ColorTone stains -- fixing a hole in his granddaughter's birthday present.
Trade Secrets! Issue 1 October 26, 2006
Making new bridge pins look old on a vintage Gibson
This week, Dan Erlewine reveals the seven-pin bridge that's hidden by Robert Johnson's hand in that most-famous photo of the King of the Delta Blues.
Trade Secrets! Issue 202 October 24, 2013
Mamie Minch on guitar oxidation: instant aging
Chemicals that add or remove years: Mamie Minch shows how she fades away old brown oxidation ù or adds it, to make a new patch of spruce match the surrounding wood.
Trade Secrets! Issue 201 October 10, 2013
Michi Matsuda's gunpowder scorched guitar
West/East concept guitar: Michihiro Matsuda taught guitar design at Galloup Guitars' Northwoods Guitar Seminar in August. We were lucky enough to get this video as Bryan Galloup interviewed Michi about his unique gunpowder scorching.
Product Instructions I-5561
Micro Finishing Papers
Micro finishing papers cut more quickly and smoothly than other finishing papers, leaving no scratches when used properly.
Trade Secrets! Issue 11 January 04, 2007
Mixing red epoxy for cherry-finish repairs
This week, somebody's attempt to fix a 1960 Les Paul is an example of what not to do. Dan Erlewine tries an experiment that saves this smashed-up guitar's finish: he creates cherry-red epoxy.
Product Instructions I-NITROCELLULOSE
Nitrocellulose Finishing Schedule
A step-by-step flow chart of nitrocellulose finishing.
Trade Secrets! Issue 47 November 01, 2007
Polishing papers: flexible, reusable abrasives
Why has Erick Coleman been hiding small scraps of 3M Polishing Papers in his tool chest?
Trade Secrets! Issue 183 January 31, 2013
Rare black Dan Armstrong bass: fretboard repair
Dan Erlewine's working on a black lucite Dan Armstrong bass -- one of only eight that Ampeg ever made. The fretboard has a nasty crunch. Step-by-step, Dan details how he does this tricky fix.
Trade Secrets! Issue 102 December 10, 2009
Relic finish: faking age cracks on a 1956 Strat
Dan Erlewine shows how he makes a new finish repair on a 1956 Strat look as old as the original finish all around it.
Trade Secrets! Issue 200 September 26, 2013
Scraping for sharp looking binding: here's how it's done!
The king of Gibson relic finishes: Tom Murphy is well known as Gibson's go-to guy for relic finishes: perfectly worn and age-cracked. Tom's business, Guitar Preservation, makes this a specialty. In this week's Trade Secret he shows us how to make and use a scraper for cleaning binding after spraying a sunburst.
Trade Secrets! Issue 106 February 04, 2010
Simple inlay repair on a Les Paul Triumph bass
This bass from the early '70s is in great shape except for a gaptoothed peghead inlay. Erick Coleman shows how to quickly replace a missing inlay, including coloring the new work to match the old.
Product Instructions I-5436
Spray Guns: Getting Started
An introduction to spray guns, including use, care, and troubleshooting.
Product Instructions I-3080
StewMac Guitar Buffer
Installation and safety instructions for the Buffing Arbor System.
Trade Secrets! Issue 0 October 12, 2006
Super glue drop-fill: quick fix for finish chips
This week's subject is one that comes up a lot: how to quickly repair chips in an instrument finish.
Product Instructions I-1730
Target Waterbase Spraying Lacquer Instructions
Directions for using Target Waterbase Lacquer.

Online video available
Trade Secrets! Issue 246 July 02, 2015
Using a flash coat for guitar finish touchups
Dan Erlewine learned this trick at Gibson’s factory back in the 60s: Three jars, three mixes of lacquer and thinner always ready for “flash coat” touch-up spraying. This finish repair hides a batch of punctures in a Gibson archtop.
Trade Secrets! Issue 76 December 11, 2008
Using a foam buffer in a hand drill on Junior Brown Guit-Steels®
When a pedestal buffer can't accommodate the shape of Junior Brown's famous Guit-Steels, Michael Stevens finds that a simple foam buffer does a great job!
Product Instructions I-5035
Using ColorTone Grain Filler
Preparation and application instructions.
Trade Secrets! Issue 115 June 10, 2010
Using fret polishing wheels on a flex shaft
Todd Sams shares his method for getting a mirror finish on newly-installed frets
Trade Secrets! Issue 204 November 21, 2013
Visiting Frank Ford, the King of Shop Tips!
Frank Ford is the man behind frets.com, one of the richest sources of lutherie tips to be found anywhere. He's a skilled luthier, machinist and inventor. Spend a few minutes in Frank's shop at Gryphon Instruments, and you'll come away smarter!
Product Instructions I-WATERBASE
Waterbase Finishing Schedule
A step-by-step flow chart of water based finishing.
Product Instructions A-WETSANDING
Wet-sand before buffing
When, why, and how to wet-sand.
Trade Secrets! Issue 105 January 21, 2010
Which sandpaper to use for instrument work?
Dan Erlewine looks at specialty papers for lutherie, and comes up with a handful of tips for tricky sanding.
Trade Secrets! Issue 30 May 17, 2007
Which super glue to use: thin, medium or thick?
Dan Erlewine uses photo examples to show when to choose thin, medium or thick super glue for instrument work.
Trade Secrets! Issue 85 April 16, 2009
Whoops! How to hide a scratch in your big brother's guitar
Erick Coleman's neighbor has put a chip in his big brother's guitar. It needs to be repaired invisibly, and fast! Touch-up markers do the trick.