How to take varnish off a guitar

Varnish is a clear or colored film that is put on the surface of furniture, floors, and musical instruments to protect them from dirt. However, sometimes you want to take the varnish off the guitar. For example, if you are refinishing the guitar then you will need to remove all traces of varnish. Here are some tips that will help you understand how to take varnish off a guitar without damaging it in any way.

You may also look at our other expert guide on How to remove tape residue from guitar

Use a soft-bristled brush

One of the best ways to remove varnish from your guitar is to put a soft-bristled brush in a small container with mineral spirits. Then, rub the brush over the surface of your guitar. This will loosen the varnish and make it easier to scrape off using a plastic scraper or a razor blade.

Soak the guitar in mineral spirits

First you need to remove all the strings and nut from the guitar. Afterwards, cover the sound hole and fingerboard with petroleum jelly. Then, take a plastic container and fill it with mineral spirits or paint thinner. Place the guitar in the container so that it is completely immersed in the liquid. Leave it there for about 10 minutes before removing it from the container and wiping off any residue. You can use a rag or cotton swab to remove the remaining varnish on your guitar.

Keep at it!

The quickest way to remove varnish is to use a belt sander. This will not only take off the varnish, but it will also take off your guitar’s finish! If you think that this is the best route for you, then be sure to put enough coats of polyurethane on your guitar before using it.

For an easier and less damaging removal process, use turpentine. Apply the turpentine with a paper towel or cloth and let it sit for twenty minutes before scrubbing with a soft brush or rag. You can also try using denatured alcohol as well.

Scrape off the varnish

Start by using a scraper to slowly take the varnish off. Make sure you are scraping at a 45 degree angle so it doesn’t damage the guitar. You will need to use some elbow grease for this one, but the more you scrape the easier it will be.

Use a heat gun or hair dryer

If you’re having trouble getting the varnish off, use a heat gun or hair dryer to soften the varnish.

Sand off the varnish

If you are removing the varnish by hand, then the first step is to sand it off. You can use a fine-grit sandpaper to do this. It’ll take some time, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Make sure you remove all traces of varnish before moving on to the next step.

See also  How to Carry Guitar on Motorcycles

Apply mustard to loosen the varnish

The easiest way to remove varnish is to use something acidic. One thing you can use is mustard, which is acidic and will loosen the varnish. All you need to do is put some mustard on the strumming area of the guitar near where the strings are. The acid in the mustard will begin to break down any of the varnish that’s on there. You should then wipe it off with a rag.

Chemical Strippers

Chemical strippers are by far the most popular stripping agent. They are also the riskiest, so always do a small spot test on the surface of your guitar before using any chemicals to make sure that they don’t damage it.

To use chemical strippers, apply them with a rag or paint brush. Let the chemicals soak into the varnish for 5-20 minutes, depending on its thickness. Then scrape off the dissolved varnish with a putty knife or scraper.

The downside of chemical strippers is that they can damage some surfaces, though this is rare with guitars. The upside is that they are really effective at removing old varnish quickly and easily.


Acetone is a common chemical stripper that most people have access to, but it’s really not the best option for stripping varnish off of your guitar. Acetone can dissolve the varnish on contact, but because it’s so strong, it can also dissolve the varnish in your guitar!

To use acetone to strip the varnish, first apply it to all areas of the guitar that you want to strip. Next, wait for roughly 45 minutes before wiping away any remaining finish with a cloth soaked in acetone. You’ll need to repeat this process until no more of the finish comes off with acetone.

This method will work on both chemical and mechanical varnishes.

How to take varnish off a guitar

Mineral Spirits

Place a shallow dish or bowl in the center of your work surface. Pour two cups of mineral spirits into the dish and heat it up on a stove top until it’s boiling.

Once the mineral spirits are boiling, carefully dip a paintbrush into the hot liquid and brush it on to one side of the guitar. Use long strokes and do not press down too hard: this will give you an even coating. Let this cook for 20-30 minutes, then remove with an old rag and place in another container to cool down.

See also  How to convert a tube radio to guitar amp

When all of the varnish has been removed, use a cloth soaked in mineral spirits to wipe away any residue that remains.

Nitrocellulose Lacquer Thinner

If you’re using a chemical stripper, the first step is to determine what type of varnish your guitar is using. Nitrocellulose lacquer thinners dissolve nitrocellulose lacquer and most other finishes that use nitrocellulose as a component. This stripper is designed specifically for stripping nitrocellulose lacquer.

Mix one part of the thinner with 3-4 parts acetone and clamp the guitar in a vise so that it’s stable and easy to work on. Then, soak a rag in the mixture and tightly wrap it around the guitar with the still-wet side facing out (toward you). Soak another rag in more of the mix and cover any areas that weren’t soaked by the first rag. Wait 10 minutes for this side to dry before continuing.

After letting it sit for 10 minutes, remove both rags by firmly grabbing them on either end and pulling them off quickly (try not to touch the guitar with your hand while doing this). You may need to repeat this process 2-3 times for all of the varnish to come off–you’ll know when it’s done when you see bare wood showing through.

Paint Thinner Chemical

This method is a popular choice for those who want to strip the varnish from their guitar, but not damage the wood. When using a chemical stripping agent, it is important that you do not use paint thinner as it will leave a residue on the instrument and possibly damage the wood.

Paint thinner can be found in most hardware stores, and is fairly inexpensive. It leaves behind no harmful residue and has been used as a stripping agent for decades as it removes varnishes without damaging the wood. To use this method, pour some paint thinner into a dish or small cup and dip your cloth into it so that it soaks up some of the liquid. You’ll then want to apply this to your guitar with firm strokes starting at one end and working your way down and around every inch of the surface. If you find that there are still bits of varnish left behind after all of this, you may need to repeat the process until all of the varnish has been removed.

White Spirit or Turpentine

White spirit or turpentine is the most popular chemical for stripping varnish. It can be purchased at hardware stores or paint shops – you should be able to find it in your area.

Before you start, put on gloves and safety goggles. Remove any metal parts from the guitar with a soft cloth and polish it until all of the rust spots are removed. Alternatively, if there are no metal parts, this step can be omitted.

See also  How To Check Guitar Authenticity

Next, make sure that the surface is well-ventilated – avoid breathing in the fumes! Pour enough white spirit or turpentine to cover half of the instrument’s surface. Wait 10 minutes for it to soak into the varnish, then use a scraper to scrape away the softened varnish.

Afterwards, wipe off any residue with a dry cloth and then polish your guitar cleaner than ever before.

How to take varnish off a Guitar FAQS

What is the best way to remove varnish from a guitar?

The easiest way to remove varnish from a guitar is with a chemical stripper. You can purchase this at any hardware or home improvement store. Simply apply the stripper and wait for it to dissolve the varnish away. Once all of the varnish has been dissolved, you will need to use some type of scraper or putty knife to scrape off any residue that remains on top of the guitar.

What if I don’t want to risk taking off any paint.

In this case you should try using a heat gun instead of a chemical stripper. This will allow you to more precisely control how much heat you apply and where it is applied. You can even use a heat gun in conjunction with some type of scraper or putty knife in order to get all of the varnish removed without damaging the paint job that is already on your instrument.


All guitars need to be maintained. Wiping the dust off the strings and cleaning out the top of the guitar are both essential to preserving your guitar. Knowing how to take varnish off a guitar will keep your guitar looking like new.

If you’re wondering how to take varnish off a guitar, there are a few ways. You can use a soft-bristled brush or soak the guitar in mineral spirits for a few hours. You can also use a heat gun or hair dryer. Scraping off the varnish or sanding it off is another option. You can also use a mustard to loosen the varnish, but this will take a lot of effort.

If you’re wondering how to take varnish off a guitar, there are a few ways. You can use a soft-bristled brush or soak the guitar in mineral spirits for a few hours. You can also use a heat gun or hair dryer. Scraping off the varnish or sanding it off is another option. You can also use a mustard to loosen the varnish, but this will take a lot of effort.