Had an interesting request a few weeks ago . . . a nice guy named Gus asked me to remove the black finish on his Epiphone Korina Explorer. I will admit I tried to talk him out of it, but he was hell bent on having it done so I took the job . . . and I am glad I did. I was really happy with the finished product and was happy with how unique it ended up looking.
So there are some interesting things that came out of this job . . .
Number 1: Lets talk about removing the finish of a guitar. I will say this . . . there is really (short of industrial methods) one way to do this. Sand it off. You will see people on youtube burning the finish off with heat guns, lighting the guitar on fire and scraping the finish off, chemical strippers- I guess all of these work one way or another, but if you want the job done right and to look good, spend the time and sand it off. On most heavily lacquered guitars getting the paint off is easy, its the sealant under the paint that will take you the most time.
I start off with an 80 grit and work my way up to a 400 grit. Once sanded to my liking I spray the body down with water to raise the grain and sand it down again starting with 220 moving up to 400. I do this as many times as it takes to stop the grain from raising. From there I apply the finish the customer is asking for ( I only work with dyes and oils - I do not do spray finishes - however there are some great people in Orlando who do this - Starr Guitars is one of them).
With the Epiphone, Gus requested a natural finish, so I went with the tried and true Gunstock oil. Yep Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil. It is really really good stuff. Easy to work with and looks great every time. Apply the first layer nice and thin, then sand up to 1200 grit and repeat until you are happy. Some people like to do the first layer super thick - its up to you, but I prefer thin layers as it is easier to manage the oil. I finish it off with a car buffing compound. I buff and wax the finish to a gloss shine.
There are two things you need to do this type of job . . . time and patience. This job is literally 99% sanding and sanding is not fun. I do not know a single person that enjoys sanding. It seems to never end. It is miserable.
Number 2: Epiphone Korina Guitars. They are not solid wood. The natural finish guitars that come from the factory have a Korina veneer to hide the multi-piece body. Even under the veneer you have a multi-piece body generally made of Korina and Mahogany.
On this job, I am glad Gus decided to let the multi-piece body shine and not go with a veneer. It really gives the guitar a very unique look. It may not be for everyone, but hey, it's not everyone's guitar. It belongs to Gus.
Enjoy Gus -
Oh yeah if any of you decide to do this to one of your guitars, be smart, wear a good respirator and safety glasses. You really do not want to breath in any of the finish you are sanding off. You also do no want the junk in your eyes.