How to Relic a Guitar Neck

Written by alasdair smith
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How to Relic a Guitar Neck
Relicing your guitar gives it a vintage road-worn look. (Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images)

Relicing a guitar has become more common in recent years as guitarists try to replicate the wear and tear seen on such instruments as Eric Clapton's famous "Blackie" Fender Stratocaster. Many leading manufacturers now make new "road-worn" instruments, but these are often priced out of the reach of amateur musicians. Applying a relic finish to your own guitar is one way of achieving the same effect. Although working on a neck takes care and attention, with the right tools and materials you can achieve a realistic vintage effect.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Wet and dry sandpaper, various grades
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Nitrocellulose lacquer spray, amber
  • Wood stain
  • Cotton rags
  • Decorators tape
  • Power drill with buffing attachment

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  1. 1

    Remove the strings from your guitar and rest it on a flat surface with the neck supported by an old rolled towel or similar.

  2. 2

    Sand the whole neck with fine grade wet and dry sandpaper -- start with 1000 grit and work through 1500 to 2000 grit. This strips out the evenness of the original finish and readies it for further ageing.

  3. 3

    Apply lacquer thinner using a soft cloth to the back of the neck. This will strip the surface of the finish in the places that get most wear. Concentrate on the areas close to the headstock where most chord fretting takes place. But don't forget farther up the neck where lead guitar licks are played. Try to get an effect that is subtle and not too stark. Leave the neck to dry thoroughly.

  4. 4

    Apply a little dark wood stain to the stripped areas to replicate accumulated dirt from sweaty fingers. This gives a more natural look. Wipe off any excess stain and allow the neck to dry.

  5. 5

    Spray the neck with a tinted amber nitro finish to replicate the yellowing effect from years of exposure to the elements. If your guitar has an ebony fingerboard, mask it to avoid getting nitro on it, as this may affect its playability. You can spray a maple fingerboard along with the beck and the headstock. The more coats you apply will create a darker effect, but allow the neck to dry between coats.

  6. 6

    Sand the finished neck with 1500, then 2000-grit, wet and dry paper. Buff the finish using the power drill and polishing attachment. Keep a light, even pressure over the neck being careful not to spend too long in one place in case you create hot spots.

  7. 7

    Make a few chips and dents in the neck with a set of keys or piece of chain. Don't go overboard because you don't want to affect the playability of the neck, just make it look like it's had a few knocks over the years. Once you have finished you can restring your guitar ready for your next performance.

Tips and warnings

  • Be careful not to overdo the relicing of your guitar's neck as it can seriously affect its playability.
  • Always wear a face mask when sanding and applying the nitro lacquer.

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