Techniques for Distressing Guitars

Written by lauren corona
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Techniques for Distressing Guitars
Distress your guitar to give it a vintage feel. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Distressing guitars, also known as "relicing," can make a brand new or hardly used guitar look like a well-played vintage model. You can buy a guitar that has already been distressed. Alternatively, if you want to distress a guitar you already own, you need to adhere to just a few techniques. Rock stars such as Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Joe Perry of Aerosmith use both distressed guitars and original vintage ones.

Sanding and Scratching

Use fine sandpaper to create worn patches on the body of your guitar. The main place you want it to appear worn is the upper edge of the guitar, where your arm rests when you're playing. However, you can also make other small worn patches, if desired. Sand any plastic hardware to take off the shine. With a pair of scissors or the end of a screwdriver, make scratches at random on the body and plastic hardware to simulate damage from years of use.

Weather Checking

Vintage guitars often have weathered areas of varnish that look like thin veins. To simulate this, blow hot air from a hair dryer onto your guitar for three to four minutes, in the area you want weather-checked. Hold the hair dryer an inch away from the body, and alternate moving it closer and further away. Stop the hair dryer, then spray a can of compressed air on the area until you hear a cracking noise. Repeat the process once more in the desired area to complete the look.


To get a really authentic look on your metal hardware, you'll need an electric tumbler --- the kind that is used for polishing rocks. Tumble the metal parts of your guitar along with some abrasive items that will give a distressed look to your guitar, such as fine gravel, nuts and bolts. Some people finish metal hardware by leaving it in a covered bucket of hydrochloric acid for a couple of days, but this is optional and depends on how deeply distressed you want it to look.


You need to stain any white, or light coloured, plastic hardware to make it look old. Put a small amount of wood stain on some areas of the pickguard. Concentrate on the edges of the pickguard and each side of the strings. Then spray a combination of amber-tinted clear gloss and nitro clear gloss over the whole of the pickguard and other plastic components. Use the amber sparingly and subtly, especially on white where it makes a bigger contrast.

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