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How to Safely Remove Finish from a Guitar Neck: Step By Step

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luthier in his workshop

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the detailed process of removing the finish from a guitar neck.

Whether you’re a seasoned guitarist looking to refurbish your instrument or a DIY enthusiast, this step-by-step guide will ensure you can safely and effectively strip the finish from your guitar neck, preserving its quality and enhancing its playability.

Hopefully that helps!

How To Remove Finish From Guitar Neck – Step By Step

Removing the finish from a guitar neck is a delicate process that requires careful attention to detail.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you through it:

Materials Needed

  1. Fine-grit sandpaper (around 220 to 400 grit) – I recommend sandpaper made by Stewmac
  2. Steel wool (very fine, 000 or 0000 grade)
  3. Paint stripper (optional, for thick or stubborn finishes)
  4. Plastic scraper (if using paint stripper)
  5. Protective gloves
  6. Safety glasses
  7. Masking tape
  8. Dust mask or respirator
  9. Cloth for cleaning
man learning how to safely remove finish from a guitar neck


  1. Safety First: Wear protective gloves, safety glasses, and a dust mask or respirator.
  2. Remove Strings and Hardware: Take off the strings and any hardware on the neck, like tuners.
  3. Tape Off Areas: Use masking tape to cover the fretboard and any other areas you don’t want to strip.

Five-Step Process

  1. Initial Sanding:
    • Start with fine-grit sandpaper (around 220 grit).
    • Sand the neck gently in the direction of the wood grain.
    • The goal is to remove the glossy finish without damaging the wood.
    • Frequently wipe the neck with a cloth to remove dust and check your progress.
  2. Paint Stripper (Optional):
    • If the finish is thick or not coming off easily, consider using a paint stripper.
    • Apply the stripper according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
    • Let it sit for the recommended time.
    • Gently scrape off the finish with a plastic scraper.
    • Be careful not to gouge the wood.
  3. Finer Sanding:
    • Once the majority of the finish is off, switch to finer grit sandpaper (320 to 400 grit).
    • Sand the neck smoothly, following the wood grain.
    • This step is crucial for achieving a smooth surface.
  4. Steel Wool:
    • For a very smooth finish, lightly rub the neck with very fine steel wool (000 or 0000 grade).
    • This step can help in smoothing out any minor scratches left by sandpaper.
  5. Cleaning:
    • Clean the neck thoroughly to remove all dust and residue.
    • Use a slightly damp cloth, then a dry one to ensure all dust is gone.
luthier closeup photo

Finishing Up

  1. Inspect Your Work: Check the neck for any missed spots or uneven areas.
  2. Re-Tape Fretboard: If necessary, replace any worn masking tape on the fretboard.
  3. Decide on Finish: You can choose to leave the neck bare, oil it, or apply a new finish.
  4. Reassemble: Once you are satisfied and the neck is dry, reattach the hardware and strings.


  • Take Your Time: Rushing can lead to mistakes. Be patient throughout the process.
  • Work in a Well-Ventilated Area: Especially if using chemical strippers.
  • Regularly Check Progress: Avoid over-sanding by frequently checking your work.
  • Consider Practice: If you’re new to this, practicing on a scrap piece of wood can be helpful.


  • Chemical Safety: If using paint stripper, follow all safety instructions carefully.
  • Avoid Power Tools: Hand sanding is recommended to prevent damage.
  • Protect the Fretboard: Ensure it’s well-covered to prevent damage.

Remember, the goal is to remove the finish without damaging the wood. If you’re unsure or uncomfortable with any step, consider seeking help from a professional luthier.

If you’re looking for more tips like these, check out our in-depth guide on guitar maintenance.

You can also check out this video:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Refinishing a Guitar Neck

Q1: Do I need any special skills to refinish my guitar neck?

A1: Basic DIY skills are sufficient. The key is to be patient and meticulous in following the steps. If you’re not confident, consider practicing on a spare piece of wood first or consulting a professional.

Q2: How long does it take to strip and refinish a guitar neck?

A2: The time can vary depending on the finish and your experience level. Generally, it can take a few hours to strip the finish, plus additional time if you decide to apply a new finish.

Q3: Is it necessary to use a paint stripper?

A3: It depends on the thickness and type of the existing finish. For thick, stubborn finishes, a paint stripper can be helpful. For lighter finishes, sanding might be enough.

Q4: Can I damage my guitar neck during this process?

A4: There’s always a risk, especially if you sand too aggressively or apply chemicals improperly. Always follow instructions carefully and proceed with caution.

Q5: Should I refinish the neck myself or hire a professional?

A5: If you’re comfortable with DIY projects and have the necessary tools, you can do it yourself. However, if you’re unsure or the guitar is particularly valuable, it might be safer to hire a professional.

Q6: What type of sandpaper should I use?

A6: Start with a fine-grit sandpaper (around 220 grit) and then move to a finer grit (320 to 400) for a smooth finish. Always sand in the direction of the wood grain.

Q7: How do I know when I’ve removed enough of the old finish?

A7: The old finish should be completely gone, revealing the bare wood. Regularly wipe the neck with a cloth to check your progress.

Q8: What safety precautions should I take?

A8: Wear protective gloves, safety glasses, and a dust mask, especially when sanding or using chemical strippers. Work in a well-ventilated area.

Q9: Can refinishing the neck alter the sound of my guitar?

A9: The neck’s finish can slightly affect the sound, but the changes are generally subtle. The main impact will be on the feel and playability of the guitar.

Q10: How do I care for my guitar neck after refinishing?

A10: Keep it clean and dry. If you’ve left it bare, consider using a light oil to protect the wood. Regular maintenance will keep it in good condition.

Final Thoughts

luthier doing maintanence work

Refinishing your guitar neck is a journey of precision and patience. Every sanding stroke and careful application speaks to your commitment to the instrument’s longevity and beauty. Remember, it’s not just about removing an old finish, but setting the stage for new melodies and memories.

This process is a deep dive into the craftsmanship of your guitar, enhancing both its playability and connection to you, the musician. It’s a testament to the care and respect you hold for your instrument.

As you finish up, reflect on the effort invested and the renewed life you’ve given your guitar. May this careful refinement bring a fresh wave of inspiration and a deeper bond with your beloved instrument.