Guitar Finishes (Part 1 - Guitar Finish Types, Pro & Cons)

Curly Mahogany & Custom Ebony Tailpiece Carve Top

Guitar Finishes (Part 1)

Lacquer & Oil Guitar Finishes 


We'll take a look at what types of guitar finishes are being used today, and how we approach finish at Born Guitars®

One of the most fun and expressive aspects of electric guitar are the finish options. Unlike most instruments, electric guitars can come in almost any shape, size and color. From beautifully oiled natural woods, exotic car finishes, vintage bursts to custom hardware, inlays and artwork, electric guitars are a blank canvas for artistic expression. In fact, there is no better instrument for personal expression that an electric guitar, and we are here to make your dream guitar become a reality. Other than drum sets, cars and motorcycles are about the only products on the market that demand the sophisticated high gloss finishes that have become a staple in the guitar industry.

Guitar Finishes

Almost every type of finish has been used on guitars from natural oils to car finishes, and today’s guitar companies are offering more advanced and custom finish options than ever before. Born Guitars® is no different in terms of the variety of finishes we can put on your guitar, but there’s one big caveat – we refuse to use nasty chemicals and car finishes. Demand for high gloss, bold colors, and lower production costs have pushed most of the guitar industry into the use of advanced car finishes because of their ease of use, rapid cure times and brilliant results.
That may seem like a win-win, but we have a big issue with car finishes on our guitars – They are extremely dangerous to both people and the environment. * We have explored car finishes for our guitars, and paint companies claim that they are ‘low VOC’**, but from experience we know that the high tech finishes large guitar manufacturers are using on guitars are extremely toxic. Just taking the lid of a can of car paint, even outside, can have enough fumes to make someone pass out. To clean spray guns with car finish in them requires industrial cleaning chemicals, which ruin waterways and poison soils. To use these dangerous finishes legally companies are required to follow strict safety and waste guidelines. A major problem with both the car and guitar industry is that many companies do not follow these proper safety and environmental guidelines due to the added costs and inconvenience of proper waster management. Many companies and shops simply open the door to their shop and exhaust their finish into the open air. Worse yet, many guitar shops clean out these nasty finishes with harsh chemicals, which they then pour down the drain. These toxic chemicals ultimately pollute the air, water, and soil all humans and animals count on for survival.

Born Guitars® Finish Options

We’ve searched far and wide to find the perfect guitar finish. There are a dizzying number of options out there, but only a handful fall into a category we would consider to be relatively safe for our luthiers and the environment. Let us be clear – There is no perfect, completely sustainable finish solution out there.
At Born Guitars® we have landed on two main types of finish: Oil Finishes and Water-based (W.B.) lacquer finishes. We use traditional wood oils and oils varnishes to enhance the natural beauty of wood, and we use water-based lacquers to create the fancy gloss finishes, colorful bursts, unique custom finishes that many guitar players demand today.

Other finishes we use commonly include:

- Shellac & French Polishing
- Boiled Linseed Oil
- Stains & Dyes

Myrtlewood & Mahogany OG Carve CustomBurl Redwood Carve Top - Water-based Lacquer

Born Guitars® Finishes - Pros & Cons

Water-based Lacquer Benefits

- Ultra Low VOC – Approximate equivalent to House Paint in toxicity
- Beautiful Colors
- Ultra clear finish that adds depth and enhances color
- Cleans up with warm Water (No harsh cleaning chemicals)
- Low risk for employees/luthiers – Will not burn skin or damage eyes
- Very low finish waste. Any finish waste and wastewater from the finish process is taken to a hazardous materials facility for proper disposal. We do not flush any finish waste down the drain.
- Very Thin Finish does not muffle the guitar’s tone
- Fairly durable finish once fully cured – Resistance to minor Dings, Alcohol and Chemicals

Water-based Lacquer Downsides

- Much more temperamental to temperature and humidity when spraying
- Not as hard or durable as car finish
- Much longer cure time (Car finish is 1 Day, W.B. Lacquer is up to 1 month and 3 months to fully cure).
- Water waster - Uses water for cleanup. (We are actively monitoring our water use, and have put practices in place that minimize water use)
- Difficult to repair if damaged or dinged.

Claro Walnut & Mahogany Carve Top
Born Guitars® Oil Finish Benefits

- Enhances and protects the natural beauty of the wood
- Has zero negative effect on guitar tone
- Adds depth to figured woods
- Almost zero finish waste
- Gives the guitar a nice furniture smell
- Can be done in matte, satin, and gloss finish
- Can be stained and used over dyes to create unique finishes and colors
- A little goes a long way
- Easy to repair and refinish if the guitar finish becomes worn through

Born Guitars® Oil Finish Downsides

- Does have some need for small amounts of acetone to thin the oil at times
- Some low levels of VOCs when rubbing on the finish
- Requires nitrile gloves to apply.
- Adds a warm amber hue to the wood, which may not be desirable to everyone

* If you would like to learn more about our finishes, finish process or philosophy around finishes please contact us at or call 720-440-BORN (2676)

* VOC stands for Volatile Organic Chemical and is the paint industry standard for measuring the amount of dangerous chemicals and fumes that are in a can of paint or finish. Car industry and industrial standards have much higher limits on VOCs compared to residential home finishes.


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