Custom Electric Guitars (Wet Sand & Polish An Electric Guitar). Cleaning and maintenance are important for electric guitars just as much as they are for any other instrument, musical or otherwise. Wet-sand and polish are highly effective, in fact they are often recommended.
The Clean-Up Crew
As with all cleaning steps, some preliminaries are in order. Getting that shiny smooth look, make the color pop, and impart professional appeal (i.e., the showroom look) is no small deal. It is the very crux of first-impressions.
- You will need to know beforehand how to properly extricate the electric guitar’s headstock from its body; the long thin part from the round curvy one.
- The strings and pickups will need to go as well. This makes cleaning hassle free, relatively speaking.
- Get a soft surface like a towel to hold the curvy guitar base. Place it horizontal.
- A small bucket or bowl of water, get it ready. Dissolve a little soap in it, not too much (e.g., two pumps of regular hand soap or two drops of dish soap). No lather or bubbles required.
- The soap water is mainly so the sandpaper will not stick to the guitar surface while cleaning.
- There are different sandpaper grits you can use; 320, 400, 600, 800, 1200 all the way up to 3000. Most are irrelevant, to be honest.
- A 400-grit sandpaper will suffice for surface leveling while a 2000-grit sandpaper caters to the polish and shine.
- Once you observe the surface is shiny enough, use a buffer to help conclude the phase.
A dry dishcloth rag will prove handy. Obviously, you will use it to wipe off the water. This will be a consistent step, because you will apply the soap water, scrape the sandpaper, wipe it off with the dry cloth, and repeat.
The Dirty Work
Do not press the sandpaper too harshly or you will end up sanding past the clear coat and into the lower finishes. A mistake like that can have you re-coating and recoloring, if not more.
- Use a rubber sanding block to help with wet-sanding the plaque surfaces of your guitar. Its perfectly flat sanding surface lets you even out the texture across the guitar.
- Do not ever use it on curved edges, sides, and contours, let alone arch-tops. It will warp your guitar’s shape and affect handling and sound.
- The back of the electric guitar is usually gloss black without color and/or texture. Any burning or other accidents here are easy to resolve; a simple re-glossing is all it takes.
IMPORTANT: Start your cleaning with the back, because then you can learn if the clear coating is thin or ideal. This will save you heartache and expenses for when you start wet-sanding the front.
That Sandpaper Magic
Let the sandpaper do the work, meaning do not apply too much pressure while performing this broad technique.
- If you see white milky coatings, that is the clear coating that needs to be sanded off. Do not panic if you see this substance.
- Follow a circular pattern because sanding back and forth will produce noticeable scratches.
- If things get too sticky, dip the sanding block in the soap water and continue; do not immerse the block.
Wipe off, check, repeat.
If you see smoky surfaces, it is okay. Polishing will clear that right out. If you see shiny spots amidst the smoky surfaces, clear the shiny spots; repeat.
- Check to see where more work is needed. The process is quite straightforward.
- Once the back is done, move to the front. Leave the polishing for last. for both sides.
- Get the 400 grit out and start the next phase. The back first then the front.
Here are some outside thoughts proven NOT to work…
- Why wet-sanding and not dry-sanding? The process loads up the sandpaper quickly. The water helps clean out the sandpaper, so to speak, and lets you proceed with your task.
- Why not palm sanding or something electric? Electric tools and wet-sand… You do the math. You will not be electrocuted, but you will lose control fast and too much clear coat will be gone before you can help it. The idea is to remove just enough of the texture not all of it.
- Submerge the guitar under an inch of soap water in a tub and wet-sand away? Aside from the mess, this idea will also destroy your guitar body. A quick ‘dip and lift’ is fine but no wet-sanding while underwater.
- Machine polishing after sandpapering? Easy to screw up though highly effective. Damage can be expensive.
The 2000-grit sandpaper comes out to play. Repeat the process as outlined earlier. You will notice a shine take form, mild at first. Take some car polish (nothing specific) and the dry rag to help with the buffing stage. Get a spray bottle filled with plain water too. Cloth discs are soft and ideal for use as well.