Guitar “relicing” is a trend that transforms a shiny, good as new guitar into one that looks like you’ve been on tour for decades. Maybe you want your guitar to look like one of Jimi Hendrix’s Stratocasters after he banged it up all over the stage during one of his live shows.

Well, you don’t want to achieve that look banging up your guitar the way he did, because it probably won’t be functional anymore.

To get that worn, vintage guitar aesthetic, you’ll need to learn how to relic a guitar properly with these various tools and techniques.

Before You Start

fender custom shop road worn

There are a few things you’ll want to consider before starting the relicing process.

Check the Finish

It’s important to check the finish of your guitar to know which tools or techniques need to be used to start.

road worn

Most guitars have either a polyurethane or a nitrocellulose lacquer finish. This is what gives them that glossy, shiny new aesthetic– the look you don’t want if you’re reading this right now…

Nitrocellulose lacquer is ideal for relicing as it responds well to sandpaper. Polyurethane finishes are pretty hardcore and are unfortunately resistant to sandpaper. You’ll end up pretty frustrated if you try this method and will need to try various other methods plus a heating and cooling method to break the finish of polyurethane, and it still might not look right.

When considering this you may want to research your guitar’s finish and decide if this is the right guitar to relic. I highly recommend you choose one with a nitro finish instead of a urethane one.

Practice First

If you’ve never tried this before, I’d suggest practicing some of these techniques on a guitar other than your favorite, most-loved axe. Perhaps find an older or cheaper guitar and try out some of these techniques on it first to see how you like it.

vintage guitars

Because once you start, there’s no going back.

Get Your Tools Ready

Then, you’ll want to gather all the tools you’ll need for the process from start to finish. Decide what tools you want to use, for example, get all the different grit levels of sandpaper and start with the higher numbers (or the finer grit ones) to start. Then, decide if you want to use the back of a hammer, scissors, rocks, or other tools to scratch up that guitar of yours.

guitar's body

Once you mark off all the areas you are planning to relic, you can get an idea of what tools you’re going to use where. This may take a bit of reading, looking at photos of old guitars, or YouTube video streaming. But once you have everything, it’s time to get to work!

Remember Sounds Won’t Change

Keep in mind that when you relic the guitar, you won’t change the sound. A great-sounding guitar should have the same beautiful tones, and a mediocre-sounding guitar won’t sound any better after the process is complete.

Once you’re committed, it’s best to break things down into steps.

The Wood

Aging the wood is pretty easy–all you need is sandpaper and some patience. The neck, body, and headstock are all made of wood and it’s relatively simple to achieve this rustic, used look.

body and neck

Since you are trying to mimic the natural wearing of a guitar that you’ve played for ages, you’ll want to take note of where these areas are before starting. Think of the places your hands rest or rub against the guitar the most– those are the spots!

You can check out some images online, but here is a list of common areas:

  • On either side of the strings on the body
  • Where the strumming hand rests on the guitar body
  • The neck of the guitar or between frets
  • Surrounding the volume and effect controls
  • Near or around the input jack

First, you’ll want to take all the metal off the guitar, and ideally remove the neck. If you don’t remove the neck, its shape could get warped during heating and cooling.

As we mentioned above, guitars have a lacquer made of polyurethane or a nitrocellulose lacquer finish. To create the aging look, you’ll need to remove the lacquer in all the aforementioned areas. If the guitar is newer, it might be made from a urethane finish, which will not respond to the sandpaper technique.

After you’ve carefully sanded the surface, you can use a hairdryer or expose the areas to heat or place it in direct sunlight, followed by cold temperatures like a freezer or an air compressor spray. This process helps to crack the finish. The scratches will naturally collect dirt and start to age your guitar in no time.

The Metal

Aging the metal on the guitar is optional, however, this will add to the overall rock n’ roll lifestyle look, and give your guitar that more authentically worn aesthetic you’re looking for.

change your brand new guitar

You’ve hopefully already removed the metal parts before working on the wood.

Now, you can go to town, banging up the metal parts with various items like rocks or your sidewalk to make scratches or dents. For a more matte look, you can use a metal filing tool, sandpaper, or steel wool to get the shine off.

There are also chemical substances you can use, such as harsh cleaning products, to create a rusted, used look for the metal parts. You can soak the parts for the whole day in chemical liquids and check them periodically using gloves. This should give them a beautiful, old colorful metal look.

The Plastic

Now you can remove the plastic pieces off the guitar, including the pickups and the pickguard. You’ll probably want to sand these down, and this will typically reveal different colors between the layers of plastic. Once again, you can also go ham on these pieces with some scratchy tools like scissors or a dull blade. Just be careful not to cut your hand!

Knobs & Hardware

Usually, sanding the area around the knobs is common during the relic transformation process. This is to emulate wear and tear from turning the knobs while playing.

If the knobs on your guitar are shiny and new, you can either do what we mentioned above (the metal section) or you maybe find some vintage knob covers to pop over those bad boys. This will age the guitar in a jiffy, and bring up the whole vintage vibe a couple of notches.

heavy relic

You may not want to mess with the electric hardware part of the guitar unless you feel comfortable doing so. If you don’t have any experience with wiring or soldering, it might be a good idea to ask a guitar tech to help you remove the pickup and pots.

If you’re confident, you can try it out, but I’d recommend you watch some YouTube videos about how to do this first and/or practice on another guitar before doing it with your beloved sound-making machine.

Customize It

As you go, make sure you are customizing your relic process to reflect your true and inner guitar player. If you want to copy another relic job, then, by all means, find a guitar player you love and go for it!

guitar look

As you go, make sure you are customizing your relic process to reflect your true and inner guitar player. If you want to copy another relic job, then, by all means, find a guitar player you love and go for it!

Hit the Road, Jack

Now, it’s time to transform that bad boy!

You should at least have a solid foundation of what goes into the process of relicing your guitar. Remember to follow the guidelines carefully, make sure to practice some of the techniques first, and you’ll be glad you did it.

road worn

There are some not-so-good relic jobs out there, and you don’t want to be one of the people mourning your pre-relic guitar. However, a great relic job can be a beautiful transformation and give off exactly the vibe you’re looking for.

So go all in, get all your tools ready before you start, and you’ll soon look like you’ve been on the road for years rocking on that thing!