Clear Topcoats for Custom Finished Guitars

A discussion of gloss finishes for guitars. July 17, 2008

I am getting into making guitars and have been making and experimenting for about two years. I am trying special paint jobs on quite a few and have been searching for a good sealer system that is durable. The different sealers I have found are not very hard and thin which chip easily or take forever to dry and still I cannot get a hard durable finish like I want.

I am hoping to paint with an enamel and clear-coating with an auto clear-coat which would be multiple coats of clear urethane. I have not tried this yet and am in the process of researching the sealer and clear-coat compatibilities. Any suggestions of what sealer to use or where I can find some info would be greatly appreciated!

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor D:
Where are you located?

From contributor R:
It sounds like you are talking about a polyester finish. I repair these finishes as well as restore pianos as part of my business. Most of the high gloss pianos (Elton John style) are top-coated with this finish.

From the original questioner:
I am in Canton, Ohio. I still have not found a brand name that I am sure is what these people are recommending. I did find one myself that looks to be right but I am still clueless. It is a Duratec polyester and they have a marine grade also.

This is how I was told to do it:
Filler (if needed)
sealer (polyester)
paint (enamel)
clear (Automotive clear)

This is a bit different from the Nitrocellulose system I have tried, and according to what I have read anyway, would be a lot better. And I must add that I have painted about 10 so far. They look pretty good, but as for durability they aren't good.

From contributor A:
The marine product would be Awlgrip. It's a 2 part linear poly. It is bombproof and more flexible than the automotive 2 part acrylic finishes like Imron. They sell superior high build primers that are epoxy based. The topcoats have one of the highest gloss off the gun available.

From contributor S:
I would use a three part Polyester for the filling aspect (base coat) after blocking it down then I would go with a two part Gloss Polyuretane. Your results will be spectacular, durable and also flexible. There are many brands out there - Sayerlack, ICA, ILVA, Milesi, Sayerwood and Chemcraft.

From the original questioner:
Unfortunately I have been testing with this to get the look right. It is floated on water, the guitar dipped into the paint/water to get a "swirl" effect. So changing to a colored urethane? Not sure if I want to start practicing again.

I want to get it just right without any water spots and a nice pattern. It is impossible to get the same one twice, but at least I can have an idea.

From contributor C:
Just make sure to test out the entire system before doing the guitars. There may be compatibility issues between the “enamel" you’re using and what else is being recommended.