How to Finish a Guitar Neck

As a spectator, when you see a guitar which part of it catches your eyes first? The string set? The Rosette? Or the Soundhole? Admit it or not our eyes fixate on the guitar neck at first sight! Let's check How to Finish a Guitar Neck.

The guitar neck is also known as a fretboard. It has a solid wooden frame and is tightly bound to strings. Guitarists tune the strings, fix the tuning pegs, and for some reason, we all are appealed by it.

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Guitarists pay special attention to keeping their guitar neck clean. Not only for the visual appeal, but keeping it clean helps to tune the tuning pegs properly too. If you are looking for ways to finish a guitar neck you are just in the right place! Check out our article to know about all the ways how to finish a guitar neck.

What is a finish? Why do people finish their guitar necks?

A finish is a coat that you apply to furniture, cabinets, doors, and anything that is made of wood. You can finish your guitars too, as any finish gives a polished look that makes the object look brand new.

Finishing guitars help guitarists have optimal playability along with a visual appeal that captivates the spectators. Also, since guitars have to keep their diners on the front of the guitar neck, guitars without a proper neck finish will scar their hands and prevent them from playing smoothly.

Things you will need to finish a guitar neck

  • Sandpaper or grit paper
  • Your preferred type of finish
  • Wax (optional)
  • Steel wool
  • Patience

Steps to finish your guitar neck

Step 1: Brushing it with sandpaper

First of all you need to take a 320 grit sandpaper and brush your guitar’s neck gently. This step is important as it will remove any previous lacquer or dirt present on your guitar’s neck.

If your guitar neck has scratches you have to brush it strongly to remove marks as much as possible. Make sure to sand in the direction of the wood grains. If your guitar neck is made of rosewood, you need to sand it hard as it is very strong. 

Step 2: Check for uneven surfaces 

After using sandpaper to brush off all your old finish choose a new finish to coat your guitar neck. Make sure you coat your guitar neck outdoors and not indoors.

Coating indoors is a bad option, as the odor will accumulate and will take hours to dry off before you can apply the second coating. Before you apply your first coat check if your guitar neck has any uneven surfaces.

If it has any rough spots brush those well and make it a plain smooth surface. Uneven surfaces prevent the finish coat to be fully adsorbed into the guitar’s neck. The best way to fix any uneven surface is to use a ball of wool made of grit steel. 

Step 3: Protect the fretboard edges 

Getting any stain on your fret board’s edges and surface would be a problem. So to prevent them from getting stained you need to tape them up. Choose a tape that is not sticky and does not leave behind any sticky residues when taken off.

You can get blue painter’s tape to protect your fret board’s edges. Tape your fretboard from the outside from the fingerboard’s edges all the way to its neck.

Step 4: Finish your guitar’s neck 

There are different types of finishes available in the market. You can choose whichever finish you want for your guitar neck. All finishes act as a protective barrier between the guitar neck and the oils that are produced from your hand.

You can choose a finish that adds tint or color to your guitar neck and helps it to pop up and glow brightly. 

Applying finish to your guitar’s neck is a very easy procedure. Take a brush or a cotton cloth. Dab it into the finish, then start by brushing it gently on your guitar’s neck. Make sure to start off with a quarter-sized amount while applying the first coating. Wipe in narrow long strides from the bottom to the top.

Add little pressure, not too much or too less. Too much pressure will result more finish to be applied at one place and less in another. You will also find one side of your neck dried faster and the other is takes too long. So apply it with even pressure all around the guitar’s neck.

After your first coat has completely dried off, apply your next coat. You can apply two or three coats in total it all depends upon your preference how much thick you want your coating to look.  

Step 5: Polish it out

Polishing is an important step after finishing. After applying all your coats you need to use steel wool again. You need to rub it gently to even out all the finishing. Rub the steel wool back and forth.

You need to do this in between each coats. Spend 10 to 15 minutes polishing after the first coat to make sure your guitar neck stays slick and slippery. 

Step 6: Apply your desired wax 

You can choose any wax of your choice to give your guitar neck an enhanced finishing. Waxing your guitar neck reduces all slipperiness and helps to give your guitar a better texture.

Time for coatings to dry off

The time for the coat to dry off depends on the type and brand of each finishing. Some finishes take 6 to 8 hours to dry off the first coat while others take longer. Oil-based coats take more than 6 hours to dry, while most water-based finishing takes less than 6 hours to get dried.

To check if your coats have dried off, tough the surface of your guitar’s neck to see if the coat feels sticky. If it does not feel sticky, it means it is completely dried and you can apply your neat coats. Keep on applying coats until you begin to see the grains in your guitar neck start to become pronounced and sharper.

The most common type of finishes

There are many different types of finishes available to coat your guitar’s neck, however, these four are the most common and popular types.

  • Oils and Waxes.
  • Shellac.
  • Nitrocellulose.
  • Polyurethane / Polyester.
  • Satin

Oil & wax finish

Oil and waxes are a traditional type of finish. If you want to add a warm tough to your guitar’s neck, oil and waxes would work like a charm. It is a straight-forward convention method that is a bit hard to apply but worth the effort.

Shellac finish

Shellac, on the other hand, is natural resin produced from an insect commonly known as worm lacquer. Shellac can be applied with any brush or even spray. It makes wood and musical instruments look light, bright, and polished.

Nitrocellulose finish

Nitrocellulose is a varnish that produces a thick coat over wooden furniture and instruments. If you are looking for a thick coat that has a strong color, you can use a nitrocellulose finish. It is made from organic solvents and cellulose.

Most of the Vintage type and high-end guitars are varnished with a nitrocellulose finish. However, nitrocellulose finish cannot be applied using a brush, you need to get a spray gun.

As nitrocellulose finish is toxic, it needs to be sprayed from far away. The entire coating process needs to be carried in outdoors or in a ventilated environment. Nitrocellulose finishing has a fading effect and protects furniture from external pressure and conditions.

Polyurethane and Polyester finish

Unlike oil, waxes and nitrocellulose polyurethane and polyester finishing is less toxic and is based on a single component. Polyurethane and polyester finish helps to make your instrument look glassy and shiny, and its hard layer makes to more protective and stronger than nitrocellulose finish. 

Satin finish

Satin finish will make your guitar neck look glossy, polished, and smooth. It will enhance its attractiveness. Despite its smooth texture, it can get tacky and sticky during hot weather conditions, especially during high humidity. Satin finishes give your instruments a look that is not too matte or to bright.


Now that you have read this article, you will know how to finish a guitar neck. Finishing your guitar neck is not as complicated and difficult as you think it is. Rather it is a nice experience, you will understand how your guitar’s neck is made, finished, and fretted. For most musicians being able to completely understand how their instrument works is a matter of great delight. 

After finish your guitar neck once or twice, you will soon get the hang of it. People who have finished their guitar neck before voted for a satin finish as one of the best finishes. You can try either of them out and decide which one you think is the best.

You can also read: How to Play A Slide Guitar?

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