How to Apply a Sunburst to a Blonde Guitar

by Alasdair Smith
A sunburst effect is a classic guitar finish from the 1950s.

A sunburst effect is a classic guitar finish from the 1950s.

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When the Fender Stratocaster was introduced in 1954 it came in a striking sunburst color scheme that features a black edge gradually blending into amber on the face of the body. Fashions may have come and gone over the years, but the sunburst has endured to become an iconic finish on many guitars. Giving your flat looking blonde-finish guitar a sunburst effect is easier than you may think with the right preparation, tools, materials and care.

Items you will need

  • Small screwdriver, Phillips or flat
  • Sandpaper, various grades
  • Stiff cardboard sheet
  • 3 small wooden blocks, 1-inch to 2 inches high
  • Black aerosol paint
  • Amber aerosol paint
  • Clear nitrocellulose lacquer aerosol
  • Brown aerosol paint
  • Face mask
Step 1

Remove the strings, hardware, pick-guard and all electronics from the guitar using the correct type of screwdriver. If your guitar has a screw-on neck remove that too.

Step 2

Sand the body of the guitar to provide a good foundation to which the new finish will adhere. Do not strip the existing blonde finish completely as it provides a good color base on which to build up your new sunburst effect. Wipe the guitar with a cloth to remove all traces of dust as this can cause imperfections on the finish.

Step 3

Lay your guitar over the piece of cardboard sheet. Trace around your guitar to create a template. Cut the template slightly smaller than the tracing line so that it sits 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch inside the edge of the body. Rest your guitar on simple supports, such as three small blocks of wood flat, on a suitable work surface that allows you to work all around the guitar. Rest the cardboard template on top of the guitar and fold it down in areas where the body has been contoured. Do not tape the template down as this will result in hard edges in your paint finish.

Step 4

Apply the black paint coat to the edge of the guitar by spraying downward in even strokes. Spraying the black paint in this manner helps minimize the amount of black paint that might settle on the front face of the body. Remove the template and, if required, sand away any major over-spray specks with fine sandpaper, at least 220 grit.

Step 5

Apply the amber coating by spraying evenly over the entire body. The amber finish will add a rich hue to the main body of the guitar, but will not affect the black band on the outer edge. Don't worry too much about over-spraying onto the black coating. Apply two coats of clear lacquer to seal the amber. The lacquer helps deepen the color and allows you to correct any mistakes on your final coat by lightly sanding without removing the amber base coat.

Step 6

Apply the red-brown transition band between the black edge and the amber body coating. The solid brown band is created by spraying the brown paint several times. The transition band is created by a light coating of brown paint that allows the amber color to show through creating the reddish tone. Keep the guitar horizontal on the raised blocks and spray at close range to control the width of the brown band. Work your way carefully around the guitar, evenly applying the paint. Avoid paint runs by allowing each coat to dry for five minutes before applying the next one. Complete about 12 passes of the spray to create a good, rich brown band and a nicely graded red burst into the amber.

Step 7

Apply at least four coats of clear lacquer. Lightly sand the body. Wipe it clean and add another 10 to 12 clear coats. Give the body a final polish and professional finish. Rebuild your guitar and get ready to rock.

Tips & Warnings

  • Raising the body on the small wooden blocks prevents the guitar sticking to the work surface.
  • Wear a face mask when using aerosol paints.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images