How to make a guitar look vintage

How to Make a Guitar Look Vintage -Relicing DIY

Last Updated on January 4, 2024 by AG

Have you ever seen an old guitar that looks really cool? We’re going to show you how to make your guitar look just like that! You’ll learn fun ways to make it look aged and full of stories, just like a guitar from a famous musician. Let’s make your guitar special!

To make a guitar look vintage, apply aging techniques such as sanding, applying a patina finish, and distressing the metal and plastic parts to create a well-worn appearance.

But before you start, let’s start with a warning. There are many guitars with butchered relicing attempts out there and it is something that, if not done well will potentially destroy the worth of your guitar. 

And if you have a guitar with a polyurethane finish, don’t do it. Poly simply doesn’t age, so trying to force it will look fake for sure.

How to Make a Guitar Look Vintage

Relicing a guitar means intentionally aging it to give it a vintage, well-used look. This doesn’t mean just making the guitar look old, but rather creating an appearance that tells a story, like it’s been played on countless stages or cherished for decades.

The idea is to replicate the wear and tear that naturally happens over time, from faded paint to worn edges. It’s like turning a new guitar into a piece of history, giving it character and a unique personality.

Overview of the Process

The process of relicing can vary, but it often involves a few key steps: lightly sanding the guitar’s body to wear down the finish, creating small dings and scratches to mimic years of use, and aging the metal parts to give them a tarnished look. 

Some guitarists even go as far as slightly damaging the wood to make it look like it’s been through years of playing. This art of aging guitars has become quite popular.

It’s not just about the look; many believe that relicing can also change the feel and even the sound of the guitar, making it more resonant and comfortable to play. It’s a way for musicians to have a new instrument that feels like an old friend.

Before You Relic

Before diving into relicing your guitar, it’s crucial to plan where and how you’ll age it. This step is about more than just deciding where to add a scratch or fade the color; it’s about understanding how guitars naturally age over time.

Study pictures of vintage guitars to notice authentic wear patterns, like where the paint fades from frequent strumming or how the neck shows signs of being held.

This careful planning ensures that the relicing looks real and not randomly done, making your guitar tell a believable story of a well-loved instrument.

Basic Locations

Certain areas on a guitar naturally show signs of age more than others. Common ageing spots include the body where the arm rests, the edges of the headstock, and the area around the bridge and pickups where players often strum.

These locations usually have wear marks, minor scratches, and a faded finish. When replicating these patterns, use a light hand and reference images of old guitars for guidance. Remember, the goal is to mimic years of handling and playing, so focus on these high-contact areas for a more authentic vintage look.

Preparing Your Guitar

Before starting the relicing process, it’s important to prepare your guitar. This means removing all removable parts like strings, pickups, and the bridge.

Clean the guitar thoroughly to ensure that no dirt or oil interferes with your work. Gather your tools and materials, which might include sandpaper, steel wool, and small tools to create dings and scratches.

It’s also a good idea to have some pictures of aged guitars as references. Proper preparation sets the stage for a more controlled and effective relicing process, helping you achieve that coveted vintage look.

Step 1 – The Body & Neck: Make the Finish Look Old

Aging the body and neck of your guitar involves careful techniques to make the finish look old but natural. Start by lightly sanding the surface to simulate wear, focusing on areas that would naturally receive the most contact, like the edges and the back of the neck.

You can also use rougher grit sandpaper to create small scratches. The key is to do this gradually, checking your progress to ensure it looks natural. Remember, less is often more in this process; subtle changes can have a big impact. And make sure the transitions aren’t too abrupt.

Methods to Safely Alter the Finish

When altering the finish of your guitar, it’s important to do so safely to avoid damaging the wood. Use fine-grit sandpaper or steel wool for a controlled approach, gently rubbing in areas where natural wear occurs.

If you wish to create a faded look, consider using specific guitar aging products that are designed to safely dull the finish or create cracks normally appearing with age.

Always work in a well-ventilated area and wear protective gear, like gloves and a mask, to safeguard your health while working with these materials.

Step 2 – Distressing the Metal

The metal parts of a guitar, such as tuners, bridges, and pickup covers, can also be aged to enhance the vintage look. You can use a bit of steel wool or sandpaper to gently rub these parts, creating a slightly worn and tarnished appearance.

For a more oxidized look, some people use vinegar or other aging solutions, but it’s crucial to apply these sparingly and cautiously. This process should be done slowly and methodically to achieve a realistic aged metal appearance.

Safe Practices to Avoid Damaging the Guitar

When working with metal parts, it’s crucial to avoid damaging the guitar. Always remove the metal components from the guitar before aging them, if possible. This prevents any abrasive materials or chemicals from affecting the wood or finish of the guitar.

Be gentle in your approach, and avoid using harsh chemicals that could corrode the metal excessively. It’s better to go slowly and build up the aged look over time rather than rushing and risking damage.

Step 3 – Distressing the Plastic

Aging plastic parts, like pickguards and knobs, requires a different approach. You can use sandpaper to lightly scuff the surface, creating a worn effect.

For a more yellowed, aged look, some use a bit of amber or yellow tint, applied very sparingly. It’s important to mimic wear patterns that would naturally occur over time, focusing on edges and areas that would typically see more handling.

Ensuring Realistic Wear Patterns

To ensure the wear patterns on plastic parts look realistic, study how these components age naturally. The goal is to replicate the subtle discoloration and wear from years of use.

Be cautious with the amount of distressing you do; it should look naturally aged, not forcefully damaged. Using reference photos of vintage guitars can be extremely helpful in achieving a realistic effect.

Extras and Finishing Touches

After you’ve aged the various parts of your guitar, sanding, buffing, and polishing are crucial for fine-tuning the ageing process. This step is about refining the work you’ve done so far, smoothing out any overly rough patches, and blending the aged areas with the rest of the guitar.

Use fine-grit sandpaper and gently buff the surfaces to create a smooth, worn look. Polishing is the final step and should be done lightly. It’s not about making the guitar shiny, but rather giving it a gently worn sheen, achieving a balanced and authentic vintage appearance.

Chips, Nicks, and Dents

Creating realistic physical damage like chips, nicks, and dents is an art. Use small tools like a screwdriver or a file to gently create these marks in areas where they would naturally occur, like the edges of the body and around the headstock.

The key is subtlety; less is often more in this case. It’s important to balance the aesthetics with functionality. It is also a good idea to use the very things that would create those damages naturally over the years of playing like a belt buckle, jewellery, and other clothing items. Focus on making it look naturally worn, not destroyed.

Finish Patina

Adding a finishing patina is the final touch in making your guitar look as if it’s been cherished and played for years. This involves applying a thin layer of tinted finish or glaze to give the guitar a slightly aged color.

You can use a cloth to apply this finish, working in small sections and wiping off the excess for a subtle effect. The goal is to replicate the slight discoloration and fading that occurs over time, giving the guitar a convincing patina that speaks of its faux history.

Does Relicing a Guitar Change the Sound?

The question of whether relicing a guitar changes its sound is a topic of much debate among musicians and experts. Some argue that the physical alterations made during the relicing process, such as sanding and thinning the finish, can potentially affect the guitar’s resonance and sustain, leading to subtle changes in sound.

However, others believe that these changes are minimal and primarily aesthetic. The impact on sound largely depends on the extent of the relicing and the methods used. 

Within the guitar community, opinions about the impact of relicing on sound vary widely. Some seasoned guitarists feel that a lighter finish, as a result of relicing, allows the wood to vibrate more freely, enhancing the guitar’s natural tone. 

On the other hand, some luthiers and guitar technicians argue that any changes in sound are more psychological, with players perceiving a difference due to the guitar’s vintage appearance. It’s a subject that blends objective science with subjective experience, making it a perennial topic of discussion.

How Far Can You Go?

When relicing a guitar, it’s important to follow best practices to ensure the process is both effective and safe. Always use gentle techniques and avoid excessive force or harsh chemicals. Focus on creating a believable aged look rather than drastically altering the guitar. 

Remember to balance aesthetics with the integrity of the instrument; the goal is to age the guitar, not damage it. Regularly step back to assess your work, ensuring that you’re enhancing the guitar’s character without compromising its structure and playability.


There are potential risks and mistakes to avoid when relicing a guitar. Over-sanding or using aggressive techniques can irreparably damage the wood or the finish. Be cautious with water-based aging techniques, as excessive moisture can harm the guitar’s components. 

It’s also crucial to understand the guitar’s limits; not all guitars are suitable for relicing. Like mentioned above polyurethane is a finish you should leave alone, as the outcomes are often not convincing.

Also, always consider the value and rarity of the instrument before starting, as relicing is a permanent alteration and you can damage your guitar in the process.

How to Age a Guitar – Other Resources

If you’re keen to dive deeper into the world of guitar aging, there are some online resources available.

Some YouTube channels provide step-by-step video tutorials that cover various techniques. Offering in-depth knowledge and practical advice.

These resources are perfect for getting some knowledge in guitar aging without needing to learn everything from first-hand experience (no need to repeat mistakes others made, right?)

Some not only teach the techniques but also delve into the history and philosophy behind guitar aging.

Online forums are also great places to discuss techniques and get advice from fellow guitarists.


Relicing a guitar is more than just a cosmetic change; it’s a way to infuse a piece of personal history into your instrument. Throughout this guide, we’ve explored various techniques to age a guitar, emphasizing the importance of subtlety and authenticity. The beauty of a reliced guitar lies in its ability to tell a story, reflecting years of imaginary play and love. 

As you embark on your journey to age your guitar, remember to experiment with creativity and care. Each mark you make, each layer of patina you add, contributes to the guitar’s new story. However, always respect the instrument’s integrity. Understand the value of the guitar in its original form and consider the changes you make. Embrace the process and let your guitar’s aged beauty shine!

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