How to remove or hide scratches on guitar? Some of the ways to remove or camouflage scratches on guitar are wet-sanding the area followed by polishing, buffing, using stickers or wood stain, filling out the scratches, or filing them down with a mild abrasive such as toothpaste.
For some guitarists, a little touch of scratch on the guitar is like a patina on an antique piece of metal work—it adds character and je ne sais quoi to the ax. It can even be an interesting conversation piece: Hey, see these angry white scratches here? Man, the three-day music festival was superb; I got these as remembrance…
But not everyone likes any kind of flaw on their guitar; they want to keep it untarnished, unblemished, unmarked. And if you are reading here, chances are you belong in this group.
Scratches on guitar can look unsightly, especially deep ones as they are noticeable even from a distance. If you are looking for ways to remove or hide scratches on your prized piece of stringed instrument, read on.
The Toothpaste Technique (Does it Work?)
Remember the time when people used toothpaste to remove scratches on CDs/VCDs/DVDs? While many swear this method works, others are unsure. But if you are willing to experiment, this technique may just be the easy remedy you are looking for.
This method is only good for shallow or surface scratches (the barely visible kind that is only noticeable at a certain angle or lighting). To do it, simply apply a dollop of toothpaste on a soft lint-free cloth and gently wipe the scratches with it. Wipe down the area with another cloth, inspect the scratches and see if the scratches get minimized. Repeat the process until you see an improvement.
How this works is, the toothpaste acts as a mild abrasive that may help level out scratches on your guitar.
Wet Sanding, Buffing, and Polishing
Wet sanding is a tried-and-tested method of removing scratches away on guitar. The technique involves sanding down the surface with an abrasive and water to remove any scratches, while the buffing and polishing steps help attain that smooth and glossy finish. The water (or any other liquid such as detergent or oil) helps remove any grit particles from the sandpaper left over from dry sanding.
- To do this, simply wet down a 1000-grit wet-sand paper (you can also start at 600-grit for lighter scuffs or 400-grit for deeper scratches).
- Start sanding down in one direction using light strokes to avoid damaging the surface; wipe the section from time to time to see how the scratches look.
- Take your time and do not rush! Keep sanding down the scratches gently until you barely see them; then you are ready to move to a finer grit.
- Switch the sanding direction as you switch grits. With every grit change, remember to get fresh liquid as well. Wipe frequently to see if the fine scratches from the previous grits are being removed.
- You’re ready to proceed to the next finer grit if you’re moving horizontally and you don’t see vertical scratches from the previous grit. Keep going until the area looks hazy.
- Use a high-quality guitar polish to buff the instrument. Wipe the guitar’s surface with a clean cotton cloth after spraying it with polish. After wiping away the polish, turn the cloth over and wipe the instrument again to remove any remaining polish.
- Very light scratches (the hairline kind) may respond with just a buffing of wax polish made from carnauba or any other wax; it also forms a protective barrier on your guitar surface.
Using Fillers to Level Out Deep Scratches
Another way is to fill a scratch with some paste-type fillers to even out the appearance of marks. Apply the filler material across the grain and level it with the surface. You may tint the filler with universal colorants or oil stains to match your guitar. Let the filler dry before buffing the instrument.
One caveat, though: filers usually shrink over time and leave a dip on the filled spot.
Slap on a Cool Sticker
Guitarists’ opinion about having stickers on a guitar is divided: some view it as lame, while others think it’s perfectly fine.
Billy Joe Armstrong, Joan Jett, Tom Morello, Paul McCartney, Metallica, and many others sported decals on their guitars; it’s not so bad, to be honest. It can even look tastefully awesome when done right!
Plus, stickers are really effective at hiding those nicks.
So, go ahead and cover the scratches; personalize your instrument with stickers that express your aesthetics or taste, or with personal meaning to you. Make it unique; turn that monotonous, regular guitar into your guitar! Put it on the guitar body (front or back, or both), put it on the headstock, and even on the fretboard.
Now, you might ask, but won’t stickers affect the sound of my guitar?
Many will say yes, they do, but the difference is negligible to a human ear.
In reality, it’s mostly just a misconception. When a guitar changes tone, you should really look into the strings or other guitar parts that may need adjustment; you might also want to check the amp settings if it’s correct.
Stickers don’t have any substantial impact on how your guitar works unless you layer on heavy stickers all over the guitar body that can dull the vibrations of the tonewood.
A little reminder: when you decide to get rid of the stickers (maybe you’ve gotten tired of them or they don’t have the same meaning anymore), they might leave behind residues or markings that are hard to remove and can damage the guitar finish. A little bit of sticker removal liquid on a soft cloth can help remedy this problem.
Also, be wary that the guitar’s resale value (and even its pawnability) may get affected by the stickers. Unless, of course, you’re a rock god that many will fiercely try to outbid each other to be the next owner of your guitar.
Stickers are a great option, but then, proceed with caution.
Use a Wood Stain
It’s easy to see that hiding the scratches is easier than fixing them. Another way of fixing the scratches on the guitar is by concealing them with a wood stain.
You will need a wood stain that closely matches your guitar. You might have to mix and match the colors to get one that’s spot on.
Apply thin layers and allow them to dry completely between coats, then repeat with the top coat poly or oil sheen until you’re satisfied with the look. Some wood stain preparations already have sealer included in the formula, making the job easier.
Final Thoughts: When in Doubt, Leave the Job to Professionals
If you are not the adventurous kind or if you just want to make sure your guitar will not end up getting more damaged, letting the professionals deal with the job is, of course, always an excellent choice.
Besides, there are instances when a scratch repair may require special equipment and experience, especially for guitars with specific finishes.
It’s your guitar and it’s up to you to decide what to do with those scratches. If they bother you, then, by all means, fix it. But if you find beauty in imperfections, then you may let the scuffs be.