How To Relic A Guitar

Relicing a guitar is the art of modifying your guitar into a worn, cracked, scratched and shredded guitar. You can call it a rapid ageing or distressing process. The features of this handmade design range from the lightest blemishes and trim paint nicks to rust-covered hardware and stripped woods.  

These guitars need a nitrocellulose lacquer coat of preservation to attain the desired look. Even if it is brand new, relicing the guitar gives it an exclusive look that a new guitar cannot give. All components will go through this relic process to get to the final look. 

You can also purchase these relic guitars in custom shops. As a buyer, you can decide the degree of wear and tear needed on the woods, hardware, and electronic components of the guitar.

Why Would Anyone Want A Relic Guitar?

The scratches and tatters on a guitar are like the scars from battle. It can be the most crucial thing to decide whether to relic your guitar. Just like some warriors who fear the battle scars, some musicians would not risk allowing their guitar to have a rusty look. There is only a thin line between that rusty look and a permanently damaged guitar.

Some players don’t even like the idea of damaging their shiny, spotless guitar. However, some players will do anything to get a relic guitar.

Those players believe that the relic look gives their guitars uniqueness. The transparent coating, discolorations, and uneven appeal of the guitar will give their audience a statement. It gives the impression of the breathtaking results that come from years of playing.

Why Are Relic Guitars Extravagant?

Pushing the normal ageing process of a guitar requires a lot of skills and time. A single mistake can ruin both you and your guitar’s life. So do not try to do this process on your own unless you know what exactly you are going to do. This process is not an irreversible one. 

To avoid such risk, you need to send your new guitar back to the manufacturer to do your relic job or give it to an experienced person. Clearly, both options require a large sum of money.

Due to its time-consuming process, this ageing process is not accepted by a wide range of manufacturers and experienced persons. Another way to get a relic guitar is to purchase it in a custom shop.

How To Relic A Guitar

Here is the best way to relic your guitar. It involves three primary methods.

  • Preparation Of The Guitar

Remove The Strings

Before getting to work, remove the strings. If the strings are new, unwind them. If they are old and you have already taken out the string slack, you can just snap the strings with a cutter. Old strings do not boost the benefits.

Take Away The Metal Elements

Clear out the metal components in your guitar using a screwdriver. It is not necessary to relic your metal components too. Be more careful when you are taking out the pickguard. If the pickguard is attached to your input jack, clip the links using the cutter. 

Note: Do this final process only if you are sure that you can solder or get someone’s help to solder the link back.

Comprehend The Various Parts

Try to understand the parts of your guitar. Do not just take them out and pile them up. It would be challenging for you to reassemble them. Organize them in an orderly manner, such as:

  • Metal parts of the neck in one place
  • Pickguard and other metal elements in one spot
  • Parts of the bridge area in one spot

Don’t forget to keep track of various screws and which ones go where. Also, it will help if you take some photographs of the components and their place in the guitar before disassembling everything. 

  • Minimally Damaging The Metal

Scratch Your Metal

Use a metal file to distress particular parts like the tuning peg, input jack, and bridge. Do not apply too much pressure. This will prevent any excess damages. Never distress sensitive places like the pickups.

Seek Help From Nature

Leave the metal parts outdoors. Let nature do its job of rusting the metal. You can leave them out there for one or two days. But inspect them before subjecting them to other processes. Do not follow this process with the pickups or other electronic parts of the guitar.

Chemical Reaction

You can use the bathroom cleaner in your house for this process. Use the cleaners with bleach or ammonia. Keep in mind not to use the cleaners with bleach and ammonia combined together because this can be dangerous. 

Dip the metal parts into the bucket filled with water and cleaner in the ratio of 3:1. Let them sit for 3-4 hours and monitor them often. You may even leave them for 11 hours straight to give them plenty of time.

Deteriorating The Pickups

This is optional, as it risks your guitar’s sound impression. First, you need to remove the casing carefully. For steel casing, use muriatic acid and take precautions (like wearing gloves). Next, apply the solution over the case and wait ten minutes for it to dry. For single-coil pickups, you can do the casing with coffee. Dip it in that, let it be for 30 minutes, and then let it dry before using.

  • Relic The Guitar Body

Leave The Naturally Relicing Areas

You need to understand that the places which you touch more often won’t need any relicing because they are already going to relic themselves. Leave them be.

Brush The Body With Abrasives

Use sandpaper or steel wool to remove the coat of polyurethane lacquer or nitrocellulose and shred the paint. Apply light pressure because the coat is only a thin layer. Brush the abrasive in a circular movement as you do so.

Subject It To The Outdoors

Expose the guitar to different temperatures (too hot or too cold). Keep it in the freezer or subject it to direct sunlight. You must remove the lacquer coat before doing this process.

Other Processes

Use the dust-off spray or chewing gum remover to get a cracked look. Find the places where the paint is already cracked and then use a flat-head screwdriver to enhance the appeal of the crack. Use a sharp, small object to scratch the plastic pickguard’s surface.


Most guitarists will prefer doing this job on their own. The reason behind it is that they can do whatever they want to get their desired result. It is like wearing your clothes more often intentionally to make them look aged and worn. 

However, you really need to be careful and take precautions during each process. This article will help you to relic your guitar by yourself, but always make sure to do so safely. Also make sure to follow the methods properly to avoid any decline in the quality of sound.