Shellac: What Is It And How To Use It As A Guitar Finish

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 16, 2022

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What is shellac? Shellac is a clear, hard, protective coating that is applied to furniture and nails. Yes, you read that correctly, nails. But how does it work for guitars? Let’s dive into that.

Guitar shellac finish

Everything You Need to Know About Shellac

What is Shellac?

Shellac is a resin that is used to create a glossy, protective finish on wood. It’s made from the secretions of the lac bug, which is found in Southeast Asia. It’s been used for centuries to create beautiful, durable finishes on furniture and other wood products.

What Can You Do With Shellac?

Shellac is great for a variety of woodworking projects, including:

  • Giving furniture a glossy, protective finish
  • Creating a smooth surface for painting
  • Sealing wood against moisture
  • Adding a beautiful sheen to wood
  • French polishing

How to Get Started With Shellac

If you’re ready to get started with shellac, the first thing you’ll need is a Shellac Handbook. This handy guide will give you all the info you need to get started, including:

  • Recipes for making your own shellac
  • Supplier and material lists
  • Cheat sheets
  • FAQs
  • Tips and tricks

So don’t wait any longer! Download the Shellac Handbook and get ready to give your woodworking projects a beautiful, glossy finish.

Shellac Finishing: A Magic Trick for Your Guitar

The Pre-Ramble

Have you seen Les Stansell’s Youtube video on his alternative shellac finishing method for guitars? It’s like watching a magic trick! You want to know all the details, but it’s hard to get all the answers you need.

That’s why this article is here – to give you a step-by-step process for reference and to help you out with any questions you may have.

This article is a way of saying thank you to Les for all the help he’s given us. He’s been very generous with his advice, and it’s appreciated.

Most of us spend a lot of time getting an instrument ready to finish. We’ve bought books and videos on French polishing, but it’s hard to justify the cost of spray equipment and a spray booth. So, French polishing it is! But, it’s not always perfect.

The Process

If you haven’t already, watch Les’ video a few times and take notes. Think about where you have problems and how Les deals with them. His approach may not work for everyone, so it’s important to consider how you’ll deal with tricky areas like the neck joint and the top near the fretboard.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you out:

  • Get the instrument ready to finish – there are lots of articles that go into depth on this subject.
  • Finish the neck heel joint and the portion of the side wood near that which drops into the slots before assembly.
  • Mix up a batch of shellac. Les recommends a 1/2 pound cut of shellac.
  • Apply the shellac with a pad. Les uses a pad made of a cotton sock filled with cotton balls.
  • Apply the shellac in a circular motion.
  • Let the shellac dry for at least 24 hours.
  • Sand the shellac with 400-grit sandpaper.
  • Apply a second coat of shellac.
  • Let the shellac dry for at least 24 hours.
  • Sand the shellac with 400-grit sandpaper.
  • Use micromesh to remove any scratches.
  • Apply a third coat of shellac.
  • Let the shellac dry for at least 24 hours.
  • Sand the shellac with 400-grit sandpaper.
  • Use micromesh to remove any scratches.
  • Polish the shellac with a soft cloth.

Remember, Les’ method is always evolving, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works for you.

French Polishing with shellac

A Traditional Technique

French polishing is an old-school way of giving your guitar a glossy finish. It’s a process that uses all-natural materials like alcohol shellac resin, olive oil, and walnut oil. It’s a great alternative to using toxic synthetic finishes like Nitrocellulose.

The Benefits of French Polishing

If you’re considering French polishing, here are some of the benefits you can expect:

  • Healthier for you and your family
  • Makes your guitar sound better
  • No toxic chemicals
  • A beautiful process

Learn More About French Polishing

If you want to learn more about French polishing, there are a few resources you can check out. You can start with a free three-part series on the topic, or go even deeper with a full video course. Both of these will give you a better understanding of the technique and how to use it.

So if you’re looking for a way to give your guitar a glossy finish without the use of toxic chemicals, French polishing is definitely worth a try!

The Secret to a Perfectly Filled Guitar

The Pore Filling Process

If you’re looking to get your guitar looking like a million bucks, the first step is pore filling. It’s a process that requires a bit of finesse, but with the right technique, you can get a smooth, satin finish that looks like it was made in a professional workshop.

The traditional method of pore filling involves using alcohol, pumice, and a little bit of shellac to keep the white pumice clear. It’s important to work wet enough to dissolve and remove any excess finish while at the same time depositing the slurry into any unfilled pores.

Transitioning to Bodying

Once you’ve completed the pore filling process, it’s time to transition to the bodying stage. This is where things can get tricky, especially when working with resinous woods like cocobolo. If you’re not careful, you can end up with visible chunks, bumps, and strong colors all over the surface.

But, there’s a simple trick you can use to keep your maple purfling lines looking clean without sanding or anything fancy. All you need to do is remove any excess finish with alcohol and then deposit it into any open pores. This will leave you with a gorgeous filled surface and your purfling lines will look as good as new!

The Luthier’s Edge

If you’re looking to take your guitar building skills to the next level, then you’ll want to check out The Luthier‘s EDGE course library. It includes an online video course called The Art of French Polishing, which covers every step of the pore filling process in depth.

So, if you’re looking to get your guitar looking like a million bucks, you’ll want to check out The Luthier’s EDGE course library and learn the secrets to a perfectly filled guitar.


In conclusion, shellac is a great guitar finish that’s easy to use and looks great. It’s perfect for those who want to give their guitar a unique look and feel. Just remember to use the right tools, wear gloves, and take your time. And don’t forget the most important rule: practice makes perfect! So don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and experiment with shellac – you’ll be ROCKIN’ in no time!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:

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