Nowadays, guitar players and gear aficionados are not only attempting to age guitar wood faster, they are also seeking ways to dull chrome guitar parts to fit their instrument’s overall vintage look.
Although the allure of old stringed instruments relies on the beautiful change that wood undergoes as it ages, hardware definitely plays a significant part in legitimizing an axes’ vintage status. Unfortunately, these steel guitar parts could age in ways that could ruin the playability or even harm the musician, if they stay beyond their capacity to serve the instrument.
Rust is one of the main concerns that could arise from steel parts. These reddish-brown things – formed by the reaction of iron and oxygen in a wet or moist environment – could eat up screws, bolts and bridge saddles, making them function ineffectively.
Replacing your vintage guitar’s hardware is necessary to make sure that all parts, including the screws and bolts, are still working properly. However, this could also mean that the shiny chrome pickup covers and tuning pegs will look out of place when paired with your guitar’s weathered body. Whether you are artificially turning a new guitar into a relic, or just wanted your chrome bridge to match your old instrument, the solution to this is to speed up the aging of the parts.
The acids and oils being secreted by a guitar player’s hands are the reason for hardware turning dull. Replicating this process with chemicals will achieve the same results when done right. For more extreme vintage forms of ‘relicing,’ you could even go beyond dulling the guitar parts by introducing rust, dings and scratches.
How do I make chrome parts dull?
Even though the procedure of dulling chrome and other steel parts is not too complex, it is important to be familiar with the materials that you will use, particularly the toxic or acidic chemicals.
Prepare all the guitar parts and organize them on the table along with all the needed tools and materials. This way, you can minimize errors and prevent accidents from happening.
Safety First (Protect your eyes, lungs and hands)
- Respirator mask
You’ll only need one of these depending on your preference:
- Hydrochloric acid (Muriatic acid)
Hydrochloric acid, also known as muriatic acid, is the main agent responsible for speeding up steel’s aging process. It is also present in ferric chloride as well as most toilet bowl cleaners. Muriatic acid is hazardous to your health, be careful in handling this chemical solution.
- Ferric Chloride
Ferric chloride is one of the best options for dulling hardware as it is less aggressive than muriatic acid, but stronger than vinegar or toilet bowl cleaners.
Be reminded that ferric chloride can create stains on various objects.
- Toilet Bowl Cleaners
A cheap substitute would be to use whatever household materials that are available in your home. Toilet bowl cleaners are effective since most contain hydrochloric acid.
Vinegar is the safest, cheapest and most readily available choice. However, it isn’t as potent as ferric chloride or muriatic acid, so longer exposure to it is much needed.
- Gunsmithing q-tips
- Blower/air compressor
- Scotch Brite or sandpaper
- Rotary tool with abrasive buffer
- Oxidation accelerator
- Paper Towel
How to age steel guitar parts
Breaking through the plating
Whether it’s chrome or nickel, a guitar tailpiece or an amplifier knob, the first process of removing the first protective coating of steel is most crucial in turning them into weathered pieces. After breaking through the plating, the aging of the parts will become much faster.
Any kind of Scotch Brite will work, as well as sandpaper. If you plan to use grits, choose a gauge depending on your desired level of abrasiveness. For beginners, start with something less coarse to get a feel of procedure first.
If you have the budget and plan to do relicing more seriously, a rotary tool with a small abrasive buffer attached to it would do wonders in terms of uniformity and speed of work.
Be careful in breaking through the more sensitive parts of your guitar such as the bridge saddles. Avoid working on parts that could affect the performance of the instrument as we don’t want to compromise the guitar’s playability.
After breaking through the plating, you will notice that the chrome guitar parts are already a little dull and ready for the next step. Nickels are much easier and faster to dull down since their initial coating is much thinner.
Applying the chemicals
- Hydrochloric acid (Muriatic Acid)
Make sure that you are doing this outdoors and have your goggles and respirator mask strapped on because muriatic acid could get quite harsh. Glove up as well since this stuff burns when it makes contact with the skin.
You won’t be soaking your hardware in pure hydrochloric acid as it would be too much for some guitar parts to handle.
What you will do is put the parts in a small container, and place it in a bigger container with a lid. You will then pour acid on the bigger container before covering it up to allow the fumes to create some magic on steel.
Mixing muriatic acid with water (not the other way around), will make it safer to handle, but needs more time to age the hardware.
- Ferric Chloride
Use a gunsmithing q-tip to spread drops and dabs of ferric chloride on your hardware. This is a powerful solution which shouldn’t sit longer than 15 minutes on the guitar parts because it eats through metal fast.
- Toilet Bowl Cleaners
Hydrochloric acid in toilet bowl cleaners is more diluted, but the procedure is similar to muriatic acid.
Some prefer to soak metal pieces in vinegar, since it is much less potent than other options. But for some, the same method used for muriatic acid would do just fine.
Sit, rinse and dry
After letting the guitar parts sit with the acidic solutions for about 15 minutes (longer if you wish a more reliced look).
A blower or an air compressor will be handy in drying up all that guitar hardware, including their crevices where a little presence of water could create some damage. Paper towels would do just fine as long as you make sure that the steel parts are thoroughly dried up.
How do I patina my guitar parts?
For those who wish to produce a more heavily-reliced look, more corrosive methods are needed to create intentional patina on steel parts. Patina is a chemical process that metal goes through as it oxidizes due to exposure to air. The results are beautifully-worn, unique textures that exhibit the power of nature to transform.
Using a more coarse sandpaper, making the hardware sit longer on acidic chemicals, can help in achieving this more radically aged style. Then you will need to apply an oxidation accelerator which will expedite the aging of the guitar parts without getting eaten up.
How do you age black guitar hardware?
Black-plated hardware is not painted on so the procedure will be similar to dulling chrome guitar parts. Remove the shine with sandpaper or a buffer-equipped rotary tool, then safely apply any of the chemicals to obtain a more flat vintage look.