After the adventures with the Squier Strat we used for our Rory Gallagher replica I swore I'd never strip another poly finish, but this guitar was so tempting that I relented. Nitromors has no impact on polyester but before breaking out the heat gun and risking melting off all the binding, I decided to give it a shot. To my amazement and immense relief, the finish came right off - this poly was actually polyurethane, not polyester.
If you're using a chemical stripper, make sure you protect your hands with rubber gloves, and wear goggles. Spread the stripper on liberally and allow it to do its work. If it's a warm day, try covering the area with plastic to stop the stripper drying off. Also, try to keep the stripper away from the binding because it can wreck it. Work slowly and in short bursts, because when you start hurrying or getting bored you'll start making mistakes like gouging into the wood. Be patient, and stop when it stops being fun.
Once you've got the varnish off, wash the whole guitar with copious amounts of white spirit to neutralise the stripper and leave it to dry for a day or so before going to work with the sandpaper. If you were careful when scraping off the finish you shouldn't have too much hard work to do. We needed to fix two long diagonal dents across the back, so I soaked a torn-off piece of white T-shirt with water, put it over the dents and placed a hot iron on top. This expanded the compressed wood fibres, and after about half an hour all the dents had been steamed out.
Leaving the original finish on the bindings provides a useful visual guide to keep you from sanding through the binding. Once you're happy with the look and feel of the wood, the last stage is to scrape the finish off the binding. You could use cabinet scrapers, but I used Stanley knife blades. For the awkward areas along the fingerboard extension I held a blade in a pair of pliers, wrapped it with a cloth and snapped the blade in half. The square edge kept me from inadvertently scraping the body, but when doing this you should be very careful and methodical.
Once the binding was clean I smoothed it over with some fine sandpaper and re-glued the binding in the waist where it had separated from the body. The gap in the cutaway was too wide to pull back against the body, so I dissolved some chips of colour-matched binding in some acetone overnight, allowing it to turn into a paste. The following morning I pushed the binding paste into the cleaned-out gap, leaving it high above the surface. After a day or so I sanded off the excess and the remaining bits of finish.
I left the original finish intact inside the pickup, control and switch cavities. It would have been tough to remove it cleanly, and the dark original finish will create a nice contrast with our lighter finish - just like the unfaded look of original lacquer that has always been shielded from UV light. Although the original poly finish was very thin, it did seem that the body's tap tones rang out clearer and louder once it had been removed.
5. Les Paul Relic: Part 1 | Stripping Off