For the last several guitar kits and refinish jobs I’ve done I put away my spray rig and used “rattle cans”… I did this just for you.

The Best Spray Can Nitro Lacquer

Spray Can Nitro Guitar Finish
Spray Can Nitro Guitar Finish


 Nitro refers to Quick-drying solvent-based lacquers that contain nitrocellulose, a resin obtained from the nitration of cotton and other cellulostic materials, they were developed in the early 1920s, and extensively used in the automobile industry for 30 years.

Nitro has long been the “choice” product for musical instruments The nitrocellulose and other resins and plasticizers are dissolved in the solvent, and each coat of lacquer dissolves some of the previous coat and this fact makes it fairly easy to apply. The preferred method of applying quick-drying lacquers is by spraying, and the development of nitrocellulose lacquers led to the first extensive use of spray guns.

Nitrocellulose lacquers produce a hard but flexible, and somewhat durable finish that can be polished to a high sheen. Drawbacks of these lacquers include the hazardous nature of the solvent, which is flammable and toxic however they do become relatively non-toxic after fully curing since at this point, the lacquer has evaporated most of the solvents used in its production.

Note: Lacquer grade soluble nitrocellulose is closely related to the more highly nitrated form which is used to make explosives (may talk about this later… Hear that Alphabet people?).


Nitrocellulose Guitar Lacquer Review
Rattle Can Nitrocellulose Guitar Lacquer Head to Head Review


Of the several commercially available spray Nitrocellulose lacquers, I’ve narrowed it down to the top two: Stewart MacDonald’s ColorTone  and The Guitar ReRanch’s spray can nitro lacquer.

Stewart McDonald Color Tone Lacquer Review


Stewart MacDonald’s Colotone instrument spray lacquer produces a fine finish.  The spray pattern and consistency are comparable to professional grade air compressor equipment. it’s fairly easy to apply, the flash time is quick, and in the end it yields very good results. Just this one thing: You gotta warm up the cans in hot water unless you want a spatter coated guitar. Between the heavy load of solids and what I must assume is a retarding agent, this stuff will drip and spatter like mad.

Overall once the quirks were figured out I give Stew Macs product an A for finish and a B- for ease of application.


Stewart MacDonald lacquer finish
Stewart MacDonald lacquer finish on A Bulldog Bodies LP Kit

Guitar ReRanch Spray Lacquer Review


Re Ranch Finish on a '59 Les Paul Kit
Hung out to Dry. Re Ranch Finish on a ’59 Les Paul Kit

The Guitar ReRanch’s Nitro is a bit more expensive on the face of it than ColorTone but I have to say straight up it’s worth it…  And in the end ReRanch costs less because it  gives superior coverage per can and lays down much smoother than ALL of the rattle can lacquers I tried out so it requires less leveling so more finish stays on the guitar than ends up as mung from wet sanding.

Both jobs I used this product for only required 3 cans of glossy clear to finish where the two comparable jobs done with StewMac’s  ColorTone required 5 rattle cans to achieve the same quality finish.

The spraying  performance was just about flawless from the beginning to the dregs of every can… Spitting and drips were so slight I can’t even remember if there was any issue with it. Re Ranch also provides a fine nozzle as well as a fan nozzle with their clear nitro and that’s just plain cool of them.

ReRanch Spray Can Nitro also dries smoother and faster than all the others I tested.

 My Opinion…  The Guitar ReRanch is the Number One Rattle Can Lacquer For quality and ease of use

Besides using ReRanch nitrocellulose clear coat on this ’59 Les Paul kit I also tried out their burst kit and came up with a Burnt Pumpkin Pie Burst… It’s growing on me. The bursting process is fairly simple on it’s surface but it does take some skill with a rattle can. Detailed instructions are available on ReRanches Website.

Here are images shot of the three stages of the Burst process:

Clear Nitrocellulose Lacquer on the Maple Top
1st Clear Lacquer on the guitars’ Maple Top


Amber Nitrocellulose Lacquer
2nd Guitar Maple Cap Sprayed Amber to Taste


Guitar Body Burst Edge
Last: Guitar Body Brown Burst Edge fades red as it mixes with the Amber


Huh… Kind of cool… Burnt Pumpkin Pie Burst Les Paul.  The tints were easy to work with and using the multiple nozzles provided made this finish a cinch (there is one coat of clear over it all in the last shot).