There are many reasons why you might want to learn how to remove the lacquer from your brass instrument. As the vintage horn market grows, many musicians wish to refinish their instruments to replace old or worn lacquering. Others prefer a non-lacquered instrument. Opinion is divided as to whether chemically stripping lacquered instruments adversely affects sound quality. Some musicians say that stripping an instrument’s finish negatively impacts the timbre and resonance, while others report actually gaining timbre and resonance after stripping an instrument.
If you decide to strip the lacquer from a brass musical instrument, there are several methods that you can use.
- Sandpaper. Sandpaper will remove the lacquer from a brass instrument with enough elbow grease. This method avoids any possible impact on the instrument’s sound that can come from chemical stripping, since it is chemical-free. Use very fine grit sandpaper and simply work until the lacquer is gone. Your drill’s buffing wheel, with some buffing compound, is also an option. Using sand paper may result in scratches on the horn, which is preferred among those who want a more vintage look. It may also remove serial numbers and engravings, so this method is not recommended for horns with elaborate engravings that you want to preserve.
- Hot Water. Also chemical-free, hot water will remove lacquer without the possible impacts of chemicals. Get enough water to submerge the instrument in very hot, but not boiling. Allow the horn to sit in the water for several hours. The lacquer will flake off. You can use the fine grit sandpaper method to help remove the flaking lacquer.
- Steel Wool or Nylon Dishscrubbers. Fine steel wool is a good choice for removing brass lacquer and will leave your instrument with a matte finish. Nylon dishscrubbers – the kind with the abrasive pad on one side and a sponge on the other – will also work. These can be used along with the hot water method or chemical strippers.
- Lacquer Thinner or Paint Stripper. Commercial lacquer thinner or paint stripper will remove lacquer from brass. Bix paint stripper is the most commonly recommended paint stripper for this purpose. In a well-ventilated area, apply the thinner or stripper to the instrument, following the instructions on the product. Allow to sit for a couple of hours. Older lacquer may take longer to remove. Lacquers made with epoxy do not always respond well to thinner or stripper.
- Epoxy Remover. Instruments with an epoxy lacquer will not respond to most of the methods described above. If you are stripping or refinishing an instrument with an epoxy-based lacquer, a quality chemical epoxy remover is your best bet. Work in a well-ventilated area and follow the instructions on the product.