How to Paint a Guitar?

As a guitarist, you probably know that while the sound your guitar makes is important, its appearance is equally significant. This is because it is an extension of your creative self. In fact, a lot of artists – from Prince to Woody Guthrie – have made cosmetic changes to their instrument. Of course, if this is something you’re considering, the question is: how do you paint a guitar?

Believe it or not, painting a guitar is actually much simpler than you may have imagined. At the same time, you need to be careful, since it is a musical instrument after all. So, if you want to undertake this project by yourself but also want to ensure that it is a success, this is the information you will need:

Tips to Remember

Before you get started, there are a few things that you will need to keep in mind. The following tips will help to prevent any unnecessary hassle or damage during the painting process:

  • This is an extensive project: while the actual process isn’t too complicated, it is time-consuming. In total, you may spend anywhere from a few hours to a few days painting your guitar. This includes the drying time as well.
  • Have a proper painting environment: you are going to be handling a few dangerous and toxic chemicals. This is why you should take care to paint your guitar in an area with plenty of airflow. Even then, you should make it a point to don the necessary safety wear.
  • Keep it light: when it comes to the coat of paint, less is more. Not only will this help your guitar surface dry more quickly, but it also helps to preserve the tone. Although it is unlikely that paint will change the tone of your guitar, too many thick layers may distort the original sound a little.
  • Follow all the steps: it can be tempting to simply add a layer of paint to your guitar. This technique, however, isn’t going to do you any good. Not only will the finish look sloppy, but there is also a good chance that the paint will begin to peel off within a short time as well.

Can You Paint Any Guitar?

The short answer to this question is: yes, you can paint most guitars. This, of course, doesn’t tell the full story. See, when painting your guitar, you should always check what type of wood it is composed of. The exact type used will often depend on the price tag attached to the guitar. More premium brands will spring for high-quality woods while the cheaper options will have lower-quality materials.

The reason why the wood is important is that it will determine the overall tone of the instrument. Solid wood guitars are made so that they can ‘age’ over time. Therefore, the older that they get, the better they sound. In such instances, too much of paint can obstruct or change this aging process. Therefore, you should keep the layers as thin as possible.

If you are dealing with a guitar with a laminate layer, though, there aren’t quite as many rules to follow. After all, these types of guitars are meant to sound a certain way. As such, you can afford to be less picky about the kind of paint you use or even how many layers you paint on.

What Kind of Paint Do You Need?

When painting a guitar, you will often find that nitrocellulose lacquer is the best. The reason why this is a gold standard in the industry is that even the best in the business – companies like Fender – rely on it. So, by using this type of paint, you can ensure that you are able to get the look that you desire, without doing any damage to the guitar.

Perhaps the main point in the nitrocellulose lacquer is the fact that it can be sprayed on with very little hassle. There are even spray paints made specifically for guitars, that can be sprayed from the can rather easily. Of course, there are some individuals who use even automotive spray paint for this project.

If you want a more unique look, you can always switch over to acrylic paints. These will allow you to hand paint your designs onto your instrument. In some instances, this type of paint may also dry faster. That being said, you should realize that there are some downsides to this type of paint.

Namely, since you will be relying on a brush, you need a great deal of skill to complete this task. If you aren’t comfortable with a paintbrush, there is a good chance that the finished result will not look so great. So this method is often for those that are more artistically inclined than the average guitarist.

Prepping Your Guitar

As mentioned, painting your guitar isn’t as simple as just spraying or brushing paint over the existing layer. Rather, if you want a good-looking guitar, you are going to need to prep the instrument first. In short, this means that you need to prepare the surface to be painted. To do so, follow these steps below:

Step 1: Remove the Hardware

The first thing you are going to need to do is to strip your guitar down. After all, you just want to paint the bass. This means that you need to remove all of the hardware. This includes the strings, knobs, pickups, output jack, bridge, pickguard, strap buttons, and anything else that isn’t going to be painted.

Step 2: Examine the Surface

This may seem like an odd step but it is necessary, particularly if your guitar is rather old. See, during this time, the surface of the guitar may have picked up nicks, dents, and more. While these may not be too noticeable now, this will certainly change during the painting process. To avoid these showing up, carefully examine every inch of the surface.

If the dent is quite deep, then you will need to use a wood filler in those areas. This will even out the holes and can then be sanded so that they will lie flat. Best of all, these fillers can be painted over as well.

Step 3: Sand the Surface

Then, you will move onto sanding the wood surface. This is done to remove any existing paint from the guitar, as well as to even out any imperfections. For the best results, try to use sandpaper with three different grits – 120, 220, and 320. Start with the 120 and then gradually move onto the 320 as the surface gets smoother. Remember to sand with the grain rather than against it when doing so.

Step 4: Wipe Down the Guitar

Due to all that sanding, you will find that there is quite a bit of dust on the surface of the guitar as well as everywhere else. However, you need a smooth painting surface, though, so all this dust needs to be removed. You can use a gentle blower or vacuum to get rid of the dust completely. Wiping down the guitar can give you the same results as well.

Step 5: Masking Bare Areas

Now, there are some areas of the guitar that you may not want to paint on, like the neck, for instance. For this purpose, it is best to use high-quality masking tape to section these areas off. This way, you will be able to protect the surface and also ensure that the tape can be easily removed, when necessary.

Securing the Guitar

The next thing you need to consider is how you are going to secure your guitar while priming and painting it. As you can imagine, one of the simpler options involves placing the instrument on a bench and spraying it. While this does give you a solid surface to work on, it can also double the time for this project. This is because you will need to wait till each side dries completely, before moving onto the other one.

It is due to this that many people prefer to remove the neck of the guitar and to suspend the body from a taut wire. This way, you have easy access to all areas of the guitar, simultaneously. So, while it can be more trying to opt for this position, you may find that you’re able to complete your painting project a lot sooner.

Priming Your Guitar

As with the paint, you have a choice of either spraying or brushing on the primer. Of course, if you want to make things simpler, it is best to go with the spray. You will find it a great deal easier to apply thin and even layers.

When spraying, make sure to keep the nozzle of the can around 8 inches away at all times. After the first layer, let the primer dry for at least 20 minutes. Then go ahead and add another layer. You can repeat this process around 3 or 5 times, with 20-minute intervals in between. After the final layer, let the guitar dry for around 3 days.

The next step would be to sand the guitar again. Here, you can use a grit of around 120. Make sure that all of the areas are even and smooth. If there is any drip residue, you may want to use slightly lower grade sandpaper but avoid anything too harsh.

Painting Your Guitar

Then, it is time to move onto the actual painting process. As far as the spraying goes, you will need to use the same technique as with the primer. However, here you need to go over each section a little more carefully. Unlike with the primer, you can’t really sand off the paint you have put on.

Once more, it is all about even layers when painting. The exact number of layers will depend on the color you are using as well as the finished result that you wish to achieve. So, this could mean anywhere from 3 to 6 coats of paint.

It is important that you wait until each layer has dried completely before spraying on the next level. Otherwise, you will be faced with drips and an uneven finish. After the final layer, wait for no less than 24 hours before moving onto the next stage.

Lacquering, Sanding, and Polishing the Guitar

It is a good idea to add a few layers of lacquer to your guitar. Not only does it add a nice, shiny look but is also essential in protecting your paint job. So, if you don’t want all your hard work to go to waste, this is definitely something you should do.

With the lacquer, a greater number of layers offer you more protection. At the same time, it also means a glossier surface, which isn’t something that everyone wants. So, you may want to find a middle ground here when spraying lacquer on the guitar.

The same rules apply as when priming and painting the guitar. You should always wait for one layer to dry before spraying on another. Once the final layer has been added, let the guitar dry for an additional amount of time. Most professionals prefer to let the lacquer dry for around 2 to 4 weeks for the best results.

After you are certain that the lacquer has dried, you can then sand the guitar down once more. Here, it is best to use the least abrasive grit possible – between 800 and 2000. You should sand down the surface until it feels nice and smooth in all areas.

The final step is to use a cotton cloth and an appropriate polishing compound to polish the surface of the guitar. Rub some polish into the surface and keep working it in until it has been fully applied. Then, move onto another section and continue until the entire guitar has been covered.

This is your ultimate guide to painting a guitar. As long as you are willing to make the effort, this is something you will certainly be able to handle by yourself.

Natalie
 

Hey there, my name is Natalie Landecker and I am the creator and main contributor to this site. My love for guitar and music has existed for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a musically inclined household and my love for music bloomed very early on. This site is a way for me to share what I am most passionate about – everything to do with guitars.