In this article, we’ll take you through the entire process and we’ll explain how to paint a guitar properly, or repaint your guitar, as well as how you should prepare. You may want a particular custom color for the body of your guitar, or a new finish using oil or a transparent coating.
Let’s get into it!
How to paint a guitar
If you’re unhappy with the color of your guitar, or the guitar you’ve bought had limited color options, then you might want to repaint it.
You’ll be happy and maybe surprised to learn that it’s pretty easy to paint a guitar, as long as you have a little time and patience. The difficult thing about painting a guitar is the attention to detail it requires to get a sleek, smooth finish on your instrument.
To get it to look like a factory-finished guitar, you should be ready to take as much time as needed, as the process will take many weeks if you want to do it properly. Don’t rush the process and risk ruining your guitar. The end results will be worth the time and effort.
Here’s a list of items you’ll need before getting started:
- Your guitar
- An orbital sander
- Wet and dry sanding paper (fine grit, medium and coarse)
- Vacuum cleaner
- Microfiber cloths
- Mineral spirits
- Sandable white primer (1 can)
- Lacquer spray paint (3 cans)
- Clear top-coat spray (2 cans)
- Dust mask and protective glasses
- Wire cutters
- Allen wrenches
- Soldering iron and solder
- Painter’s masking tape
Now that you know everything you’ll need to repaint your guitar, let’s go through the steps.
Step 1: Disassembling Your Guitar
Before you can begin, you need to disassemble the guitar beforehand. The first step to dissembling your guitar is to remove the strings from the instrument.
You can do this by either unwinding the strings or just clipping them with wire cutters. You cannot paint a guitar with the strings still on.
Step 2: Removing The Neck Of Your Guitar
After removing the strings from your guitar, it’s time to remove the neck. Most electric guitars have bolt-on necks, which are very straightforward to remove. All you need to do is use a screwdriver to remove the bolts.
After all the bolts have been unscrewed, take the neck in one hand and the body of the guitar in the other hand, and gently manipulate the neck away from the body of the guitar.
If your guitar has a set neck, meaning that it’s glued on or a through-neck, meaning the wood from the neck also goes through the body of the guitar, then the neck should not be removed.
Step 3: Removing The Hardware
Once the neck of the guitar is removed, it’s time to remove the rest of the hardware from the body of the guitar. You’ll need a screwdriver and an Allen wrench in order to remove the bridge, pickups, and output.
Remember to unscrew the strap buttons too. Take off the scratchplate and each of the knobs, being careful to not damage the wood of the guitar.
Some models of the electric guitar have the output and knobs wired to the pickups underneath the scratch plate in the cavity. If this is the case then you’ll need to carefully snip the wires to remove the hardware.
Take notice of how everything is wired so that after you paint your guitar you can put everything back together in working order.
Step 4: Organizing Your Hardware
Once all the hardware has been removed from your guitar, including all the bolts, screws, and washers, it’s a good idea to organize the different parts into baggies and label them. This will make your life a lot easier when it comes to putting everything back together again.
Refinishing the guitar is a long process, sometimes taking months. Labeling all the parts will let you avoid some confusion later on.
Step 5: Removing The Old Finish
If you are refinishing a guitar that was previously painted, you’re going to have to remove the paint first. Now that all of your guitar’s hardware has now been removed and organized, it’s time to get sanding.
Use some coarse sandpaper to remove the current lacquer and paint, taking care not to sand into the wood itself. You want the guitar’s surface to be roughed up so that your new coats of paint will stick well to it.
If instead of painting your guitar, you want to stain the wood or use a translucent finish, you’ll need to remove the finish that’s currently on the guitar entirely.
Step 6: Using The Orbital Sander
The next step is to use an orbital sander on your guitar and remove the rest of the finish. Fit some coarse sandpaper to your orbital sander and work over the whole body of your guitar in smooth strokes across the surface.
If you notice that the orbital sander has missed some harder-to-reach spots, then go back to sanding by hand with some coarse sandpaper in all the little nooks and crannies. Do not use a paint stripper on your instrument. Many paint strippers cannot strip the hard polyurethane finish that’s used by most guitar makers.
Step 7: Sand The Fine Crevices Of Your Guitar
Next, take a careful look at your instrument to see if any parts have been missed. Take some coarse grit sandpaper and focus on the curved spots on the body.
These areas are more difficult for the orbital sander to get to effectively. For this, you’ll want to use sandpaper that is between 200 grit and 400 grit.
Step 8: Sanding With Finer Sandpaper
Now you want to start using progressively more fine sandpaper to go over the whole body of your guitar. Start with medium and then go to fine sandpaper to smooth over the body of your guitar.
Step 9: Removing The Remaining Dust
Before you begin painting, you need to make sure to get rid of any dust from the sanding process that’s on the surface of your guitar. Use a small handheld vacuum cleaner, preferably with a nozzle or hose attachment to remove all the dust.
If you don’t have a suitable vacuum cleaner, you can blow away the dust using compressed air, or just wipe down the surface with a wet cloth.
Step 10: Filling The Porous Surface Of Your Guitar
Next up, to get a smooth finish, you’ll want to use some wood filler or putty over your guitar’s body. This step is especially important if your guitar is made from mahogany or a similar porous wood.
This makes the surface of your guitar nice even before you start painting. When using a filler, try to find an oil or water-based filler that is the same color as the paint you’re using.
Step 11: Applying Mineral Spirits
Now that you’re done applying the filler to your guitar, use mineral spirits on the surface of your instrument’s body to get rid of any oils.
Once this is applied, do not touch your guitar with bare hands, as the oils from your skin will get on the surface of the wood. Let the mineral spirits dry completely before continuing.
Step 12: Applying Primer To The Guitar
Before adding paint to your guitar, you’ll need a few coats of primer first. Apply two or three thinner coats of primer rather than one thick one. This is to avoid drips.
After each coat, wait a few minutes for the primer to dry.
Step 13: Painting Your Guitar
After the primer has been added and the primer is completely dry, it’s time to start painting. Using either polyurethane or nitrocellulose paint, start applying thin layers to your guitar. Allow each coat to dry completely before adding the next.
Step 14: Applying The Clear Top-Coat
Once your paint has dried for at least a week, you can apply your clear coat to the instrument. A nitrocellulose clear coat is a great option. Again, when applying this coat, it’s important to add very thin layers and allow them to dry completely before adding the next coat. This is to avoid any drips.
You can add up to ten or even more coats in order to get that factory finish. After you’ve applied enough coats of the finish, allow it to dry completely for at least a week. This gives the finish a chance to harden.
Step 15: Polishing The Finish
It’s important to use wet sandpaper on the finish and use a grit starting with 400. After sanding the whole finished surface, go over it again with 600 grit, 800 grit, and 1000 grit, all the way up to 2000 grit progressively.
Be careful not to sand into the coats of paint, only sand the finish.
Step 16: Reassembling Your Guitar
Once the paint has fully dried and everything has been sanded down and polished, it’s finally time to put all of the hardware back on your guitar. If you cut the wires connected to the pickups, you’ll need to solder them back to the way they were.
Before you begin the process of painting your guitar, please make sure to use proper safety equipment, such as a mask or respirator. Spray paints can give off harsh fumes, so it’s entirely necessary to use a mask and paint in a well-ventilated area.
Also, use protective eyewear when sanding. Remember, this is a long process, so patience is key!
What type of paint should I use to paint my guitar?
When painting a guitar, it’s important to choose high-quality paint that is specifically designed for use on musical instruments.
Nitrocellulose lacquer and polyurethane are two popular types of paint used for guitar painting. Nitrocellulose lacquer is a traditional and versatile choice that provides a vintage look, while polyurethane is more durable and resistant to scratches.
Do I need to sand my guitar before painting it?
Yes, sanding the guitar before painting is an important step to ensure that the paint adheres properly to the surface. You should use fine-grit sandpaper to lightly sand the guitar’s surface, which will help to remove any existing finish or imperfections and create a smooth surface for the paint to adhere to.
How many coats of paint do I need to apply to my guitar?
The number of coats of paint needed will depend on the type of paint used and the desired finish. In general, you should apply at least three coats of paint, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and allow sufficient drying time between each coat.
Can I paint over the existing finish on my guitar or do I need to remove it first?
It is possible to paint over the existing finish on your guitar, but it’s generally recommended to remove the existing finish first to ensure that the new paint adheres properly to the surface. Removing the existing finish can be done through sanding, stripping, or a combination of both.
It’s important to note that removing the finish can be a time-consuming and delicate process and may require professional assistance to avoid damaging the guitar.
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