The need to paint an electric guitar could arise if you are not happy with the factory colors of your guitar and would like to give it a more custom look, or the original paint has come off or is showing signs of wear and tear and you’d like freshen up its looks a bit. Kindly note, unlike refinishing or repainting a guitar or any piece of wood, refinishing a guitar is comparatively complex since a good amount of attention to the details and effort is needed to attain a sleek, smooth, factory-like appearance. If you’re up for the challenge, let’s learn the basic tasks of how to paint a guitar.
P.S. Set aside an ample amount of time for the guitar painting job, and do not rush through the basic process at any stage of painting your guitar.
To get rolling with the painting, you would need:
- A guitar
- Vacuum cleaner
- Orbital sander
- Sanding sponge or sanding paper
- Coarse, medium, and fine grit sandpaper
- White spray primer
- Mineral spirits
- Spray paint or cans
- Clear color coats
- Spray gun
- Wire cutters
- Eyeglasses and dust masks
- Super-fine sandpaper pads
- Allen wrenches
- Masking tape
- Solder and soldering iron
- Stay tuned – we will have some recommended products here.
Start with disassembling your guitar. Begin the disassembly process by removing the guitar’s strings. You may use wire clippers to clip off the guitar strings.
Take Off the Guitar’s Neck
After the strings, focus on removing the guitar’s neck. Bolted on guitar neck type are relatively easy to remove since you only have to unscrew the bolts on the rear of the neck joint and softly jiggle the neck free. If the guitar neck is glued on, do not remove it since it’s not meant to be set free. You may, therefore, leave the guitar neck in place and refinish it just like other non-removable parts of the instrument.
Remove Other Hardware
To remove the knobs, bridge, pickguard, strap buttons, output jack, and guitar pickups, you would need an Allen wrench or a screwdriver. Some guitar models may have the knobs and output jack wired to their pickups via holes in between every cavity. Therefore, just cut the wires to remove each hardware piece. However, you must know the guitar wiring so that the wires could be put back together correctly.
Remove the Existing Finish
After having removed all hardware components, sand away the guitar’s current finish. You may completely sand away the old paint or you could rough up the existing finish so that the fresh paint easily sticks to the guitar. If the fresh paint is lighter than the old paint, you would have to completely remove the old paint. If the new paint is darker, you could get away with just roughing up the old paint.
Use Grain Filler
If you’re not going for the distressed and unfinished guitar look, apply some wood grain filler to the guitar body, particularly when working on porous woods such as mahogany. Also called putty, a grain filler helps even out the guitar surface. If you opt for a filler, go with a water-based or oil-based fill that would match the paint or guitar finish you’re using. I would not recommend any kind of automotive filler though.
Ascertain the Kind of Paint You’d Like to Use
If you’re planning to paint the guitar using a solid color, look for a durable paint – for instance, a acrylic painted guitar paint with polyurethane or nitrocellulose. Nitrocellulose is easy to find both online and offline. However, the paint could take some time to dry after application.
If you want the stained guitar finish, use a water-based stain, along with a polyurethane or nitrocellulose lacquer clear coat. Also, you may opt for an oil-based color with an oil-based finish. You may use a spray-on finish, as this would mitigate any likelihood of brush marks left on the end result.
Before painting the guitar, add some coats of primer matching the paint type you’re going to use. Apply a couple of thin coats instead of one thick coat, as that would ensure the primer won’t drip and dries out properly.
Also, paint the guitar in a place that’s dust-free including the surface of the guitar. Do it indoors so that the paint’s odor doesn’t attract bugs toward it. With bugs or other materials stuck to the paint, the finish could turn out mucky, bumpy and lumpy. When painting your electric guitar indoors, use a pair of goggles and a high-quality air mask to safeguard yourself from the harmful chemical vapors the paint may release.
You’ll also want to mask off the neck pocket, pickup routes, etc to make sure that paint does not get into any of these areas.
Painting the Guitar
If using spray paint, apply thin layers of it and allow each coat of paint to completely dry before you apply another coat. The coat of paint could take up to a week to completely dry. You can apply a clear coat only after a week.
If you’re planning to use a stain, completely wet the body of the guitar so that adding the stain is easier and there are no blemishes too. When applying the stain, make sure you follow the guitar’s user manual.
Applying Clear Coat
Once the paint or stain has completely dried, apply a coat of clear paint to the guitar. A clear coat of nitrocellulose is highly recommended. When applying clear coats of the paint, make sure you do not apply two coats in quick succession. Let the original layer completely dry before you could apply the second layer.
If you’d like the repaint job to look as good as new, you may have to do multiple coats. If you chose a polyurethane or nitrocellulose finish, you must wait for at least three weeks for the coat of paint to fully harden so don’t just dry overnight. If you go for the oil-based finish, your waiting time would come down to a few days.
Polish Things Up
When sanding the polish, use the wet sanding technique. Do not skip swirls, scratches, or small pits. Also, make sure that you do not sand into the clear coat and thereafter into the color. Therefore, be very careful when sanding at the edges.
Once the painting and finishing have been done, reassemble the guitar. When putting all the parts back in, look for components that may need to be replaced. For instance, the old pickguard could be replaced with something new.
Reassembling Your Guitar
Not hard, just do the opposite to what you did when you took it all apart!
After the reassembly is done, your newly painted guitar is ready for use again.