Replicating a professional-looking finish on your electric guitar doesn't require paying a professional. With the right type of paint and some patience you can do it yourself for half the cost. The keys to successful guitar-painting are the planning and preparation. Whether you're refinishing your guitar or painting the guitar body for the first time, the more time you put into the paint job, the more professional-looking the outcome.
Things You'll Need
- Spray paint (automotive or nitrocellulose lacquer)
- Sandpaper (rough to fine grit, wet and dry)
- Sanding block
- Sanding sealer
- Wood filler
- Clear-coat spray
- Painter's tape
- Palm sander (optional)
- Automotive polish
Prepping, Sanding, Filling and Applying Sanding Sealer
Remove all the hardware from your guitar. If possible, remove the neck from the body. For a set-neck guitar, tape off the fret board, as well as any other part of the guitar you don't want painted, with painter's tape.
Remove the old finish from the guitar. Use whatever method of paint removal that you want. If you plan on using paint stripper, be sure you're using a heavy-duty type, because oftentimes the regular paint stripper won't strip the finish off a guitar. If you intend to sand the finish off, you may want to use a palm sander first; doing it by hand is time-consuming.
Sand the guitar using 220-grit sandpaper and a sanding block. Sand both sides of the guitar. Once finished, sand the guitar using 240-grit sandpaper and a sanding block. Continue sanding using a finer grit each time until you reach 320-grit.
Fill any dents, holes or cracks with wood filler. Let them dry, then sand the spots down until they're even with the guitar and the body is smooth. For deep dents or cracks, fill them in layers, building up the filler until the surface is even and smooth.
Wipe the body of the guitar down with a washcloth soaked in hot water. This should cause the wood grain to rise and the guitar body to feel rough. Sand it again using 320-grit sandpaper followed by 400-grit sandpaper. Repeat this step three or four more times. When you finish, dust off the guitar and remove any particles or dirt from the body. Let the guitar body dry completely before moving on.
Paint sanding sealer onto the guitar body. This is usually done with a paintbrush because sanding sealer often comes in a non-aerosol can. Apply two or three light coats about 30 minutes to an hour apart, followed by one heavy coat. Allow the guitar to dry overnight or up to 24 hours.
Sand the guitar body with 320- and 400-grit sandpaper when it's dry. Sand until the entire guitar surface is dull and no shiny spots are visible. Then repeat Step Six and this step three or four more times over the next couple of days.
Priming, Painting and Applying Clear Coat
Spray a light, even coat of primer onto the guitar. If you're painting the guitar a translucent rather than opaque color, skip this step and others pertaining to primer. Let the primer dry.
Check the surface of the guitar body for any dents and unevenness. If some are found, use the wood filler to repair them. Once the filler is dry, sand the spots so they're level with the rest of the guitar surface. Spray another light, even coat of primer on the guitar. If there are no flaws, continue to spray the guitar with light, even coats of primer, allowing them to dry in-between, until the guitar is completely covered.
Spray a light, even coat of paint onto the guitar. Allow the paint to become tacky before you spray the guitar again. Repeat this process several times until the guitar is completely covered. Once the painting is finished, allow the paint to dry for at least 24 hours before moving on to the next step.
Spray the guitar with a light, even layer of clear coat. Wait for the layer to become tacky, then repeat the process two more times. Then, spray the guitar with a heavier layer of clear coat and let the guitar dry overnight. Repeat this entire step five to 10 times or until the clear coat has built up to a nice, even, thick, protective layer.
Find a safe place to keep the guitar and let it sit for the next 2 to 4 weeks. This is done to ensure that the paint and clear coat are dry, not only to the touch, but throughout the paint layers.
Wet-sand the guitar with 400-grit sandpaper, followed by 600-grit sandpaper. Continue sanding with 800-grit, 1000-grit and 1500-grit sandpaper.
Apply automotive polish to the guitar using a microfiber cloth or some other soft material. Polish the entire body of the guitar.
Polish any metal guitar parts such as the tuning pegs and bridge so they're shiny and new-looking.
Replace all the hardware on the guitar, rewire the pickups, and restring the guitar. You're finally finished. Sit back and admire the professional paint job you gave your guitar.
Tips & Warnings
- If you make mistakes during the paint job they can be fixed by wet-sanding the mistake with 320- or 400-grit sandpaper, then respraying.
- Using automotive spray paint is better than using regular spray paint.
- To strip the original paint job off a guitar, use aircraft paint stripper; it can be purchased at most automotive stores.
- Most of the sanding prior to the primer stage can be done with a palm sander.
- When preparing sandpaper for wet-sanding, let it soak overnight if possible or at least for four hours before using.
- When sanding a guitar, use a sanding block to ensure an even surface.
- Spray paint and the other chemicals used in this article are potentially hazardous. Use in well-ventilated areas and wear proper safety gear.
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