If you’ve had your guitar a long time or you acquired a used guitar, chances are, it needs a new paint job. But, paying someone to do this can be hugely expensive.
So, for the artistically inclined, you can use acrylic paint and do it yourself.
Here, we’ll talk about how to paint a guitar with acrylics in eight simple steps. It’s not impossible, but you have to be precise and methodical. If you’re willing to put in the time, you’ll have an amazing looking guitar in about a month.
However, you have to be careful with how you execute this. Ensure you cover all your bases while taking care to avoid slapping the paint on too thick. Not only will it be difficult to put everything back together, but it also has the potential to change the sound of the guitar.
Items You’ll Need
- Drawing Paper
- Graphite Pencil
- Selection of Acrylic Paints
- Variety of Paint Brush Sizes (or an airbrush)
- Microfiber Towel
- Tarp or Old Newspapers
- Guitar Body Cleaner or Polish
- Lemon Oil
- Wood Primer
- Wood or Automotive Filler
- Sandpaper (several grits)
- Acrylic, Wood or Lacquer Sealer
- Base Coat Brush
Steps to Use Acrylics on a Guitar
Remember to keep your hands clean and dry throughout this entire process. This will help you to avoid transferring dirt, grime and oil from your hands onto the body of the guitar.
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1. Decide on Your Design
Before you do anything, it’s a good idea to decide beforehand how you want the design to look. Get an idea for where you want to paint it on the guitar as well.
In some cases, you may only paint a portion of the guitar to cover previous signs of fading.
Then, make an outline of your guitar’s shape that includes the pick guard on drawing paper. Create several ideas so you can take in the scope and consider the logistics of its execution.
Be real and pragmatic too. Also, keep in mind that you’ll want to use the minimum amount of paint so as not to affect tonality.
Let these ideas and design marinate in your mind while you move onto the next steps. Remember, you can always change and adjust things later if you want.
2. Remove Anything Detachable
Now it’s time to take off all strings, electronics and hardware. It doesn’t matter if its an electric or acoustic guitar.
You want to be careful with this stage, ensuring you understand the order in which you dismantle everything and not creating more damage to the guitar’s body. If you can remove the neck, do so with a screwdriver.
Keep all the parts in a safe place and in a way you can recall their placement later. If you have children or pets around, make sure you put the hardware, electronics, neck, nuts, bolts and any other pieces up and out of their reach.
3. Clean the Body
Next, clean and polish the guitar’s body. Wear a pair of cotton gloves to ensure you don’t get schmaltz from your fingers all over it.
What you use to clean it will depend on the guitar and the kind of wood that comprises the body.
Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations because there is a difference in treatment between maple, rosewood, mahogany, etc.
If you don’t know, you can easily find out through the company’s website or visit your local luthier.
4. Use a Filler
Once dismantling is complete, use a wood or automotive filler to occupy the space of holes and gaps. While this is more pertinent for electric guitars, it’s not a bad idea for acoustics either.
Most people use Bondo since its readily available, but any kind will do. Let this sit for 20 minutes to dry.
In order for the paint to adhere to the wood, you have to sand it down. Not only will this help remove the old paint but it will also give a nice, clean canvas to work with.
The way it is in its current state is no good for paint because it has varnish and other lipids that will prevent the paint from sticking.
Put down your tarp or old newspapers. Starting with your coarsest grit and on the place with the most amount of paint wear, work in little counterclockwise concentric circles. Don’t use a lot of pressure and work gently but diligently. You’ll begin to notice the paint peeling off in flakes.
Because the wood covering on the body is often very thin, once you notice wood appearing, move onto another section or stop altogether.
Then, switch to a medium grit in the same fashion, being delicate and gentle as you go. Continue sanding in this manner until you get to your finest grit. The surface should be smooth and even.
6. Use Wood Primer
Use the microfiber towel to remove excess dust and blow on the surface if you have to. But, be cautious about not getting any saliva on the wood.
Let the guitar rest for a few moments to let the surface cool from the sanding and to give any accidental moisture a chance to dry.
Clean off your tarp or grab a new set of old newspapers and lay your guitar on it. Depending on the manufacturer’s instructions of the primer, you’ll either paint or spray this on.
Regardless of which, you’ll want to ensure you apply an even coat. However, the most popular is Gesso and you’ll have to paint it on with a wide brush.
Let this thoroughly dry and then use medium-fine grit sandpaper on the surface. Then apply yet another coat of primer. Some people will go as far as adding a third coat, but it’s not necessary.
Without this step the acrylic paint will not adhere, it will just go into the grain of the wood and it won’t look right.
7. Time to Paint!
Once your primer is dry, it’s time to transfer your design onto the guitar’s body while ensuring the pickguard doesn’t obstruct the main part of your design. If you have the talent to draw the design directly, that’s great!
However, you could use tracing paper, carbon copy paper or an image projector to help you be as precise as possible.
Use your graphite pencil and lightly draw in the design. You want the lines to be visible but not too much, especially if you plan on using light colors.
Then, use your selection of brushes and paints to create your masterpiece. If you like the idea of using an airbrush for this, feel free to do so.
Keep in mind, when you paint, you want the application to be as thin as possible while also ensuring full coverage.
Avoid globules and uneven amounts of paint as this can adversely affect the sound and tonality of the guitar. If you work in coats, allow five minutes to elapse between to ensure dryness.
8. Seal the Design
Allow the paint to dry for at least a full hour before using a wood, lacquer or acrylic sealant on the design. If you put this on too soon, it will smudge everything and ruin all your hard work.
Plus, a sealer will ensure optimal adhesion to the body and reduce future wear.
To start, use fine grit sandpaper that you can wet over the areas of paint that are uneven or higher than the rest of the design.
You want to make sure the surface is as flat and smooth as you can possibly get it. Then, take the base coat brush and slather the sealant over your guitar.
You’ll want to give this at least three weeks for a thorough drying time. However, in the interim, you can clean up and polish all the parts you detached.
Use lemon oil on the neck to help retain moisture along with cleaning strings so they’re nice and shiny. Polish up all the metal pieces and clean out any gunk from the pickguard.
How long does it take to finish painting a guitar with acrylics?
To paint the guitar body itself, it can be one day to a whole week depending on how much surface area you cover.
The sanding time will influence this as well. So, you can expect the whole process to take a full three weeks to a month to finish.
Where is the best place to paint a guitar?
The best place to paint a guitar will be one that has good ventilation and proper airflow. The filler, sanding, primer and sealant will create their own messes. So, a basement, garage or attic will be ideal.
Painting your guitar with acrylic can be one of the most rewarding projects you’ll ever undertake. The trick is to be careful, methodical, thorough and detail oriented.
Think things through and use as much foresight as you can. If you can do all this, you’ll end up with a really killer looking guitar.