The Cook Trio

How to Paint a Guitar: A Step by Step Guide

If you want to give your guitar a fresh look again you need to know how to paint a guitar.

At some point, you’ll want to give your guitar a complete makeover. Initially, the color is magnificent, but you`ll feel the need to change it after some time. Fortunately, it’s not hard to refinish your guitar.

Take time to prep the wood adequately, and give it the right cure duration for ideal results. Whether you’re looking for a particular guitar color or just want to get the job done, it is rather easy to learn how to paint a guitar.

Prior to refinishing it, it’s best to consider that repainting a guitar is a demanding task compared to repainting other wood projects. Hence, you have to be attentive to achieve a new and improved look.

It’s important to be patient, as this project will take time to achieve the desired results. So, even if you feel like you need to rush the repainting process so that you can continue playing the guitar, don’t; the result won’t be impressive.

That being said, here’s a comprehensive guide on how to repaint your guitar, from the tools and materials you’ll need to a multi-step guide on how to go about it.

Let’s get started!

Here's what you'll need to get into before starting repainting your guitar

Orbital sander

An orbital sander will come in handy in removing the existing paint and smoothening the new coat’s finishing.

Rotary tool

To remove the old coat from tricky corners, you will require a rotary tool. These are the corners that even a sandpaper or orbital sander can’t access.

Clear lacquer

The clear lacquer is the last coat on your just-painted guitar.

Spray gun

With a spray gun, you will get significantly better results compared to brushes and rollers though this is optional.

Spray paint

This works equally well as a spray gun, but make sure you purchase a reliable one.

Grain filler

As the name suggests, the grain filler covers the caps established by the wood’s natural grain before repainting. It will come in handy in attaining a smooth finish.

Sandpaper

To swiftly remove the existing paint, it would help if you had sandpaper of different coarseness. 120 to 2000 grit sandpapers will create the ideal surface to apply the new paint.

Shielding tape

When you paint the interior cavity, you can line it using shielding tape to decrease electromagnetic interference.

Tack cloths

These are tacky sheets typically utilized to wipe debris and dust from the surface, after sanding but before painting.

Paint thinner

You can use paint thinner to eliminate old paint or lower the paint`s viscosity, especially if you’ll be putting it in a spray gun.

Screwdriver set

You will use the screwdriver to remove the guitar neck.

Masking tape

While repainting your guitar, there are parts that you don’t want to paint, which is where a masking tape will come in handy.

Contractor's paper

This is paired with masking tape to cover parts such as fretboards that don’t need painting.

Polish

For a smooth and professional finish, you’ll have to use the buffer and polish together.

How to paint, restain, or refinish a guitar in a proper way?

As mentioned previously, repainting a guitar is not necessarily cumbersome or difficult, though it requires patience. You also have to be extremely focused to avoid making any mistakes. From the disassembly and sanding to painting, there needs to be extreme concentration and a high level of patience for excellent results. And without further ado, let’s delve into the guide.

All the steps

  • Disassembling the guitar
  • Removing the old paint
  • Repainting

Disassembling the guitar

Repaint-a-Guitar

Detach the guitar strings

To detach the strings, use string clippers to cut them. Regrettably, it is impossible to repaint a guitar without removing the strings; hence you might require readjusting the truss rod when it’s time to reassemble.

Disconnect the neck of the guitar

Repaint-a-Guitar-Step-2

The bolts on the guitar’s neck are somewhat easy to undo, just unscrew them at the rear of the neck joint and twist the neck. All the same, if your guitar’s neck is glued, it cannot be removed, but it can be painted to match the rest of the guitar.

Take out all the hardware.

Repaint-a-Guitar-Step-3

With an Allen wrench or screwdriver, you can easily remove the output jack, pickguard, pickups, strap buttons, knobs, and bridge. On some guitars, the knobs and output jack are wired to the pickups via holes among the cavities; thus, you’ll require cutting these cables to take out every piece. However, ensure you check how they’re wired since you’ll have to return them correctly

Remove the bridge studs.

Repaint-a-Guitar-Step-4

Some guitars don’t have bridge studs, so all you have to do is detach the bridge. Disconnecting the bridge studs can be challenging as they’re fixed onto the wood. A soldering iron would come in handy as it will heat them; thus, they’ll expand, and once they cool, they’ll contract, making it that much easier to remove them. Afterward, you will use pliers to remove them, though this could blemish the finish and affect how they look.

Separate the hardware and fasteners and label them

It can take several weeks to a few months to completely refinish a guitar; therefore, ensure every bolt or screw is properly labeled. This hinders confusion when it’s time to put it together.

Sand the old paint

There are two ways to do this; you can use sandpaper or a rotary tool. The rotary tool will come in handy when you want to access hard-to-reach corners on the guitar.

If you choose a translucent paint, stain, or if the old paint is darker than the paint you intend to use, you have to remove the old paint entirely. On the other hand, if you intend to utilize solid paint, you can simply rough up the guitar’s surface.

Note: Most guitar manufacturers agree that a thin paint coat is tonally superior to a thick paint coat.

Orbital sander

Fit the orbital sander with sandpaper and remove the old paint throughout the guitar’s body in circular motions. This way, you will easily take out the original paint and lacquer.

Again, you can use a paint stripper, but beware, this is a difficult, toxic and complicated process. Most paint strippers can’t remove the tough polyurethane that most modern guitars have.

Use a sanding sponge and sandpaper to take out the rest of the finish.

There are two ways you can access tricky corners; with a rotary tool and loose sandpaper wrapped on a dowel or a sanding sponge. The most suitable sandpaper is coarse grit, as it is the best at taking lacquer and paint.

Smoothen the body of the guitar

Once you’re done with the coarse-grit sandpaper, you’ll need to smooth out the guitar’s body with increasingly fine sandpaper grains. For instance, you could use 120-grit sandpaper and then finish up using medium-grit sandpaper, like a 200-grit.

Wipe out the sanding dust and debris

You can attach a hose to the vacuum cleaner and blow away most sanding debris and dust. Again, you can wipe it using a tack cloth or a compressed air can.

Grain filler

Depending on the look you’re going for, you can apply grain filler or not. For instance, for an unfilled appearance, which is an option if your guitar is made of porous woods like mahogany, you could forfeit using grain filler. On the other hand, if you choose to use a grain filler, it would be best to go for an oil or water-based filler compatible with the finish or paint you intend to use.

Mineral spirits

The last step when sanding is utilizing mineral spirits to eliminate all oils ultimately. Nevertheless, when you’re done, you should not touch the surface of the guitar since the oil from your hands will damage the finish.

The final brush: repainting a guitar

Now that you’re done disassembling and sanding your guitar, it’s time for repainting. This is arguably the best part of refinishing a guitar. Here, you get to apply your paint of choice to the instrument, give it some time to dry, then it’s as good as new.

Here’s how to go about it;

Choose a dust-free surrounding: There are multiple particles outdoors, even on a sunny or calm day, and these particles may substantially impact your finish. For instance, the finish’s odor will attract bugs that may land on the guitar’s surface and ruin the finish.

So, if you opt to paint a guitar when indoors, ensure you wear a top-quality face mask. Plus, don’t forget your goggles. Moreover, do not paint in a space where the paint might splash on floors or furniture. The most suitable space would be an enclosed room like a garage or workshop.

Positioning the guitar in a spacious box on a moveable work table will significantly lessen overspray and shield various items close by. The box’s opening is supposed to be on the side to contain the paint, allowing the guitar to move within comfortably. Placing newspapers in the box is a good idea since you can easily replace them if they get stained.

Next, you have to pick the stain or paint you want to apply to the guitar. For finishes with solid colors, go for highly durable paint, like nitrocellulose or polyurethane. Nitrocellulose is the best option, and you can buy it at any auto parts shop or online. All the same, it takes time to dry. You can choose a water-based product and a polyurethane or nitrocellulose clear coat if you intend to stain it. Again, you can pick an oil-based stain like Tru-Oil, which will not yield unwanted brush marks.

Apply several primer or sealer coats. Pick a primer matching the kind of paint you’re utilizing. Apply three thin coats then one thick coat since this comes in handy in preventing drips and ensuring the primer dries properly.

If you’re applying a solid color, apply two thin paint coats, and follow the dry time recommended by the manufacturer. Wait seven days for the paint to dry completely, then apply a clear coat.

When using a stain, wipe it. Begin by wetting the body of the guitar with a small amount of water to make application easier and hinder blemishes. Then, apply as many coats as required to attain the look you want.

Apply several coats on the guitar, one at a time, and make them thin. You might require applying several thin coats to get that sleek factory finish. Apply the coats in three sets with several hours in between. So, for the first set, make sure they’re extremely thin, though the next coats have to be thicker and avoid runs.

Now all you can do is wait.

For instance, if you used polyurethane or nitrocellulose, wait for 21 to 28 days for it to harden. On the other hand, if you go for an oil-based finish like Tru-Oil, you will not have to wait that long; several days are enough.

Polish the finish

To polish and wet the surface, sand it using 400 grit, 600, 800, 1200, 1500, and 2000 grit. Make sure to follow all the steps; otherwise, you will get tiny scratches, blemishes, pits, and swirls that you’ll not be able to remove.

Again, don’t sand the clearcoat, particularly on the guitar’s edge, where it might be thinner. This is why you need to apply several clear coats. Besides, this technique is ideal for a satin finish.

On the other hand, utilize a buffing compound and a buffing wheel to achieve a mirror-like appearance. Then again, you can use “micro-mesh pads,” several sanding sponges of 1500 to 12000 grits, that come in handy in providing an excellent gloss finish without requiring a pricy buffing tool.

Reassembling

The final step of this guide is reassembling the guitar. After waiting for weeks one end for your guitar to dry, it’s now time to put it together so that you can play it.

Bolt or screw together the hardware of the guitar. If you cut any cables when disassembling, you’ll need to solder them. Besides, this is also when you will get a chance to switch the poor-quality factory parts, such as the potentiometers, for top-quality ones.

What’s more, you can purchase another pickguard or design one yourself. When you’re done reassembling, you can clean the guitar and shine it with guitar polish. Lastly, attach the strings, and have a good time playing your now “new” guitar.

FAQs about how to repaint a guitar

How long will it take to repaint my guitar?

Typically repainting your guitar will take 3 to 14 days. However, this depends on the painting technique and weather. For instance, the lacquer will dry within two days, while spray paints take not more than 2 hours to dry completely.

How much will it cost to repaint my guitar?

Repainting your guitar can be rather expensive, depending on what you want. For instance, if you want a custom design painted on your guitar, it could cost $600 or more. On the other hand, for a more standard job, it will be about $200. Paint and the other materials you’ll need will cost between $50 and $60. As you can see, labor is quite pricey, so you can do it yourself if you don’t have that much cash, though it is time-consuming and requires patience and focus.

Does refinishing affect the value of a guitar?

Yes. While refinishing does affect the value of your guitar, it is recommended as it is a way of properly taking care of it.

What types of paint can I use on my guitar?

Most of the time, people prefer using acrylic paint for guitars, precisely for decorative intentions, like images or other designs. Moreover, guitar paints are made using polyester, nitrocellulose, and polyurethane, which cure with time, making them long-lasting and boosting your guitar’s sound.

Will I ruin my guitar if I paint it?

First things first, an acoustic guitar looks good with its initial coating and finish. Typically, acoustic guitars are created with adequate color and material to make sure they look professional and neat. So, there are high chances that repainting it will boost its quality instead of ruining it. On the other hand, without any painting or designing skills, you might end up ruining your guitar’s good looks.

Can I paint my guitar without disassembling it?

Yes.

All the same, this is not advisable. Meanwhile, when preparing your guitar’s body, one of the options is to cover the parts you don’t intend to paint using masking tape. While you can attain impressive results using this technique, you have to be highly precise and have the right materials, failure to which you might not be able to paint or sand it properly.

Can I use a standard brush to paint a guitar?

Yes. Once you’re done prepping the body of your guitar for painting, you can use a standard brush to paint it. All the same, the result will be relatively different compared to spraying.

When you’re used to using spray paints, with time, you will learn how to achieve impressive results similar to guitars painted in the factory. Hence, it would help if you used a spray can as it will achieve better results. This is also the case with finishing coats.

Is it challenging to repaint a guitar?

Not really.

Repainting a guitar mostly requires focus and patience. The disassembling, sanding, and repainting require patience and concentration to get the most suitable results. Again, it would help if you waited for the guitar to dry up so that you could reassemble it.

Do I need to disassemble my guitar before repainting it?

No.

While it is possible to repaint a guitar without disassembling it, it is not recommended. That said, if you disassemble your guitar, here’s how to go about it:

Remove the original finish before you begin painting. For some guitars, this can be easily achieved using paint remover. Using paint remover is as straightforward as applying a fresh coat of paint, as you simply have to apply it and wait for it to do its thing.

Other guitar paints aren’t that easy to remove; thus, you will require using sandpaper. Strong arms, good sanding skills, and patience are the key to removing the old paint using sandpaper. Again, do not overdo it to avoid removing layers of the wood as well.

Is refinishing a guitar worth it?

Yes.

Refinishing a guitar presents good reasons to do it and bad reasons not to try it. Regardless of how bad your guitar looks, its value will be impacted when you refinish it. Generally, invaluable vintage pieces shouldn’t be repainted or refinished except if they have no original paint remaining.

Can you spray paint a guitar?

Yes. It is the most suitable method of painting a guitar, as it achieves impressive results. Here are some of the benefits it comes with:

  • Spraying is more comfortable and versatile
  • It is clean and safe

But as previously mentioned, the guitar must be ideally sanded, dried, cleaned, and free of grease. If there are parts you don’t intend to paint, you should cover them with masking tape and paper. The perfect temperature for spraying your guitar is 20 to 25 Degree Celsius. It would be best to avoid direct sunlight when spray painting.

Can you repaint a guitar without sanding?

Yes. However, to get good results, you need to sand it. If you repaint without sanding, the paint will stick. Try to use sandpaper for better results.

Is it okay to paint using wall paint?

You can use it to paint a guitar, but it will not yield good results. It’s like applying wall paint on your vehicle.

Conclusion of painting a guitar

The process of repainting a guitar, as you can see, is not as straightforward as you might think. Remember to be patient, make sure your workstation is tidy, and use reliable products from well-known brands.

Therefore, if you are a first-timer trying to repaint a guitar, it would be best to buy a cheap one and practice with it instead of ruining an expensive one. This will certainly save you from heartache because in case you make a mistake, it will be on the cheaper guitar and not your favorite one!
As you can see it’s pretty easy to paint a guitar, take action and give your guitar a new look!

Simon Mattav

I am the owner of The Cook Trio, a three-piece band that has been performing in the Chicago area for over 10 years. I have a passion for music – everything from guitar to songs. My passion is writing songs about my life experiences, feelings and emotions through different genres. My inspirations are some of today’s popular songwriters such as Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez among others.

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