It may have happened before, perhaps, in the punk rock days of your youth. You started by writing “this machine kills fascists” on the face of an old guitar, but that wasn’t enough. Next, you paint directly on the guitar… but it soon scratches off.
Unfortunately, repainting a guitar isn’t as easy as just painting on it… the “skin” of a guitar is almost an ecosystem in itself, even more so with acoustic guitars, whose sensitive woods are prone to decay. Paint is also a weak material and needs protection from the friction of playing.
To create the most professional looking paint job, a complex process must be followed.
Before painting, remove any old paint and finish from the guitar.
Then sand to render the texture of the wood so it bonds with the paint.
Then multiple primer coats of paint – followed by the actual painting.
Finally, it’s sealed with enamel or a clear coat.
This article explains how to paint an acoustic guitar, breaking down each step from start to finish. If you have built your own acoustic guitar, painting it can be a great way to finish the job with a flashy coat!
Why Paint Your Guitar?
The main reasons for painting a guitar are restoration or redecoration.
Maybe some scratches have tarnished the shiny finish. Repainting a guitar is a great way to hide damage or give an old axe a new lease on life.
Some people like to decorate guitars with their unique paintings and designs. These can look cool and add interest to stage and video performances. Other people paint them just as a fun art project, why not?
Be careful, painting your guitar will affect its value, and takes some practice to perfect. Do not ruin an expensive instrument, practise on a free or cheap guitar first. Unless the painting is professional or a work of art, it might degrade the quality.
Things You Need
- A guitar?
- Methylated spirit & old rags
- Coarse grit to fine grit sandpaper
- Sanding Sponge
- Orbital Sander (optional)
- Newspapers and card
- Primer Paint (Spray Can)
- Paints (Spray, acrylic recommended)
- Clearcoat / Enamel Aerosol can
Paint an Acoustic Guitar: Step-by-Step Instructions
Explain how to paint the acoustic guitar step by step like in this post https://www.instructables.com/Paint-an-Acoustic-Guitar/
The first step is to remove any parts of the instrument not involved with the repainting process. This includes the strings, any electronics, and any other removable hardware.
Next, clean the guitar. It might not look dirty, but unless the guitar is brand new, there will be a layer of dirt and dust across the entire body. Use the methylated spirits with an old rag, and wipe the guitar.
If the headstock is being painted, remove the tuning posts by unscrewing them.
Sanding old finish:
Now it’s time to remove the finish. When painting a guitar the instrument will need refinishing to protect the work, so all the old finish needs removing from the body and potentially the neck.
Put on a mask and protective goggles for safety.
An orbital sander will save time over hand sanding, which is still a viable option but takes more effort.
Start using medium grit sandpaper, rub over the surface until all the paint and coating are removed.
Switch to finer grade sandpaper, or a sandpaper sponge, and remove the final traces. Sand until all desired areas have a similar rough matte texture.
After sanding, ensure any dust is cleared before painting, as loose particles could ruin the finish.
Be careful, don’t sand too far into the wood, try it on a cheap guitar before doing it on an expensive one.
Tape up protected areas:
Any non-removable hardware and areas that are not being painted must be covered.
To protect an area, cover it with newspaper and tape. Use a knife to cut any stray bits of tape that cover areas you need to repaint.
The specific areas which need covering will depend on the final design.
Sometimes the neck may be left as original, if the player likes the feel, cover it if so. The headstock can look cool when painted but some prefer to have the manufacturer’s logo on display.
Generally, the fretboard will be covered, if not, at least aim to cover the metal fret bars themselves, otherwise, any splashes that dry on them will interfere with strings.
As for the pickguard, if it is possible to remove it easily, then take it off. However, pickguards tend to be glued solidly to the guitar’s body, and when removed break easily due to their construction from thin plastic. The pickguard should be covered if it is not being painted. Generally, the bridge and strings posts also need covering.
Apply primer coat
This is important for the stability of the paint and to create a smooth finish.
Hanging the guitar on a string can make it easier to access all areas when painting.
The color tone of the primer paint is important and should be matched to the main repaint. Using an aerosol primer is the quickest and easiest choice.
Spray the primer over the guitar, do a few coats, letting each one dry. Wait for each coat to fully dry before moving on to the main design. Drying could take over 2 hours, but if not dried the main painting process can be ruined
Once the paint has dried it will need sanding down to a consistent finish,
Any drops or lumpy patches should be evened out. When using sandpaper apply light pressure and work in one direction.
Draw Design outline:
When painting something more complex than just a solid color, there is more chance of making mistakes, so a template or guide should be followed for the main paint.
This could be drawn using a pencil, tipex, or paint marker. Many professionals use a similar technique.
Outline the design so when it comes to the next stage, all that is done is color filling, not so much thought about the spaces and shapes.
Painting the guitar:
Again, this depends on the design, more complex designs might require advanced paint strategies.
For a solid color, apply 2-3 coats, let each coat of paint dry before moving to the next. Then sand to level the paint. Repaint another 2 coats and re-sand. After the main color has dried, finish with around 5 clear coats to seal the paint.
Give it a rubdown with 1200 grit sandpaper to finish. Repeat these steps till the can of clear coat paint runs out
The reason for this process is to combat the nature of paint to create a consistent finish. The paint will dry with microscopic peaks and troughs. The sanding removes the peaks so the troughs can be filled in, this progressively builds solid layers at the same height and will ensure the finish lasts longer.
When doing more detailed work, make sure the lower layers have dried or the paint can blend undesirably and water down the colors, or create a bad mix.
Sealing the guitar:
Once the paint has dried, it needs to be protected with a layer of enamel or clear coat. This refinish will prevent chipping and scratching of the wood and new paint job! The repetitive motions of strumming can quickly wear away paint, fading the design.
The application of enamel is largely similar to painting. For gloss and matte textures apply one coat at a time, leave to dry, then apply the next. Repeat for around 5 coats.
How to Paint an Acoustic Guitar with Spray Paint
Spray paints can be used creatively for cloudy, space-like spray textures, or just for plain speed over paintbrushes.
There are some more considerations for spray cans when compared to brushes. They should be used in outdoor or ventilated areas, use an old sheet to prevent accidental spraying of walls, floors, or other objects.
Apply one coat of paint, let it dry (the wet glossy look will fade), then apply the next coat.
Cover the whole surface before spraying over an already painted area. Uneven coats and excessive wet paint can cause running and inconsistent textures on the body.
Pay attention to the curved areas and avoid paint buildup.
There are correct and incorrect techniques for handling a spray can. Don’t hold in one area, do short directional strokes, moving the can around whilst spraying, holding the can about 6-12” from the guitar. Different nozzles can provide several spraying styles from broad to fine.
Spray paint will also require sealing as described above.
Does painting an acoustic guitar affect sound?
It can affect the sound, the wood in acoustic guitars is very sensitive and any change to the material composition will naturally affect the acoustics. Although the exact effect may be difficult to determine, it could impact the tone, decay, and acoustic response of the guitar.
Can I use acrylic paint on a guitar?
Ultimately, any paint can be used on a guitar, but some are more suitable than others.
Acrylic paint can be used and is often favored as the coats dry quickly. Oil paints are not the best as they have long drying times and are easy to damage.
This only scratches the surface in the field of building and creating guitars, which is the field of professional Luthiers. Painting an acoustic or electric guitar is its own artform separate from music.
See our other posts for more guitar and luthier-related articles.
If you used this guide to paint an acoustic guitar, please send in pictures!