Partscasters Part V: Guitar Paint and DIY Custom Finishes

Buying parts from Warmoth, Allparts or individuals selling used/vintage pieces and putting them together into a playable instrument is one thing.

But when it comes to refinishing a guitar body or dressing a naked piece of wood, confidence withers. After all, nothing makes a build look sloppy and amateurish as much as a bad paint job. So we buy pre-finished bodies. Or take it into the shop.

This actually skips out on one of the most personal and rewarding parts of building a guitar. There are only so many neck profile, pickup and knob combinations. A custom finish, however, offers endless possibilities for creativity.

If you want to precisely replicate Fender’s three-color sunburst from the mid-’60s, then sure, go ahead and take it to a professional. If you want something unique, though, don’t be afraid to bust out the sandpaper and rattlecans. People respect original work. Things get iffy when you try to imitate factory finishes in a garage.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to paint or refinish your guitar, along with three custom finish templates.

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Prepping The Body

Completely stripping a guitar body is more difficult than many realize. Even cheap guitars usually have durable finishes that require effort to remove. The inside curves of a Stratocaster’s horns are particularly frustrating without the right power tools.

Here are some hard and fast tips:

  • To paint over an existing finish, first fill any chips with auto body filler. Then lightly sand the whole surface to an even, dull finish with 800 grit sandpaper. This will give the new paint something to grab. Glossy surfaces won’t hold a top coat, and will chip or scratch easily.
  • Let any fillers dry for 24 hours. Hardening chemicals produce gas as the product cures, causing bubbles if you immediately paint over them. I know you’re super keen to get painting, but be patient.
  • Rub the body down with turpentine to remove grease, fingerprints and other foreign substances. Be thorough and let it dry completely before painting.
  • Don’t use undercoat. Modern acrylic primer spray paint is almost exactly the same formula as topcoats. Finishing paints have evolved past the time of needing an undercoat to grip the surface. Just prep well and spray your chosen color.
  • Use a drop sheet and maybe erect a small spray tent to avoid dust and day-glo green overspray covering everything around. Paint doesn’t disappear into the air. It settles wherever the drafts in your workspace take it. Ensure your “booth” has adequate ventilation. Otherwise you risk dangerous propellant inhalation. Five by five feet is adequate. Purchase cheap clean sheets from the thrift shop for marital harmony.
  • To move the body around to paint corners, inside edges and the underside, bolt a scrap neck or suitably sized piece of timber to the body and clamp it to something solid. This also masks the neck-pocket surfaces. Avoid spraying there. Even a thin coat can skew neck alignment.

Three Wild DIY Guitar Finish Ideas

To get those creative juices flowing, I’ve shared three templates below that you can take and run with. They may not be your cup of tea, but let these examples open your mind to all the other possibilities out there.

Reptilian Scales

You can produce this effect with a dark or metallic base coat, a fishnet stocking and some biological topcoat colors. Choose colors to match your favorite lizard/snake/dragon.

Marbling Effect

This cool effect simply requires plastic food wrap and two colors. This is a fast, simple method to produce a stunning finish.

Classic Frankenstein Striping

Finally, the classic tape and layer method. I’ve always wanted to give this a go. You can create your own pattern as an homage to Edward’s original, but for perfect replication, find an image on the web and use it as a guide for stripe placement.

It’s worth mentioning that this pattern is actually protected intellectual property of the EVH brand. That means creating this guitar is just for you and you alone. If you try to sell it on Reverb (or anywhere), it creates a very unfun series of messages from EVH lawyers to Reverb staff and then to you. Don’t do it.

In the next installment, we’ll follow the Frankenstein partscaster build through assembly and hardware setup. As always, feel free to fill in the gaps in the comments section.

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