How To Paint A Guitar? Your 14 Essential Steps Process!

How To Paint A GuitarThe skill of painting an electric guitar is a useful one. Many ‘starter guitars’, for instance, don’t come in the colors that you might like. Maybe you’d like to be able to paint acrylic designs on guitars just to make them a little more customized? Whatever your reasons, today we’re going to walk you through the steps on how to paint a guitar so you can learn this skill and use it as you like.

We’ll let you know what you need to get started, what exact steps to take, and throw in some tips along the way. Without further ado, let’s see how to paint a guitar!

What you are going to need to repaint your guitar

We are going to need some supplies handy if you want to give your guitar a new paintjob. If you do a little DIY already then you may have some of these things already in your workshop shop. Aside from your guitar, here is what you’ll need:


  • Orbital sander
  • Sandpaper pads (Ultrafine)
  • Sanding sponge
  • Sandpaper (Fine, medium, and coarse grit)
  • Cloths
  • Mineral spirits
  • Primer (white)
  • Acrylic, Spray-paint, or Stain
  • Grain filler for guitars that matches your desired color (oil or water based)
  • Spray gun (if your paint is in spray cans)
  • Clear color coat (polyurethane or nitrocellulose)
  • Dust mask and protective goggles
  • Vacuum with hose attachment
  • Wire cutters
  • Phillips head Screwdriver
  • Allen wrench set
  • Soldering iron and some solder
  • Rubber gloves

Once you’ve gotten these items assembled, then we are ready to get started!

Steps for repainting your guitar

Below are the steps that you will need to follow in order to repaint or stain your guitar and we’ve included some specifics based on whether you will be staining your guitar or painting it. Be sure to stick closely to the steps we’ve outlined and take your time. This is a slow process but we think that you’ll be quite happy with the results.

Step 1. How to disassemble your guitar for painting

Of course, the first thing that we need to do is to disassemble your guitar so that can safely paint it without getting paint on the hardware attached to the body.

Removing your guitar strings

Using your wire cutters, we will start things off by removing your guitar strings with the clips. Yes, you will probably need to readjust your Truss rod once you reassemble your instrument but we simply cannot paint with the hardware in place as it is.

Removing the neck from your guitar

Next, we will have to remove the neck of your guitar but don’t worry, this is actually not so difficult. For removing the neck of your guitar, all you’ll need to do is unscrew the bolts that you see on the neck joint on the back of the guitar. Typically, you will see 3 of them in a triangular arrangement. Once you have removed those, gently moving the neck back and forth should allow you to draw it free.

Note: Some guitar necks may be glued into place, instead of bolted in. In cases like this you’ll simply have to repaint the neck to match as well.

Removing your hardware

Now that we’ve removed the neck, we need to remove some assorted hardware so that we’ll be able todisassemble your guitar properly paint your guitar. We want to remove the following at this time:

  • Knobs
  • Bridge
  • Pickguard
  • Pickups
  • Output jack
  • Strap buttons

Note: If your guitar model has knobs and the output jack wired to your pickup through holes in the guitar then you will have to clip the wires to remove them but you need to know how they are wired so that you can rewire them when you finish painting. Taking a couple of photos on your phone are a good idea as they can help immensely when you need to reassemble any model-specific wiring such as this.

2. Organize now or repent at your leisure

Unless you’ve taken apart and reassembled your guitar enough times to know it by heart, then a little organization is going to be called for. This is going to be a great time to get some plastic bags and to put

” Put away the hardware bits separately and label them “

away the hardware bits separately and label them so that everything is accounted for and easy to locate.

Painting or refinishing your guitar is not a quick process, so it may be some weeks or even a month before you will be reassembling it. Don’t run the risk of forgetting where something goes or something happening to some screws or other parts that you need. Bag them, label them, pack them somewhere safely away so that nothing vital gets accidentally used!

3. Time for a bit of sanding

At this point it will be time to do a little sanding to either remove or to simply abrade the current finish so that it will better hold paint. If you are using a solid, specific color that will cover up everything, then the old finish doesn’t need to be completely removed. You can simply roughen it up a bit.

Just try not to go too thick with either paint or finish as we don’t want to lessen any of your guitars performance in exchange for the nice, new look!

Orbital sander time

Since paint stripper is a huge no-no for guitars, we’re going to bring in the big guns to start with by using an orbital sander. Some coarse grit sandpaper fitted into the Orbital will help you to get the bulk of the finish removed. Keep things slow and use smooth and circular strokes.

Detail work comes next with your sandpaper sponge

You can’t get everything with Orbital sander, of course, so it’s time to get those last bits of finish with your coarse grit sandpaper sponge. Take your time so that you can get all of that remaining finish and then we can move on to the last stage of our sanding.

Let’s make this guitar smooth

You’ll to break out the following grit-grades of sandpaper:

  • 120 grit
  • 220 grit

This is going to be time consuming, so set up a nice soundtrack to keep you company. You need to sand first with the 120 across the entire body of the guitar. When the body feels consistently smoothed, it still isn’t smooth enough, so go over it again with the 220.

4. Time for a little cleanup

guitar painting 101Before we can proceed, we need to deal with all that dust we’ve just generated. This is where your vacuum with a handy hose attachment is going to earn it’s due. Get as much as you can (and that should be most of it) and then take one of your cloths and dampen it slightly to carefully wipe away what the vacuum cleaner missed.

5. Use a grain filler for porous woods

Unless you are looking to ‘antique’ up your guitar, we should take care of any cosmetic issues that might take a little of the shine out of your new paintjob. You can use your grain filler at this time to even up the surfaces of your guitar if it uses porous woods.

6. Mineral spirits to remove those pesky oils

Now that we’ve used the grain filler to further smooth up the guitar, we need to deal with some pesky oils that are hiding on the surface areas. Apply mineral spirits to the top area of your guitar and once you’ve got a coating in place, leave it alone. Don’t touch to check if it’s dried, but rather rely on the drying time that your mineral spirits product recommends. Touching it early can leave oil from your fingers and there goes your new finish!

7. Prepare your area for the job ahead

You’ll want to place your guitar so that you can get at it easily and have all of your paints close at the same time. An open box is a good idea.  Select an area that is well-ventilated and be sure to use your mask and goggle during the painting process. We recommend taking frequent breaks to make sure you are getting plenty of fresh air so that we keep things safe.

8.  Deciding on what you’ll use to paint your guitar

The next steps will depend on whether you wish to use acrylic paint, spray-paint, or stain on your guitar. We’ve got steps for each so just follow what comes next until you get to step 11 and then follow the steps related to your painting or staining choice.

If you go with stain, you can pick out an oil-based stain and oil-based finish. Spray-on finishes are ideal as well, because they go on smoothly.

For paints, you want nitrocellulose or polyurethane as these are tough and long-lasting. Nitrocellulose is superior but you’ll have a lot more drying time.

9. Priming up for the paint

You’ll want to apply your primer first, an example of a good acrylic use primer, for instance, would be this Example primer for acrylic

Patiently apply 2 or 3 thin coatings of primer. Don’t just give it one thick application, otherwise you’re going to get a lot of dripping and going the patient route with the thin coats is a much better option.

10. Final considerations for your painting workspaceair filter guitar painting

Now that we’re getting to the nitty-gritty, we are going to need to make sure that we minimize any chances of dust ruining our good work. If you’ve got an air filter, this is ideal, though not required. Make sure that your painting area is as free of dust as possible. Same goes for insects, so if you get the occasional flies or insects in your work area then a little flypaper might not go amiss. We don’t want anything getting stuck in your paint.

11. Applying your stain or paint of choice

Now that we’ve got everything smoothed, sanded, filled, primed and ready, it’s time to finally get to some actual painting.  Below we have the steps that you should take based on your choice and once you have followed the steps for your choice then it’s time to move on to step 12.

Staining your guitar

You’ll want to wet one of your cloths so that we can get the guitar surface a little wet before we begin applying the stain. Rub it down thoroughly and then you will simply need to follow the staining instructions which are included with the stain which you selected.

Follow those instructions to the letter and apply the number of coats that you need in order to get the look that you are going for. After this, you’ll need to be patient and let your guitar dry for a good week before we proceed with step 12.

Painting with acrylic

Paint your guitar as desired and this is something to note. Acrylics are a great way to simply add artwork to an already painted guitar and in cases like that, you simply need to deconstruct the guitar, prime the

“add artwork to an already painted guitar”

area after removing any stickers or other items in the way of the design, and tape over the spots that you want to protect. After this, paint, let it dry, and apply clearcoat.

That said, for an all over coat, go ahead and apply your acrylic and allow it to dry for the recommended time stated on the product which you have selected and then you can move on to step 12.

Painting with spray-paint

Yes, you can paint your guitar with spray-paint and if you select a good color you’ll be amazed at the finished results. It’s all about technique, though. You can’t just spray it on thick and heavy, as you can get a lot of dripping and too thick a coat is bad for the guitar’s tonal qualities.

Instead, apply thin layers and let each individual layer dry completely before you go to the next. This way you can get the look that you are going for without resorting to overkill.

Let it dry for a good week before we move on to step 12.

12. Shiny, shiny clear coat seals the deal

guitar clear coatWhile you could use an oil-based clear coat and be done with this step in a few days, we highly recommend that you go with polyurethane or nitrocellulose. It’s extremely durable and shiny and as far as looks, it really knocks the oil-based clear coats out of the water.

That said, when you use them, you’re going to need a lot of patience, because this is the longest part of the process. Apply your clear coat in thin applications, allowing each thin coating to fully dry before you add the next. Keep in mind, you might have to do this as much as 12 times to match that professional looking finish that you desire.

Be patient, the end-result is really, really worth it.

It’s going to take about 3 or 4 weeks to completely harden and you’re going to have to wait it out. Don’t worry, though, your beautiful new guitar is almost ready.

13. Perfecting that polished look

We need to make sure that your polish is perfect and get rid of any scratches or pits. For this, you will want to employ a ‘wet sanding’ technique and we’ll link a video at the bottom of this article that can help you along with this portion so that you get it done right.

Be extra careful as you work around the edges and don’t allow yourself to sand through the clear coat into your brand-new color of it will be a very sad day indeed. Be patient, work slowly, and you’ll get there.

14. Let’s make your guitar whole again

At this point, we need to put everything back together again and this is where you’ll be glad that you carefully packed and labelled everything. If you had some parts that were wired through holes then at this point, you’re going to need to solder them back together.

This is also a great time to upgrade any components with some shiny new ones that you might have had your eyes on. Once you’ve got your parts back in place then get some guitar polish from your local music shop and shine it up a bit before you restring it.

Now just restring it, tune it up, and make up for all of that time that you’ve had to spend away from your baby. Enjoy your reborn guitar!

Some final words on painting your guitar

Now that you’ve gone through the process, we hope that your guitar is looking shiny, new, and perfect. You’ve got all the steps you need now to repeat it as necessary and you can build on that to get a little more creative with it each time. We hope that you found this tutorial of use and we wish you the very best. To finish up our little exploration in the world of guitar-painting, we’ll finish up with a few useful tips!

Guitar painting tips

While we don’t have a lot of space left in this article today, we do have a few additional tips which you may find helpful. To that effect, we’ve provided them below just in case you might find them of use. We hope that your first guitar painting experience was an excellent one!

Now, on to the tips!

Don’t be overly frustrated if it’s not perfect the first time

We should take this time to point out that painting guitars is an art and as such, there is going to be a learning curve. Your guitar may not look perfect the first time that you do this but it will be personalized to you. Practice makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to repeat the process until you start to get a little skill at it.

If you have more than one guitar, this is optimal, as you can repeat the process in your free time so that you can master the art for yourself. Make it fun by occasionally just painting in designs. Some techniques commonly used include painting tape that on the body to make interesting lines. Some utilize stencils to crate unique designs in acrylic on guitars with existing paintjobs.

Get creative, that’s what it’s all about. In time you’ll get really efficient at it and you might just find yourself with a fairly lucrative job skill that can net you some extra cash for even better equipment for yourself!

So, stick with it. You didn’t learn the guitar the first that you picked it up and you won’t be perfect painting your guitar for the first time, but like anything, you’ll learn it through experience. Count on it!

Krylon – not a good option

When it comes to achieving that ‘factory finish’ look that we all desire so much, every now and again someone is going to recommend that you use Krylon to finalize your work and give it a majestic, shiny coat.

The problem, unfortunately, is that Krylon was never intended for this use. This is because Krylon can take as much as a YEAR to properly cure. ‘Well, so what? I have another guitar, I can wait for perfection’ you might be thinking, but that is not the end of the issue when going with a Krylon clearcoat.

As we’ve said, it’s not intended for guitars, so what end up happening is that a number of chemical changes end up taking place through the long curing period required to properly seal all your painstaking work.

While it might look ready, it isn’t, and if you lean your guitar against anything, even your lap, you might find bits of finish rubbing off and after all of the work that you’ve put it, that is certainly not worth it.

“can result in yellowing, cracking, and a host of other issues”

Even if you waited the whole year, those chemical changes we’ve mentioned can result in yellowing, cracking, and a host of other issues you really could have avoided by simply using additional coats of nitrocellulose or Polyurethane in the first place.

So, avoid Krylon, and just go with those extra coats with the poly or nitro. You’ll get a solid coating that will harden to perfection and you can focus on the important things, like practice or getting to your next gig!

Refinishing a guitar can lower it’s value

One final bit of advice that we have to offer may not be what you want to hear, but we would be amiss if we didn’t make a mention of it. Refinishing your guitar may lower its value, up to one-half it’s original value in some cases. This is because collectors value instruments which retain as much of their original finish as possible. It would be remiss of us not to mention this in a ‘how to paint your guitar’ guide!

This might not be a problem if you don’t have a very expensive or vintage model.

That said, if you do paint or refinish a lower-end model, you can get the opposite effect simply for the coolness factor, so that is another thing that you might want to consider as your painting skills slowly improve. Practice your technique and who knows? You might have a great side business reconditioning guitars and giving them a distinct, artistic look that only you can provide.

The rest is really, as they say, up to you!


How To Paint A Guitar

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