What’s in a Paint Job?

Back in 2004, I moved into a beat up old party house in North Vancouver with a few friends, including Mike Gurr—who just so happened to be an amazing, Bonzo-inspired drummer. The two of us converted the basement into a jam space, but my acoustic guitar wasn’t cutting it. In order to match Mike’s output on the kit, I needed an electric guitar, and fast. A week later, I was back on the Island, visiting my folks for Thanksgiving and saw a brand new cherry burst G&L Tribute hanging in Arbutus Music; I bought it on a whim.

And while I’ve always enjoyed playing it, I’ve never liked the look of it. As shallow as a paint job may sound, it can affect the way one views their instrument—their emotional connection with it, which in turn can affect the music. I guess it’s a little like clothing: wear what you dig. And if you don’t dig what you wear, you don’t feel good.

For as long as I’ve owned it, I’ve wanted to paint it. But what colour?

My brother-in-law, Adam Hendershot, recently came over to my place, looked at the G&L Tribute hanging on the wall next to the others and said, “Have you ever thought about painting that one?” Having worked on guitars for Tommy Henriksen of Alice Cooper, among others, he got it right away—and offered to help me strip it down to wood, and paint it. A week later we got started.

Here’s what she looked like just before we went to work…

 

Step 1: Remove neck/hardware

My three-year-old son, Jacob, was only too happy to help me remove the hardware. And he’s surprisingly good with a screwdriver.

 

Once the strings are off, unbolt the neck from the body, and remove all of the hardware from the guitar, including the pickguard, pickups, and bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 2: Desolder connections

My dad, Richard, helping me on yet another project in his workshop.

Desolder the connections on the input jack, allowing the wires that pass through the body cavity to be detached from the guitar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once you’ve removed all of the screws and nobs, place them in a container, and keep them handy.

 

Step 3: Soak the screws, springs, and saddles in CLR

Watch what a little CLR in water does to these rusty bridge components…

 

Step 4: Tape off the cavities

 

 

 

Tape off the neck pocket, pickup cavity, control cavity, output jack cavity, and back cavity with green painter’s tape. This is to avoid the lacquer eating away the conductive shield paint, which helps reduce noise, hum, and radio interference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 5: Strip off the lacquer, take the guitar down to wood

 

Apply a thick coating of fast-acting lacquer and varnish remover to the front and sides of the guitar. Leave the jelly-like substance on for 30 – 45 minutes, then scrape off the bubbling lacquer with a putty knife. Repeat the process as many times as needed, until the body is down to wood. Note: This step may take longer than expected, depending on the thickness of the clear coats.

Once the front and sides are scraped, repeat this step on the back of the guitar.

 

 

 

 

Step 6: Sanding

 

Using an electric palm sander with 600 grit paper, sand the body down to a uniform level, ensuring that all traces of lacquer and paint are gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the trickier areas around the horns and contours, you’ll do well to wrap the 600 grit paper in a piece of doweling. The difference between this and a regular sanding block is night and day.

 

Step 7: Grain Filling

Give the guitar a thorough clean with a damp cloth, then let it air dry, ideally in the sun, for at least 30 minutes. Once dry, squeeze the grain filler onto the body, filling in any areas that are gouged from the scraping process, or accidentally over sanded. Use a hairdryer to ensure the grain filler is 100% dry before doing a light sand.

Step 8: Painting

 

While applying a first coat of Krylon spray paint, we noticed the paint wasn’t spraying evenly. Luckily we had a can of Montana spray paint on hand, which I was considering using for the job in the first place.

After a light sand, we were back in business…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The benefits of using Montana spray paint were evident almost immediately. Within an hour, Adam had hit the guitar with 8 nice, even coats of Tiffany blue.

Step 9: Hurry up and wait…

Hang the guitar from a wire clothes hanger in a dry, dust free room for a full week, giving the paint time to fully cure.

 

Step 10: Nitro/wet sanding

 

Once you’ve waited the allotted time, hit the guitar with several thin coats of nitrocellulose and hang dry for 1 – 2 hours between coats, no more than 3 per day.

After 12 or so coats, it’s time to wet sand the body. Soak a piece of 1,200 grit sandpaper, wrap it around a sanding block and remove any roughness from the paint job.

Be careful not to sand too deeply. The idea is to simply smooth out the paint job before doing another 20 thin coats of nitro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 11: Stand back and appreciate what you’ve created.

A huge thank you to my dad and Adam for lending their expertise on this project.

Elisa Crees - April 22, 2016 - 5:23 pm

Thanks for the detailed instructions! My next refinishing project will go more smoothly with the insight you shared here! 🙂