Refinish and Reshape a Solid Body Electric Guitar





Introduction: Refinish and Reshape a Solid Body Electric Guitar

About: I'm just a compulsive DIYer that plays guitar and tries to fix just about everything around the house and garage. Sometimes I even succeed!

This project was an attempt to take a cheap solid body guitar with a crack in the finish, fix the crack and call it a day...  The test subject for this was a shiny black Epiphone SG with a laminated body and just a little chamfer around a couple of the edges.

After a little homework, it was obvious that there was no way to do a simple repair on thick poly finish and make it look nice.  So my next plan was to strip it down, reshape the contours on the body and try some funky finish technique on it.  I wanted to keep the cost down - the body came with all the hardware/pickups/etc. - but not a neck. 

The end product was a re-contoured body with a shiny silver metallic paint job.

Step 1: Safety, Tools and Materials

Safety: Sharp shards of polyurethane finish, lung congesting dust, toxic fumes from the spray primer and finish.  The key to safely complete this project is hand protection, dust masks and OHSA approved chemical respirator.  Even in open environments, you are going to be exposes to A LOT of dust and chemical fumes.  Hearing protection should also be worn when running the power sanding equipment.  Use snug fitting mechanics gloves while working with wood chisels and the sharp edged poly chips.

  • Wood chisel and hammer
  • Power pad sander and sand paper - 100, 220, 400 grit
  • Stationary belt sander - 4" x 36" with "course" belt
  • Shop vac
  • Sand paper (see above)
  • Sandable spray primer - Rust-Oleum Painter's Touch Sandable Primer
  • Body putty (glaze) - 3M/Bondo Glazing & Spot Putty
  • Metalic Silver spray paint - Rust-Oleum Bright Coat Metallic Finish 7718 Chrome
  • Car wax

Step 2: Inspect the Body and Plan Your Attack

Two things jumped out when I started looking at it:
  1. This thing had a laminate body.  Not necessarily a bad thing.  But something to consider when deciding how to proceed. 
  2. What a sloppy job they did on the neck pocket - I've opened up many guitars from Asia and this was the sloppiest I've ever seen.
Since I was planning on taking the finish down to bare wood I was able to get a cross section view of the top coat here as well.

Step 3: Chipping Off the Poly Finish

I really thought this was going to take forever.  But once I started, it was probably done within an hour.  The watch out here to make sure you don't gouge the wood.    The edges of the chisels and poly chips are very sharp - this is a great time to wear those snug fitting mechanics gloves.


Step 4: Sand Down Body to Remove the Base Paint

Now life gets back to normal wood working for the most part.  For this level of sanding I used 100 grit with a 1/4 pad orbital sander and a drill sanding attachment for the horn areas.

Step 5: Recontour the Body

This next part was fun - but pretty dusty.  A dust mask is a must here.  A lot of material got removed during this step.

I modeled the contours after a traditional SG and also incorporated "comfort" curves to accommodate my tummy and sweaty forearm.  Just like my Strat.

Step 6: Fill the Voids in the Laminate.

After that much sculpting, you will hit some voids in the laminate.  I used plastic wood for these larger ones.  These were hand sanded with 100 grit after the filler dried.

Now, clean up the shop like it's never been cleaned before. This is even worse than the poly chips!

Step 7: Prime, Glaze, Sand, Prime, Glaze, Sand, Prime, Glaze And... Sand

You get the idea.  Prime the entire body with a sandable primer, hit the bad spots with automotive glaze, sand.  And repeat.  I did it three cycles.  If this was real wood, a lot of this would not be needed.

The original crack/seam on the front was filled during this process.  Time will tell if it appears again - I'm guessing not.  But I could be wrong.

The body was mounted using a 1x2 and the neck mounting holes.  Then the entire thing was put in a vise for painting and drying.

I used 220 grit for the first two cycles and then 400 for the last.

Time to clean up the dust in the shop area again.  Not near as bad this time.

Step 8: Time to Spray the Silver

Well, chrome actually.  Like everything else, take your time.  Do lot's of light coats to avoid drips.

The fumes will be bad - make sure you have a mask rated for paints and plenty of ventilation.

I let it set 2 days before I started handling it - I would recommend waiting more like a week for next time.  The paint is touchable, but you can get a little chrome off on your fingers if you rub too hard.

Step 9: Putting It All Back Together & Final Thoughts

And here she is!

I'm going to let it sit for a few weeks with the strings in tune before I do a total set up on it.  I want that paint to be TOTALLY dry when I start fooling with it.  Because... if you look at the last picture, you can see where the body was sitting on the red fabric and it left a few marks in my new paint.  Bummer - but it's the back and wont be that noticeable.

Final thoughts?  I wasn't sure what I was going to end up with when I started.  It was a lot messier than I originally planned - but I didn't originally plan to strip it down and reshape the body either.  Seems like I really took some weight off of it too!  Wish I would have weighed it before and after... Oh well.

The metallic spray worked well - If I do it again, I would like to use a better wood and/or seal the wood before priming.  And I would wait longer for the paint to dry.

The body feels very nice.  I'm really glad I did that.  I would recommend the reshaping to anyone that's going to refinish a not-to-expensive guitar.

Fun project!



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    23 Discussions

    I guess this is pretty old now but I'll give it a shot. You didn't really mention anything about the neck. Is it the same neck that was originally with the guitar? I have a cheap epiphone I would like to do this with but the neck and everything is painted black. Would the process of chipping the paint and everything be the same for the neck if you wanted the whole thing to be a different color?

    1 reply

    I had to buy a neck to finish this project. The body I started with was only the body and electronics. The neck is some kind of aftermarket no-name I think. It fit fine and the intonation set up fine as well. The one thing I really remember when I got the neck is how much the package stunk of stale cigarettes :oP

    I think you are correct about having to chip the paint off your neck if you want to get down to bare wood. But, if you're not reshaping the neck, then I think you could safely paint over the old finish with the right prep work. The basic steps for that would be the normal - rough up the finish, primer coat(s) and then finish coats.

    I'd say you have two choices with nicks in the wood - 1) try to hide them, or , 2) turn them into a "design feature". I personally have not had much luck with trying to make things like a true nick dissappear into the wood work for clear finishes... BUT, you might look at them as a sign of experience or something and just leave them be, or perhaps turn them into a consistant blemish of some sort - like make them all round (e.g. drill the dings into one or two size categories) and fill with something interesting - dot markers? If you used black dots, then it wouldn't be very noticable in your black stain. Use some abalone or shinny ones to make it more of a sparkle feature (in fact you could incorporate them into a pattern - drill even MORE holes). The nicks on the edges are going to be a pain no matter what you do.

    I guess if it was mine, the one thing I probably would not want to use is the wood filler. If you were just going to paint it (like I did), then filler is fine. But with a stain and a clear finish of some sort - that spot will most likely not match the color or visual texture of the rest of the wood (e.g. the filler might look pale and grainy under the clear finish). Good luck with that one - let us know what you decide on doing... and post some pics!

    I really want to do this but my guitar has some nicks in it . I want to stain the whole guitar in a black stain so that will show its grain but will the wood filler in the nicks make the nicks stand out? The wood filler I have says "sandable and stainable" but im afraid that the filled spots would look out of the ordinary. Any opinions, knowledge?

    Nice Job. Just one question. Why did you decide to not protect the finish with any poly? I'm just worried the finish will start to wear prematurely.

    I have also refinished a guitar body and it is very cool to see other techniques.

    3 replies

    Excellent question. I thought about that. But I was concerned about how long it takes the Rust-Oleum to totally dry - it even cautions about using a top coat. I've used similar products on other things (dressers, etc.) and once it's dry, it ain't going nowhere.

    But I'm with you on this. Worst case is spray it again and then do the poly.

    I love the way that guitar looks man, I got a Question though, How did you do the Electronics on this one as far as taking them out and putting them back in right?
    I have a Ibanez RG 570 with a Floyd Rose tremolo that has some chips in the paint

    I can't say I blame you, Honestly the top coat took A LOT longer then I expected.

    Like I said good job though. The horns look awesome. As a matter of fact the whole guitar looks great after the reshape.

    i used sandpaper on an old drill, and i got a whole stratocaster done in one day. that was when i refinished my guitar.


    What do you mean by automotive glaze?
    i know what it is, but i'm not really sure how it would be used in this circumstance.

    3 replies

    I used it as filler after each primer coat. It seems to fill small hairline cracks better than some alternative fillers. But you could probably try any number of filler/putty materials.

    Just curious as to why put all the effort, int o a 20 buck guitar?

    Masks are important,the thicker or a full face with filters, the better. So is ventilation for your work area, and using a shop-vac,while you sand. emptied a lot.

    I personally wouldn't bother, because of all of the toxins, in the paint, finishes etc.

    Simple answer - because now that I did this on a $20 guitar, I might want to do something like that on a $300 guitar.

    As far as respirators and other safety concerns - use the correct equipment and you don't have an issue. That's why I put that in Step 1. Plus I have decent exhaust in my shop.

    Many of my projects are training exercises for myself, and more recently, for the Instructables crew. Plus the $20 guitar is very playable and is now a one-of-a-kind that you wont find at Guitar Center.

    I did this to my guitar, completely screwed the wood but I used a paint scraper... had to be done over two days though :)

    I don't really know much about the internals of these... I've heard that the standard guitar shape is mostly for tradition, is this correct?

    If so, i so want to make a trippy S-shaped guitar!

    1 reply

    You can make a guitar in about any shape you want. The only requirement is that there is enough strength between the nut and the bridge to keep that distance constant (not bend). If you don't care about keeping it in tune, you don't even need to worry about that! :-)

    That weird guitar of Prince's in a pretty good example. Or even those toilet seat guitars.

    Looks pretty good, I repainted and reshaped my Yamaha EG-112 as well. My reshape I dare say was slightly more extreme (maybe not wood work wise, but it changed the overall look more) but my repaint.... Woah, definitely not as good hahahaha, some runs are so massive that you only see them on the edges.... It's since started checking. But I'm the kinda guy that likes 'relic' guitars, so whatever, I'll just leave it and rock it. Here's a pic

    1 reply

    The gray is awful. Redo in red and add a pick guard and it would look much better.

    Great Idea! I'm going to do something like that with a crappy guitar I have!
    thanks for posting this