Introduction: Acoustic Guitar Make-Over.
Conker-X is learning the guitar. He's quite motivated because we have told him that he can have an electric guitar, but only when his guitar teacher tells us he's good enough for one.
The guitar he's learning on is fourth-hand, and was getting quite tatty. Add to that a UK DIY chain going bust, and their local branch selling off their spray paint at 80p a can, and the result is what you see above. As a bonus, I managed to get it tuned and ready to play for the morning of his birthday (the date of publishing).
We made mistakes on the way. If you want to skip the mistakes, and simply find what we did right, then skip straight to step 5.
Step 1: Materials
Aside from the guitar, we used:
Sanding materials, both hand and powered (coarse, medium and fine)
Masking tape (wide and narrow)
Various paint aerosols. The final colours we used were "Hammered Metal", "Chalkboard Black" and "Gold Glitter".
Clear spray lacquer.
Step 2: Preparation, the Wrong Way.
The first thing we did was unstring the guitar
I have no idea why, but we did not completely remove the strings. We just wrapped them in paper and tape, and left the bottom end strung in. This was bad, and ruined the strings. The glue of the masking tape did something funny to the strings, and they went all gummy.
We knew the paint needed a "key" to stick properly, so we cleaned the guitar with a damp cloth, dried it, and went over it lightly with a detailing sander. This was also a mistake. Read on to find out why.
Step 3: The Wrong Way...
We decided to do the back and sides of the body, and the neck, in "hammered metal". We lay the guitar on its front, and gave the exposed parts two coats, with drying time between.
The plan for the front was, originally, black and gold stripes, inspired by emergency tape.
We removed the twiddly bits at the top end of the guitar (making very sure to keep all the little screws safe).
We masked off the neck & back of the guitar, added wide stripes of tape to the front, and added stripes of hammered metal.
When that had dried, we taped over the black, and added very shiny gold stripes.
It was when the gold had dried that all the mistakes came to light...
Step 4: The Problems.
The black diagonals had looked great, and the gold paint looked wonderful while it dried, so it was heart-breaking when we peeled off the masking tape and it lifted lumps of black off with it, and the gold took up every fingerprint and refused to be wiped clean...
We had, of course, failed to sand the guitar properly in the first place, and the gold could probably have done with a full twenty-four hours to dry, rather than the couple we gave it.
Conker wanted to play the guitar while we had a re-think, and that was when we discovered the mistake with the strings...
Sorry, we didn't take photos of the mess...
Step 5: Doing It Right(er)
We decided to bite the bullet, and break out the power tools. We figured that the guitar had been very cheap in the first place (£10), so if we ruined the sound, at least it would look good on his wall.
First job, sanding all the way back to bare wood. I bought a sanding disc for my drill, and set to. It worked well, but a slip did cost us the corner of the neck.
If you use a power sander on your guitar, make sure you clamp the guitar firmly to stop it spinning away. My cheap knock-off of a WorkMate proved ideal. We finished off awkward corners by hand, wrapping sandpaper round a lump of wood.
Blow the dust away as you sand, and then wipe your surfaces off with a damp cloth. If you're sanding indoors, a dust mask and goggles are vital for this work.
Step 6: Painting, New Style
In the weeks between messing up the stripes, and deciding to risk everything, Conker-X had a change of heart over the decorations. He didn't want lots of fingerprints standing out all over the guitar, so he decided to stay with the back being hammered metal (the back hadn't suffered the same as the front), but the front became chalkboard black (he liked the very dark black of the matt finish), with a layer of glitter.
We masked off the neck and back, and gave the front of the body three coats of chalkboard black, sanding lightly between coats.
We then added two layers of gold glitter. The glitter paint was odd to use - no matter how much we shook it, the gold particles came out unevenly, so we had to add one layer, then fill in the gaps later.
After a full 24hours drying, we masked off the front, and painted the neck chalkboard black as well, but with no glitter. When it was dry, we sanded and scraped the frets back to bare metal.
Step 7: Finishing.
The chalkboard was very matt, and we decided that it risked collecting dirt we couldn't clean off, so we decided to lacquer the guitar.
This was the only aerosol we had to pay full-price for. The only clear PlastiKote sprays stocked locally were for bare wood only, so I bought a can of CarPlan clear Lacquer from our local independent car-parts dealer.
Because I wanted to paint the whole guitar at once this time, I hung it from the ceiling of the shed, via a skewer threaded through the holes that house the twiddly bits.
Three coats of lacquer, and the whole guitar looked really nice.
Safety: if you cannot use the lacquer outdoors, make sure you have the room very well ventilated, and even consider getting hold of a mask that will block the solvent spray. It was too windy to spray outdoors, which is why I had to spray in the shed, and even with the door open, the fumes went straight to my head.
When the lacquer was dry, it was only a minute's work to re-attach the twiddly bits, five minutes to add the new strings, and another half an hour to tune it properly (it would have been quicker if I could play the thing, but it would have been impossible without the digital tuning thingie we bought him when he started playing). I did the final steps while Conker-X was in bed, the night before his birthday, and left the guitar for him to find in the morning - I was woken in the morning by loud playing from the living room.
Conker-X is now the happy owner of a unique acoustic guitar, and practising madly to earn his electric.
When he gets his electric, he wants to start plying with laser-engraving the body...