Introduction: Guitar Planter

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I’ve always admired the guitar shelf from fellow Instructables member BillSin ( so when my husband found an old guitar kicked to the curb I knew I had to take inspiration from his project and upcycle it.

However, we took it one step further using a second source of inspiration: a guitar planter we saw in 2012 while visiting the botanical gardens in Naples Florida. It sure did leave a lasting impression on us because repurposing items to save them from going to landfill is what our blog, Birdz of a Feather, is all about! I searched the web and contacted a rep of the garden; unfortunately it doesn't seem to be there anymore.

I think we really pushed this ReMix project to the next level. For one, no tutorial previously existed on how to make a guitar into a full blown planter. Secondly, the fact that the guitar is no longer at the botanical gardens suggests that the bottom rotted out because it was propped directly into the soil. With all the waterproofing we did inside and out, and the addition of an actual guitar stand, I know this one will stand the test of time!

Next time you run into a guitar that's past its prime as a musical instrument, I hope you'll give our Instructables a try! It really is a showstopper in the garden.

Watch the video to see how it all comes together!

Step 1: Materials

The wood on the body was split in many places. That was slightly problematic because instead of cutting away the face entirely, I wanted to leave a 1″ border around the perimeter which would still leave the cracks. Having a border was beneficial to helping hold the soil in place, so I decided to embrace the cracks!

The guitar planter can be used indoors or out. If used outdoors, it will be exposed to water from the plants and external sources of rain. I had to figure out how to deal with both issues concerning water because I wanted it to last much longer than the one we originally saw at the Botanical garden. I had to get creative! We used a product called Liquid Rubber to seal the inside where the soil/plants will be. It's typically used to seal roofs, foundations, gutters and such, but I contacted the company and it's perfectly safe for plants.

Use Varathane to seal the exterior surfaces but purchase the product that best suits your intended use for the planter (indoors or out).

Step 2: Disassemble

Cleaning the guitar before you start is easier than after you disassemble. Remove the strings by loosening the tuning keys which will ease the tension.

Pull the strings out of the hole in the peg. Then pull each string out the bottom of the bridge. Some of the strings were difficult to grasp, so I used a needle nose plier to grab the end. It helps to uncurl the other end as you pull the string through. As I removed each string, I formed a loop and wrapped it with a piece of green tape to store them for later. I have another idea for them that may show up in a future post. Waste not want not!

Step 3: Remove Neck of Guitar

Remove the neck of the guitar to make it easier to handle the body when it comes time to cut it open. The heel was attached with only one nut and bolt.

We didn’t have a single socket wrench to fit a square head, it so I used the needle nose pliers to grab it and twist it off.

I saved all the pieces that were removed in a Ziplock bag so we could reinstall the neck again later. However, in this case, we ended up replacing the hardware to make it more sturdy as you'll see later.

Set aside the neck. Now you’re left with just the body.

Step 4: Create Template

At this point I could have cut the entire face off the body of the guitar (like both of the inspiration guitars mentioned in the intro), but I decided to go a different route and leave some of the wood – only cutting away certain pieces.

I traced the outline of the body onto a piece of brown paper. Then I drew another line about 1 1/2″ inside that line.

This guitar didn’t have a pickguard, so I drew one beside the sound hole. I also drew on where the bridge was positioned to complete the template. Knowing where it was originally will help later if it has be be cut away.

I cut away the interior of the paper template (last picture) and placed it over the body of the guitar so I could transfer the outline with a pencil. The positioning of the sound hole was a little off, but I adjusted that when I traced onto the guitar.

I left a border of wood around the guitar for a few reasons. I thought it would hold the dirt better as the succulents root. There are also thick support blocks around the perimeter which would be more difficult to cut through! Lastly, I planned to tuck moss around the edges and the border provided a lip to do that.

Step 5: Transfer Template to Guitar

After I traced the lines, I put large X’s through the sections I was going to cut.

I placed pieces of green tape across the areas I didn’t want to cut so I wouldn’t accidentally cut too far.

Step 6: Cut Away Each Section

Now the guitar was finally ready to cut. I took the body outside to the garage where it didn’t matter if I kicked up sawdust. My tools of choice were a jigsaw with a fine metal cutting blade and a rotary tool.

I started with the rotary tool to cut the straight lines, but then realized it was easier just to drill a small hole in each corner to accommodate the jigsaw blade. The rotary tool did come in handy though for cutting the ribs.

I followed all the pencil lines with the jigsaw.

When it came to the bridge, I was going to try to save a horizontal strip of wood supporting it and leave it on the guitar.

However, it was proving difficult to cut across the face of the guitar so on the fly I changed my plan and cut that particular section away. I came up with a new ‘plan B’ to bring back the bridge using a block of cedar, which you’ll see further ahead. The bridge was held onto the front with two bolts; Hubs carefully pried it away from the wood to keep it in one piece.

Cutting through the ribs met with resistance; if you experience that too, just be slow and persistent with the jigsaw (as you’ll see on the video). You may need to use the rotary tool and utility knife in some spots. Lift each piece away as you cut. The second last picture shows a better look at the back of one piece showing the support ribs.

Set aside some of the scraps if you want to change the colour of the wood; you can test on the scrap first to see how it will look (last pic).

Step 7: Glue and Clamp (Only If Needed)

If you have a guitar that’s in better shape, you can skip this step, however I had to fix all the splits in the remaining wood. I placed a popsicle stick beneath each split, marked it and cut it to size with scissors (just don’t use your best scissors). The sticks were glued onto the underside of the wood.

I used several clamps for each one to hold them in place as they dried.

As you can see in the pictures, there were quite a number of splits to repair! Most of the splits were straight lines, but there were a few that curved into the side.

I used scissors again to shape a popsicle stick that would fit underneath the lip.

Step 8: The Bridge - Plan B

Now it was time to set plan B in motion for the bridge. Hubs cut two pieces of cedar just shy of the length of the bridge. Later, the bridge will be fastened on top of the cedar block and then the bottom glued to the inside of the guitar exactly where you see it positioned below. As an added bonus, the cedar will act as a shelf of sorts to hold back the soil and plant materials when the guitar is vertical. I’m hoping it will help prevent spillage out the bottom when gravity takes over.

After gluing and clamping, I set the piece aside to dry with the rest of the guitar body.

Step 9: Sand

Once all the clamps were removed, it was time to give the wood a light sand with fine grit sandpaper. I started with the front and sides. Then I moved onto sanding the back. While I was doing that, Hubs sanded the front and back of the neck and also the bridge.

To remove all the dust, Hubs lightly misted a cotton rag with water and wiped each piece clean.

I also vacuumed the inside of the guitar to prepare it to receive a waterproof coating.

Step 10: Drainage Holes and Watering: to Drill or Not to Drill

I was at odds about whether or not to drill drainage holes in the guitar. I ultimately decided not to drill holes because we only get a few short months of summer. The rest of the year, the guitar will be indoors and I didn’t want to have to lift it and take it to a sink to drain; it will be heavy and awkward once planted! Decide what's best for you.

In my case, I will water the succulents with the garden syringe shown. The syringe will allow me direct the water to the roots where it’s needed and prevent overwatering. Just insert through the moss and give each plant a small amount.

I also bought a water indicator to check the moisture levels which takes a lot of the guess work out of when to water. It will come in handy for all my plants, not just the succulents.

If you live in a year-round temperate climate, I would suggest that you do drill holes in the guitar. It’s far better for the plants!

Step 11: Waterproof With Sealant

To prevent the wood from rotting on the inside due to moisture from the soil, we used a product called Liquid Rubber. It’s a waterproof sealant that’s not only environmentally safe but safe to use with plants. It’s water based, has zero VOCs and it’s made right here in Canada (but available in the US too)! This is our first time using this product and I have so many more projects planned for it! It will be interesting to see how well it holds up to the constantly wet environment of our guitar planter!

Put cardboard down on your work surface in case of spills.

Hubs opened the lid and scooped some into a plastic container so we didn't contaminate the rest of the paint.

I protected the table surface with cardboard and gathered the pieces I wanted to paint with the rubber coating – the guitar body, cedar block and the bridge (only the back of the bridge will get sealant). I also assembled my tools and equipment: gloves, stir stick, cup of water, paper towels for spills, paper cup and a variety of brushes.

Hubs likes to wet the brush with water first before painting, and then flick it out, so he prepped a brush for me.

I started with one side of the cedar block and let it dry while I painted the rest of the guitar. When I was done, I set the previously painted surface of the cedar block onto these painter’s pyramids and finished painting the rest of it. Since the pyramids only contact the surface on three points (and it had time to dry) they won’t even leave a mark.

Get the sealant into all the cracks and crevices around the side as well as underneath the face too. Painting under the border, ‘pick guard’ and around the sound hole was tricky to do. It helps to turn the guitar upside down to maneuver into the tight spots; a brush with a shorter handle works well to avoid obstacles.

If you get any sealant onto the surface of the guitar, wipe it off immediately with a wet rag.

If your jigsaw chips out the wood like it did on the bottom of our guitar, don’t worry: the edges will eventually be covered with moss.

Rather than glue the bridge directly onto the cedar block, I decided to make it removable. Coat the underside with sealant so moisture can’t work its way into the wood.

Step 12: Clean Up and Let Dry

I ended up applying three coats of Liquid Rubber to the inside of the guitar, cedar block and back of the bridge over the course of a weekend. Each coat needs to dry 12 – 24 hours before re-coating so this was a Friday-Sunday project!

When we’re painting outside in the garage, we always keep a cup of water handy to soak the brush in right away. In the time it takes to put a lid onto the paint container and clean up a bit, the paint can set up on the brush.

Leaving your brushes in the cup water until you can transport them to a sink will make clean up easier. I use lots of soap, warm water and a nail scrub brush to get the paint out of the bristles. The sealant is thick and sticky, so the nail brush does wonders to scrub away the residue.

When the brushes are clean, we wrap them with a piece of paper towel to keep the bristles together and let it them dry until we’re ready for the next coat.

Liquid Rubber cures within 24 – 48 hours. After the last coat, we let it dry a few days before painting the outer surface of the guitar. Here’s how it looks at this stage: I taped off around the sound hole and edge so I could paint the ‘pick guard’ with two coats of black acrylic craft paint.

Step 13: Spray NGR Stain

The inspiration guitar looked like it had been artfully stained with blue and green aniline dyes. My curbside find, on the other hand, was bland in comparison. I decided to apply an NGR Spirit Stain in a blue-green shade right over the sanded wood.

I taped paper on the inside of the guitar and sprayed two coats of NGR. I was a little heavy handed with it; I probably should have stopped after one coat. Although it’s darker than I would’ve liked, I still love how it turned out. What’s even better was that I didn’t have to strip the guitar down to bare wood to get the look of stain!

I covered the tuning pegs with painters tape and also sprayed the neck with NGR stain.

After letting the stain dry, we gave everything four coats of water based Varathane to seal it so the exterior surfaces would be protected from water exposure too. Hubs wanted to use a high gloss, but I ultimately bought a satin finish.

If you’ll be using this planter outside, Spar Varathane might be a better choice. It will protect the finish from UV light.

Step 14: Replace the Neck

When it came time to bolt the neck back onto the body of the guitar, we replaced the bolt, washer (we used a much larger one) and added a locking nut.

The original hardware was too skimpy (not to mention impossible to find a socket wrench for). The locking nut will prevent the bolt from ever loosening – something you don’t want to happen when it’s going to be buried with dirt and inaccessible!We marked the cedar block so we could drill holes for the screws.

The wood marks easily by pressing the screws protruding from the bridge into the wood.

We marked the drill bit with tape so we wouldn’t drill too deep.

Once drilled test the fit of the bridge to ensure it fits right into the holes. You can glue the bridge onto the block or leave it so it’s removable (I chose the latter).

Step 15: Replace the Bridge

We marked the cedar block so we could drill holes for the screws.

The wood marks easily by pressing the screws protruding from the bridge into the wood.

We marked the drill bit with tape so we wouldn’t drill too deep.

Once drilled test the fit of the bridge to ensure it fits right into the holes. You can glue the bridge onto the block or leave it so it’s removable (I chose the latter).

Step 16: Plant With Succulents and Fill in With Sphagnum Moss

I feel like the succulent potting mix I usually use is a little too ‘sandy’ for this project. The guitar will eventually be vertical and I don’t think a sandy soil will hold up to gravity. I can just imagine it trailing from the bottom like an hour glass – only I won’t have the option to turn it upside down to start over. To ease my paranoia, I mixed some regular potting into the succulent mix and also added some perlite to lighten the load a bit. I planted 16 small succulents and two groupings that were bursting out of their posts, leaving some breathing room so they could grow and fill in.

Fill in with Moss

Choose Wisely! I was short on time and picked up some moss from the dollar store. It looks great but it’s actually NOT a good idea to use dollar store moss in this instance because the green dye will leach anytime it comes into contact with water. Dollar store moss is fine for projects that will never be watered, but spend the money for high quality moss that won't stain your project!

To cover the dirt, I filled in with sphagnum moss to consolidate the plantings. A screwdriver helps guide the moss around the perimeter to soften the cut edges of the border.

Before you attempt to display this planter vertically, you’ll need to wait several weeks until the roots of the succulents have grown in to hold it all together. I used rooted succulents; it will take longer if you use cuttings instead.

Step 17: Display

To hold the guitar vertically, I found a guitar stand on Kijiji for only $10. I had my eye on the same one of Amazon, but in my local I had to be a Prime member (which I'm not) so couldn’t purchase it. What a stroke of luck that I was able to buy it locally!

I couldn’t decide where to photograph our finished guitar planter in the garden, so I've posted a lot more reveal pictures than I usually would!

I wouldn’t be surprised if our happy/sad faces formed a secret jazz band when we aren’t looking! I almost expect them to flash us some jazz hands too!

You can really notice the NGR stain when the guitar planter is viewed from the side; it makes such a huge difference, don't you think?

Step 18: The Original Inspiration

Here’s a side by side comparison of the original inspiration guitar from the Naples Botanical Garden beside our roadside rescue. You can see why I was so inspired by it and why it stuck with me all these years! All I needed was a little nudge from Bill Sin's Instructable Acoustic Guitar Shelf to give me the confidence to cut into it and transform it into something special!

Step 19: Subscribe to Birdz of a Feather and Vote :)

Look at that glorious morning sunshine peaking over the fence in the picture above! This old guitar is now basking in the sun, playing a new tune – and it’s a happy one at that! If you enjoyed this project, don't forget to vote for us in the ReMix contest!

Our guitar planter can be displayed outdoors while the weather is still nice, but when the weather transitions we bring it inside to enjoy until next Spring!

The only improvement I would make to our planter would be to use a more colourful variety of succulents. Unfortunately we don’t have the same choices here that those who live in places like California do, where the selection is so great! I’m also curious to try coco liner instead of moss for more contrast, so I'll have to experiment with another guitar planter soon (I already have one in the stash!).

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