Introduction: Pink Floyd Tribute Guitar
This was a long running project in which I had to do alot of research, and had to learn alot of new skills. If you are willing to take the time and have the patience for it, you can achieve a custom guitar like this without having to pay a fortune to get it done privately.
My main objectives for this project was to take a cheap guitar and completely redesign it myself, and upgrade the hardware so it sounds like a more expensive guitar. You will speak to 100 people who will have 100 different ways to approach this, and I don't claim to be an expert but I found my approach gave results that I was very pleased with.
This guitar is a tribute to Pink Floyd's 1979 album "The Wall" and includes artwork by artist Gerald Scarfe who created art for the film adaptation. This album was very special to me growing up and I always loved the hand drawn art of scarfe.
When I tried to reach out on forums I surprisingly received a very cold response for my project idea. Some of the techniques I used were not very well documented online. I will include links to useful tutorials that I used and will recommend brands, but use your own discretion and choose the right things for you. I would welcome any questions you may have about this project.
A guitar - I got a cheap squire strat for £80 but you could use a higher end guitar if you want a stronger starting point. My guitar has a hard tail bridge though I would recommend a tremelo Bridge if you want to spend a bit more. Buying the guitar brand new has benefits but you could find a cheap 2nd hand guitar on ebay.
In this guide I was using a stratocaster, so guidance will be based on that. If rewiring or disassembling a different type of guitar you will need to check the differences.
New hardware (optional) I will explain this more in step one.
Copper tape (optional)
A set of precision screwdrivers
Soulder (lead free is safer but leaded is easier)
Paint stripping heat gun
Variety of sized paint stripping tools
Electric drill (optional)
1x can of primer spray paint
1x can of spray paint
1x can of guitar lacquer
1x can of rustoleum clear gloss spray
Clothes you don't mind ruining
1x dust sheet
1x reliable inkjet printer
5 sheets of waterslide decal paper
Semi-decent Computer/smartphone for designs
Good quality stylus (optional)
Teak/linseed oil (optional)
A ruler (as large as possible)
Step 1: Sizing Up the Guitar & Early Design
Long before you start, you need to have an idea of what you want your guitar to look like. I used free art software on my phone (Ibis Paint) went online and found some high quality images that I liked from the album, I used a stylus to move around layers of the images until I had created a design I liked. (images above are of my intending original design).
As the album is iconic for the concept of the wall I knew the guitar had to have bricks and I knew it had to be white. I specifically wanted "Olympic white" which is a slightly off white colour.
I used image effects to enhance the images, and saved the design files as exportable transparent images with separate layers. It took me some time to find good quality images, and I used the stylus to clean up any off colours in the background, so that the background would be truly transparent.
The guitar had to be a strat because that is what Dave Gilmour played, he never owned a guitar like this, but if it was this album on a jazz master it might seem contextually odd, so think about that when you pick the guitar. Look at what your favourite artists play and use that as a starting point.
I bought the guitar brand new, plugged it in and played it straight away. I took a recording so that I could test it again once the project has ended. The pickups were very cheap sounding, the guitars intonation was terrible and it went out of tune after every brief playthrough. Any attempt to do one of those classic Pink Floyd bends was out of the question.
I took away from this that I needed new pickups, New headstock tuners and potentially a new bridge.
I chose Fender Tex Mex pickups and Vanson locking tuners. The bridge that came with the guitar was hardtail and not too bad, but you can always upgrade in the future if you want.
Step 2: Disassembly
Make sure you have an organised way to put together nuts, bolts and screws. I used little plastic bags and labelled them for reference.
De-string the guitar. I didn't keep mine because I didn't know what they were so I bought a new fresh set of strings for later.
Try to unscrew in a cross pattern and be very gentle. Take lots of pictures of the guitar for a reference point later. When you get to the point of the actual pick guard take your time. There will be some wires that feed through the body itself like ground wires. The output jack wire will need to be cut to remove, cut it as close to the output jack connections as possible to keep your wire length. Don't fully take apart the pick guard yet just put it to one side.
When you're done you should have your body and neck as separate pieces to work on with no hardware attached.
Step 3: Stripping the Paint
Put on your mask, goggles and gloves. Make sure to work in a well ventilated area.
Use the heatgun so that the paint on the guitar softens and use your paint scraper to remove the finish and paint. This will be a slow operation. Be careful as possible not to damage the body. Don't worry if it isn't quite perfect.
When all the paint and gloss is removed use sandpaper to smooth the wood. Run your bare hand over the wood until you are satisfied it is smooth enough with no tacky residual feeling.
*keep the gun moving at all times
*If you get the wood too hot it will burn.
*cheap paint and gloss crackles, this is normal
*keep the scraper at an angle with the body or you'll put marks in the wood underneath
*the paint will give off toxins so take regular breaks to get fresh air
*though it is tempting don't rush this, you'll thank yourself later.
Step 4: Priming the Wood & Painting
Lay down a dustsheet and do this outside. I used the box the guitar came in and made a makeshift shelter from the wind and to protect paint from being carried away.
Take your time and line the inside of the guitar (under the pick guard area and neck connection) with masking tape. I also put small strips over holes for wires. Make sure that the masking tape protects this or the hardened paint might slant the neck or mean you can't reinstall your pick guard. Even tape the output jack slot.
Spray the primer and wait 15 mins between coats. I applied 4 coats in total. Spray from side to side passing the object and dont rush. Let the guitar dry for minimum of 24 hours.
You can still sand down at this point if the primer seems uneven. Once dry apply the actual paint and follow the same process. I applied quite a few coats until I was happy with the true colour. I waited a whole week so I was sure the paint was fully dry before proceeding to next steps.
There is alot I learnt from this and would highly recommend you read these tips:
*unless you are a professional expect the finish to not be perfect. I later found out a friend of a friend is a professional spray artist and he would have done a better job than me. Consider this for yourself and see what services you have nearby.
*I had no choice, but spraying outside isnt great, there are bugs that land on the paint and the breeze can interfere with the direction of spray. If you can, spray indoors in a safe place with good ventilation.
*I sprayed flat on the ground which was fine, but if you can hang the guitar with string so you can see all sides without having to touch it this helps to control the application and reduces chances of drips.
Step 5: Base Design and Decal Preperation
At this stage I knew I wanted a brickwork design as the background to go behind the decals. I initially drew bricks on the body with pencil to make sure I was happy, being careful to measure the bricks with a ruler. I then used a paint pen (bosca 2.5mm nib) to draw on the bricks in blue. I sprayed one single quick coat of gloss over the bricks to protect that layer of paint from the waterslide decals to be applied above.
Once the bricks had dried I used a ruler to measure how large I wanted the decals to be against the body. I used photoshop to resize each image, put them all together on A4 sized canvases and printed them off on the special waterslide Decal paper. I sprayed the entire sheets of A4 with rustoleum clear gloss spray to protect the ink and let this air dry.
*when using small images have multiple versions as a backup on the A4 sheet in case the first few attempts don't work out
Step 6: Decal Application
This is one of the most delicate parts of the process. Take your time with this part.
Cut as closely to the image on the decal sheet as possible, then put the cut out in water until the background softens. The water will allow the image to slide away from the paper and you will then apply it to the body of the guitar. The gloss you applied will give it a plastic feel which will make it easier to apply. There is a knack to this and you will need to pinch and gently use your fingers to slide them off the sheet. Keep your fingers wet but try not to put too much water on the body.
One wrong touch can warp or break your decal image so be incredibly delicate. Once the decal has made contact with the body you will have a brief window to slide the image around and get it straight.
Once the image is in place gently blow on the image to try and remove water sitting underneath the decal. Some people use towels to dab at them but this can damage decals or take off ink from the image so caution is advised. Try to remove as much water from the decal before application to the wood as this will help.
Once your decals are all in place leave them for a good period of time to dry naturally.
Once I was happy and the body was dry I applied guitar lacquer, I would spray a coat, wait 15 minutes and then respray, I applied lots of coats to protect the decals (6 or 7 coats) this might seem excessive to you, so use your own judgement.
Step 7: Guitar Electrics and Souldering
For my design I wanted a black pickguard, so I had to buy this for my project. They are very cheap on ebay and come in a variety of styles.
I had to drill new holes for the guard and I did this before drawing on the bricks.
You will notice in my initial design I wanted marching hammers on the pickguard, but using a decal on acrylic was not compatible, but you can ask a company to print an image on pick guards for you on the below website:
At this stage put your gloves on, goggles too and work in a ventilated area. Firstly get a pencil and paper to draw the layout of your pickguard before disassembling it. Maybe a careful note of your ground wires, bridge, middle, neck, output cables, pots, transformers and 5-way switch
I would highly recommend getting a helping hand with crocodile clips to hold wires and spend a decent amount to get a good one that has a metal basket to hold your hot iron and a lamp. Get in the habit of tinning your wires, iron and components before applying soulder. Before you start keep a damp sponge nearby so that you can clean off any remaining soulder from the tip of the iron after each use.
The iron will be extremely hot so you should aim to keep it in contact with components for a maximum of 3-5 seconds to ensure you don't fry components. Dont worry if you don't get it right first time you can use a wick or pump to remove soulder and start again if you need to. I would highly recommend the below tutorial as I found this very helpful:
What you are aiming for is a tidy connection with what they call a "good joint" this is a connection with a lovely silver that generously coats the connection between wire and component. A "cold/bad joint" is usually a blackened connection which looks cloudy. This can happen when you hold down the iron for way too long and frazzle the wiring. Remember the 5 second rule, take your time and examine the joints to make sure you are happy.
Use your Multi-Meter to test the connectivity of the wires and components on the pick guard, this is a great initial way to check your wiring works.
The next part of my guide is open for debate. Some people when using their guitars notice feedback through their amps from shortwave radios or even airplanes. It is said that to prevent this type of interference you should line the inside of your guitar with copper tape as this seals the connection. I did this and it noticeably removed a buzz from the signal. Some professionals swear by it, some don't see the point so this is up to you. My view on it is that copper tape wasn't expensive and it just adds an additional layer of protection.
The final step is to feed the ground and output cables through the body, re-soulder the output jack you cut previously, carefully set the guard back in place making sure your wiring is tidy, and then using your precision screwdriver to re-attach the pick guard.
Step 8: Reassembly and Fine Tuning
This is the final step, you will need to fish out the screws and nuts that you labelled and stashed away previously and put the guitar back together with your screwdriver and wrench.
Instead of putting on the stock tuners, I upgraded to Vanson locking tuners which I would highly recommend.
Before restringing, plug in the guitar to your amplifier and touch a metal screwdriver against each pickup to test them, you should hear a noise through the amp if you have wired it correctly.
Once your guitar is built, restring your guitar, but before you wrap each string round the tuning peg gently rub the string between each slot of the nut at an angle and apply lead from a pencil to lubricate the nut this ensures a good application and limits the potential for buzzing. Once you have tuned up, pluck each string to check for buzzing, you will need to adjust the saddles on the bridge to make sure that the strings are at the right height. Regularly check the intonation using the 12th fret as a basis, adjust and tune accordingly.
Dont be disheartened, this process can take alot of trial and error as it is largely dependant on the curvature of the neck and other factors. I promise after some fine tuning your guitar will sound much better. Before, when I played this cheap £80 guitar it buzzed, went out of tune and had next to know sustain, with these minor hardware changes and adjustments the guitar sounds excellent and I think looks pretty cool too.
Thanks for taking the time to read my guide, I wish you the best of luck with your own project and I look forward to hearing from you if you have any questions.