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!