Refinishing / Rebuilding a Bass Guitar




Introduction: Refinishing / Rebuilding a Bass Guitar

About: I enjoy building costumes, props, and just about anything creative.

I wanted to get an inexpensive bass guitar that I could customize so I placed an ad on the local CraigsList for damaged / broken bass guitars.  

One response was perfect, a Fender Squire P-Bass.  It was missing the pick guard, volume and tone pots, and line jack. and one of the tuning machines was broken.  The neck was straight but the paint on the body was chipped and cracked.  But the price was right, $25.

The combination pictures show the before and after.

Step 1: Taking Everything Apart

The first thing I did was take everything part.  I removed the tuning machines, pickups, and neck. 

The neck was straight and the frets didn't show much wear, except for the first and second, but not enough to warrant being replaced.  The finish on the neck was in pretty good shape also.

The body on the other hand was rough.  There were a lot of chips and cracks in the paint and the two strap mount holes were stripped.

I did some research using the serial number and found that this bass was made in Korea in the late 1980s.  The body is plywood.

Step 2: Stripping the Paint

This was the most time consuming, and worst part, of the rebuild.

The stripping gel is toxic so I made sure to wear a respirator.  It was wintertime so I did it in my basement bathroom with the exhaust fan on.  I don't recommend this, it would have been much better, and safer, to do outside.

My tub was lined with plastic and I wore heavy rubber gloves.  The gel was brushed on very thick and I let it sit for about fifteen minutes.  I used an old chisel to carefully scrape the loose paint off.  Be careful not to dig into the wood.  This process took several days, but the total actual working time was about three hours.

It was the hardest to get the paint off the edges and from inside corners.  Persistence and patience.

Step 3: Sanding and Priming

Sanding was pretty easy.  I started with some 100 grit paper to get the remaining paint and rough spots knocked down.  By the time I was finished, I was using a 600 grit wet/dry paper.

I used Rustoleum white primer since I was going to finish the bass in yellow.  I put on a light coat, let it completely dry, and lightly sanded it with 400 grit paper.  You can see in the last picture where I dabbed on wood filler to clean up some rough spots and gouges.  

I did this process until I had about six or eight coats of primer and there were no more visible dings or gouges.

I let the primer dry and harden for 48 hours.

Step 4: Painting and Sealing

I painted it the same way as when I primed it.  Take your time and put on many light coats.  Let it harden and sand between every few coats to get a smooth finish.  It takes a couple of days to get it done right.  Again, it was winter so I did it in my garage and when it started to set up, I took it back down to the basement bathroom and let it harden in warmth.

I did get a few drips because I was put the paint on too thick.  Simply sand it down.

Once I had about eight or more coats of paint and I was happy with the finish, I let it sit for 48 hours to harden. 

I then used Rustoleum clear coat and put on about eight coats, again, waiting and sanding between coats.  The last three coats I didn't sand between.

Step 5: Electrics

I found a kit online that came with the volume and tone pots, the jack, resisters.  I assembled the pots and jack into the pick guard and followed the directions for hooking up the wires.  

The pickup wires were fed through the hole in the body and they were soldered.  The pick guard was then screwed on.  I had to drill a few holes as the pick guard wasn't an exact fit to the original, plus I had filled in the original holes when I added wood filler to the body.

The electrics kit cost about $18 online and the pick guard was about $20.

Step 6: Tuning Machines

I wanted the bass to look more like a 'real' Fender P-Bass so I purchased a set of Fender style tuning machines from the internet.  They were about $25.

The original holes for the shafts were too small in diameter to fit the new ones so I had a friend with a milling machine bore the holes to fit.  I aligned each one and carefully drilled the four holes and installed the mounting screws on the back.

Step 7: Assembly

Once the electrics were done, all I had to do was install the neck, bridge, and install strings. 

Total cost including paint stripper and spray paint was about $187.

It plays great and looks just like I wanted.

I keep scouring CraigsList for more junkers to rebuild.  Trying for a Fender style Jazz bass now.

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    5 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Great job! Sure looks like it requires a fair amount of patience! Can you tell what type of paint you used? And also application method? Thanks in advance!


    Reply 4 years ago

    Thank you! It was a lengthy process to strip the old paint off. I simply used Rustoleum spray paint. I sprayed thin layers and let them dry for about 30 minutes to an hour between coats. I let the white base coat dry for 24 hours before I started painting the yellow. And then again, I let the yellow dry for 24 hours before I sprayed the clear coat on. I used 2000 grit (two thousand grit) wet dry sand paper on the yellow before I put on the clear coat to make sure there were no dust particles on the surface.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I lost my arm to a tin of stripping gel back in the day


    6 years ago

    I finally broke down and bought a heat gun. It's less messy, non-toxic, and way faster. The only tricky part is not burning your wood completely up -- but as long as you're not planning on going for an un-veneered transparent finish, or trying to strip a transparent finish off of some kind of exotic wood, the crispy spots aren't anything that a little extra sanding and thick paint won't take care of.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I have restored pianos and you are right. Stripping gel is the hardest part.. I even had a rubber apron on. At times somehow that stripping gel got on my arms and I tell you, it burns.