Traditional acoustic guitars are crafted using woods such as spruce, cedar, and mahogany. When it comes to painting them, acrylic paint is a preferable option due to its cost-effectiveness, availability, and compatibility with the guitar’s surface.
To paint an acoustic guitar with acrylic, you don’t need any special solvents or thinners; the paint dries quickly without leaving any spots.
However, it’s crucial to have a good understanding of choosing the right type of paint, preparing it correctly, and applying it carefully to achieve the desired finish. If you don’t use the paint correctly, it can chip easily and negatively impact your guitar’s sound and value.
Below in this article, I have detailed everything you need to know, along with a detailed step-by-step guide.
Painting Acoustic Guitar with Acrylic
Acrylic paints are synthetic water-based paints. They were first created in the 1930s and have since become very popular among artists because of their versatility and ease of use.
When shopping for acrylic paint for your guitar, look for high-quality paint specifically designed for wood use. These paints are usually labeled as “acrylic enamel.” Once you have the right kind of paint, here are the steps you will need to follow…
1- Prepare the guitar for painting
Preparing your guitar correctly is crucial as it ensures proper paint adhesion to the surface and prevents chipping off quickly.
To prepare a guitar for maintenance or repair, first remove all of its strings, electronics, knobs, and, if applicable, detachable neck. If needed, you can remove the pickups and reattach them later after everything dries. Keep all the hardware in one box or a designated place to avoid mixing or losing the guitar parts.
2- Sand the surface of the guitar
Next, sand down the wooden guitar surface with fine-grit sandpaper to create a smooth surface for the paint to adhere to.
Be extra careful and do not rush through this step, as you don’t want to sand down too much and damage the wood. Just sand enough to create a smooth surface for the primer and paint to attach.
Remember that the body of an acoustic guitar is typically made with a fragile wood layer, usually no more than 1/10-inch thick. As the thickness of the wood can greatly affect the resonance and sound of the guitar, it’s important to be careful when sanding it.
3- Apply a wood primer to the guitar
After sanding, apply a thin layer of wood primer to the guitar body with a paintbrush. This acts as a glue to help acrylic paint adhere to the wood better and provide a nicer-looking, even base for the coating.
While you can use regular latex primers by brands such as Kilz, I highly recommend using a Gesso white (by Liquitex, Handy Art, or any other). This is specifically designed to be used with acrylic paints and will help you achieve better results.
4- Let the primer dry and sand once again
Once the primer is applied, let it dry for at least 24 hours. Then, sand the surface again with extra fine-grit sandpaper to create an even smoother surface for the paint.
If required, apply a thin coat of primer and sand once more before proceeding to the next step.
5- Draw the design on the guitar
Now it’s time to get creative and draw the design you want on the guitar. This step is optional but can help you create a beautiful and unique guitar.
To sketch the designs and patterns, use any paint marker like Sharpie or a sharp carbide pencil. Or choose to print out the design and use it as a template.
Designs such as flowers, vines, geometric patterns, or anything else you think of will work great and are readily available online as a printable design to download and use. When picking the design, just make sure that it’s not too complex or detailed, as that will make it difficult to paint.
6- Paint the guitar carefully
Once you have added the design to your guitar body, it’s time to start with the painting process. For best results, use high-quality artists’ brushes and add only thin layers of acrylic paint. Don’t try to apply too much paint at once, as that will result in an uneven, sloppy finish.
For the choice of acrylic paint, there are two types to use:
- Heavy body: This acrylic paint is buttery thick and covers the surface well. However, it can be challenging to work with and can result in an uneven finish if not applied correctly.
- Fluid: This type of acrylic paint is thinner and easier to work with. It provides a more even finish but doesn’t cover the surface as well.
I recommend using heavy body paint for the first coat and then switching to fluid paint for the second. This will help to even out any imperfections on the guitar body, giving a more professional finish.
Brands like Liquitex, Grumbacher, and others have great options for both types of paint, and you can buy them online or at any art supply store near you.
7- Let the paint dry and apply the sealer finish
Once you are done painting, let the paint dry completely, which can take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, depending on the type of acrylic paint and the thickness of the layer.
After the paint is dry, apply the finish of your choice – either a clear lacquer, shellac or a Polyurethane sealant. I like to use a Minwax Polycrylic clear sealer to seal the acrylic paint on wood projects since it’s easy to use and provides an excellent finish.
No matter what sealer you pick, just make sure you use a product compatible with acrylic paint and follow the instructions carefully. Apply it nicely over the painted surface, and let the finish dry completely before using or playing the guitar.
Will Paint Affect the Tone of My Guitar?
If you are a passionate guitarist and do not want to damage your expensive instrument, this should be the first important question that should come to mind when thinking about painting your acoustic guitar.
The short answer is – it depends.
It’s true that paint can affect the tone of your hollow-body acoustic guitar to some extent. However, the effect is usually minimal and almost unnoticeable unless you are a professional musician playing in front of a large audience.
Also, if you’re worried about the paint affecting the sound quality of your expensive Martin or Taylor acoustic guitar, consider painting just the inside of the body instead of the outside. This way, the paint will only come in contact with the wood on the inside, not the soundboard or tonewood, which is responsible for most of the guitar’s sound.
In any case, do not ever put thick coats of paint on your guitar, as it can potentially add unwanted resonance to the sound.
What Type of Finish is Best to Use On Acoustic Guitars?
Acrylics are available in different finishes, like glossy, satin, and matte. When selecting, ideally, it’s best to look at the type of paint finish you already have on your guitar and try to match it as closely as possible.
For example, if your guitar has a natural wood finish, you can use acrylic paint with matte or satin because its finish will be closest to the original wooden finish.
If, on the other hand, your guitar has a shiny appearance, it’s recommended to use acrylic paint with a glossy finish to keep the look consistent.
Also, it’s crucial to consider the environment when choosing a top coat sealant finish. For instance, if you plan on playing your guitar outdoors, you might want to use a more durable finish like polyurethane over the acrylics. This will provide the most protection against the elements and last longer than just acrylic paint.
Can You Paint Electric Guitars – What Paint to Use On Them?
You can paint electric guitars. However, it’s not recommended for beginners since the paint can affect the finish and sound quality – if you use the wrong paint or painting process.
As a professional, if you’re set on painting your electric guitar, use high-quality paint designed for your instrument and follow the correct process.
Unlike acoustic hollow-body guitars paint, electric guitars are made of a thick solid body. And since it gets its sound from pickups and amplifiers (and not from its body), the type of paint you use shouldn’t make much of a difference in the sound.
In general, lacquer paints made from polyester, polyurethane, and nitrocellulose lacquer are most commonly used for electric guitars. They give your guitar that classic, glossy look. Plus, they are highly durable but can take a long to dry.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.