When you’ve played the guitar for a long time, you may want to express yourself with a paint job on your electric guitar. With the right skills and knowledge, you can change the color of an electric guitar or even paint a psychedelic scene or pattern. But should you be concerned with how a paint job will make your guitar sound?
Painting an electric guitar will not affect its sound in any meaningful way. While the electric guitar’s body has a minor impact on the way it sounds, the most important thing is the kind of pickups it has. Painting a guitar can help you create an instrument you love!
This article should reassure you that painting an electric guitar will have no effect on the sound and is no reason to avoid it. It will also give you some tips on how to paint an electric guitar correctly.
Why Is It Okay To Paint Electric Guitars?
Despite some myths you may have heard, it’s perfectly fine to paint electric guitars because if you understand how they work, you’ll realize that you won’t need to be concerned.
How Electric Guitars Work
Pickups are transducers that convert the vibrations from guitar strings to an electrical signal, which is then picked up by an amplifier and projected to powerful noise. You can play electrics without plugging them in, but they won’t ring out or make much sound at all.
Because electrics don’t resonate in the same way that acoustics do, changes to the body materials will not affect the noise in the same way. They can, however, make your guitar look better or worse.
What Does Painting an Electric Guitar Do?
What will happen to its sound if you paint an electric guitar? Not much, so long as you don’t damage the guitar or any of its parts in the process.
Some guitarists claim that the color of paint can, in fact, change the sound of an electric guitar. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins claimed in an interview with Guitar World that his white Reverend guitar sounded better than other colors.
Unfortunately, Corgan doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. Color has to do with light, or electromagnetic radiation, interacting with the material of the guitar. Sound, on the other hand, is physical vibrations. The two aren’t related, and the particular color of paint you use won’t affect your sound.
However, the type of paint you use may have a minor effect on the sound, as some paint is more or less porous or dense than others, having a minor effect on acoustics. Since the strings sit directly above the body, the paint’s qualities have a small effect on the way the strings vibrate.
However, since electric guitars are not dependent on their bodies to make sound, the effects will be extremely minimal no matter what (Note: here’s how to get a warm guitar tone for your electric guitar). So you shouldn’t worry too much about it either way.
Can You Paint Acoustic Guitars?
While you may have seen acoustic guitars with beautiful designs painted on, the truth is that painting your acoustic soundboard will have an effect on the sound. Intricately decorated acoustic guitars are often less resonant than others and are mostly for show.
Acoustic guitars work in a much different way than electrics, using their resonant chambers to project the strings’ vibrations, as the body is crucial to the sound. In particular, paint jobs to the soundboard, which is the piece of wood the strings are the closest to, may negatively affect the tone.
Because of this, you may want to think twice before painting your acoustic.
How To Paint a Guitar
If you’ve decided to paint your guitar, you have a few options. If you’d simply like to make the guitar a particular color, your best option is to spray paint the guitar, which will help you make the guitar look factory-made and keep it even all over.
Or perhaps you’d like a picture or design on the face of the guitar, which if f that’s the case, you’re best suited to acrylic paints. Both options are explored below.
Maybe you just want to paint your varnished wood guitar black or make your red Stratocaster teal. If you’re just trying to get your guitar to a monochrome color, it’s best to use spray paint. Consider setting up the guitar so that you’re able to spin it as you spray, as this will help you look at the shine of the paint on the guitar as you spray, keeping the color more even.
You might want to buy a lacquer spray paint made out of a material like polyurethane or nitrocellulose, or “nitro.” There is some debate over which type of spray paint works best, but most should do as long as you apply with care. The ColorTone Aerosol Guitar Lacquer, a nitro paint, comes in many different colors on Amazon and features free shipping.
To spray paint your guitar:
- Remove all the metal parts and wires.
- Cover the wood with a few layers of primer.
- Wait to dry, then sand until smooth.
- Cover with two or three layers of the color spray paint you want.
- Wait for the paint to completely dry.
- Polish the guitar with wet sandpaper several times, then with a microfiber cloth.
- Wax the guitar.
- Put back together and play!
This video goes into more detail about the spray painting process:
Some famous guitarists have guitars that double as works of art. If you’d rather paint a scene or portrait on your guitar, you should use acrylic paints instead.
These won’t go on quite as smoothly as spray paints, but on an image with texture, that’s not quite as important. You’ll still need to be careful to apply the paint evenly and to avoid applying too much. If you need acrylic paints, the Zenacolor Acrylic Paint comes with 24 tubes of high-pigment paint and it’s an Amazon’s Choice product with over 4,000 five-star reviews.
Even if you use acrylic paints, you’ll still want to use clear spray paint on top, which will prevent your art from smearing and protect it from damage. The Minwax Gloss Brushing Lacquer Spray dries on quickly and provides a glossy finish.
To paint your guitar with acrylics:
- Repeat all steps for spray painting your guitar by applying and sanding primer.
- Hand-draw or stencil on the art you want.
- Paint the guitar, making sure not to apply too much and let dry.
- Apply a very light dusting of clear paint to the artwork and let dry.
- Apply a thicker layer of clear spray paint and let dry.
- Put back together and play!
This video details how to use acrylic paints to create works of art on your guitar:
Painting an electric guitar will not affect its sound, in contrast to acoustic guitars as the electric gets the vast majority of its sound from pickups and amplifiers and not from its body (Related: electric guitar for small hands). If you’re thinking of painting your electric guitar, don’t worry about negatively impacting its sound, and go for it!
While painting a guitar takes a bit of elbow grease, it can be very rewarding to have an instrument that reflects your personality. As long as you take your time and do your research, you should do just fine.