I had a friend once who painted his guitar with the national flag for flair and patriotism (I guess). He uses it all the time and we’ve never really noticed any sound difference. But some aficionados say that paint and varnish can affect a guitar’s tonal identity. So which is which? Will painting an acoustic guitar affect the sound? Let’s dig a little deeper before you do the same for yours!
Why do you want to paint your guitar?
First off an acoustic guitar looks really nice with its natural finish and coating. In standard cases, acoustic guitars are manufactured with the appropriate material and color to ensure the quality and looks. Chances are less that repainting your acoustic guitar would enhance the quality, rather the guitar would miss out on its originality. Also, without any designing or painting skills and knowledge, one may ruin the looks of the guitar.
So why did you suddenly decide to paint yours? Have you been planning it for a while? Or is it something impulsive because you saw a good design from Pinterest? Think about it.
Before you go on the experiment of painting your guitar or have a professional do it. Think about the purpose of it. Is the guitar still going to be used for regular performances? Or is it just then going to be an art piece?
After you’ve decided then move on to our next section.
So will painting an acoustic guitar affect the sound?
We want to say Yes and No, but we’re not going to. The answer is yes, but it relies on a few factors. First, is how far as paint design is concerned, do you want to go? Are you considering a full coat of paint here or a few logos or graphics? Is the acoustic guitar going to be lavishly painted? If so, thicker paint and varnish will affect a guitar’s tone and resonance. But painting the top of a steel-string acoustic guitar will have more effect on the sound than painting the sides and back.
You know how a guitar makes its sound and tone through vibration and resonance right? Moreover, acoustic guitar top wood thickness varies from 0.094”-0.109” (2.38 mm to 2.77 mm) or 0.125”-0.130” (3.17 mm to 3.30 mm) that is much thinner than the solid-body electric guitar. So if you paint the top wood densely, the less the wood vibrates underneath. As a result, the paint would impact its sound and tone more than the electric guitar.
So, the effect on steel-string guitar tone also relies on the type of top wood like solid wood top or laminate top. Since laminate wood doesn’t age, then painting a guitar with a laminate top would not affect that much in comparison with a solid top guitar.
But if you’re going to follow some guidelines, especially if you get a professional to do it then it will not make much noticeable difference.
Take note though that the process of painting or repainting your acoustic guitar is not as simple as it sounds. Your guitar will have to go through various steps before it can get a fresh new look. First of all, you have to remove some of the guitar parts before painting it, and you should not color over the old finish. You need to lightly sand off the existing finish and it requires a lot of patience so as not to damage the wood beneath the finish.
Then use spray primer on the wood, wait to dry, and then use masking tape to hide the area you don’t want to color on. After that, spray couple coats of flash-solvent based color like nitrocellulose lacquer coat. Nitrocellulose can be used on cheap guitar to replace the polyurethane finish.
Also, Shellac can be used for the best look. But the finish is very delicate and takes time to settle on the body. But if you are painting only a picture/design/graphics, then use oil or acrylic paint. Then put a protective coating of crystal clear enamel on top of the guitar to seal it up.
So you have to consider that a lot of changes will be done especially with the wood. If you do it wrong, then it will affect the sound. But if done right and you won’t bury your guitar on 2 inches of paint or lacquer then you should be fine.
Can paint or paint color affect a guitar’s sound?
Maybe you’ve heard Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins say that his white painted electric guitar should sound better? That had a lot of flak from guitar enthusiasts. But who cares? You’re the guitarist so what matters to you is what matters most.
There’s no scientific study to prove Billy’s claim though.
If you’re asking what kind of paint they used on electric guitars then some say that Nitro is better at preserving a guitar’s tone and resonance compared to polyurethane or polyester. And take note that Fender uses “DuPont ‘Duco’ nitrocellulose lacquer and DuPont ‘Lucite’ acrylic lacquer” for their products.
It is acceptable to repaint an electric guitar, but use only recommended paint and follow the instruction on the label carefully else you will feel sorry for the mistakes. If you are painting for the first time, then it will be good to experiment on an old or cheap guitar (if possible) and after that go for the real one. Mentionable that, painting a guitar is a step by step method and it takes a few weeks, so you need to keep the patient to see the final result.
Other things to consider before painting
Before repainting an acoustic guitar, judge the present condition of the guitar. If your guitar is cheap like under $500 beginner guitar or beat-up or just an old guitar that you want to make it look more pleasing or something like an expensive one, then go for it. Also, you can check wood painting and sanding tutorials on YouTube to do a pleasant paint job.
On the other hand, if you own an expensive acoustic guitar that is in fine shape, I would not suggest painting that guitar. Cause it would decrease the value of the guitar.
Overall, you should not worry too much about guitar looks and appearance rather worry more about your playing skill. Do you know about Willie Nelson’s guitar, Trigger? Does he dissatisfy over the looks of his guitar? Of course Not.
How a thick finish can affect an acoustic guitars sound?
Music comes from within, so if you think a better-looking guitar or some unique design is going to let your sound flourish then we say go for it. But please do process with caution, you don’t want to ruin a perfectly sounding guitar. Ask for professional advice when needed (and you will need it).
And most all, enjoy playing!