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This is where it all gets ugly. I was happy with the four coats of sanding sealer I put on. The wood was looking great:

And I thought I had it in the bag. The surface seemed smooth and shiny so what could go wrong? Let’s slap some primer on this sucker and get it painted!

Bam. Looks pretty good — but wait! Zoom in close here and there’s trouble on the surface of paradise:

Oh no!

What the-

Oh god in heaven no. The surface of my guitar looks like the rocky uninhabitable surface of Mars. Tons of little paint cracks all over the freaking place. I try to sand it down a little but it’s taking off all my primer and doesn’t seem to be helping much.

I’ve received conflicting advice such as “just paint over it, it’ll be fine”, “fill it with bondo”, and “sand it completely down and start over”. I’m not quite sure what to do next. Perhaps I’ll cry.

Update: my friend Aaron tells me that the little awful looking cracks are most likely because the sanding sealer surface was too smooth and the paint didn’t bond to it properly. I needed to sand the sealer more so that the paint would stick to it.

Other parts in this series: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Posted on - June 27, 2006 [at] 10:37 am by Brad
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15 Comments on this post

liam on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
June 27, 2006 at 11:12 am

I think it’s funny on that Paint Your Own Guitar thing it says it’s not a Gibson and the headstock says Gibson… but yeah, sucks that your guitar looks like Mars…

Future Boy on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
June 27, 2006 at 3:29 pm

Man just run with it, call it the Mars Guitar.

Robert Smoove on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
June 27, 2006 at 8:18 pm

Brad, I don’t know anything about anything (especially with respect to painting guitars), but… You said that after four coats of sealer, the surface was “smooth and shiny.” I wonder if it was so smooth that the primer wasn’t able to adhere to the surface (like water beading on a newly waxed car). Perhaps it would have benefited from a light sanding after the sealer but before the primer.

But again, I don’t know anything about anything. But I am a fan. When can we expect to see (I mean hear) some new tunes? RS

Dave on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
June 27, 2006 at 8:51 pm

Okay, if the bare wood was smooth, it still should be – I hope. So the cracks are in the primer.

How about doing something a bit outside of the box… put on a second coat of primer? This might fill in – smooth out – the cracks.

Mind you, I’m not speaking from ANY kind of experience with paint. My only use of bondo, primer, and paint were with 2 cars I had in high school (like just about everybody). And cracks like these were not a problem at all… since my main goal was to pass inspection by filling in holes in the body and do a good enough job to impress the chicks!

Dylan on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
June 28, 2006 at 9:38 pm

I don’t know much about painting, but I agree with Dave. run another layer over, but try just in that area, not the whole thing.

chris on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
July 4, 2006 at 9:45 am

the cracks in the primer are mellow. just like the one fellow said they are because the primer couldnt adhere to itself it was too smooth. grab some really smooth sandpaper. 320 if you can or even higher. just get that corner to where it should be. then paint as you would have it will be fine. i had run into the same problem and using as well. and like they say on the website, you will get the finish they promise.

alike on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
July 4, 2006 at 10:10 am

In Guitar World at the moment they are doing a colum on how to paint your guitar. It’s an American magazine, but we get it here in England without the CD as an import, so I’m sure you could get it in Canada

Dennis Huston on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
July 7, 2006 at 9:06 am

I painted a guitar back in college and got the same “effect”.

It was a cheapo experimental guitar with only minor sentimental value, so I didn’t feel as bad as if I had done it to my Gretsch or Strat. It started out natural finish, but the color I chose was black, so with the cracking it ended up very goth. The one thing I did learn from the experience was that to do it right takes time and patience. I suspect the cracking, which looks almost identical to yours, was due in large part to my impatience to move on to the next coat.

After playing some really nice “homemade” guitars in the pawn and music shops in the SE US, I gained a new appreciation for my painted guitar and will continue to use it as a mod plaything. It’s always fun to tool around with instruments that have outlived one life and are put in use for another, as long as you’ve got some backups!

Cheers, Dennis

Mike Schreiner on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
August 11, 2006 at 1:55 pm

I have done touchup work on pianos for many years and this also happens to me when I use too much sanding sealer. I never put more than 1 coat of sanding sealer to avoid this problem. You will have to start over and go easy on the sanding sealer.

Josh on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
August 27, 2006 at 3:33 pm

After the sealer goes on you should sand the guitar with 220 and then 320 making sure there are are no shiny spots. The guitar should have a matte finish to allow the primer to bond. After sanding wipe the guitar down with a damp cloth to remove the dust and you are ready for the primer. i use four light coats of sealer and have no problems, sanding after the first two coats with 220 and then again after the next two coats with the 220 and 320.
Good Luck!

dustin on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
March 12, 2008 at 2:34 pm

man i am painting my guitar rite now what you need to do is start al over sand it down the then after that use a real fine 400 grit sandpaper with water sand it till it feals like a babys bottom then after you do all that i suggest you do not use primer primer eats away at ship thats what happend to my buddys i suggest you use a semi gloss or high gloss paint put a thin layer on wait till it drys keep it in a warm place then once you get all the layers you want go to a hoddy stor or lowes or ewhatever and get a can of laquer and you have to make sure there is no dust around put a thin layer wait till it drys kepp doing so till you build up a thick layer of it this will keep your guitar from chipping and geting all skrewd up if you do this rite you should be alright

Jesse on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
March 31, 2008 at 1:36 pm

hi i do air brushing and rattle can painting on just about everything and i just finished a Jackson Warrior.. i didnt bother with sanding sealer i saned the old caot of clear and paint of very slowly with fine sand paper untill smooth and down to bare wood making sure not to fuck up the over all shape one this was done i applied bondo 2 coats of of it with sanding inbetween the i sprayed my primer and sanded it VERY lightly again and started my way onto paining it the first coat of black now i have bine told black is the hardest to spray right because it shows everything but i have had no problems with this way of painting and ppl havent complained to me about cracks in the paint if u ask me it looks factory

so in the long run sanding sealer isnt neccasary just a more pricey laquar is sufficiant

Billy on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
October 23, 2008 at 9:14 pm

dont worry.

could be. spraying too many coats too soon
could be reaction between primer and undercoat

seen this many times over the years with various types of paints

what sanding sealer and primer are you using


Greg on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
September 10, 2014 at 3:59 am

I had the same problem. I then rolled on paint about 3 coats, sanded and it worked great!! use a mini roller.

David Ropp on Guitar painting: part 5 (disaster strikes)
January 5, 2015 at 3:37 pm

The effect happens when a lacquer based primer is used over an enamel based sealer or paint. The solvents in the lacquer will reactivate the underlying coats and cause the cracking. You will have to sandnit down and start over. Make sure you only use lacquer paints and finishes with a lacquer based sanding sealer and/or primer.

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