Mod Squad

I’ve had apprentices working with me in my shop since 1969. These young guitarists are curious about what makes their guitars tick, and they’re anxious to make them play better. Without their enthusiasm, open minds, and off-the-wall ideas, I wouldn’t be the “repair dude” I am today. Currently, there are seven up-and-coming repair technicians developing their skills in my shop. In this new and exclusive GP column you’ll get to meet my Mod Squad—special operatives trained in guitar setup, repair, modification, and detail. I hope you learn as much from them as I do.
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This month, I’d like to introduce you to Chelsea Clark—a cheerful 20-year-old guitarist, artist, singer, designer, and repairwoman. “Chel” exudes cool, and she loves to disassemble, clean, and detail guitars before setting them up. She also uses her beauty school skills to dress up her axes. Recently, Chelsea wanted to customize the paint job on her Fender Strat. I gave her some basic guidance, and she ran with it. Read on to see how she used aerosol spray lacquer to personalize her ax. Then, think up your own design, and make it look as good as Chelsea’s.

[1] Fold in all the edges on a 5" square piece of flannel or soft cotton material so you have a sturdy cleaning pad. Wet it with hot water, and squeeze the pad almost dry. (You want it damp, but not wet.) Using small circular motions, clean the area you’re about to paint. Chel decided to use a little saliva, too. “Dan is always telling me that spit is the best dirt dissolver,” she says, “and he’s right!” After all of the dirt is dissolved and loosened, wipe it and the saliva away with a clean, damp rag.

[2] Go to your local glass supply shop, and purchase some blue automotive windshield tape. Lay it over the area you’ll be painting. Then, draw your design on the tape using a permanent marker. Practice your design on paper before actually drawing on the taped-up guitar. Then, using a new #11 hobby knife blade, cut through the tape and slightly into the finish. This ensures the tape is cut cleanly, and will not leave a ragged edge that will blur the paint when the tape is peeled away. “If you cut too quick or too jagged your design will be screwed,” says Chelsea.

[3] After you’re done creating your stencil, protect the guitar body and neck by taping a plastic bag or paper (or both) up to, and around, the stencil. You don’t want the paint hitting anything but the stencil. Shake the paint can until the balls rattle (about two minutes). Holding the spray can at an angle, start spraying away from the guitar, then move the spray onto it with a smooth, continuous motion. Move the spray off the guitar before you stop spraying. “Spray lightly, using several coats to get even coverage, as opposed to one heavy coat that will run and drip,” says Chelsea.

[4] When the lacquer paint has dried for at least 30 minutes, but no more than an hour, remove the protective covering and the tape. (If you wait too long, the lacquer might chip when you remove the tape.) Peel the stencil slowly, pulling it at an angle away from the edge of the lacquer. Let the paint dry overnight, and then clean up any ragged edges that may have wicked under the tape. Use 1200-grit or finer sandpaper (dry), working carefully up to the edge of the paint job. Next, apply a clear, protective coat of lacquer to the stenciled design, as well as some of the area surrounding the design. Be sure to cover the pickguard, hardware, and part of the neck to protect them from the clear lacquer. Chelsea applied three light coats to avoid causing the lacquer to melt or run. Let the clear coat dry overnight before removing the protective materials to expose your new paint job.