Difficulty: Advanced

Swirled Guitar Finish

A spectacular swirl paintjob on a guitar isn't as hard as it might seem. Time to grab some buckets and get wet!

Tutorial courtesy of Wade Finch

This swirling technique is for oil paint although I think urethane paint will work also - I don’t have any urethane paint to test with so I'll just say oil paint for now. Don’t use “Testers Model” paint! It is too thick and has clear gloss mixed in it, which makes it clot and become messy. Fast dry “PlastiKote” enamel is what I used but I'm always looking for other types of paint to use. There are other oils out there, but I don’t have the time to test them all....

First off you are going to need a large “something” to dip in. I say "something" because you can dip in anything that can hold a large deep amount of water. I use a 50 gallon "Rubbermaid” hamper for dipping - it is big enough for submerging the body and has lots of room on all sides so not to hit the body against it whilst dipping. It also has a lid which is nice for when you want to save the water for dipping later on.

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Secondly, it is useful to have a second person helping you....we'll get to that bit later on....

Once you have your water filled tub, hamper or whatever it’s time to add in the Borax (sodium borate/sodium tetraborate/disodium tetraborate). I use “20 Muleteam Borax”. Take your Borax and pour in about one cup (depending on how big your dipping tub is) and mix the water until you don’t see any Borax floating around. Let it sit for about 30mins.

Borax is used as an agent that breaks the water's surface tension and lets the paint spread out over the surface.

Next, test the water with some oil paint to see if you have enough Borax in your water. Only a little drop is needed!! You should see the paint start to disappear or dissipate and spread right across the water surface into a very thin film if you have enough Borax mixed in the water. If not then you need to add more Borax to the water. Once ready you can now test which paint colors need to be thinned - some colors are thicker and need help spreading. Adding a little “paint time extender” helps this. You can pick up this extender at a fine art shop.

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Once you have your color you want and tested, it’s time to do a test dip!

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Test test test! It is far better to spend time test dipping things other than your guitar body. Test dipping helps you get the feel of the dipping process and also helps you see how much paint to pour in to achieve the balance of your colors/lights/darks.

  • Pour your dark color first then your lights
  • Let the first color poured dissipate before pouring your next color
  • Once you have your colors down, swirl the paint around. I use a wood dowel with 4 zip ties to make a brush to glide across the water/paint.

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Swirl your paints! Don’t take too long - your paints will dry and skin over and you don’t want to dip anything into that! This is all up to you in making a pattern.

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Once you see what you like, dip your test object in and hold it. This is where it's nice to have another person helping you as you need to make an "escape hole" for your object so you're not pulling it back through the paint film a second time. You can do this by blowing the paint with your mouth or if you have that second person, get some newspaper and wipe the paint off the water surface leaving a clear water hole so you can pull out your item. If you don’t do this, the item will be covered 2 times and contrary to what you might think, won't look that great. Remember! Test test! Get to know the paint and the process. When you're ready to do another test use newspaper to clean the water of all leftover paint from the previous attempt.

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Make sure your guitar is sealed before you dip. If you don’t, you could easily end up with a cracked body or other problems. I put wax in the screw holes and in the neck holes; this makes a good water seal and can be removed after the dipping. Any unsealed areas where the wood is exposed to water can become a problem.

You will need a piece of wood to use as a fake neck to dip your guitar body in with. It helps give you control and helps you hold the body down in the water. Make something to hang the guitar body from, such as a hole, loop or hook on the fake neck. Make sure you can hang it to dry easily before you start the dipping process.

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If your guitar body has a rear strap button, screwing a long thin wood screw or similar provides a useful standoff to prevent the body hitting the bottom of the container. This is useful as your hands will get tired and unsteady whilst the paint is being removed from the water surface to make a clean exit point!

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Now that you're jumping with anticipation and you feel that you're ready, it's time to dip your guitar! It’s that exact same way you dipped your test item plus what you learned from testing. You did test didn't you?

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After you have pulled your guitar body out of the water, you want to get the water to bead away from it off it as fast as you can. Blowing and twirling the guitar helps, heat lamps, hair dryers, etc. Make a space somewhere for it to dry for at least 24hrs before handling it.

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Now I'm not going to go into any detail about sanding other than that I sand the bodies down to the sealer coat. Follow normal guitar paint/sanding techniques to get your guitar ready.

If you just sanded the clear coat off and don’t want to go down to the sealant, you can but you want to put a coat of primer or paint on before you dip. Like with a 777MC, it has been painted first with white then dipped.




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