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Difficulty: Intermediate

Material Finishes

The beauty of a material finish is manyfold. First, it is an easy way to create graphics on a guitar if you're artistically challenged. Secondly, material can overcome contours which are impossible with printed photos or even some large decals.

The first tools you will need are a pencil or pen, and a piece of paper larger than the guitar body as pictured. I just used notepad paper and some masking tape.



If you're working with a material that doesn't have a special pattern to it you can skip over this part and move down to the covering the back. Just follow the same directions for the front of the body.

Flip your body face down on the paper and trace around it. Once you have your tracing complete cut it out carefully with a razor blade or Exacto knife.



Keep in mind if you chose to use construction paper to make your template you can use the inside piece later to do a PoorBoyBurst™ around your body, so keep that extra piece handy!

Now comes the big part. Using your negative template, find the exact place in the material pattern that you want on top of your body. Notice I also have a template for the headstock which has a strip through it to show me where the tuners will be. When you have finished locating the perfect top for your project whip out your trusty roll of masking tape and secure the template(s) all the way around the edges, now go get mom's best fabric scissors =o)



Carefully cut around the area you have chosen, giving yourself an extra 1/2" to 3/4" for good measure. When you're finished you can peel the tape and template(s) off and get ready to mount your material to the body!



Although not 100% necessary, I usually spray the cavities and sides the final color I plan on using. Not necessary but definitely makes it easier later!

Make sure the surface(s) you're going to attach the material to are clean and as free from paint as possible. Bare wood is where it's at for the best possible adhesion of the glue at this point. Gather up your Titebond and a squeegee plus a disposable brush. Place your guitar body on top of newspapers or a large piece of cardboard to protect your working surface.

I use a disposable cup or bowl of water to place the brush in when I am through. Titebond is water soluble and even though it is an El-Cheapo brush I like to get as much mileage out of them as possible.

Now spread out a nice pattern of glue on the area to be covered.



Use your brush to spread out the glue until you have a nice even coat without thick drops or lines. Clean any overruns from the cavities and edges with a damp paper towel or cloth.

Place your material on the project surface and start squeezing out from the center. You want the surface to be as flat and smooth as possible so take your time. You have about 20 mins before the glue starts to set up. This should only take 2-3 mins tops. A rolling pin from the kitchen is extremely handy!


In the previous photo you can see that the material flopped down over the side and attached itself to the body. This early in the game you want to avoid this happening as it will make trimming the material all that much more difficult. If this happens, pull it away from the body. You might need to babysit the body whilst the glue properly sets up (20-30 minutes) to make sure nothing is going wrong with it.



Once the glue has cured well (about 2-3 hours) it is time to whip out your Exacto knife with a fresh blade. Trim around the outside edge. Remember to move forward as you cut on the down stroke. Using only fresh blades it should separate the material along the edge like a hot knife in butter so if the blade starts to drag, replace it. I always try to lean the side of the blade up against the body when ever possible doing this and hold it at a 30-45 degree angle along the edge.



Also remember to lightly hold the material taut when possible, pulling it from the project as you cut. You're going to end up with some fairly long strips as you go. It's tempting to cut them off and start a new strip but I prefer to keep going as long as I can and keep the cut going.



If you run into an area where the glue did not take, just give that spot a little extra material around the edge and continue. It can always be repaired later after you are finished trimming off the excess.



As careful as you might be, when you flip the body over to inspect the edges you are going to see fuzz and a tiny strip of material all along the edge as pictured above on the right. This is a good thing at this point sp don't try to shave it off! While cutting on the down stroke the material along the edge stretches when separating from the body. This extra amount of material will be useful when finish out the top and smooth out the sides later.



Now that you are finished trimming, go ahead and make any necessary repairs



Ever wonder why sometimes people put silly photos in a tutorial like the one above? It's actually a neat little trick. Drop a little of the glue you're using for your repairs and use the droplet as a guide to let you know what's going on with the glue you're working with. The clearer or more skinned it gets, the harder the glue is getting on your project.

Time to score some material for the back! Since we are dealing with a few more contours here you'll need to get a bigger piece of material than you did for the front.



The beauty in working with a nice cotton blend or mix fabric is it's ability to stretch. Go ahead and glue that piece down on the back as you did with the front. However, in order to relieve some of the stress of the stretch you're might have to put some slits into it near the arch of the body where the contour is. These only need to come about a 1/4" from the edge and not all the way up to the body. You will also need to do the same thing around the back of the neck area.



You will probably want to babysit the body again and hand burnish the material along the contours as it dries. After it has dried you can trim around the outside and the cavities once again.



If you're doing this to a JEM style body, now is a good time to do the monkey grip handle. Slice along the inside edge first till the contour of the handle reaches out.



Spread a little glue down along the bare wood and on the material and press it into place. When this is dry trim it out. I used a total of three brand new Exacto blades just to trim this much smoothly, after all why waste energy and possibly mess up an entire project over less than a couple of bucks worth of blades? Whew =o)



Now that you have finished your initial trimming, it is time to pick out the filler of your choice. There are many options available on the market from sprays to pastes which all dry rock hard and clear. What you're going to need is a sanding sealer or a wooden grain filler which dries clear. I tend to lean towards the pastes and my trusty cheap brush. If you choose to spray, you'll need several coats to get the desired thickness. Make sure that you coat underneath the fringe of the edge which is still sticking out. With the paste you will want to brush it on thick and across the weave of the fabric then allow to dry.



You'll now find that it is quite easy to trim the edges with a fresh blade. The material will have become quite stiff by this point. I have laid a piece across a cavity for you to see in the photo below.



At this point trim out all of the cavities. 



After trimming you might want to add a finish coat of your sealer just to take care of any areas which might have escaped. After this you can take your sanding block and some 320 grit to knock down the major buildup of filler and smooth out the edges. A quick run of 600 or 800 grit smooths everything out nicely.



Now that you have finished smoothing out the filler it is time to mask off and paint the cavity's and sides. At this point it is time to make a decision about the sides of your finish. These can be straight paint to the front and back or a PoorBoyBurst™ as pictured.




2-3 thick coats of clear is sufficient, then let the body dry for about 24 hours or however long it requires. Wet sand any orange peel back with high grit paper before adding several more coats of clear. Any remaining texture from the material should gradually disappear from the surface between each coat. Be very careful not to sand through!

Final polishing with swirl remover and buffing compound finishes this right off!





Creative Commons Licence

Material Finishes by Brian Calvert is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

You are free to:

  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material

Under the following terms:

  • AttributionYou must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

  • NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.

  • ShareAlike — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.

  • No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.

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