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1. Can You Paint Over Existing Paint?
2. Today’s Q & A: Your Questions Answered

1. Can You Paint Over Existing Paint?

Everyday, I get people asking me if they can paint over the paint that’s already on their guitar. If you bought my book, ‘HOW TO Create A Factory Guitar Finish…’ you know that I recommend that you sand down to the sealer coat and proceed from there. If you’re not confident that you can do that, then the next best thing is to sand down to bare wood and start from there.

I recommend you do this for a couple of reasons:

A. It’s VITAL that you start your paint work with a body that has little to no flaws. When you sand down to the sealer coat, the body is as close to being flawless as can be. (Of course, if there are dents and bangs in the body, handle them as I recommend in my books.)

Moreover, when you paint over a body that has paint on it, the paint underneath may crack at any time. If and when that happens, your new finish is toast. (Just so you know, finishes do crack. As lacquer ages, it looses its flexibility. Urethane can crack, too… although, not quite as often.)

B. If you’re going to paint guitars, you better get used to sanding! Sanding is just as important as the painting portion of your finish. If you don’t spend the time to do a good job while sanding and prepping the body for paint, don’t expect your paint/finish to look like it came from a factory.

Does sanding suck? You bet – I’ve been doing it for over 25 years and let me tell you – I hate it now as much as I did 25 years ago! BUT – spend the time and be meticulous in your sanding and prepping and you can EXPECT your finish to show that extra effort.

So, now that I’ve said that, there are times when you CAN sand over existing paint.

A. When you’ve got a body that is pretty close to brand new… flawless… no bangs, dents, or chips; you could dull that finish and then proceed from there. (I’ll explain the “dulling the finish” in a moment.)

B. If you know that your guitar body is painted with a catalyzed polyurethane (or Polyester), those finishes are hard as nails and it’s going to be real tough for you to sand that finish off. Using a paint stripper will NOT work, so don’t waste your time.

In these two instances, I do think that you can paint over the existing paint. Keep in mind though – there is always the chance that the finish underneath could crack.

Also, I don’t recommend using this strategy over sanding down to sealer – that is ALWAYS your best option.


If you’re going to paint over your existing paint, you don’t necessarily have to sand any of the finish off; you could just dull it so there is absolutely no shine left to it. Doing this gives the paint something to stick to without making a big mess. (See FIG 1 & 2)

To dull the finish, I use 3M Finishing Pads (See FIG 3). If you choose to go this route, your goal will be to scuff your entire finish making sure there is absolutely no shiny spots.

There’s not really any special technique I use when doing this; I tend to sand in a circular motion, but there are times when you won’t be able to do that and you’ll have to use a back and forth motion. Don’t worry to much about this portion of it; the body is already in prestine condition (hopefully), so your sanding isn’t going to change any levels… it’s already leveled.

And that’s it. Once your finish is dulled, proceed with the steps that are laid out in the book.

(See FIG 4 – The top of the body has been completely dulled whereas the rest of the body still has the gloss coat intact. You’ll see this body transformed into a Camoflage Bullseye in my CAMO Book.)

Check out the questions below for more on painting over paint.

2. TODAY’S Q&A: Your Questions Answered

Q: I have a white Kramer Baretta that I want to convert into a 5150. Can I just sand down the body and start from there?

A: If your body is in really good condition – no major dents, bangs, and there are no visible cracks in the finish, then you can dull the entire finish using 3M scouring pads – fine grit, and proceed from there. Once the entire finish has been dulled, don’t use the white that’s down on the body as your base coat; apply your white spray paint as your base coat. For two reasons: 1. the white on your body may not be a pure white – it may be on off-white. For accuracy, you want a pure white. 2. There’s a chance that you could scuff up the white that’s down there with visible lines when using the 3M pads. If you simply masked and proceeded, those scuff marks would always be there. Spray your white, wait a few days, then mask and spray your next color. The job will be better because of spraying a base coat rather than using the color that’s already down on your body.

Q: How do you remove the old finish from the back of the neck? Is it the same process as removing it from the body?

A: The process is exactly the same. In fact, FIG 5 & 6 – these are two pix of a neck that I’ve removed most of the paint. I went through the sealer in a few areas, but otherwise, I’ve kept the sealer intact. It’s good to have at least sealer on a neck rather than bare wood. Sealer protects a neck from the elements – moisture, humidity, cold… it makes the neck less vulnerable and increases the longevity of the neck.

As a point of reference, Zakk’s neck on his original Bullseye Les Paul may’ve been unfinished, but the necks on the Gibson Bullseye model as well as the Epiphone model both have sealer on them. They’re unpainted, but not unfinished. An unfinished neck is bare wood. These necks are smooth because the sealer has been sanded but not buffed. To me, this is the ideal feel for the back of the neck and this is what I do to all of my necks.

To your success!

— John Gleneicki Author – The PAINT YOUR OWN GUITAR Book Series