This was a very special project and probably my favorite guitar I’ve worked on. It was a collaboration with a friend and very talented artist Miartisme. Be warned, this post is picture heavy. B-)
I met Miartisme back in the hay days of MySpace (ages ago!). I came across an image of some artwork of hers that I really liked. I reached out to her and we began emailing back and forth. After awhile she expressed interest in me making her a guitar, using her own artwork. We began talking about the logistics of collaborating on a project like this long distance, as we lived in opposite corners of the country.
I made a paper template of the guitar I would use and mailed that to her. She wanted to see where the bridge and pickup cavities would be, and the shape of the space that would be visible so she could arrange her illustration around them. She then worked her magic creating a beautiful illustration, made a few high quality copies, and sent those back to me to use. She also threw in some copies of a couple of other illustrations to use as I saw fit, which were more “random” artwork compared to what would appear on the front of the guitar.
This was an assortment of the copies of the artwork I thought I might try to use on the back, I was attempting to “see” what I could make of it, cutting out various parts and piecing them together. (More on this later.)
Potential artwork for the back
I’m going to break this up into sections and discuss each part of the guitar by itself, taking you through it start to finish with each section, as opposed to how I built it, which was working on several pieces at once. Should make more sense this way.
Guitar Body: Front
This was the main artwork for the front of the guitar after I had cut it out of the sheet that was sent to me. A combination of different mediums were used on paper.
I used one of the Squier strats I had purchased, torn apart and stripped down for this one. I primed the body and sanded down the front, seen here, ready to go.
Primed and ready to go
This was my first time using a material other than fabric, so I was just hoping the glue I normally used worked well with the paper, and applied it generously to ensure I had complete adhesion so I wouldn’t get air bubbles later on. With only a couple copies of the art I wanted to get it right the first time! I didn’t have any issues and the process was the same as previous guitars using fabric.
Here are a couple shots with the artwork glued, and with more sanding sealer applied.
After sanding sealer coats
After a few coats of sanding sealer I sanded flat, cut out the cavities, and trimmed the excess material around the edges. The front didn’t require nearly as many coats of sanding sealer as I use on fabric. It was already flat and didn’t soak up into the material.
The thickness of the paper created a significant lip on the edges of the body. So the next step was using the thick super glue technique (I prefer the CA-30 from Stewmac) to make a smooth edge again. Then it was ready for paint. I decided black would look the best and make all the different colors pop.
Then it was time to clear coat, wet sand, and polish. Here it is hanging for clear coats.
Being clear coated
And after being wet sanded and polished. The front is now complete.
Guitar Body: Back
For the back of the guitar, I had several options. As I mentioned earlier, I had some extra materials to use to possibly come up with something, or I could use the same thing as the front for the back, or I could just paint it a solid color and have no design at all. It took me awhile to come up with what I did, but the back of this guitar is a big reason why it’s one of the most favorite things I’ve done.
I spent quite a few days playing around with the artwork Miartisme provided, cutting things out, moving things around on a paper template of the guitar, trying to “see” something interesting. Here are some pictures of that process.
I was about to give up on this idea as nothing was presenting itself to me, but all of a sudden I saw it. In the bottom of the illustration, in the orange section, a dragon popped out! I was so excited, I cut it out and placed it on the bottom part of the guitar. I was so pleased myself!
But it still felt incomplete, I had all this space left to fill up. And then I saw something else. A bird! The upper section where I had been taping little bits together now appeared to me as a peacock-like bird flying.
Again, I was so pleased to make such a discovery, I now had something unique for the back, a brand new creation, yet still used Miartisme’s artwork, perfect!
They appeared to me as two mythical creatures, very different from each other, one looking up, one looking down, nearly kissing, in harmonious flight together. But something was still missing. What would I use for the background?
I couldn’t decide what single color would look cool as the background, if any. I began thinking it would be really neat to combine a fabric and paper finish. I started looking through my fabric collection and came across one that was perfect. My Mom is a quilter and one of her quilting friends was aware that I made guitars with fabric so she had given me some at one point.
It made for a great night sky, a dreamscape for the fantastical flying creatures.
You can see where I pieced together different bits of the artwork by the blue tape on the layout above. After gluing down the fabric I then glued down the paper creatures.
Next came the long process of applying sanding sealer to “bury” the material in the finish. With a layer of fabric, and then thick paper on top of that, it took a very large amount of sanding sealer. Applying 3-4 coats a day, it took probably 2-3 weeks, with some sanding in between occasionally to check progress. Here are some pictures of the sanding sealer process.
Beginning sanding sealer
Still early on, you can see the significant difference in levels
Sanding sealer applied, still wet
Sanded down, you can some spots around the edges of the creatures that are shiny, still needs a little more sanding sealer
After several more coats of sanding sealer have dried
No shiny spots, all level, sanding sealer finished
With the sanding sealer complete, I just had to trim the edges of the fabric and super glue the edge and sand it smooth like I did with the front.
Trimming edge of fabric with X-Acto knife
Now the back and sides could be painted. Once painted, it’ll stay hanging for clear coats.
After paint, hanging for clear coats
And here it is after being wet sanded. You can see some light sanding scratches that will come out after polish. Once polished this guitar body is now complete!
After wet sand, still needs polished
The Pick Guard
Miartisme had sent me a few copies of the front artwork. One to apply to the front, one incase something went wrong and I screwed it up (which thankfully didn’t happen), and one for the pick guard. With such beautiful imagery covering the front of the guitar, how could I possibly have a plain white pick guard? It HAD to have a matching pick guard. Though this wasn’t the first time doing a matching pick guard (see “Red Fog”), it was the first time using paper and painting it to match perfectly.
So here’s how it went. I started with positioning the pick guard on the body to where it would go.
Positioning on guitar
Then I took close up photos for reference (not shown here) and placed the pick guard over the copy of the artwork and positioned it according to my reference photos so it would line up correctly.
Positioning on paper
I traced the outline and cut it out with an X-Acto knife.
Next I just had to glue the paper onto the pick guard, but to ensure proper adhesion, I sanded the glossy surface down first.
Squeegee helps to remove air bubbles
Checking the fit to see how I did, moment of truth.
Lines up nicely
So then the process for the pick guard was the same as the body, sanding sealer coats, sanding flat, and then painting the edge black to match the body.
Edge painted after sanding sealer
After clear coats and wet sanding and polish, the pick guard is done.
Lastly, the headstock. The only customization I did was to add Miartisme’s signature. This was an added touch of detail I hadn’t originally planned on, but when the artwork arrived and I saw her signature and how cool it looked, I knew I had to include it somehow. Usually I order water slide decals which are very thin and easy to apply and finish over. But in this case, the signature was right there, so with some very precise handy work with the X-Acto knife, I was able to extract her signature from the paper.
After preparing the headstock by sanding it clean I glued down the signature and glued over it with Mod Podge. Being so delicate and thin I wanted to make sure it was all completely glued down.
Glued down and covered with Mod Podge
The Mod Podge is also a sealer so after it was dry I was able to carry on with the other sanding sealer I was using and bury the signature to create a level surface. Being a thicker paper it took quite a few coats to build up to a level surface.
Building up the sanding sealer
After enough sanding sealer had been applied and sanded smooth, I sprayed the headstock with clear in order to wet sand and get the final polished look.
Clear coats applied
Wet sanded and polished
The Final Product
And that is it! Again, even though I discussed each component on its own multiple pieces were all worked on simultaneously. Here you can see at one point I was applying sanding sealer to the back of the body, the headstock, and the pick guard at the same time.
Body, headstock, pick guard, receiving sanding sealer
After reassembling the guitar with the white knobs and pickup covers and discovering I had a couple black tone knobs in my parts drawer, I thought it would look better with a mix of black and white knobs instead of all white.
And finally, some final shots of the guitar completed.
This was an extremely satisfying project and I’m very proud of my part in it, and just want to thank Miartisme for allowing me the opportunity to create this with her. A wonderful collaboration, a beautiful creation.