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Martin Guitar asked me to paint a guitar in Brazilian Rosewood, a wood that they once commonly used to build their guitars but which has become a rare resource. Martin Guitar wanted to take my painted guitar into trade shows as a conversation piece, since it’s now illegal to even import Brazilian Rosewood guitars into certain countries. Here’s the completed painted guitar:

I went to their factory in Nazareth, PA, to tour the amazing process of putting a guitar together — talk about handcrafted. It takes hundreds of steps to make each guitar.

I showed them some sample boards, took photos of existing guitars, and a couple of weeks later, they shipped me a guitar. My mission was to paint the back, sides and head as Brazilian Rosewood. Sample board and real rosewood guitar below.

I didn’t shoot progress photos of the project, so the after shots will have to do (courtesy of Martin Guitar). The process was as follows:

1. Tape off and mask all areas that will not be painted
2. Two coats of oil primer, sprayed on.
3. Three coats of oil base coat, sprayed on. I snuck into the stairwell of my building for all of the spray painting.
4. Overall degreasing with whiting (pulverized chalk) and a light sanding with 1000 grit wet sandpaper
5. Woodgrain glaze: water-based flogging layer, let dry, fine sanding
6. Woodgrain glaze: water-based figure layer, let dry, fine sanding again
7. Woodgrain glaze: water-based toning overglaze, let dry, and a final fine sand
8. Touch ups with a fine brush and acrylics.

Below, shot of the painted side.

The guitar was then sent back to Pennsylvania, where they sprayed on multiple coats of the final lacquer finish.

Random questions answered
Can the painted guitar be played? Technically yes, but after about 8 coats of paint, I’m not sure what it’s going to sound like.
Is the finish durable? Yes, very.
How did you stop the paint from getting all over that mother of pearl logo on the head?
Liquid frisket and a magnifying light. Minor nightmare.
How long did it take all together? About 20 hours.

My friend Diane, a Special Ambassador for Martin Guitar and who set the whole wood grained guitar ball in motion, is here talking about the awesomeness of Martin Guitars.

Here’s a tour of the Martin Factory with the New York Times

If you’re a Martin guitar fan and want to see everything yourself, here’s the tour info

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the wood that Martin uses is here