Just like most musicians, it’s common for guitarists to suddenly crave for gear color change and an often asked question is: “can guitar pickups be painted?” Customizing your own equipment, including the pickups, is a great way to express your creativity to match them with your overall personality and musical style.
For some guitar players, creating music is only one of the many available outlets for self-expression. Sometimes the visual aspect also plays a huge role in developing the stage persona of an artist and that is why we have countless guitar models, colors and finishes for a plethora of genres.
There are also instances when guitarists had to replace their old pickups and their preferred new set doesn’t match the color theme of the instrument. This is a minor problem that can be solved in no time if you will have your guitar pickups painted properly.
While painting on a guitar body seems laborious and time-consuming, doing the same process on a tiny object such as a guitar pickup, is not a walk in the park either. Although you are going to be covering a lot more space, painting a guitar body and avoiding the pickups can even be an easier task than painting the pickups themselves.
The guitar pickup is a sensitive part of the instrument and it is normal for players to be a little bit worried about the idea of spray painting over an electronic device that can be damaged by any form of fluid. Moreover, using spray paint, which is the best way to paint on a guitar pickup, doesn’t grant you the level of control that you would have with a pen or even a paintbrush.
Utmost care and patience is required if you are planning to have your guitar’s pickups painted. If you are not confident that you can pull off the procedure neatly without incurring any serious setbacks, then seeking the help of a professional or a more experienced guitarist is your best bet.
Can guitar pickups be painted?
Guitar pickups can be painted but it requires a smooth paint job in order to avoid ruining your beloved axe. It is, however, not true that painting a pickup will change its tone, unless you slathered too much paint on it or damaged the coils with your reckless handling.
Practice utmost care when removing your pickups and make sure that you remember how you are going to put it back. You don’t want a good looking pickup that doesn’t work, so pay attention to even the tiniest detail to prevent any future issues on your guitar.
What are the materials needed for painting guitar pickups?
Here are the materials that you will need for painting your guitar pickups:
- Microfiber cloth
- Sandpaper (600-800 grit paper)
- Masking tape/double-sided tape
- Hole punch/Puncher plier
- Acrylic epoxy spray paint (base coat)
- Clear coat (top coat)
- Paper towels
- Hair dryer
How to paint guitar pickups
Painting uncovered pickups
- Clean the pickups
Using a microfiber cloth, wipe your pickup clean to remove dust and dirt.
- Cover the poles
Covering up the poles of a pickup can be difficult if you don’t have the right tools. Fortunately, you can use a hole punch or a puncher plier to create small, perfectly-fitting, circular stickers out of masking tape or double-sided tape. Use the tiny pieces of circular tape to cover each of the six poles, to prevent them from getting painted.
- Cover up the sides
Thoroughly cover up the sides and bottom as well using the masking tape to prevent any fluid from entering the magnet and coil.
Everything that involves painting needs a good proper sanding. For uncovered pickups, you will only work on the top part of the bobbin. The “top plate,” which is the non-metal plate where the poles go through, serves as protection for the internal parts of your pickup. You will use very fine 600-grit sandpaper to sand the top plate gently. Wipe off the dirt with microfiber cloth after sanding.
- Primer coat
After sanding the pickup’s top plate, you can now apply your primer. The secret to spraying primer on your pickup is to apply thinly, since it is much better to put on several thin layers rather than spray once with a thick serving.
Let it dry for 10 minutes and repeat the process a couple more times. If you notice that the surface has some rough spots, you will have to sand it again.
- Wipe with wet sandpaper
Now don’t be freaked out by this next step which also involves lightly sanding the top plate, but this time with a wet sandpaper. Dip the sandpaper in clean water and lightly wipe the pickup without rubbing it harshly. Wipe your hands with a paper towel before proceeding to the next steps.
- Base coat
Spray painting the base coat is the next step and this is where your intended color will be defined. Acrylic epoxy spray paint will work well with your pickup’s material.
As always, spray thinly and do it in 2-3 layers, with a few minutes of rest in between to let it dry. If you want to make the color brighter, what you can do is paint it white first before applying your chosen color.
- Top coat
Before applying the top coat, you might have to sand it again with fine grit dipped in paper just to make sure that there are no rough spots. You may use a hair dryer to make sure that your pickup is totally dry before applying the top coat.
The top coat is a clear coat that will protect your color and will prevent your pickups from looking glossy. Spray sparingly and repeat a couple of times with a few minutes of drying time in between.
After this long process, you may now remove all the masking tape and reveal your newly-painted guitar pickup.
Painting covered pickups
Covered guitar pickups are easier to paint compared to uncovered ones since you can detach them and you won’t have to worry about spray painting over the poles or getting some liquid into the coils.
Although pickup covers come in various materials, painting them will be similar to painting uncovered pickups. Using fine sandpaper, you will gently sand the pickup before thinly spraying the primer, base coat and top coat. Allow drying between multiple applications and repeat sanding if necessary.
Be reminded that spray painting pickups should be done outdoors and if you can wear a mask to protect your lungs, then the better. Guitar pickups can be painted properly, just follow the right steps and remember to always observe health and safety measures.