This post is in reply to an email request from someone who is looking to make their own picture covered guitar. Hopefully this long and rambling description of the creation and evolution of my Wolverine guitar is helpful.
If you’ve read my blog, you know that I first started playing on bass with my friends. The drummer felt sorry for me, so he gave me an old Peavey Predator that he had taken completely apart and sanded most of the black paint off it. So the guitar body was a mix of bare wood and dull black paint. It had an 8 hole white pickguard and cheap hardware. I couldn’t decide what color to paint it (I have commitment problems sometimes) until my wife suggested I decoupage it with comic books. I’ve always been a big fan of Wolverine, so I went down to my local comic shop and got a bunch of 25 comics in mediocre condition. I looked for issues that had big pictures of Wolverine that I liked. Most of the comics were traditional newsprint, but one was a Top Cow/Marvel crossover with Wolverine and Ballistic. The crossover had glossy pages.
I cut out all the pictures I liked from the comics and arranged them how I thought they would look best on the guitar body. I did the front first. Then the back. Then the sides. This gave me a good idea of which images would fit best where. I tried to use long, skinny panes for the sides/edges because the corners are the hardest part.
I then got some basic decoupage glue at a local hobby supply store. In hindsight, I don’t know if this is the best stuff to use. It was supposed to seal the wood of the guitar body, but I’m not convinced. I think I should’ve sanded every part of the body down to the wood, sealed it, and then used some sort of adhesive to glue down the pictures.
Also, it took forever for the glue to dry. I got impatient after two weeks and put the guitar together. My neck plate is forever imbedded in there because it got set into the glue before it hardened.
Anyway, what I did was coat each picture in decoupage glue completely so it was wet on the front and back. I then carefully squeezed off excess glue by gently dragging the picture through two of my fingers. I then put the picture on the guitar body. The glue stayed wet so I could move the picture around a bit to get the best fit. The newspaper paper was the most fragile, but adhered to the body the best (no bumps and no bubbles). The glossy paper was easier to move around and position, but it bubbled a bit when it dried.
Personally I like the images/pictures from the glossy paper the best (colors are much crisper and stand out better), but when it dried there were obvious edges where the newsprint and glossy paper overlap. The glossy paper stood out a bit.
Also, I started with the pictures on the edges/sides of the guitar first. That way I would not cover up my favorite pictures I was using on the front and back. Flat surfaces are easiest for gluing the pictures down, but you have to make sure the paper is wet with glue (but not dripping) so you can squeegee out any air bubbles with your hands. Also, if you let the glue get too dry while you are positioning the picture, it becomes tacky and sticky so you start to tear the paper and add bubbles. If you work on one picture at a time and move carefully and consciously, you should have no problems.
I’d also recommend practicing with some waste paper on some waste wood so you get an idea of how to do it. I have a few tears and a few sections that I had to color in later with a marker because I didn’t practice first. Nothing like a little trial and error with your final product.
The hardest parts to get right were the stomach contour on the back and inside the cut outs on either side of the neck. I didn’t want the paper to turn into a shim and throw the neck alignment off, so I just had the paper overlap the corners a bit and cut out any paper that would overlap. The key on corners is to glue the paper in place on the surface you want covered, cut the paper that is now standing up along the corner, fold the two flaps down, cut both flaps at an angle so they don’t overlap, then glue down the flaps.
For the stomach contour on the back of the guitar body, I did a larger picture that was still thin to go completely over the top edge, I then made small slits in the paper so that it fanned out or overlapped depending on which way the curve went. If it overlapped too much, I would cut out triangles of paper and try to lay the remaining paper flat (much like the corners I described earlier). Since I started on the edges, I was able to cover up the cut out sections of edge/side pictures and I wasn’t worried about losing those pictures because they weren’t my favorites.
On the back, I found a great picture that had a dark grey back ground. The picture I had used over the top edge/side was a close, but darker grey. So I cut slits in the great picture and fanned it out over the darker grey picture to fill up the stomach contour. I think it turned our really well. I used an exacto knife to make all the cuts. I found scissors would tear the paper a bit if I was cutting too close to the wood. I could make very precise cuts with the exacto knife, but had to be careful that I didn’t cut through to any pictures underneath. Also, make sure you do this one picture at a time while it is wet otherwise the paper will start to stick and you will tear it. Also, when the glue gets tacky some of the color can come off the glossy paper.
After doing all the edge sides, I let it dry. Then I did the front and let it dry. Then I did the back and let it dry. As I mentioned before, I should’ve then let it dry even longer before putting it back together. The decoupage glue takes a long time to harden. I was impatient and two weeks was not enough.
Oh, one other thing. I didn’t fill in the screw holes for the bridge or the pickguard. While the pictures were still somewhat damp with glue, I pocked toothpicks into the holes and then glued them in place. I was able to put everything back together where it had come from. If I did this again, I would fill the holes and start from scratch (including a more modern 11 hole pickgaurd).
I then tried to gently wet sand it, but the decoupage glue is water based and was firm, but not rock solid, so I was worried I was damaging it. I put the guitar all together and everything still seemed to work fine.
I took everything apart again and then used some sort of clear coat in a can to try to give it a harder shell. I used water base clear coat (like for car paint jobs) to make sure there were no problems or chemical reactions with the decoupage glue (plus, I was living in an apartment at the time and didn’t have good ventilation or the tools for the more dangerous stuff…however, all the fumes are bad for you, so make sure you have ventilation or are outside).
I let the new clear coat dry for 3 weeks (however the neck plate was embedded in the guitar and I couldn’t get it out so it was clear coated too).
It did get harder over time, however I kept the guitar on a stand in the living room and the clear coat/decoupage glue combo pooled a little bit where the body rested on the bottom prongs of the stand.
The clear coat/decoupage glue combo got a little hazy in places. I don’t know if it was bubbles or some chemical reaction, but I sanded them down a bit and they are no longer there (but not really because of my sanding).
None of these things were the end of the world for the guitar. It played well. It sounded good. And the Wolverine body always got comments. From far away it looked like some sort of floral image, but up close it was/is awesome!
I used that guitar for a couple of years in that state and then hooked up with Warmoth guitars. I upgraded the hardware (Wilkinson bridge, LSR roller nut, Sperzel locking tuners) and using a woodworking friend’s spoke shave, I reshaped the back of the neck, beveled the edges of the headstock, and sanded off the Peavey Predator headstock logo. Another friend who works in a cabinet shop then shot the whole thing (body and newly re-shaped neck) with lacquer (including a new Wolverine headstock logo which I printed on a transperancy. It moved slightly after being placed on wet lacquer, so that’s what the “shadows” on the letters is from). This was so much better. He also sealed the neck first. I don’t know what product he used, but on my request, the neck is a slightly dull or matt finish compared to the glossy finish on the body. I don’t know why, but any hazy sections disappeared on the body and the newly shaped neck just feel wonderful to play. This is a maple fretboard guitar, but we didn’t do anything to the fretboard. We tapped it off and only sprayed the back and headstock with lacquer.
I waited 3 weeks after the last coat of lacquer before putting the guitar back together (he said 2 would be more than enough). The finish on the neck has been great and has had no problems. The matt finish is super smooth and fast to me.
The finish on the body is still much clearer than my clear coat/decoupage glue version (which didn’t get sanded off). However, the new finish has begun to crack. It started on some of the screw holes, but some big cracks in the finish have spread out too. I personally think this is because the body underneath was not sealed originally. Or it may be old air bubbles under the decoupaged pictures. Or it could be other issues with the lacquer not getting a good finish with all the stuff under it. I don’t know. It doesn’t look bad. And you can’t see the cracks unless you look carefully or gently run your hand along the body. But they are there. It does not impact playability.
I don’t know if this very long explanation of my Wolverine guitar build is helpful. I’m sure it raises more questions than answers. And I’m sure it exposes my huge knowledge gaps when it comes to this whole guitar building world. But I love the guitar. It is great to play. It is a better instrument than what it started life as. And it still looks really cool!
I will eventually shield the pick up cavity, replace the pots, and drop in new pick ups, but it hasn’t been necessary. It gives me that classic strat sound and it looks good doing it!