The Handprint Guitar

There is something special about children’s prints. That’s why we stamp their feet on birth certificates and give our moms plaster castings of our palms. These prints represent some of the most detailed parts of our outer bodies and symbolize touch. It is, I think, about connectedness. A reminder of the little people we love.

Recently, I decided that I wanted one such reminder of a special little girl on my guitar. Unfortunately, the only relevant experience I have was the time I basically ruined my first electric guitar with a can of green spraypaint and the wood floors I refinished (pretty successfully) over a year ago. This project required a little more thought and delicacy. I started searching and the closest I got was this. Many other threads suggested custom decals over paint. But, like I said, there is something special about touch. I wanted this handprint to be a spot she had physically touched. Not a printed-out replica of something else she touched. After about a week of searching and a conversation with someone who has experience with paints and finishes, I decided to just dive in and do it my own way, right or wrong.

The challenge was, I did not want to refinish the entire guitar. All I wanted to do was add a handprint over top of what was already there. Someone had suggested putting the handprint right over top of the current finish and then sealing it in with several new layers of finish on just that side. I liked this idea since it didn’t require getting down to paint or bare wood. However, I did not (and still do not) know what type of finish was used on the guitar. Searches on the model turned up nothing. So, I thought something like Minwax’s Polycrylic would work. At least I had a new can sitting around. I also had some acrylic paint and figured this would work too. I certainly wanted to avoid the cleanup required with an oil-based paint on a small child’s hand. The biggest advantage I had was that I wanted the print on the back of the guitar. After all, this print is just for me. No one else needs to see it while I play. By targeting the back, I figured that as long as I did not put a hole through my guitar, any mistakes should not matter.

So, I pulled out a Mouse-type orbital sander and some 120 grit sandpaper and got to work. That was scary. I just sanded enough to make sure there was enough abrasion to allow the paint and finish to adhere. This was the point of no return and I was really (really, really, REALLY!) hoping it would work.

The back of my guitar, lightly sanded

You will notice that I also put painter’s tape around the edge. I took this off after applying the first coat of finish so it would not be forever-sealed to the guitar. I never put any back on after that because I am a cheapskate. However, putting more on with each application would probably have been better.

The next step was to get a waking child to cooperate with the printing portion of the project. For mother’s day, I had made a silicone mold of her hand while she was asleep. That was a much better strategy. Although she was more than happy to slap her hand in the paint while awake, opening her palm and putting it just so was a bit of a challenge. But, it finally worked. Then, we had to clean her up… and everything she touched. Anyway, the hard part was over. The handprint was not “perfect,” but its imperfections were everything I had hope for.

After letting the handprint dry for a couple hours, I applied the first layer of Polycrylic with a synthetic brush. Since I was only refinishing one side of the guitar, spray-on finish seemed like a bad idea. I applied a new layer every two hours per the directions on the can but kept having to sand away bubbles. Some quick research gave me two new pieces of wisdom: 1.) Do not wipe off excess finish from the brush (instead, tap the brush on the can if needed), and 2.) Use a technique called tipping off to even out the finish and remove bubbles. Tipping off is simply going over the finish with a brush in one direction to smooth things out. I had already done this without knowing the term, but someone suggested using a dry brush instead of the brush I was already using. The dry brush did the trick. I used a moist paper towel to wipe excess finish off the edges and sides.

After six layers of Polycrylic, I called it good. There are still some spots I want to go over later (maybe with someone more experienced). But, in general, the project seems a success. I am surprised and grateful at how well it turned out.

My guitar has been special to me since I first received it. Now, it is sacred.


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