You’ve been to a show or workshop and had an all-time great autograph your guitar. It’s a proud moment, and you want to show that autograph off for as long as you live. But how do you keep it from fading or disappearing altogether?
The best-looking and longest-lasting solution to preserving a signature on your guitar is to apply a clear acrylic coat and finish it with a clear polyurethane lacquer on the autographed surface. This gives you a seamless finish that looks as good as the original finish and protects the autograph effectively.
To preserve that cherished autograph on your guitar, you should follow these steps:
- Sand the surface around the signatures.
- Remove excess dust.
- Spray the surface with an adhesion promoter.
- Apply a layer of acrylic clear coat.
- Coat with a solvent-based clear lacquer to finish it off.
It sounds relatively simple, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
Most often, autographs are written with a felt tip permanent marker like a Sharpie. But markers don’t adhere well to glossy surfaces, so they fade with time. You must, therefore, protect your asset with proper preparation and a solid coating.
I’ve witnessed guitarists doing all sorts of things to protect their prized autographs. Some have applied cut-outs of clear contact paper over the ink. And others have brushed over the signatures with crafter’s acrylic sealer to preserve them.
But these are not long-term solutions. And, in my opinion, they just don’t look great either.
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Preparing Your Guitar and Applying the Lacquer
Beware that applying solvent-based clear lacquer directly to the autograph before prepping the surface could cause the ink to run. It’s also unlikely that a solvent-based polyurethane lacquer will adhere directly to the existing smooth finish.
Thus, preparing the surface is very important.
You will find the adhesion promoter and clear acrylic coat at your local hardware store. You can also get clear polyurethane lacquer at the hardware store, but it probably won’t provide UV protection.
For proper protection and a hard surface, you should look for a catalyzed polyurethane lacquer like this. Better yet, ask your local luthier or auto spray painter for help and have it done professionally.
1. Sand the Surface
If the autograph is on the pickguard, remove it from the guitar before working on it. If you’re protecting a signature on the body, remove the pickups, bridge, pickguard, control knobs, etc., first. Also, close any open cavities with painters or masking tape.
You can use 400 or 600 grit sandpaper to lightly sand the surface around the signature. Be careful not to sand over the autograph but try to get as close as possible.
You just want to remove the shine here and not the paint. So, sand the entire surface, except for the autograph itself, very lightly.
2. Remove Dust
Next, you should remove any dust from sanding by wiping the surface down with a wax and grease remover. Keep it far away from the autograph, though. It will destroy the ink. Just wipe down the areas you’ve sanded.
3. Spray with Some Adhesion Promoter
Apply a thin coat of adhesion promoter (like this one on Amazon) to ensure the clear polyurethane coat adheres to the surface. Ensure your nozzle is about 8-10 inches from the surface and spray in short bursts moving from side to side. Let it dry for about 2-3 hours before proceeding to the next step.
Applying adhesion promoter is especially important if you’re working with the pickguard or a similar hard, glossy surface.
4. Apply an Acrylic Clear Coat
When your adhesion promoter is dry, spray on a coat of acrylic clear coating. I recommend using this Krylon can. This will prevent the ink of the autograph from bleeding. Give it about 24 hours to dry before applying your polyurethane clear lacquer to finish.
5. Finish with Clear Polyurethane Lacquer
Solvent-based lacquers are dangerous to work with and can be lethal if you don’t know what you’re doing. I strongly recommend that you get a professional to handle this step for you.
But, if you decide to apply the polyurethane lacquer yourself, you must take care to wear the proper protection. A full-face respirator mask and gloves are a must. Also, make sure you carry out the application in a very well-ventilated space.
Apply an even coat, making 2 to 3 passes back and forth over the surface. Leave it to dry in a temperate and well-ventilated area for about 3-4 weeks before moving it. You’ll want to wait about 6-8 weeks at least before playing the guitar again, but it’ll be well worth the wait.
Plan Ahead of Getting an Autograph on Your Guitar
Here’s an alternative option you should know about. There are things you can do before getting that signature to avoid going through this process.
If you think you may meet someone you admire and get their autograph, don’t take a black marker with you. Black ink fades faster and will turn brown as it fades, which can be unsightly.
Choosing where your idol will leave their mark is also crucial. If possible, you should remove the metal backplate or the pickguard and take that with you. It’s also much easier to carry either of these than lugging the whole guitar with you.
An autograph on the backplate is easy to preserve because a clear coating will adhere nicely to the metal. But, if you choose to have your pickguard signed, I suggest keeping that pickguard for display purposes. You can always buy a replacement for your guitar.
If executed well, coating your guitar to preserve that autograph, as outlined above, will look great and won’t devalue your instrument.
If you aren’t planning to play the guitar and just want to put it on display, you may not need to apply any coating. If placed in a UV-protected case, it should be fine. However, you can apply a thin layer of clear acrylic coat to the surface just to be on the safer side.