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The Space Bass: Custom Painting My Bass Guitar

When I learnt how to custom paint, it was to use the skill in my jewellery, however, being a bassist I couldn’t resist painting a bass just because I could.  It was an intricate design for my first go, but it worked out in the end. The bass itself works fine and sounds great, so I’m happy.

The first thing was to find a bass to paint, EBay obliged with £30 worth of slightly abused Fender Squire P-Bass.  It was in a bit of a state but I cleaned it up took it apart and sanded it back. I took it almost back to the wood taking off the heavy commercial lacquer as I knew the gloss coat I was going to use on the top was thick so if I painted over the lacquer would have meant none of the fittings would have gone back on correctly.  I used an electric sander and ended up looking like a Smurf with all the blue paint!

Once cleaned it was now ready to start the painting.  First I needed to decide on and plan the design, I used one of my sound sketches as a starting point.  It is based on a song – Muse’s Cave (Remix).  It’s on YouTube here  I took the initial sketch and fitted the design on to the bass on a 1:1 scale drawing.  I knew I wanted it to be an abstract spacescape, so the background was a starry sky and the Milky Way would appear on the back.

Always use a respirator!

I undercoated the body of the bass white with my mini-gun, I masked up the headstock and painted that white too.  (I love my mini-gun, it’s a beautiful piece of pink anodised aluminium).

Pink mini-gun
My pink mini-gun

Now comes the complicated bit, a bass turns out to be an odd three-dimensional shape so evenly covering the whole thing in masking tape was a bit of a challenge but once that was done I could sketch out the design directly on to the tape.  I worked out which order I wanted to do the painting in, what I had to keep masked, when.  Look at the image of the 1:1 design drawing above and you’ll see my notes.  I also made a titanium pick guard at this point. I wanted it as minimal as possible, just to cover the electrics.  The masking tape was cut to do the deep space blue first.

Once the deep blue was sprayed both sides, much masking and re-masking ensued to paint the purple hoops and green spheres.  I wanted the spheres to look vaguely earth-like so they are painted in swirling green and blues built up with the airbrush and taken back with a cotton bud soaked in reducer then built up again.  I used my hand as an organic stencil which worked well

Poppy Porter: custom painted Space Bass front
Poppy Porter: custom painted Space Bass front

From here I keep stripping the masking tape off each piece of the design and painting as I go, next up was the lightning flash (this is the harsher sound of the electric guitar to the mellower purple bass hoops and electronic sounds of the spheres).  The lightning flash is shaded with a bevelled edge to give it a three-dimensional feel like the spheres and hoops. Then jagged line around the edge which was originally to be yellow but I decided it would look better with an icy look so toned it down with some blue.

Now for the Milky Way.  I had already spattered stars on the front when I painted the dark blue/black background, but this has to look like a specific feature of the night sky rather than just generic starry sky.  I used several images of the Milky Way as source material and amalgamated them to fit the back of the bass.  I loved painting this part best I think, the airbrush works so well for this kind of painting. Again I built up with the airbrush and worked back with a cotton bud soaked in reducer.  I also painted the headstock with a starry night sky.

Poppy Porter: custom painted Space Bass back
Poppy Porter: custom painted Space Bass back

Now followed a bit of touching up and wrapping the green pipes? Tethers? Snakes? (I’ve no idea what they are!)  around the top cutaway horn.  This was the most complicated three dimensional part of the design and needed a bit of juggling to get it all to connect.

Poppy Porter: custom painted Space Bass detail
Poppy Porter: custom painted Space Bass detail

Happy with the painting now, so time to gloss coat.  I lack the equipment (air fed mask and a spray booth) to use the usual gloss coat, so I decided to experiment with the epoxy resin I use in my jewellery.  It is used as a flood coat in surfboard making so there is no reason I shouldn’t work on a bass.  It creates a thick gloss coat that is very satisfactory although if there is the slightest bit of grease, it will pull away and leave a little crater!  I had to redo this coat twice to get it right!

Some further finishing and polishing with Auto-Glym resin polish and it looked great.  It then went off to an exhibition in the New Ashgate Gallery in Farnham.

Poppy Porter: custom painted Space Bass headstock
Poppy Porter: custom painted Space Bass headstock

Once it returned, from a spell of hanging on the wall all that remained to do was get it working. Luckily my husband is good with electronics so a bit of soldering, and it was working.  I got it set up at my local guitar shop, and we were good to go.  It’s a superb bass, a real workhorse, sturdy and holds down the low end brilliantly now with its shiny new paint job it looks deadly 🙂

Poppy Porter: custom painted Space Bass
Poppy Porter: custom painted Space Bass