Ever fancied customizing your favourite guitar with a slick new paint job? Mark Emerson owner and operator of HoldFast Custom Paint & Guitars in Glossodia, NSW gives us the low down on taking your six-string to the next visual level.

Can you give us some background on how you came to be to be specializing in custom-painted guitars?

In 2011 I was looking to get a guitar painted, maybe some artwork done on it. Searching the internet there are all these awesome airbrushed guitars, mostly all in the USA. So with a head full of killer ideas I looked around to get some quotes. The big thing which I found was that it was very apparent that there are very few people around who paint guitars and almost no one who specializes in airbrushing guitars in Australia. 

In my younger years I painted a lot, was good at art, used to paint landscapes, and used an airbrush to paint models. So I thought how hard could this be, so I dug out an old airbrush, stripped down and old bass I had sitting around, and quickly found out that it’s not really that easy to paint a guitar. I went and did an airbrushing course to teach myself how to airbrush properly, I bought a couple of old secondhand guitars, and the rest is history!

The artwork/graphics is only a small part of the job. You need to be able to strip and assemble a guitar, you need to understand paint, how to prep, prime, paint, clear coat then buff and polish the guitar. The process involves a lot of steps which are not as easy as they seem. Hence very few people around who do this type of work.

This started as a hobby doing guitars for friends and myself, and quickly built to where I am now doing this as a full time job. I do it because I love creating individual pieces of artwork on guitars. I am lucky enough to have been able to build a large workshop/studio in the backyard, put in a spray booth, a proper guitar buffer and am all set up to work from home.

What sets you apart from other people doing the same kind of work?

There lots of great airbrush artists around Australia, and most will do a guitar, but Airbrush it only. Holdfast Custom Paint & Guitars offer the complete service; you drop off a complete guitar and then receive a complete guitar back.

We offer everything from a simple colour change, to graphics and full on artwork. We also do kit guitars for customers. Sometimes guys will buy a kit guitar, and then become a bit overwhelmed at the work once they get it. So we can put it together and paint it for them.

What’s involved with the process?

Usually a customer will come to me with an idea for a guitar, an image, a tribute whatever it may be, I will then do a computer mock up with different versions and we will work together to get it to how the customer wants. Most customers just throw an idea at me and say go for it, some others have an exact idea of what they want.

Once we get the guitar it is stripped down, sometimes the paint will all come off, but not always, just depends on the condition of the guitar. It will then be prepped and primed, then a base coat colour will be applied, then the fun part of the artwork.

It is then clear coated, left to cure for at least a week, and then sanded buffed, polished then re assembled.

What are the main options people have to choose from?

You can have your guitar changed in colour, simple graphics like some flames or stripes, or a full on piece of artwork done. Tribute guitars are popular, as are album covers or old movie posters used as the basis of the design.

Our specialty is the Warbird theme. The guitar is painted up like an old WWII fighter or bomber, with panels and rivets, markings and some nose art. Add to that all the wear and grungy grime, and you have a really one off killer looking guitar, these are really popular.

What has been the most challenging piece you’ve worked on?

We have had a few very tight deadlines for some jobs, if the guitar is going on tour or needs to be ready for a photo shoot. We received a full custom guitar from Sydney Guitar Setups, for a very, very picky customer, everything had to absolutely perfect, he picked the smallest inconsistencies, that was challenging.

What has been the strangest request?

I personally don’t think anything is that strange, but I had a customer who I previously done a guitar for and he had just bought two brand new LTDs then cut them in half, and joined them together to make his own twin neck. He asked me to paint it. We tossed a few ideas back and forth, and then he told me he wants me to paint it like an ice cream! I thought that was a crazy, but when it was finished, it was so different, it really worked. It gets such a great reaction when people see it.

Have you ever had to say no to a job?

Not really, if it’s possible we will find a way to do it. Its usually if a customer wants it in a few days or even a week, its just not possible to do it properly.

What is the price range for a custom paint job on a guitar?

Prices usually start from $400 for a simple colour change, and start from $500 for graphics and artwork. We are happy to work with customers depending on their budget.  Most people don’t realize the work that goes into painting a guitar. It usually takes around 3-4 weeks to do a guitar

What are your goals for the business in 2016?

2016 will be a big year, its just starting to snowball. Facebook is amazing, and as we get more likes, the word spreads. Our goal this year is to do guitars for some really well known artists. I would love to see some of my artwork on the big stage. Already we have done a couple of guitars for Peter Northcoate, with more in the pipeline, Stu Marshall is a regular customer, as is Guitar Baby.

I have been working closely with Charles Cilia one of Australia’s best Luthiers and that can only get bigger.

Which tunes do you play the most in the workshop?

I have all sorts of stuff on the iPod, I love all music, and listen to all types, but I really love hard rock and metal, especially ‘70s and ‘80s. Anything from Aus classics like Chisel, Oils, Mi Sex, Grinspoon to Kiss, Thin Lizzy, Van Halen, Metallica, Audio slave, Foo Fighters, Alterbridge, Chickenfoot, I listen to everything, even a bit of Abba!

If you could do a custom paint job for any guitarist, who would it be and why?

Hard question, I love so many different artist’s, and especially ones that have had an influence on me. Gene Simmons, Dave Grohl, Ian Moss, Angus Young, Sammy Hagar, the list goes on.


For more info check out www.holdfastguitars.com