When I started playing guitar in November 2009 (see my studio project ) I went kind of overboard and started buying a ton of guitars. Almost all of them were inexpensive 2nd tier guitars (Epiphones vs Gibsons, Squiers vs Fenders) because I feel that the true music is in your hands, not in the instrument. My favorite guitar (my Number One, to borrow some nomenclature from Stevie Ray Vaughan) is a very inexpensive Squier Stratocaster SE that I only paid $45 for on Craigslist.

The guitar was pretty beat up when I bought it. There were dents and dings all over the body and the previous owner had used a can of gray spray paint to paint the pickguard, knobs, and pickup covers. He also put some kind of yellow/black sticker by the bridge:

After playing the guitar for a couple of months I decided that I wanted to customize it a little (better to destroy a $45 guitar than to destroy a $450 guitar). I wasn't exactly sure what to do with it until I was goofing around in the garage one day and started looking at how good the color scheme of Lava Orange and Black looked on our Mazdaspeed Miata. At that point I decided that I would build an orange and black Miata themed guitar:

The first thing to do was to remove all the strings and the gray pickguard. I'm getting a little help from the cat who's name, oddly enough, is Grayscale. Maybe I should paint him Lava Orange as well?:

You can see the super cheap ceramic magnet pickups. After removing the pickguard I also see that it was originally white before he painted it:

Once the pickguard was removed I pulled out the bridge/tremolo. The week before I had ordered a GFS steel tremolo block to replace the cheap as hell zinc tremolo that comes with the SE Strats. The heavier/denser block is supposed to give you more sustain and warm up the tone. Here you can see the difference between the two blocks. The steel one weighs 235 grams and the zinc one weighs 130 grams:

When I tried to put the new block on I found that the holes did not align correctly. I contacted GFS and they didn't have a clue why there was a difference. It appears that I have some kind of mutant tremolo block. I haven't found any info on the web about it (believe me, I have checked). The standard holes are 10.5mm apart but mine are 10.0mm apart. I modified another black Squier SE strat a few days later and everything was fine. Very strange. You can see that the mounting plate has seen better days:

Once I took all the hardware off the pickguard I got ready to paint it. I used primer, then orange metallic flake, then a clear coat over that:

To keep the bugs and dirt off the paint while each coat was drying I used an old Geo Metro parts car I had as a paint booth. It worked so well that I am thinking about modifying it (cutting off the rear 1/4th of the car) and making a combination paint booth and sandblasting cabinet. I'm not sure how my wife is going to like having that sitting around in our back yard but it did come in pretty handy.

Even though I didn't do a perfect job on the pickguard paint it still looks pretty nice. I was going to go back and repaint it but I figured why bother. The paint will probably just scratch off sometime when I am throwing the guitar around. No need to have perfect paint on a $45 guitar. In addition to painting the pickguard, I also painted the pickup covers and knobs black:

After the pickguard was completed it was time to work on the head:

I removed the tuners and string trees and then sanded the logo off with 400 grit sandpaper and a block:

I wasn't very pleased with the way the black paint looked on the knobs and pickup covers so I used a different type for the head. A good trick when spray painting with a rattle can is the heat it up in a tub of warm water. Sometimes it makes all the difference in the world:

After the paint dried on the head I put an old orange Deals Gap sticker on it to stay with the Miata theme.

I also put a Zoom-Zoom sticker on the body. Zoom-Zoom was a Mazda advertising campaign that started in 2000.

Overall, I think the project turned out pretty nice. After all the painting/upgrades were done I took some time to properly setup the truss rod, action, and intonation. I had been having some problems with the intonation on that guitar in the past. When I found out I couldn't use my GFS steel block I decided to deck the bridge (lowering it until it fully contacts the body of the guitar). This will keep me from using the tremolo but I never really used it anyway. Getting that full contact with the body instead of floating the tremolo should give me the extra sustain that I was after in the first place. After setting the action lower the guitar plays like butter. I've got it just a little above the point where the strings buzz and it really feels good now and looks pretty sweet: