From: Michael Beede
Subject: Making custom decals for your guitar headstock: one way that works

This may or may not be of interest for your archives; that’s up to you
to decide. Maybe it will help somebody do better.

How to make custom decals for your guitar headstock

1) Buy blank decal stock: I bought four 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheets from
Walther’s Model Train Supply in Milwaukee (1-800-877-7171; technical
support is x3268) for $7.98 plus shipping. (Walther’s does have a
website, www://

2) Make your design: I did a two-color label, black and yellow, using
CorelDraw 5 which came free with my computer (CorelDraw 5 is copyright
1995 on the initial screen, so I assume it’s by now out of date, but
it still worked.)

3) I made my actual decal design approximately 1 and 1/2 inches wide
by 1 inch tall, to fit on the available space on my Telecaster
headstock. I would consider making multiple copies of this small
design on the larger 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet of decal stock, since
you’ll pay the same amount no matter how many or few copies of the
small design are on an 8 1/2 by 11 original. If you have multiple
copies you can make more mistakes (see addendum) !

4) Print your design on your color inkjet printer (I have a
Hewlett-Packard 722C).

5) Take your paper original and your blank decal stock to Kinko’s and
have them print it (cost $1.68 for printing one copy of the whole 8
1/2 by 11 sheet, which had eight copies of my design on it).

6) Some printshops will be hyperreluctant to print something on
unusual paper which could in principle melt inside their machines and
cause an expensive repair problem. My personal experience is that a
Kinko’s printed it on a Canon CLC-1000 laser color copier without any
damage to the machine. Kinko’s nearby competitor also had a Canon
CLC-1000, but wouldn’t print it without first checking it with

6) (see addendum) Spray several thin mist coats of lacquer on the dry
decal: consider cutting the individual small design off from the big
sheet so you can experiment with the number of coats of lacquer used.
(I have a StewMac maple Telecaster neck from 1996 [sorry, no longer
available] which is finished with nitrocellulose lacquer; I have had
no problems with spraying Pep Boys clear acrylic lacquer on the decal

7) Once the lacquer is dry, soak the individual design in warm water,
and apply to your guitar headstock.

You could in principle take a floppy disk to the printshop and
have them make it directly from your CorelDraw file, but you cannot
count on the printshop having your graphics program of choice. In
point of fact, an Office Max advertised that they’d print up your
desktop publishing from a floppy disk, but their computer was a Mac
with Adobe PrintShop and PhotoShop on it, and the young dude behind
the mouse could not find a filter that would “translate” a CorelDraw
*.cdr file to a compatible Mac format. I find it hard to believe that
there aren’t such filters within such warhorse programs, but I wasn’t
granted twenty minutes to putz with the Mac myself in order to find
such filters.

I hope this helps. The decal came off the paper backing
faster than I thought it would, based on my days of making Revell
plastic airplane models from 1963-1966. I’d be prepared to fish the
loose decal out of the glass of water (when it’s no longer adherent to
the paper) if you don’t act fast.

Addendum 10/26/98: the Walther’s stock is fairly low gloss, which may
or not be an aesthetic problem when the decal is placed on a
high-gloss headstock. I found that the acrylic lacquer caused the
first decal stock to become crumbly after a month, and I replaced the
first decal with another (from the same 8 1/2 by 11 sheet) without any
lacquer. Maybe I’ll overspray the second decal with nitrocellulose
lacquer someday…(the StewMac necks, once made by LaSiDo of Quebec
[who make Godin guitars] were finished with nitrocellulose lacquer
[they’re out of production now]).


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