Does Painting a Ukulele Affect the Sound? (How about Stickers?)

Today I’m going to explain whether painting a ukulele will damage the sound. 

Growing up, my brother painted a couple of ukuleles by hand. Some of them faired better than others, so I’m here to try and steer you in the right direction.

And one of the first things you’ll want to know is that oil paints will actually affect the sound more than other types of paint, but more on that later. 

Let’s get into it!

Does Painting a Ukulele Affect the Sound?

Painting a ukulele will always impact the sound, because it affects the way the instrument resonates. With that said, the difference in sound is typically indistinguishable, and probably won’t be a problem for hobbyists painting inexpensive ukuleles. However, some ukuleles and paints will be affected more than others.

Anything you apply to the surface of a ukulele will affect the way it resonates.

Frequencies dart into the soundhole from the strings and back out, using the whole shape of the instrument to resonate with sound. When you add paint, you dampen resonation

With that said…

Your Ear Might Not Know The Difference

Even though you dampen things when you add paint, there’s a good chance the change will be impossible to notice. You might only sense the difference if you put your ear up against a painted ukulele, pluck a string, then compare the sound with a ukelele that was still unpainted.

So, Painting the instrument changes the sound but most players won’t be able to tell. 

It’s also worth noting that you’ll probably enjoy playing an instrument more if you like looking at it. When you put your creative energy into the appearance of something, you’re often more inclined to come back to it. 

It’s Not Safe to Paint Some Components

While it’s safe to paint the body of the instrument, you should steer clear from the neck, frets, tuning keys, nut, and bridge. 

That means pretty much everything except the body. Tuning those components will directly impact your ability to play and negatively affect the sound. That is unless you’re going for a jangly, paint-gummed sort of sound!

To each their own.  

Again, painting anything but the body could ruin sound quality. 

If you’re dead-set on painting the tuning keys, just make sure you don’t get paint inside their mechanism of action. They have to be able to turn freely. 

The same goes for the bridge. Make sure not to paint any part of the bridge that makes contact with the strings. For the same reason, painting the neck and frets will always impact sound unless you paint the back of the neck. 

Strings need to press freely upon frets without interference. If there’s something on the fretboard (paint, gunk, divots, etc.), the sound will be very different on that particular fret.

Is it Safe to Paint a Ukulele? 

Apart from differences in sound, you might be worried about the structure of the instrument itself. Imagine yourself painting your ukulele, going to sleep, and waking up to a warped and ruined instrument. 

Typical, right?

Well, the good news is that you don’t have to worry about that happening. 

That said, you should make sure to use appropriate paints and finishes (if you want to use a finishing agent to coat the paint). There could be a product or two out there that does serious damage to ukuleles, but sticking to the paints we discuss later will keep your uke safe. 

We’ll take a look at your paint options later in this article, but first, allow me to give my personal recommendation about painting a ukulele.

Should You Paint Your Ukulele? (My Recommendation)

In my opinion, there are some instruments that you paint and some that you don’t. 

Obviously, it’s up to the person who owns the instrument, but when it comes to people who save up to buy a nice quality ukulele, I wouldn’t recommend painting it. 

If you want to paint a ukulele, there’s nothing wrong with going to the store and getting a cheap or used one. In fact, get two or three that you can paint. You can still play them well and they’ll look really great hanging on your wall. 

A fine instrument is already a work of art. You can see the woodworking right there in front of you, and it’s as unique as you or me. Plus, there’s no turning back once you put the brush to the body. 

That’s just me, though. I have a tendency to get too precious about these sorts of things, and I fully appreciate that someone would enjoy their instrument way more if they painted on it. 

It Depends on How You Want to Use The Instrument

If you’re recording yourself with microphones that pick up bug legs tapping across the floor next door, you might want to hold off on painting the instrument. That’s if you’re going for true purity of sound.

You might have a vintage ukulele that produces a very specific sound, and that’s the sort of instrument that you should avoid painting. Classic instruments with history and culture in the context of your family or friends are also better left untouched. 

Generally speaking, if you’re just a casual player, don’t paint anything that you might regret five years down the line. If you’re a professional, don’t paint the ukulele you use to record.

Take that from someone who has etched, painted, and planted stickers on instruments only to feel the sting of regret for years to come. 

What Paint Can be Used on a Ukulele?

Now that we’ve worked through the nuts and bolts of how painting affects the ukulele, let’s talk about different paints you might want to use. 

Note that different paints require different painting methods. If you choose one of the following options it would be wise to look up a tutorial or two on how to use that specific type of paint. 

Jumping right into a painting project without any tips might leave you with a regrettable end product. 

1. Can You Use Spray Paint on a Ukulele?

Spray paint is acceptable to use on a ukulele but keep in mind that it’s prone to drips and has a wide spray radius. 

Drips come when you hold the spray bottle in one place for too long. They can be hard to remove and they tend to develop after you set the instrument to dry. A little excess paint might gather and form a drip that dries as a lump. 

Take some precautions when it comes to the spray radius, too. It’s smart to remove components that you don’t want to paint before you start. If you can’t remove the nut and bridge, for example, make sure to cover those areas with tape. 

Make sure to protect the neck, frets, bridge, nut, and tuning keys

2. Can You Use Acrylic Paint on a Ukulele?

Acrylic paint is the way to go if you’re making designs or doing any “fine” painting on the ukulele. It’s thin paint so it might affect the resonation a little less than, say, oil paints. 

Try to have a design in mind before you start using acrylic paint, though. The paint dries fast so you’re not able to manipulate strokes as easily after you make them. If you use slow-drying paint, you can get away with more mistakes if you push the paint around a little bit.  

3. Can You Use Oil Paint on a Ukulele?

Oil paint is a more vibrant option for your ukulele. I recommend using oil paint on a low-quality ukulele that you want to serve as a work of art rather than a functional instrument

You can definitely use a ukulele after you use oil paint on it, but the impact on sound might be more pronounced than it would be with spray paint or acrylic paint. That said, the image might pop out a little more clearly and last longer if you use oil paints.

Will Stickers Affect a Ukulele’s Sound?

Stickers, unlike paint, will not affect the sound of the ukulele. They cover too small of a surface to make a serious impact on the way the instrument sounds.

A lot of musicians slap stickers on instruments of all kinds and there’s not much evidence to suggest that it damages sound quality. They are very difficult to remove, though. 

When the day comes that you want to remove your sticker and bring the ukulele back to its original glory, you might have to spend an hour or two scrubbing the sticker residue off. It’ll come off eventually, but it’s one of the more frustrating ways to spend your time. 

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