A guitar with stickers is full of memories of past performances and inspiration. When considering stickers on guitars, you must pick between your head and your heart. So, do stickers damage guitars?
Short answer: You will find that stickers damage your guitars if they are removed incorrectly, potentially causing damage to the wooden body as well as the finish itself.
Guitarists of all types have slapped stickers on their guitars at some points in their careers. From bonafide rock stars to first-time players, you will see guitars with stickers slapped on them.
However, adding some personal flair may come at a cost. Particularly if you aren’t aware of the right ways to remove them from your guitar. Below, you’ll learn how stickers on guitars cause damage, how to prevent that damage, and why some musicians love guitar stickers regardless.
How do stickers damage guitars?
It’s not the placing of the stickers that causes a problem. That poses no problem at all. Instead, it’s the removal of stickers that causes the damage itself.
There’s a whole myriad of problems that can arise if you remove a sticker incorrectly. This can range from basic cosmetic damage to actually fracturing the wood itself. There are two ways stickers can damage your guitar.
For most people, the biggest problem arising from sticker removal is the cosmetic damage it causes to the guitar.
Whether they are left on for a few months or a few years, the difference is quickly easy to see. For starters, the area covered by the sticker will be discolored compared to the rest of the guitar area.
Technically, the area beneath the sticker is (somewhat) protected from the elements. But, the adhesive surface of the sticker affects guitar bodies differently.
You can expect a patch on the body that looks different from the rest. This will impact the condition of your instrument, affecting potential value. Whether in resale or the guitar’s lifespan, the finish difference will put off potential buyers or collectors.
Damaging the wood
Another problem with sticker removal is doing so without damaging the wood underneath. With many stickers having a different adhesive base, it makes finding the right chemical to remove it.
Should you try to remove glue or adhesive with a solvent that isn’t right for the guitar, it could damage the wood underneath the sticker itself. This leaves the instrument’s base structure vulnerable and needs treatment to preserve it longer.
It can also affect the guitar’s tone in some instances, too – particularly in acoustic guitars. Placing a sticker on the top of the body alters how vibrations travel through the instrument. This nullifies the overall volume produced as you play and hurts the natural sounds produced as you strum.
Bass and electric guitars are also affected by removing stickers, but the solid body structure relies on external amplifiers for noise production. So, you’ll find that instruments that don’t rely on the body for sound are safer.
How to remove stickers safely
For most people, placing stickers on your guitar is okay if you know how to remove them safely. Doing this not only preserves the look of your guitar but extends its overall lifespan.
To remove the actual sticker, you can use any sort of gentle scraping tool. Fingernails are a great start, but you might also use an unwanted CD, thanks to its larger surface area. Either way, you’ll want to start from the corner and work along the sticker, being gentle and maintaining patience.
Once you remove the sticker, you’ll leave behind some residue, which is where most guitar players start making mistakes. To remove it, you might need some extra work.
Removing the adhesive substance
For some situations, using a damp rag will be enough to remove any sticker residue. This, alongside a nice guitar polish, will make your guitar happy. But, sometimes, you must work extra and find a solvent.
The most common solvent that works for removing residue is nail polish remover. It works like a charm, but these common solvents all have a catch: they run a higher risk of stripping the paint and causing cosmetic damage to your guitar.
Alternatively, you might consider other alcohol-based tools like lighter fluid, which also has the same risk as nail polish remover. Other musicians swear by eucalyptus oil or naptha, which are not readily available.
Instead, use sticker removal liquids to tackle a sticker’s unique adhesive. They are designed to work especially against tough adhesive bases and prevent long-lasting damage to the surface they are attached to. By doing this, it can protect the look and the structure of the guitar itself – no matter where a sticker might be located.
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Using alternate methods
Solvents aren’t the only way to safely remove stickers from your guitar. There are plenty of other ways to get the job done.
Sometimes, a little bit of heat works wonders when removing a sticker. A gentle heat source like a hairdryer slowly melts the sticker adhesive allowing for a safe removal. It takes a little longer than a solvent but poses much less risk than a chemical solution.
Fretboard stickers might also require an alternate tactic to remove them completely from their base. You will need something that can work around the different levels around the fret base, such as a wire or thread. These can get everything off without nicking a fret and potentially damaging the fretboard.
All these tricks do carry their risks – particularly with removing every last bit of adhesive residue. A solvent may also be required in some circumstances should these methods fail. So take caution no matter how a sticker is removed.
Why place stickers on your guitar?
If you think there’s a chance a sticker might damage your guitar, why would you risk adding it in the first place? After all, it seems like an unnecessary risk to take.
Yet, you will find guitarists of all levels doing it at least once in their lifetime. There’s no shortage of reasons why, either. It could include:
- Personal Flair
- Visual Aids
All these are plentiful reasons to add some decorative art to your guitar. But just what do they add to your playing look?
For most people, adding stickers to their guitars is purely a way of expressing themselves. If you want the audience to notice you when playing, a personalized guitar will catch the eye.
The easiest way to do that: whacking on some stickers to the instrument. Placing a slogan or image on your guitar will make people notice you onstage. It makes you instantly stand out from rival players.
Sometimes, these stickers aren’t just an individual moment of expressionism. For some, it’s also a way to attract and show off endorsements you made.
What better way to sell a product than by sporting the logo on your instrument? Putting that front and center goes a long way to showing who you back when playing. It’s common to see guitarists on tour or at festivals lining their instruments with a sponsor to spread the word.
Not only does it increase your visual appeal to commercial entities, but also gives you a great way to generate some additional income along the way.
A learning aid
For others, using stickers is a way to help them find their way when learning to play. This comes despite their being the basic markers found up and down the fretboard.
However, adding stickers to the neck and fingers can be a visual cue for players to know where to place their fingers for particular chords or techniques.
It does seem like an extreme length to go to at first glance. Particularly as strings have to be removed to place stickers on the fretboard itself. However, it gives an unmissable cue for the eye when looking to nail particular positions when playing. A tactic that has worked for thousands of players – both new and experienced.
At the end of the day, there’s a lot to consider when whacking stickers on a guitar. After all, they are a great way to increase your visibility as a performer and add some individual flair to your instrument. They can even act as a great learning aid should you want to nail a particular chord or note.
However, there is always a risk that stickers damage a guitar. Particularly during the removal process. If they aren’t removed correctly, they may wreck the finish and even taint the wood underneath where the sticker is sitting. That is why removing them is a surprisingly delicate process. Removing them often requires a solvent base, but it’s wise to use the right one to minimize potential damage. By doing this, you will always know what to do if stickers damage your guitar.