Protecting the autographs on my ukulele?
May 18, 2016 1:54 PM   Subscribe

I recently took my ukulele to a convention and had it signed by two gentlemen close to my heart. I still want to play it (even more so now!), but I worry about the signatures scratching/fading.

The ukulele is an Ibanez with spalted mango laminate and a high gloss finish - so nothing very fancy, but I still want to make sure whatever I do to it will not affect the sound and playability. It was signed with an Edding paint marker. Can anyone suggest the best way to protect the autographs from fading or scratching? Thanks!
posted by Skybly to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Mask off the areas you don't need to protect, perhaps remove the strings, give it a wipe with a lint free cloth and then a good dose of clear aerosol lacquer should do the trick.

Trial this on something that isn't the Ukulele itself just to make sure the lacquer doesn't reactivate the paint beforehand.
posted by stackhaus23 at 2:57 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ibanez's guitar manual (couldn't find one for ukuleles) says the finish can be scratched by polyester cloths and damaged by solvents containing alcohol which leads me to think the finish is shellac. In which case a coat or two of shellac would be an ideal top coat. This EC safety sheet says that black paint pens contain a couple solvents and carbon black. This safety sheet for the Gold pens only lists the solvents. So whatever the pigment is it is probably pretty non-reactive.

However being a natural product shellac can be tricky to spot coat. You might end up having to coat the entire front of the instrument while masking off the sides. It bonds well to base coats and can be easily repaired if scratched without stripping unlike a lot of other finishes.

Having said all that I'd contact Ibanez and ask them. Whatever they use as a finish is probably the best thing to use as long as you test it before hand to make sure it doesn't attack the marker.
posted by Mitheral at 3:56 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Make sure the coating you choose doesn't dissolve and smear the signatures. I guess test it in an extremely small portion of the uke.
posted by JimN2TAW at 4:04 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you contacted the manufacturer and asked what the coating is, and what they recommend?
posted by wenestvedt at 6:29 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

It is highly unlikely that your ukulele is finished in shellac or even nitrocellulose lacquer - these two traditional instrument finishes do not lend themselves to modern mass production and at this point are used only for very high-end or custom-made instruments. It's almost certainly some kind of catalyzed polymer, and most likely polyurethane. The warnings from the guitar manual are because solvents are bad for any finish or the actual wood if you're sloppy with applying it, and polyester cloths are inherently too abrasive, they'll put scratches in any highly-polished finish.

I agree that you should probably see if Ibanez will give you details on the finish or some ideas, but most likely a few thin coats of spray clear urethane or acrylic will do the trick. Aerosol cans are fine. I've had better luck with Krylon products than anything else.

Some Googling supports stackhaus23 & JimN2TAW's concerns about the marker reacting with your clear coat and dissolving or blurring. Some suggest using a water-based product to help reduce the chance of this happening. Some people report good results with applying a thin coat or two of artist's fixative first, others have reported good results simply from keeping the initial coats very very thin, almost not-even-there, and plenty of time to dry between coats.

The ReRanch Guitar Finishing Forum would be a good place to look for tips and tricks.

You'll want to do a test run on the back, including a tiny mark with your marker, just to be sure. Mask off the areas you don't want sprayed (the bridge and fretboard) and gently wipe with a tack cloth and then a very soft lint-free cotton rag before spraying.

Some thoughts from my own experience finishing/re-finishing guitars:

1) multiple VERY THIN coats is the way to go - if you think you missed a spot far better to wait and hit it on the next coat than try to "touch up" a spot while the finish is still wet. Plus see above about marker possibly reacting with the finish unless it's VERY thin.

2) Unless the product you're using specifically says "must recoat within X time frame" ignore every claim about how quickly the product supposedly dries. Give it lots of time, like 12 hours, to dry and cure before each re-coat and especially before actually playing. Yes, this means you might have to live without your uke for a week, and you should have someplace clean to park it while you work on it and wait for coats to cure.

3) You might be able to see where the new finish is due to overspray or a difference in height. Option one would be to just finish the entire front of the uke, option two would be to dig into very very fine grit sandpaper (like 2500-grit or higher) and then buffing compounds to smooth out the edges of the new layer of finish.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:33 PM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

See if you have a local guitar or violin repair shop. It's pretty likely you do, and they will do a far better job preserving your instrument and signatures. This is worth paying professionals to do correctly.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:08 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

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