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Tech Talk

Will Stickers Affect the Tone of an Acoustic? (And How to Remove Them)

Stickers may be easy and fun to put on your guitar, but getting them off is a different story.

It happens to most players … sooner or later you’re going to want to change things up a bit.

Maybe you’ll try some new strings or investigate new electronics. Or, maybe you’ll just slap a sticker on it.

But before you plaster your guitar with Hello Kitty or political slogans it’s worth knowing what you’re getting into. As easy as putting stickers on can be, getting them off can be significantly more difficult with a host of unique challenges.

Here, we’ll cover whether stickers affect your tone and how to get them off if you ever change your mind.


DOES PUTTING STICKERS ON AN ACOUSTIC AFFECT TONE?

“It’s negligible,” says Fender Acoustic Product Specialist Rodrigo Ibieta.

The basic rule is that anything that can dull the vibrations of the wood could have a negative affect on tone, but, per Ibieta, “unless you’re layering the guitar in stickers 99.9% of people won’t notice much of a change in sound.”

And it doesn’t matter whether a player stickers up the sound board, the back or the sides.

When you start talking about amplifying acoustics things get a slight bit … stickier.

A magnetic pickup will likely be less susceptible to the slight change of adding a few stickers. Undersaddle pickups, however, might pick up some slight variation in sound, but according to Ibieta, it's still negligibile. “If you amplify a guitar 10 times you may be able to better hear any slight differences in tone, but I still think we’re in the realm of probably not."

Adding stickers is easy and fun to do and knowing that it won't sink your tone may have you thinking, what’s the downside?


REMOVING A STICKER FROM AN ACOUSTIC GUITAR

“Anything you apply to a sticker to remove the adhesive is going to damage your guitar,” says Fender Product Specialist for Electric Guitars and Basses Steve Pepper. “Water, alcohol, whatever you use could do something negative to your guitar.”

Welcome to the down side.

As easy as adding a sticker may be, removing it—without damaging your guitar—is significantly more tricky. And may create more problems than it solves as the finish underneath that sticker you want to scrape away may already be ruined.

Without knowing variables like a guitar's finish and condition, the adhesive used on the sticker, how long the sticker has been on the guitar, and how the instrument has been stored it’s hard to gauge the exact right approach to easily removing a sticker.

Pairing the wrong solvent with a guitar's finish—like using a petroleum-based solvent on the polyester finishes Fender has used on some guitars for decades—can have disastrous results and leave a troubling milky haze on your instrument.

And if the guitar’s finish is cracked or damaged in any way that makes the process all the more difficult, as you now face the danger of peeling off far more than any offending stickers.

So, what are the options?


HOW TO REMOVE A STICKER FROM AN ACOUSTIC GUITAR

The first and best option to remove a sticker without delaminating, scratching or otherwise damaging your guitar is to take it to your local guitar dealer or instrument repair professional. They’ve likely removed dozens (or hundreds) of stickers over the years and will have the expertise and patience to do the job correctly.

If you want to attempt it on your own—and caution is advised—the safest way forward is an amazingly lo-fi process that just requires a light touch and extraordinary patience.

Carefully peel up a corner of the sticker with your fingernail, which should leave the least amount of damage to the guitar. Then, using a slightly damp towel, begin to apply moisture to the adhesive while you slowly—very slowly—work the sticker away from the guitar.

Eventually the sticker will come off and you’ll likely be left with some adhesive on the guitar. Gently work the surface of the guitar in small circles with the damp cloth until the adhesive clumps together. It’s a long process, but eventually the sticker will be gone.

READ MORE: Finishing School: The Science and Style of Fender Finishes