The tale of a young guitar player creating a collage made up of stickers and cut-outs on the pristine body of his instrument is a common one. However, whatever comes next is a more predictable plot twist – the six stringed slinger has finally matured and now he wants to know how to remove stickers, tape and residue from his guitar. It is a known fact that at some point in our crazy lives as musicians and fans, we will outgrow the things that sparked our interests as young people.
Aside from the fact that 40 year old men will not admit that they listened to Limp Bizkit in their youth, any sticker on a guitar would’ve faded just as fast as the nu metal trend of the late 90s. As for that cut-out of your favorite eyeliner-wearing emo punk vocalist, the scotch tape that was holding it in place is now peeling off and it’s a total eyesore.
As we progress, our music preferences shift and so do our tastes and interests in life. The yesteryears will become fond memories that we don’t need to be reminded of everytime we see a vandalized guitar in our living room. Besides, we have developed the appetite for the finer things and now we can see clearly the default beauty of the guitar that we obtained in our younger days.
For guitarists who would rather put their instrument on sale, either to upgrade their setup, or to purchase other equipment, a guitar with stickers can be unappealing to buyers. But if you are the buyer, then be aware that removing stickers is not a complicated task, just that it will eat up your precious time. A guitar that is peppered with tape and stickers is such a hassle to deal with and that kind of inconvenience should be considered as a legitimate haggling point to reduce the price.
That horrendous MTV sticker on a second hand ax is definitely an abomination but what’s more uncomfortable for its new owner is the feeling that the instrument still belonged to someone else. Stickers are a very personal thing, and even though they fade relatively fast, there will always be a feeling of permanence everytime you slap them on your belongings.
Adhesives keep things stuck to your guitar
Whether it’s stickers, tape or residue that you wish to remove from a guitar, it’s the stubborn adhesives that will give you a hard time in attempting this process. Adhesives such as glue and paste, are substances that are responsible for binding objects together in a chemical way, as opposed to mechanical means such as using nails and screws.
The adhesives on tapes and stickers are very similar in component and would peel off using common chemicals. However, the strength and amount present in each varies depending on the purpose of the tape or sticker. For example, duct tapes, which are perfect for sealing off and handling heavier packaging, contain much stickier adhesives. On the other hand, stickers for children’s books, as well as other collectibles, possess a milder adhesive bond strength.
Chemicals for adhesives removal from guitars
Since adhesion relies on chemical reactions to attach surfaces together, the goal is to break the bond by using certain chemicals that react against adhesives, without ruining the finish or the wood of the instrument.
For safe adhesives removal, Fender recommends using naphta, a flammable fast-dry thinner available at most local hardware stores. Cheaper, more common options would be lighter fluid and acetone, which are quite effective according to most tests. Denatured alcohol, also known as methylated spirits, can produce surprisingly good results as well.
The internet is full of alternative suggestions, from all-purpose cleaners to dishwashing liquid, and most aren’t as effective as naphtha or lighter fluid, not to mention the fact that some of them can create bubbles and harm the guitar’s electronics.
Breaking the bond from your guitar
Stickers and tapes with weaker adhesives can sometimes be peeled off using your nails, but it is almost certain that some residue will be left on the guitar, not to mention the scratches and dings that you might inflict on the instrument.
Before proceeding to remove stickers, tape and residue from your guitar, make sure that you will be working in a clear, organized space. Since you will be handling flammable materials, follow extra safety precautions to avoid any injury or damage.
The first step in this procedure is to break the bond between the tape or sticker using your chemical of choice (in this case, we will use the cheaper, more accessible lighter fluid). Spray a generous amount of lighter fluid on the paper towel without making it drip, then hold it over the sticker or tape for a few seconds, allowing the substance to seep through.
This step will soften the glue but will not be enough to remove the sticker or tape entirely, you need to gradually separate it. Using your fingers, start peeling off from the edges that have already detached itself from the wood and occasionally put in a few drops as the adhesives will continue resisting until you have completely removed the sticker or tape.
You may use the paper towel that has been sprayed with lighter fluid to completely wipe off the adhesive residue. For more severe cases such as industrial strength packing tapes, more patience is needed as it will take more time, effort and chemicals to finish the job.
Even for more moderate adhesives, removing stickers, tape and residue from a guitar could take more than just a drop and a wipe, so don’t rush and you will surely achieve a much cleaner outcome.