Have you ever seen a dried out ukulele finger board, or body? I have seen some very bad ones on violins, but I have seen a ukulele fingerboard that made me need to figure out whether I needed to oil, when no one I have ever known mentioned oiling a uke in my past.
I can now tell you now after consulting with my local luthier as well as calling a leading ukulele manufacturer, there are specific instances a ukulele will need to be oiled, as well as additional preventative steps you can take to extend the life of your ukulele, but only careful observation will reveal how often your instruments needs that attention.
Should You Oil A Ukulele?
One time, I was at my auntie’s house that I hadn’t seen in quite a while, there were little kids around, and some of the older kids were playing board games while the adults chatted and snacked. My Aunt told me that she had bought a ukulele at a garage sale because it was so cute, and she wanted to try to play it.
She brought out a VERY old looking uke, but it had some great embellishments and a lovely look to it.
But the fingerboard on the uke was so dry, the entire thing had taken on a light tan color and looked splotchy in a really interesting way. My auntie said that she had wanted the uke because of the really interestesting look it had, different from any uke she had seen before.
After looking closely at the fretboard, I saw that ithad hairline cracks in it that were along the grain of the wood, in the dryed out places. She asked if she could just oil it like some old furniture, but I wasn’t sure based on the need of the instrument to vibrate to create the resonant sound.
Would the oil dampen the resonance of the ukulele and change the instrument sound? I sure don’t know.-me, to myself
So I reached out to my local luthier, who I have gotten to know pretty well over the years. Although he is very cantankerous and about to retire, he seems to know everything there is to know about any acoustic instrument.
He told me that it’s perfectly fine to oil your ukulele if it needs it. He said in 50 years of being a guitar technician and luthier, that once the instrument has been made and finished, oiling it is something that needs to be done very infrequently. He said he only oils an instrument if he picks it up and it feels noticebly dry.
and I asked him what kind of instrument oil I should use to clean and polish it, and he told me specifically- do not buy instrument oil, just use mineral oil. I’ll have to investigate that more in the future but his confidence, and experience is enough to get us started on the path to knowing whether we need to oil our uke but I wanted to check with another source.
I sent an email to a manufacturer based out here on the West Coast of the US, Kala and I asked that exact question and got the following response:
Should I Polish My Ukulele?
Dry fret boards, dull ornamentation and a grimy ukulele body are all symptoms of not keeping your instrument in good maintained order. Most ukulele players and instrument owners know that polishing your ukulele will extend its life and reduce the cost of long term maintenance on a valuable and beautiful instrument. Thankfully, it’s a quick process that doesn’t take a lot of effort or time to incorporate into your usual playing routine.
In order to polish your uke, you just need to do a few simple steps and here’s a quick overview that will keep your instrument looking and sounding good for years.
1. Get your mainteance materials together
You’ll only need a few items to polish your uke. I personally like to use a soft cotton or microfiber cloth. Make sure that the cloth is very soft, as rough material can scratch delicate woods. You’ll also need ukulele polish with a tiny bit of water on the side.
2. Make sure the surfaces are clean
Any form of abrasive material can cause damage to the finish if you begin to polish your uke before cleaning it. I like to take my microfiber cleaning cloth with just a couple drops of water on it and clean the whole instrument before I start polishing anything. I make sure to get any dust off that I can find, and then let it air dry completely.
3. Apply and Buff the polish
Next you get just a small amount of polish on the clean dry cloth, and move the polish lightly in circles in any area of the uke that needs attention. Use gentle circular motions repeatedly until the polish is absorbed by the grain or you can no longer see any streaks or residue.
Simple as that, your instrument is protected again for many years to come. A good polish job will only need to be repeated after heavy playing for many years.
Can You Use Guitar Polish On Ukuleles?
Like most common polishes, it’s generally recognized that guitar polish is quite safe to use on ukuleles – provided you follow the manufcatuer’s directions completely. Some polishes also might have oils or waxes that would be bad for your specific instrument, so just make sure the labeling says it’s safe for use on guitars – and it should be safe to use on your uke.
Now you know that your long term relationship with your ukulele may need a little bit of polishing and maintenance over the upcoming years, but just a little bit of effort and your can have long term results. You’ll probably actually notice that doing these kind of maintenance things to your uke will become pretty natural, as you pick the uke up regularly you’ll notice when things seem off and want to take care of your baby ASAP. Please reach out if you have any questions!