Monday, July 25, 2016

Wordy DIY Fretboard Stickers Review

Muy Importante Edit: Down in this post, I mention that if you want to,  you could probably find the original maker that the hummingbird stickers are knock offs of. I think I found them. More rambling after the review.
Original post reads: 
It's always weird to review Chinese knock-off products, but that's sure not going to stop me. Being weird has stopped me from doing zero percent of things I've wanted to do, since 2013(ish)

I bought these stickers.
Product image

My Pictures, No Flash and Yes Flash

In case you're not familiar with the concept, or can't figure it out from the picture, they're stickers that you put on the fretboard of your guitar to give it the look of being inlaid, or just to give it a neat design.
They're a bit tacky, but if that's your style (and that's my style), they're nice and cheap. I think these are especially nice if you're thirteen (or thirteen at heart) and you really wanted a pink glitter guitar, and your parents bought you a plain, boring, nicer quality guitar. You'll thank them later (I thanked mine!), but for now, nothing wrong with wanting a humming bird on your guitar. You could be doing destructive things, like carving your favorite band into the back. Don't do that. Just do stickers.
And while you're at it, do removable stickers like these so you won't be stuck with a bass with a Sunny Day Real Estate sticker that you just can't get off, and you have to sell for $100 at a swap meet because you couldn't get the price you wanted for it, because no one likes Sunny Day Real Estate.
I think I got lost. Where was I? HUMMINGBIRDS. STICKERS. YES.

About The Stickers:
You see the same several designs going for various prices all over the internet, and they're all usually from China. Because these are the same designs, sometimes stolen or copies of copies of copies, your print quality might vary. You might buy the same stickers that I did, and get different stickers. It's pretty tricky to tell, and my suggestion is either find the original seller (and probably pay more for higher quality stickers) or buy the cheapest ones you can, so that if they're bad, you'll only have wasted the cost of a cup of coffee.
However, from what little I understand about Chinese resellers, most of them will have the same stickers, that they all got from one supplier.
The stickers come on a yellow piece of paper. Despite what they look like in the product images, they are not metallic. They are printed with a mottled pattern, which can look metaillic in some angles.
Because this pattern is easily available, people who are familiar with fretboard stickers would know that they're stickers, and not real inlay. That's a very small group of people, though. 

About My Guitar:
These went on my beater guitar (the guitar you take to the beach so it can get wet and sandy, or camping so it can get covered with smoke and chicken grease. The guitar that you love, and that if you break you will cry, but that isn't the nicest guitar you own). I've wanted to do some custom stuff like this to a guitar for a while, but didn't have a true beater to do it on. I've had a really nice Ovation guitar that was my dad's, and I think he'd disown me if I put stickers on it.
It's a nylon string/classical guitar, which means it has a wide neck and no fret markers. That's something to keep in mind if your guitar is different. It's got 18.5 frets, which is a pretty small number. Most guitars have 20/24.
The fretboard has a lot of wear. It's got some deep grooves in it.
The guitar itself is a pre-1989 Suzuki from Nagoya.

The Application Process:
First, I had to take off my strings. There is absolutely no way to do this successfully without taking off the strings, or at least loosening them until you have good clearance of the fretboard.
I use oil on my fretboard, but I hadn't oiled it in about 2 weeks. I did not use acetone or any oil remover to clean the fretboard.
Because this design has fret markers built in (the white flowers), it's important to start at the top and work your way downward.
The stickers are cut right at the edge of the design (which is good, because it helps them look like inlay). This makes them a bit tricky to put on. I put the first white flower as far to the right as I could, and then followed the pattern down.
It's good to note that every sticker is cut with the ends being parallel to the fret. This can help make sure you're not putting them on crooked. I didn't measure, I just eyeballed it. Repositioning them was possible, but tricky.
When I had all of them on, I put a piece of paper over it and then rubbed with a hard object to really stick them down.

Sticker quality:

The stickers are very precisely cut to make the right shape. I think this is the most important thing. There's a lot of visual distortion between your guitar and the viewer (distance and strings, mostly), so it's not as important that the image be clear as that it has a lot of contrast between the brightest colors and the fretboard.

The actual images are blurry, but not pixelated. God, I hate pixelation. This is probably a side-effect of stealing the design from another artist, and not being able to get big enough pimages of the original for reproduction. Since your guitar's usually seen from a distance, this isn't obvious to the casual observer.

The stickers probably effect my tone somewhat, in the same way that you get different tone out of a maple fretboard versus a rosewood one. It's not a tone difference that I can hear.
I did a couple hours of playing, complete with a lot of string bends, and the stickers did not scratch or peel up. It's important to note that my nylon strings are almost certainly easier on the stickers than steel strings would be, but I have faith that they'd stick with steel strings unless you're fretting really hard (and really, you shouldn't be fretting that hard).
 Removal was easy. Removing the sticker intact was hard. I had a couple extra in the set because I have so few frets, so I stuck some on as hard as I could and then removed them. I left some to set and to be played on for a couple hours, and they were still removable.
After this testing, I'd be willing to put them on my $600 guitar (though I wouldn't because my dad would be disappointed) with faith that they'd come off without damage. 

So, In Summary:
  • Theses stickers are cool
  • These stickers are a nice way to make your guitar distinctive
  • These stickers are staying put
  • These stickers are removable
  • These stickers look pretty cool
  • These stickers are cheap
If you like the look, I definitely suggest picking up a set! They're a lot of fun and a good way to add details to a guitar without decreasing the value.

Someone sent me a picture of the product that the one I bought was ripping off. These stickers are $20, and look 100x better (in this picture). I also like supporting original artists when I can, and when I have the money.
Does that mean that you shouldn't buy the stickers I bought? That's up to you. I still like them. I still think they look good. They were easy to put on. Are they going to convince anyone that they're real inlay? No, but they look nice. I'll review the ones from inlaysticker when they get here, to give you more information so that you can make your choice.