In the past, ukuleles were not taken seriously as being a real instrument, but rather as a toy instrument. Today most manufactures are making high quality ukuleles that result in higher prices. One factor in the higher prices is the type of finish used on the body of the ukulele. A satin finish is less labor intensive than glossy finish. Each has their own characteristics and when properly applied will protect the ukulele without adversely changing the overall tone and volume of the instrument.
Difference Between Satin and Gloss Finishes
A satin or low sheen finish will tend to absorb light rather than reflect light. This finish has a matte or soft appearance making them attractive to people that like the natural or classical look. A satin finish is easy to apply and lowers the overall cost of the ukulele. With a satin finish, the polyurethane finish is lightly sprayed on and dried without buffing. When ukuleles first appeared in the early 1900’s, they all had a stain finish since this was the only finish available.
Unlike a satin finish, a glossy or high sheen finish will tend to reflect light that will lend to a bright and mirror like appearance. This finish will emphasize the color and grain patterns of the wood. However, a glossy finish is more expensive since it requires more work to achieve the glossy appearance. With a glossy finish, the finish is lightly sprayed on and then polished and buffed to a mirror like appearance.
The better quality ukuleles have their finishes sprayed as compared to brushed. A sprayed finish is composed of various chemical compounds that add strength to the instrument. Both satin and gloss finishes will produce excellent tone and volume.
Proper Care and Maintenance
Proper care and maintenance is very important in the appearance of the ukulele. Be careful of picks and try not to scratch the ukulele with your fingernails. If possible, have a clean polishing cloth handy to keep the finish nice and shinny.
For a satin finish clean the surface with a soft 100% cotton cloth. Avoid using a guitar polish since this can create glossy areas that will contrast with the rest of the satin finish. With its low sheen, a satin finish is easier to maintain since it will not show scratches, dents and general wear and tear as in a glossy finish.
For a glossy finish again use a 100% cotton cloth and quality guitar polish. Follow the instructions and you should be quite pleased with the appearance of your ukulele. Try not to polish too frequently, since this may cause a cloudy or murky look over time. Keep in mind that a glossy finish is harder to maintain since it will show dust, dirt and scratches far more than a satin finish.
When applied properly, the choice of finish should not affect the overall tone and volume of the ukulele. Satin finish is less labor extensive and lends to the classical ukulele appearance. Glossy finish is more labor extensive but makes the ukulele appear more elegant. There is a debate amongst musicians on which finish is better when it comes to the overall sound quality of the ukulele. The important thing is this. Find an instrument that you find appealing and will enjoy playing and do not fuss about the finish. Having a ukulele that sounds good and is fun to play is far more important than the finish.