So I bought a cheap ukulele. Having grown up without much opportunity to play music and, interested as I am in beginning, it seemed like a good place to start. After the initial few weeks of staring at it and putting off actually learning how to play, (as I still am) I realized I wasn't all that crazy about the way it looks. Though it's not too bad for 25$ at my local bookstore, it was kinda cheesy. The sound isn't all that great either and I'll probably get some better strings when I actually start using for y'know, music, but for the time being, as long as I'm just messing around, I decided to make it look better. I, having pushed my artistic powers to the MAX with a number of projects recently, decided to order some fantastic stickers from Redbubble and keep it looking a little more on the professional side (a first for me, as is obvious from the quality of my instructables) I went simple, with all-white paint and one sunflower sticker, but if you upgrade your uke, feel free to paint something wonderful on it, if you're so inclined.
Step 1: First Coat
As I mentioned, I opted for all white paint, while you may be going for something more colorful, but if your ukulele is a deeply contrasting color to your paint, I'd suggest doing an extra bottom layer of paint before you add a design, to even things out a bit. You'll need: 1 (one) ukulele A bottle of paint you wouldn't be heartbroken by emptying (it should be some sort of 'all-surface' paint because I, for one did not sand before the first coat, so I doubt regular wood paint would have stuck) A wide foam brush Light sandpaper Some sort of gloss or varnish (I used a spray, but I think any sort of clear top-coat you have available is good as long as it'll keep the paint from scraping off.) Any decorations you'll want to add, from additional colors of paint for pictures, to ribbon, to rhinestones to stickers, to stencils And finally, lots of newspaper Also make sure you're wearing clothes that its not a tragedy to get paint on and gloves if you don't want speckled hands If you're a pro, you may want to remove the strings before you start painting. I left them on and scraped a bit of paint off later. I started with the back of the uke, testing out paint thickness and brushstrokes, then moving on to the curved outside of it. For the sides of the ukulele, I'd suggest making short up-and-down strokes as opposed to long sideways ones. It's easier, for one thing. I decided to leave the ukulele's neck as it was, although the colored plastic chord markers that are built into it betray me as a rookie, because I didn't want to remove the strings and risk messing up the functionality of it. I also left the back of the neck blank to make it easier to hold and play chords, aside from some slanted strokes at the base (3rd pic). Once you're all painted let the base coat dry for a good long while, preferably 12 or more hours, depending on your paint.
Step 2: Second Coat
Sand the first coat of paint very lightly, carefully. Try to smooth out the texture from your brushstrokes as much as you can without scraping off bits of paint. Then apply another layer. If you're using one solid color, then it'll be just the same as before. If you're making a colorful pattern or design, this is where you'll want to start thinking about the way it looks.(unless you want to add another base coat, which you may if the sanding damaged the first one). If it seems like a good idea and another coat after this as well, once it's dried. You may want to smooth out imperfections or get spots you missed, or apply designs.
Step 3: Polishing and Varnishing
Depending on the effect you're going for in terms of paint and texture, you might want to smooth it out a bit once it's painted. You can do this with a very light, again, careful sanding or depending on the type of paint you're using a light polish with alcohol to smooth imperfections. The alcohol worked fairly well with my acrylic. Once you're certain you've finished painting, apply any decorations you want sealed in by the varnish. (Like my sunflower sticker) Next grab your varnish and get to a well ventilated or outdoors area. (For me, this was the sidewalk) spread out some newspaper, and if you left the strings on, cover them with masking tape before spraying one side, letting it dry 30 minutes and the spraying the other, making sure to cover all the paint. Painting the sides can be a bit tricky, but it's manageable. Just leave it on the ground and spray sideways. If that won't work for you, just pick it up by the neck, which you won't be spraying anyway. I ended up using two coats to get a good, thick shell. (Also, if you're anything like me, which I certainly hope you aren't, the neck of your ukulele is probably tinged with paint by now. Though that can certainly look wonderfully artistic, if it just isn't what you're going for, take off the tape and clean it with rubbing alcohol)
Step 4: Jam
Add any last bits of beautification to your instrument and enjoy. Hope this was helpful. Or entertaining. Or something.