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Thread: Refinishing a mandolin?

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    I just bought a 1929 Gibson A Jr. That needs to be refinished due to someone putting some wipe on stain on her. I want to sand her down and refinish her with an amber color. What is the best way for a first time instrument refinisher to go?
    Thanks

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    Refinishing vintage instruments is considered to reduce the instruments' value, and is to be avoided under almost any circumstance. In your case, it would appear that someone else has irreversibly abused the instruments' finish. Unless you have a lot of experience finishing instruments, my advice would be to not attempt to refinish it yourself. Something like what you are describing comes under the category of restoration. If I were you, I would bring the instrument to a very experienced restorer/repairer for evaluation. Refinishing an instrument is not a trivial job; it is one of the most difficult aspects of woodworking. I have heard it said that there are many woodworkers who enjoy cutting wood, but relatively few who enjoy finishing it. Finishing requires a combination of equipment, chemical knowledge, and skill in application. The exact combination depends on what the original type of finish is. If you are lacking in any one of those things, the attempt at finishing will likely be a nightmare. Even removing the old finish is not trivial. An inexperienced finisher going at it with some sandpaper could compromise the appearance of the instrument permanently, and might compromise more than just its' appearance.

    If you can read the serial number on the label, you might be able to trace the instrument through something like the Mandolin Archive, or maybe contact Gibson. If you can find it there, there might be some clues as to the type of original finish, and that is what should be put on the instrument.

    http://www.Cohenmando.com

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    I havn't finished an instrument in the past and what you are describing is just what I was wondering about.
    I have done some wood work and even finished wood (longbows) with a hand rubbed oil finish but was not shure if a rubbed oil type finish was proper for an instrument.
    I am not worried about "restoring" the mando to it's original glory just wanting it to be a "nice" blues mando. It may show up this week and have so much blues carater that I won't want to touch it but that's why I am checking with people to help decide the best course of action.
    Thanks for the input.

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    Dan, you don't want to take the finish completely off if you can help it. It's quite possible that the stain did not penetrate all the way through the finish. If you are determined to do this yourself ( ), I would suggest first using some 3200 grit micro mesh and carefully sand a bit to see if the stain can be gotten off. You might try under the tailpiece first. If it can, you might start the painfully slow process of doing it to the instrument. Do not use a courser grit. The object is to use as fine of a grit as possible to do the job. It is quite possible that you might proceed to 6000, 8000, and 12000 grit to finish the job. You might even be able to start with 6000 grit...even better.
    Oil finishes are not what is called for, rather if it has to be done, French polishing is the way to go. As that is rather difficult for a beginner, if you need it done, contact a violin repair person. Most good ones are pretty adept at it.
    Hope this helps. The object is always not to decrease the value of the instrument, but to try to help it on it's way to restoration.
    Good luck!




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    Thanks for all the input and I will have to see what the Mando looks like when I get back to the house Friday.
    I like the idea of trying some 6000 grit mesh and see if the stain will "clean" off rather than "sanding" on my new mandolin.
    I shure do hope the original finish is still intact.
    Thanks again and cross your fingers that she looks better than expected and I won't be messing with her at all.

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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    I'm probably just super cautious, but I would post a picture here to get input before doing anything at all to the instrument. The folks around these parts know what they are doing.

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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sacto-SF View Post
    I'm probably just super cautious, but I would post a picture here to get input before doing anything at all to the instrument. The folks around these parts know what they are doing.

    - Gail Hester would be a good person to talk with.

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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    I have found that refinishing a old instrument or finishing a new instrument requires as much talent and craftsmanship as building one.
    stringed instrument construction and repair
    jrrystapleton@yahoo.com

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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    Got home to find my 29 Gibson Jr. A has arived. Tunned her up and she sounds wonderful, exacly what I was looking for.
    As for the finish......The poor thing has been slopped with some sort of stain and a nasty job of it. I do have hope though. The area of the neck that get a lot of playing time has worn through the stain to the original finish. I rubbed on the surrounding area a bit with some used (clean but smoother than new) 2000 grit paper I had and it smoothed out the feel of the area (was kind of sticky, not wet sticky but not fast smooth) and started working through the slobber stain as I will call it.
    Here is an overall shot and I will post other shots with questions next.
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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    Here is a shot of the neck, the area at the first fret and above was as I found it and the area down the neck was after some rubbing for an hour or so. As you can see there are some scars and such but looks like she may could be cleaned up.... What ya think?

    More to come.....
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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    The label is in great shape and the body is solid other than the messy repair on the bottom of the back. It is a verry strong repair but they used a ton of glue doing it.

    I would like to put a strap button of her but I am a bit nervious to do much with the plate (can't think of the name of the plate that holds the strings, Been a long week and as soon as I post this I will think of I know) I have thought of putting a heavier cast piece on her, what you guys think?

    Came back to mention that the tailpiece (see I told You I would remember) I have see is the cast bronze Allen. I have also seen some other nice ones but I don't realy like the chrome/gold covered ones. I realise what I am talking about is not original but I think we are way far away from being original with this one....
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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    I realy don't mind an instrument not looking new, afterall it's not new and I accualy love a distressed look but this thing looks like some kid desided to paint the thing with some sourt of stain and didn't care what he was doing. So what you all think, could I get a distressed look without ruining what is the most important thing afterall, the instrument integrity and sound (she sounds great) with some love and care?
    Thanks in advance for any coments and sujestions!!!!
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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    Hard to tell from the pix Dano, try some without flash outdoors. From what I see, I'd be inclined to say leave it be and call it a player. I'm more worried about the cracks around the tailpiece, but if they seem solid, you are OK.
    The finish looks pretty beat, so I don't think any amount of sanding will help, and will probably make things worse. A complete refinish is possible, but I wouldn't recommend you do it, having someone experienced do it will cost a bundle and will likely not increase the value of the instrument.
    I'd be inclined to just do this...

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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hans View Post
    The finish looks pretty beat, so I don't think any amount of sanding will help, and will probably make things worse. A complete refinish is possible, but I wouldn't recommend you do it, having someone experienced do it will cost a bundle and will likely not increase the value of the instrument.
    I'd be inclined to just do this...
    Hans,

    I woke up thinking the same thing but of course wishing something could be done. I wish I could even do a better job of coating her with some sort of finish to even out the look. but the sound is wonderful and at least I don't have to worry about putting the first nick in her now do I.

    Anyone have any tailpiece recomendations? I would like to put a heavy one on there without a cover that I can install a strap button with. The one that's on there isn't much og one and the hole in the middle doesn't look big enough to put a button through.

    Thanks All....

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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    Changing the tailpiece will change the sound. It is possible to attach a strap to that type of tailpiece using a bit of shoelace or leather lace. As for the finish, try wearing it off a bit at a time through obsessive playing and practicing--works every time!

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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    Boogie,

    Thanks for the tip I didn't realise the leather would go through that slot and I now have me strap installed.

    Getting to accualy like the way she looks. Like there is so much history in her and I just wonder what stories the mandolin could tell. Maybe the blues will spill out of her like tears..

    Thanks

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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    Any specific instrument is different. I distinguish two paths.

    First, restoring the old finish. That's where I suspect you are. Work the junk off what's left of the original. Remove the effects of working off the refinish. Put on the minimum amount of stuff required to bring the finish back.

    Second, replacing the finish. Determine what will be the least harmful removal method and how far to go. Then neutralize whatever you used to take the refinishing junk off. Sometimes an instrument can be taken back to bare wood, sometimes works to take back to an original surface treatment. Then build up an entirely new finish, either matching the historic one or a new finish entirely. Gets into whether you desire buildup or want to keep things very thin.

    Issues that arise in the restoration include expected durability, ability to patch in the original without mapping, and color matching.

    French polish over the initial fill in, where possible, is nice. Easy technique. Especially if you can do the touchup polishes yourself over the years.


    Anyway. If you want to learn small-instrument polishing I can show you. Located east TN. No big deal, but much much much easier to show in person!!!
    Stephen Perry
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