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Thread: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

  1. #1
    Registered User Treble in mind's Avatar
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    Default The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    I'm staring at a 'teens Gibson with the original label intact and one digit of the pencilled serial number nearly invisible. Of course it's the first number.

    Does anyone know of a means to render these old faded pencil marks more visible, be it a particular light source or a tiny sprayed droplet of the appropriate magic potion?

    Thanks, folks.

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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    I'd like to know of any techniques here, too. My old 5 serial # is rapidly becoming a faded memory.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    You may not feel comfortable with this but here's an article from Frank Ford's www.frets.com.

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    Hester Mandolins Gail Hester's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    You can usually try lots of different light sources to get those numbers to appear. Sometimes a black light, different types of flashlights, changing light angles, sunlight, etc. In a lot of cases you are looking for the indentation that the number made so creating light and shadows is best. You can also get in the ballpark of a block of serial numbers with the FON number inside on the headblock. That will sometimes help determine if a number is say a 4 or a 1. I have never had to remove a label to get to the S/N underneath.
    Gail Hester

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    Registered User toddjoles's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    Hey Gail, how do you feel about tracing these faded numbers on the label for ease of reading, after you have determine what they are?
    Todd Joles, handyman and aspiring luthier!

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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    You need to look at "Forensic digital imaging and photography By Herbert L. Blitzer, Jack Jacobia" - available on Amazon for $94.34 but there's a fair bit of in on Google Books. Has to be better than ripping the back off your instrument!
    Ray

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    Actually you could soak the label out without removing the back on an oval hole but, again, that's a desperate measure. Gails suggestion of using the FON to get close is much better. The changing light sources would be good as well although you could have indentations in the label that were not made by the pencil show up.

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    Registered User Bob DeVellis's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    I've had some luck photographing labels as best as I could, with strong light, then using Photoshop to alter brightness, contrast, and color balance. Sometimes, the right combination will get the numbers to stand out. It doesn't always work but if you've got a decent camera and Photoshop (or something like it), it's a pretty easy thing to try.
    Bob DeVellis

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    Horton River NWT Rob Gerety's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    Is there anything you can do to preserve a label with a clear serial number so you don't run into these problems down the line?
    Rob G.
    Vermont

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    acoustically inert F-2 Dave's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    Sometimes the serial number is written in pencil on the under side of the bridge. I had a mostly unreadable serial number on the label, wondered about it for years until one day when changing strings and giving my F-2 some badly needed TLC, I noticed that there was a number printed on the bottom side of the bridge. That number matched perfectly what I could make out on the label. I emailed Gruhn's and asked if this was ever done on old mandolins, He said "yes".

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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    I soaked a label off once.
    It was not a success.
    I think I was too impatient and used too much water because the label did not survive.
    The serial # was underneath there though, just like it was supposed to be.

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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    Rob
    You could always photograph the label and keep a copy with the instrument. The label on my '15 "A" is so clear that I'm sure someone has gone over it with new pencil.
    Ray

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    Registered User Treble in mind's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    A lot of good advice, and thank you for it. Not being eager to attempt removing the label, I'm going to start by taking Bob DeV.'s suggestion and shoot some closeups of said label with a macro lens, upload them and then try to enhance them with every piece of photo software I own.

    Stay tuned....

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    Certified! Bernie Daniel's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    The number is definately there -- under the label.

    I have an acquaintance with a teen's A-4 but most of the upper part of the white label (the part with the model and serial number) was torn or scuffed away -- the bottom part of the label was pretty much OK.

    We were able to get the serial number and date it as a 1916 model when we soaked away a little the residual paper (torn pieces) and some glue where the top of the lable used to be.

    This was a few years ago but the owner has asked me a couple times about making a reproductions to glue in with the correct serial number -- does anyone sell reproductions of these old Gibson labels?
    Bernie
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    ...does anyone sell reproductions of these old Gibson labels?
    You might want to PM Darryl Wolfe. If anyone knows he will.

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    Horton River NWT Rob Gerety's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    It would be nice if there was some sort of fixative or something that you could apply to an old by clear label to delay the fading of the handwitten serial number etc.
    Rob G.
    Vermont

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    Registered User Treble in mind's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    GOT IT!

    I shot a few close-up photos of the label with a Nikon DSLR and a Nikkor macro lens, i.e., a lens that will let you get VERY close to the subject, using various kinds of light and shadow. I didn't even need to monkey witrh PhotoShop after that. Picasa (which you all probably know is free from Google, but I'll mention that in case you don't) did the job just fine after playing around with various contrast tricks. No science on my part; I just messed with it until it worked.

    I was fortunate in that the second numeral of the label, which was next to the nearly gone first one, was clearly a "5", because the first numeral could be seen to be identical to it, i.e., the serial number was 55xxx. Had that not been the case, I would have had a bit more work, probably with PhotoShop, but I don't see it to be an impossible task, or even close.

    So...no taking the back off, no attempting to take the label off. Thanks for all of your good suggestions.

    I forgot to mention that there was no FON on the neck block and no # on the underside of (what looks like) the original bridge. See? I read all of your posts!

  18. #18
    Registered User Bob DeVellis's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    Glad it worked!
    Bob DeVellis

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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    That FON might be there, just really hard to see. I thought my 1909 F-2 was without an FON but by angling the instrument in direct sunlight I can see there is something there, one digit of which is a "5". I'll keep working at it.

  20. #20
    Registered User Zigeuner's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    The serial number inside my 1917 Gibson A-3 is faint in pencil but still quite legible. It hasn't changed in the nearly 30 years that I've owned it. I guess I was lucky there. It's also always been in the same original case and that may help to keep it from fading.

    It has 5 digits of the FON on the inside of the neck block area. 11009. It seems that there might have been more there and I get the feeling that there might have been a dash and a one but if there is more, I can't be sure.

    Generally, I thought that Gibson FON's had 5 digits followed by a space or a dash and a one or two digit number within that particular batch. My '23 Gibson TB-4 Tenor banjo has five digits followed by a dash and two digits following (XXXXX-XX) for an FON. This is the only number on it. I guess they used those for serial numbers.

    My '49 F-12 has "603 16" for an FON and it was stamped in dark ink with what appears to be a rubber stamp inside of the treble F-hole. Likewise, on the other side, the four digits of the serial number were stamped on an oval, black-bound label with a rubber stamp as was the word "Mandolin". The "F-12" above the "Mandolin" and the "A" preceding the four digits of the serial number were written in dark ink by hand. It's all very legible.

    The method used by Frank Ford to restore a serial number seems exellent to me. I wouldn't call it forging if the number is correct once the label is reglued and the number restored from the number underneath. I never sell instruments anyway so it wouldn't be an issue for me.

    Furthermore, if I were going to buy a used mandolin, I would much prefer to know the exact serial number so that I could place the actual year it was built.

    I wonder if black light would help tp bring out a serial number?
    Zigeuner

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    Cafe Linux Mommy danb's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    Quote Originally Posted by F-2 Dave View Post
    Sometimes the serial number is written in pencil on the under side of the bridge. I had a mostly unreadable serial number on the label, wondered about it for years until one day when changing strings and giving my F-2 some badly needed TLC, I noticed that there was a number printed on the bottom side of the bridge. That number matched perfectly what I could make out on the label. I emailed Gruhn's and asked if this was ever done on old mandolins, He said "yes".
    Here's what the bridge serial on snakehead 71261 looks like

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  22. #22
    Cafe Linux Mommy danb's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    Note: I haven't seen that on many instruments. I presume the T&B were treble & bass (they matched up correctly). Some loar pickguards have scratched numbers on the underside, and sometimes they even match the mandolin
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  23. #23
    Horton River NWT Rob Gerety's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    I'm still focused on how to prevent the very legible label on my A4 from fading. I wonder if it is exposure to light that causes the fading and if the clear legible labels we see these days are the instruments that were kept in their cases and the faded ones are the ones that were kept out. I tend to keep my instruments out. I wonder if there is a way to put a cover of some kind over the label while I own the instrument to prevent the light from getting to the label?
    Rob G.
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    Certified! Bernie Daniel's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    danb:Here's what the bridge serial on snakehead 71261 looks like
    I guess that was probably done by the first owner not the factory? It is exactly what I did with my first vintage Gibson -- and what I have done with everyone since.
    Bernie
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  25. #25
    Certified! Bernie Daniel's Avatar
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    Default Re: The joys of nearly invisible serial numbers

    Zigeuner: Generally, I thought that Gibson FON's had 5 digits followed by a space or a dash and a one or two digit number within that particular batch. My '23 Gibson TB-4 Tenor banjo has five digits followed by a dash and two digits following (XXXXX-XX) for an FON. This is the only number on it. I guess they used those for serial numbers
    Your comment reminds me of a question I have always had about one of my
    F2's.

    This one is a clearly 1920 model and the serial number is completly readable -- but my question is about the FON. A number is clearly stamped in black ink inside on the neck block.

    The last five numbers are very obviously "11271" -- but before the "1" is some letter/numeral that seems smudged -- it could be a "4" but I think not.

    The best I can come up with is the "#" symbol -- was this often included before the FON?
    Bernie
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    Due to current budgetary restrictions the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off -- sorry about the inconvenience.

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