View Full Version : Alligatored finish

May-09-2006, 6:22am
I recently acquired a 1913 H-2 (Blackface) with a fair amount of alligatored finish on the top. Could #the condition be minimized
with French polish? Would this have a negative effect on its resale value?
What about Qualarenu which (supposedly) amalgamates the existing finish?

Bob A
May-09-2006, 10:46am
Offhand, I'd say leave it alone. I guess it depends on the amount of finish damage. Certainly some finish checking is expected and accepted on a vintage instrument, and polishing it off makes the thing look "wrong". A photo or two might go a long way towards determining whether to mess with it or not.

Not familiar with the Q product. I'm always leery of magical cures; who knows what'll happen down the road? If it turns out to be a worthwhile solution, you can always do it later, but you can't undo what's already been done.

May-09-2006, 11:03am
Don't use an amalgamator (Qualrenu) unless you know a whole lot about finishes. It's real easy to get out of control, plus you'll have to cut and polish it after you use it. In 35 years of finishing and restoratiion, I've never had a case where there wasn't a better solution.

French polish won't fill in bad alligatoring either. If it's not too unsightly, I'd leave it alone.

Tom Smart
May-09-2006, 11:20am
Could the condition be minimized...?
It's not a disease--it's normal aging. Anything you do to try to "improve" the finish will almost certainly decrease the value. It might hurt the tone. It will probably end up looking as fake as a 93-year old granny with a face lift. A lot of great old violins have been polished and french-polished over the centuries to the point where there's no texture left, and that's just sad. Don't do it!

If you just want something shiny, I've got a Weber so shiny you could use it for shaving. I'll trade you straight across.

Darryl Wolfe
May-09-2006, 11:49am
I have been trying to improve a similar finish on a non-Gibson instrument (Supertone mandolin). #I am not having much luck at this point. #This one is natural and I'm having trouble keeping an even color to it. #Blackface may react differently, but I'd say leave it alone

May-09-2006, 12:19pm
Thanks to all for your sage advice; and be assured that my intentions were not to commit the unspeakable
"blasphemy" of attempting to restore the finish to its factory fresh condition. I was only hoping to end up
with a finish that had been better cared for over the years ... a condition which I refer to as "better than new".


May-10-2006, 11:07am
leave it be. I bought one that had been oversprayed with something that wouldn't dry. It stayed sticky for about 3 years until I sanded it off. It wasn't very valuable (cracks, non orig. parts) as A models go so I wasn't concerned about the value. But, if I had been concerned I wouldn't want one refinished.

Bill Halsey
May-10-2006, 11:26pm
Good advice above. One of the greatest French polishing challenges is to make a black-face Gib look good -- just like your Dad's black Caddy, anything less than a perfect job just looks like...well, you know.
FP can help bring it around in a controlled manner when the weather's right, but in the meantime you may wish to do your years of practice polishing on... well, maybe on Dad's Caddy...

May-11-2006, 5:00pm
Quote: It's not a disease-it's normal aging.

Tom, I'm not convinced that this is true. Many instruments of this era - while not perfect by todays' standards - have
managed to age gracefully. But many others have suffered the consequences of abuse and neglect. Perhaps the greatest contributer is bad storage conditions: extremes of temperature and humidity.
In my opinion, the best possible restoration would result in a finish which would show its age, but also manifest
the requisite care of which the instrument is worthy.


Tom Smart
May-11-2006, 5:19pm

Perhaps I didn't express myself well. I was reacting to your use of the word "condition." Let me restate: Whatever abuse it may have suffered in the past has already been done. Now, you have a choice: take as good care of it as you possibly can in its current condition, or try to "improve" it. I consider the latter option to be dishing out additional abuse. You can't change what has been done to it in the past, but you certainly can avoid damaging it further. If you watch Antiques Roadshow, when was the last time you saw one of the appraisers recommend "fixing up" the original finish of an old piece of furniture, no matter how funky it has become over the years.

I have a relatively shiny '20s blackface mando, so I know some instruments do survive the decades without being abused as much as others, just as people do. On the other hand, I was once at Intermountain Guitar and Banjo, when someone there was trying out teens K-1 'cello. It had exactly the kind of finish you're describing: blackface, extremely alligatored. The guy absolutely loved the tone and playability, but I could tell he wasn't going to buy it because of the funky finish. I told him I thought it was beautiful, that I love the individual character that each old instrument takes on over the years, especially varnished instruments. I've seen a lot of these newfangled "distressed" mandos, and some of them are cool, but none of them have the vibe of the real thing--an instrument that has been played and loved forever, and shows it.

It may seem kind of perverse, but I wish my blackface snake looked more like that old K-1. I even wish my modern instruments looked more like that. I'm not willing to do anything artificial to push them in that direction, though. On the other hand, I would never be willing to do anything artificial to push a genuinely old finish in the direction of looking newer.

Just my opinion. It's your instrument, so it's your choice. Just be careful what you wish for. At the very least, maybe try whatever you decide to do under the tailpiece first, so you can stop if you don't like it.


Chuck Ficca
May-15-2006, 11:10am
I'd like to make a slight right turn on this discussion and ask about an instrument I aquired a while ago. I bought a Kalamazoo mandola that had something glued to the headstock, and later removed. I assume it was rhinestones or some other cheesy fake jewels. The logo is almost gone, and there is a large amount of glue left on the headstock. None of this has any noticeable affect on the playability or sound, that I can hear. Should I leave it as is or should I try to fix or restore it?