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Thread: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

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    Default Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    I tried to find some builder step by step photos but I came up empty.

    When you have an inlaid headstock, let's say a fern design with "The Gibson" or "The Whatever" at the top, how do you finish the headstock face black while keeping the inlay from being colored over? Is the inlay masked off?

  2. #2
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    Quote Originally Posted by FL Dawg View Post
    I tried to find some builder step by step photos but I came up empty.
    When you have an inlaid headstock, let's say a fern design with "The Gibson" or "The Whatever" at the top, how do you finish the headstock face black while keeping the inlay from being colored over? Is the inlay masked off?
    Typical: the headstock is ebony and filler around the pearl inlays is ebony dust with epoxy or similar so there is no need to stain at all.
    Example B: headstock veneer is lighter wood that is ebonized prior to installation i.e. thoroughly dyed black. Continue just like with ebony.
    In case that you need to add black color after making the headstock you can just use dye/stain over whole face of headstock and it will wipe off the smooth pearl with very little effort or with wetted q-tip. the plastic bindings will need to be gently scraped clean.
    Sometimes you need to paint some type of paint to hide something you can just paint/spray/airbrush it black with shellac with some black pigment/dye added and you'll need to scrape the pearl clean.
    I once used black alcohol based dye (with rather dry then damp rag) over shellac sealcoat and it worked great the inlays got so black I had to use strong light to see them for cleaning.
    DOn't do any of this over liht wood inlays or wood bindings. That would need to be perfectly protected from stain. Either by thorough sealcoat after finish sanding or masking and sealing edges with lacquer.
    These are few things off the top of my head there may be many different ways to do this depending on materials and methods used to make the headstock.
    Adrian

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    Registered User jim simpson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    I've used a waxed crayon to go over the Gibson letters then wiped off when finish was dry. It worked like a charm.
    Cabin Fever String Band, Bill Gorby and the Musical Mercenaries

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    Registered User Greg Mirken's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    I have a suspicion that you are contemplating refinishing the headstock on an instrument. If so, may I ask what instrument, and why? There are many pitfalls to be aware of, such as 'inlays' actually being wafer-thin overlays, lakes of filler in huge inlay recesses, dyed veneers that don't really match anything when you try to shoot clear on them ...
    Adrian mentioned ways of dealing with some of these issues, but it sure can come as a shock when the inlays disappear along with the lacquer you're cleaning off.
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    I won't be doing anything myself. I just want to learn about the process for a restoration so I can educate myself in advance.

    Don't worry, I won't be refinishing anything original. You can see the holly veneer has been sanded back enough to remove the black and then sealed somehow. I am trying to figure out the typical approach for restoration.

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    I've done a few painted-black Gibson restoration or replica pegheads. The black "paint" that comes closest to an authentic look, for me, is powdered lamp black mixed into blonde shellac and sprayed on. The pearl is then scraped clean and the clear finish applied. I'm working on one now, as a matter of fact. It's a replica late '30s banjo neck. The overlay is simply thin birch plywood painted black. There are a few pictures in a thread somewhere on here of a mandolin repair where I "ebonized" a maple veneer for a replacement overlay, inlaid replica pearl, painted black (lamp black and shellac), scraped the pearl clean and applied the finish. That is as close as I could come to the way it was originally done. Not sure how they ebonized the overlays or exactly what wood was used.
    In short, we try to do it as near as possible to the way it was done originally.

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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    I've done a few painted-black Gibson restoration or replica pegheads. The black "paint" that comes closest to an authentic look, for me, is powdered lamp black mixed into blonde shellac and sprayed on.
    Thanks John.

    Do you know what Gibson used for black finished instruments in the late 1920's? Was it just black tinted lacquer and then some clear coats?

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    They didn't use lacquer until about 1925. From what I can gather, they used lamp black and shellac (that's where I got the idea) with spirit varnish (shellac, essentially) clear coats over the "paint". Later, after they had access to lacquer, I assume they applied it over the lamp black/shellac. That's how I did the black top mandolin I made a couple of years ago, and it looks pretty similar to the old ones.
    Here are links to threads with pictures:
    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...6-An-F2-repair
    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...quot-mandolins

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    Formerly F5JOURNL Darryl Wolfe's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    What John said
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    Registered User pfox14's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    I used black aniline dye dissolved in denatured alcohol to stain the head veneer which does penetrate the pearl and only lightly stained the pearl, which I easily removed with some fine grit sandpaper.
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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    Greg already admonished the OP about the pitfalls of really thin pearl, and I think it bears repeating. If you get black dye (I prefer Fiebing's leather dye to anything home-concocted) near a paper-thin inlay, the color will wick under the pearl and leave it very dark forever.

    I would also not go near this headstock with wax or oil-based anything until the veneer is dyed.

    The easiest way to get the headstock a nice uniform black is to apply the Fiebing's with a fine brush around the script and a larger brush when you're away from the pearl. Don't let the dye have a chance to go under the pearl, as there's no turning back.
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    I've done a few painted-black Gibson restoration or replica pegheads. The black "paint" that comes closest to an authentic look, for me, is powdered lamp black mixed into blonde shellac and sprayed on. The pearl is then scraped clean and the clear finish applied. I'm working on one now, as a matter of fact. It's a replica late '30s banjo neck. The overlay is simply thin birch plywood painted black. There are a few pictures in a thread somewhere on here of a mandolin repair where I "ebonized" a maple veneer for a replacement overlay, inlaid replica pearl, painted black (lamp black and shellac), scraped the pearl clean and applied the finish. That is as close as I could come to the way it was originally done. Not sure how they ebonized the overlays or exactly what wood was used.
    In short, we try to do it as near as possible to the way it was done originally.
    Didn't I read somewhere that the overlay wood for the headstock was ebonized pear wood?

    But specifically what tool do you use for scarping the stain off of the pearl -- I assume you want something small, flat-ended and sharp. A very tiny chisel of some kind? Also do you cut an edge around the inlay with an exacto knife or something before you start scarping the finish off so the the break around the edge is sharp?
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    Didn't I read somewhere that the overlay wood for the headstock was ebonized pear wood?

    But specifically what tool do you use for scarping the stain off of the pearl -- I assume you want something small, flat-ended and sharp. A very tiny chisel of some kind? Also do you cut an edge around the inlay with an exacto knife or something before you start scarping the finish off so the the break around the edge is sharp?
    Yep. I've read the same thing several places, but I've never heard or read anything that says it was definitely pear wood. I even went to the trouble to find some pear once and made some overlays from it, but once it's "ebonized", it could be nearly anything. Maple looks the very same, especially under black paint!

    I use a certain exacto blade to scrape the pearl. It's a shape I've used for scraping for nearly 30 years and they don't make it anymore, I have a supply of old ones and I resharpen them. It doesn't matter, though, there are several blade shapes that would work fine, especially for those who aren't old, set in their ways and hard headed enough to only feel comfortable scraping with a certain shape. When the "paint" is just dry but not so dry that it will chip, scraping the pearl right to the edge is no problem, other than the need for a comfortable position, good light, magnification and a steady hand. There is also the safety zone of the black inlay filler just outside the edge of the pearl, and the fall back position of touch up with a small brush or a quill and black ink. Furthermore, when replicating Gibson inlay work, we only need to work to the standards of the factory in whatever time period the instrument is from. Pearl that is somewhat roughly cut, a little extra inlay filler and not-so-neat scraped edges are "par for the coarse". Old Gibson inlay work runs from out and out sloppy to pretty good. I usually try for a look like the best example would have looked from the Gibson factory, though it's usually better than the original. it is inappropriate to work to contemporary standards when doing restoration work. If it's a restoration, it should look authentic.

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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    Yep. I've read the same thing several places, but I've never heard or read anything that says it was definitely pear wood. I even went to the trouble to find some pear once and made some overlays from it, but once it's "ebonized", it could be nearly anything. Maple looks the very same, especially under black paint!

    I use a certain exacto blade to scrape the pearl. It's a shape I've used for scraping for nearly 30 years and they don't make it anymore, I have a supply of old ones and I resharpen them. It doesn't matter, though, there are several blade shapes that would work fine, especially for those who aren't old, set in their ways and hard headed enough to only feel comfortable scraping with a certain shape. When the "paint" is just dry but not so dry that it will chip, scraping the pearl right to the edge is no problem, other than the need for a comfortable position, good light, magnification and a steady hand. There is also the safety zone of the black inlay filler just outside the edge of the pearl, and the fall back position of touch up with a small brush or a quill and black ink. Furthermore, when replicating Gibson inlay work, we only need to work to the standards of the factory in whatever time period the instrument is from. Pearl that is somewhat roughly cut, a little extra inlay filler and not-so-neat scraped edges are "par for the coarse". Old Gibson inlay work runs from out and out sloppy to pretty good. I usually try for a look like the best example would have looked from the Gibson factory, though it's usually better than the original. it is inappropriate to work to contemporary standards when doing restoration work. If it's a restoration, it should look authentic.
    Thanks I've always wondered exactly how that is done. I have a small exacto-style blade that is shaped much like a very small wood chisel that would probably work. The near dry paint is a great tip!

    "Furthermore, when replicating Gibson inlay work, we only need to work to the standards of the factory..." Funny in a way but I certainly see your point!
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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    That's how John does it, but it's not how Gibson did it originally. They dyed the wood, they didn't paint it. Putting a pigment in shellac (or lacquer or whatever) results in a paint, a film that has thickness. It's counter-intuitive to me that that's the way to go if you just want the overlay around the pearl to be a uniform black, though with enough practice, people can make all kinds of disparate techniques work.

    My MO is to dye the wood black (no scraping needed) and then finish clear over that with the next layer of choice. On 19th C. banjos that's only wax. On more modern instruments that would involve shellac or lacquer—some kind of film that has thickness and offers protection and a uniform surface.

    And some of the old Gibson inlay was exquisite, in the detail of the script, for example, and the precision with which it was set in.
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    Depends on the year(s). In the teens and 20, overlays were ebonized and/or dyed black. In the 30 and perhaps other times, pegheads were painted black. Some, like the late 30's Gibson banjo I'm replicating now, had birch (looks like) plywood overlays that were painted black. No dye, and yes, a thickness to the paint film. Others were ebonized and also painted black, like the F2 in the pictures linked above. I guess whatever they used to ebonize the veneer wasn't black enough for them, so they painted over it too.

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    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    I'm not sure how gibson did it originally, but there are examples of mandolins (even Loars) where they forgot to clean part of the inlay and it was hidden under some black coat. On one Loar it was the flower of flowerpot and on one Fern end of one branch. On old pics of that mandolin the inlay piece was not visible at all and just dye wouldn't do that (later it was scraped clean to expose whole inlay). I believe there are pics of these mandolins in the archive. Anyone help which numbers they were?
    Adrian

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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    I'm not sure how gibson did it originally, but there are examples of mandolins (even Loars) where they forgot to clean part of the inlay and it was hidden under some black coat. On one Loar it was the flower of flowerpot and on one Fern end of one branch. On old pics of that mandolin the inlay piece was not visible at all and just dye wouldn't do that (later it was scraped clean to expose whole inlay). I believe there are pics of these mandolins in the archive. Anyone help which numbers they were?

    Just for us novices. You guys seem to make a distinction between ebonizing and dyeing? Can you expand on that a bit?
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    Formerly F5JOURNL Darryl Wolfe's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    HOGO is correct. Gibson appears to have used an ink-like substance with a slight blue hint earlier. Later they appear to have used more of a black paint which at times led to minor "forgot to scrape" places

    Here are two pictures of 72615

    In the older Griffith picture, you can see that the flowerpot has a flower

    In the 1968 pictures where it has been refurbished in 1930, there is no flower.

    When I got the mandolin in 1976, I scraped the flower back even though Randy Wood had refinished the mandolin again..there was also no dot to the "I"
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernie Daniel View Post
    Just for us novices. You guys seem to make a distinction between ebonizing and dyeing? Can you expand on that a bit?
    I'm not sure what process Gibson (and others) used to ebonize light colored wood. Apparently, it was the same process that caused many fingerboards, center strips, and peghead overlays to deteriorate and crumble to dust years later. It was some kind of chemical treatment that caused some kind of reaction in the wood to turn it black (or near black). A dye, on the other hand, is a black (or colored) solution that imparts it's color to the wood.
    Whatever treatment they used for ebonizing colored the wood all the way through. To do that with a dye requires pressure and/or heat and specialized equipment.

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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    I'm not sure what process Gibson (and others) used to ebonize light colored wood. Apparently, it was the same process that caused many fingerboards, center strips, and peghead overlays to deteriorate and crumble to dust years later. It was some kind of chemical treatment that caused some kind of reaction in the wood to turn it black (or near black). A dye, on the other hand, is a black (or colored) solution that imparts it's color to the wood.
    Whatever treatment they used for ebonizing colored the wood all the way through. To do that with a dye requires pressure and/or heat and specialized equipment.
    Thanks for the insight the chemist in me is compelling me to find, if possible just what they did to ebonize other kinds of woods. I believe Gibson has returned to some kind of analogous process for making finger boards in light of the shortages in ebony and rosewood.
    Bernie
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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    All the dyed wood from that era was dyed in a pressure cooker with aniline dye—it was that simple. So the wood was cooked to about the consistency of old pumpkin rind. I don't recall ever seeing a Gibson with a dyed maple fingerboard, but they did use it for center strips in necks and occasionally for heelcaps. Their techniques for overlays changed over time, several times. Often real ebony veneer, sometimes dyed veneer.
    .
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Hostetter View Post
    All the dyed wood from that era was dyed in a pressure cooker with aniline dye—it was that simple. So the wood was cooked to about the consistency of old pumpkin rind. I don't recall ever seeing a Gibson with a dyed maple fingerboard, but they did use it for center strips in necks and occasionally for heelcaps. Their techniques for overlays changed over time, several times. Often real ebony veneer, sometimes dyed veneer.
    I think that might explain the "wood" that I found on a 19-teens era mandolin-banjo fretboard. I thought it was ebony as it was coal black -- but when I tried to remove a fret the board started literally crumbling and a chunk of it broke out like a domino. It was clearly wood, certainly black, but definitely not ebony!
    Last edited by Bernie Daniel; Nov-23-2013 at 12:19pm.
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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    As John stated, some wood that was ebonized has deteriorated over time. Fingerboards and neck center strips are the most common, and some if not most were treated with an acid which darkened the wood, and also deteriorated the cellular structure. I have run across fingerboards that were treated this way and they crumble rather than splinter. Ebony for sure, as they smell like ebony when worked, but have very little strength left. I have had to replace a few fingerboards because of this, as it can become virtually impossible to refret such a crumbling mess.

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    Default Re: Finishing or refinishing an inlaid Gibson style headstock

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Lewis View Post
    As John stated, some wood that was ebonized has deteriorated over time. Fingerboards and neck center strips are the most common, and some if not most were treated with an acid which darkened the wood, and also deteriorated the cellular structure. I have run across fingerboards that were treated this way and they crumble rather than splinter. Ebony for sure, as they smell like ebony when worked, but have very little strength left. I have had to replace a few fingerboards because of this, as it can become virtually impossible to refret such a crumbling mess.
    So even ebony was "ebonized"? I assume this was because the piece was not uniform in color? But that's kind of surprising because I would have thought in "those days" access to really good ebony would have been a far easier proposition than it is today?

    It seems to me that a product like Fiebings black oil dye (which I guess is intended for leather) does penetrate wood to some degree too? Wonder why they felt that they had to go to such extremes to stain the wood?

    It's certainly an interesting topic it seems like there are various very simple techniques for ebonizing wood.

    One simple one uses ferric acetate ([Fe3O(CH3CO2)6(H2O)3]+CH3CO2-) which is a coordinate that can be purchased as a hydrate. When ferric acetate is dissolved in water and painted on the wood it reacts with natural tannins in the wood structure to form a black complex. Turning the wood surface at least black.

    I don't know how deep into the wood fiber that it penetrates. But it is claimed that it does offer some penetration below the surface at least. Maybe if you soaked the wood for a few minutes it would continue to penetrate? Also, I'm not sure how stable the color is -- maybe you have to seal the wood to retrain the color? Don't know.

    Apparently the ferric acetate method works great for woods like oak and walnut that have a high tannin content. If the wood does not have tannin you can try soaking it in a tea solution first to add some!

    BTW you can make your own ferric acetate solution by just letting a piece of iron (I'm using steel wool) oxidize in a vinegar solution for a few weeks -- BUT DON"T DO IT IN A SEALED CONTAINER as it will give off some hydrogen gas!
    Last edited by Bernie Daniel; Nov-25-2013 at 8:51am.
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