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Thread: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mandolin?

  1. #1

    Default What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mandolin?

    Hi, All -

    I hope youíre all doing as well as one could hope.

    My old Gibson A-5 has deteriorated nitro finish. At the upper bout, you can see in the image the area from which it is completely flaked away. All of it was loose, as in the yellow circled part of the image, where you can see the lighter area where the nitro is flaked but still there, loose. When I lift up that flake, or any of the others that came off, it just lifts the rest of the adjoining finish right off the wood. And the finish on the rest of the sides is thoroughly crazed. It looks like none of it adheres to the wood. This problem does not affect the top or back of the mando, just the sides and peghead. When it flakes off, it stops at the binding, to which it seems to be well adhered.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    My question is, what would happen if I went ahead and took all the finish from the sides? Would this damage the integrity of the mandolin? It would sure look a hell of a lot better than the mess it is now.

    Thank you, and I hope you are all able to stay safe.

    Brian

  2. #2
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    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    This is an example of what is called "loose finish." Most of us who work on instruments would consider this to be a manufacturing defect, but I doubt that Gibson would cover it under warranty.

    If you remove the finish from the sides, there will probably be at least some sealer left in the wood pores. This will mean that the wood might still have a small amount of protection from mold, humidity, and dirt, but that protection will be greatly reduced. The wood will have virtually no protection from scratches, bumps, body oils, and sweat.

    Although I generally don't recommend removing or replacing finish on a better grade instrument, this is one case where I would generally advise knocking the old finish off, at least where it is loose. But I would advise following that immediately with a couple of fresh coats of lacquer over any areas where the lacquer was removed.

    I also would recommend that any such work be left to a professional who is very good at touch up work.

  3. #3

    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    It doesn't really bother me. It just looks like an old, worn mandolin. Hard to say if removing the flaking would look better or not. Short of a complete refinish, I'd probably just leave it alone.

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  5. #4

    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    No, I called Gibson a while back and even though I’m the original owner they said they would not cover it. As for replacing lacquer, yes I would leave that to a pro, as I have no finishing experience (other than doping old airplane wings). The mando, being generally the mess it is, though pretty good sounding, would not be what I’d be spending repair dough on. What made me wonder about the advisability and /or drawbacks of peeling the rest of the finish off is that the wood in the are where it came off is more aesthetically pleasing than the remaining nitro.

    Thank you for the thoughtful reply.

  6. #5

    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Mando View Post
    It just looks like an old, worn mandolin.
    It reminds me of the beat up old guitars on 48th Street in New York I saw as a kid and wondered how they ever got that way. And here this one is, and I made it that way myself. A lesson in aging. Give me another ten years and this thing might be worn to a crisp.

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    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    Quote Originally Posted by Brian B View Post
    ...I called Gibson a while back and even though I’m the original owner they said they would not cover it...

  9. #7

    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    They said that their warranty didn’t cover finishes.

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    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    A question for those who know, NOT a suggestion. If the OP peels off the nitro, could he then apply Tru-Oil on the sides for protection? If protection is the goal, and re-finish isn't in the cards, would that provide the necessary protection in this case?
    Purr more, hiss less.

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  12. #9
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    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Clark View Post
    A question for those who know, NOT a suggestion. If the OP peels off the nitro, could he then apply Tru-Oil on the sides for protection? If protection is the goal, and re-finish isn't in the cards, would that provide the necessary protection in this case?
    Not a luthier here, but I do have many years of woodworking knowledge under my belt. Finishing is not my strong suite, but I've always been of the understanding that oil based finishes don't combine with lacquer very well. While I'm not familiar with Tru-oil I'd venture to guess it has a lot of similarities with other oil based finishes.

    Those of you who are more in the know, feel free to correct me, but my initial impulse is that Tru-oil over lacquer would be a bad idea.
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    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    Try a small section of Tru-oil. Sounds like a good plan to me. I would scuff it some so it had something to adhere to.
    So the top and back are good?

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    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    When I say a good plan I mean the simplest way to deal with it. If a lacquer re-fin was done I'd take it down to bare wood since there's something the original finish didn't adhere to. Are we sure its lacquer we're dealing with? is it flexible or crispy?
    So it's peeling on the neck as well. What about the peghead?

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    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    Possible causes:
    1. Wood surface not correctly cleaned and prepared.
    2. Bad barrel of lacquer or vinyl sealer.
    3. Too much thinner or conditioner added to lacquer.
    4. Not enough drying time between coats.
    5. Too much lacquer applied at one time.
    6. I suppose it could also have been induced by the instrument getting exposed to too much heat.

    Anyone else care to contribute?

    We also see this problem on some modern era products by a well known acoustic guitar manufacturer.
    Too bad warranties are often not too good these days.

  16. #13

    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    I guess fashion and the market determine what’s proper and what destroys value. Extreme in the antique furniture world, where a crazed and dirty finish is vital to resale. Less so with paintings, where it’s (so far) entirely ok to remove yellowed varnish. In the auto restoration world, a great crack has appeared in the fashion, with worn originality gaining acceptance over glossy restoration.
    String instruments are peculiar in that some, like mandolins, are attractive in the market if tarted-up, as original; others are untouchable; personal taste seems to be the rule. Fortunately, nothing I own carries enough market value to worry about reaching for the sandpaper.
    My Russian grandmother, who painted our fieldstone fireplace (and the floor), bright blue one day did not understand our concern when we came home.

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    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    Myself....I'd just leave it alone and let it be. Especially if I was the original owner (that is way cool all by itself!). And I'd be darn proud of it. YMMV.

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  20. #15
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    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    Quote Originally Posted by soliver View Post
    ... the understanding that oil based finishes don't combine with lacquer very well. ... initial impulse is that Tru-oil over lacquer would be a bad idea.
    Also far from expert at finishing, but I've used oil finish as simple touch-up on various items, if not better-quality instruments. My understanding here is that the oil will not and, preferably, should not combine with the pre-existing lacquer, but simply soak in as & where needed to protect the wood from dirt, sweat, humidity, etc., while wiping off the top of any surrounding lacquer without changing or adding to it. Or I could be way off base...
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  22. #16

    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Clark View Post
    A question for those who know, NOT a suggestion. If the OP peels off the nitro, could he then apply Tru-Oil on the sides for protection? If protection is the goal, and re-finish isn't in the cards, would that provide the necessary protection in this case?
    Wondering the same - and also alternatively about a couple of coats of tung oil?

  23. #17

    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Hilburn View Post
    When I say a good plan I mean the simplest way to deal with it. If a lacquer re-fin was done I'd take it down to bare wood since there's something the original finish didn't adhere to. Are we sure its lacquer we're dealing with? is it flexible or crispy?
    So it's peeling on the neck as well. What about the peghead?
    It’s both flexible and crispy, kind of. It looks like yellowed old plastic sheeting, like the stuff they used to use years ago for lamination. I’m sure it’s nitrocullulose, it’s a 90 Gibson A5-L and I think that’s all they were using.

  24. #18

    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Hilburn View Post
    What about the peghead?
    I forgot to answer this. Peghead is also chipping, but not enough for me to remove more of the finish.

  25. #19

    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Hilburn View Post
    Try a small section of Tru-oil. Sounds like a good plan to me. I would scuff it some so it had something to adhere to.
    So the top and back are good?
    Back is just about perfect and the top has some crazing, but none of the finish has come loose. What about a super light coat or two of tung oil? I put that on after getting the neck reproduced, and it turned out beautifully.

  26. #20
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    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    Quote Originally Posted by Brian B View Post
    Itís both flexible and crispy, kind of. It looks like yellowed old plastic sheeting, like the stuff they used to use years ago for lamination. Iím sure itís nitrocullulose, itís a 90 Gibson A5-L and I think thatís all they were using.
    I just had an older steel string with what sounds like a similar finish. I had to remove the pickguard and ended up removing the finish underneath ó it was peeling off the wood in large, somewhat flexible chips. I sealed the wood beneath with shellac before reinstalling a replica pickguard with 3M double-stick adhesive.

    Point being... I did some other finish touch up by French polishing shellac dyed amber to match the old lacquer. Looked great ó it was a really good match.

  27. #21
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    Default Re: What if I removed the nitro finish from the sides of my mando

    I would use nitro.
    French polished shellac is the only alternative I would even consider.
    In most cases, I avoid touch up or refinish with anything but the medium originally used.

    Anything else is likely to look amateurish, and might hinder any future attempt to touch up or refinish correctly.

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