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Thread: Finish cracks?

  1. #1

    Default Finish cracks where back and sides meet?

    I recently bought a seven year old mandolin online that was described as being in "pristine" condition. It has edge binding where the sides meet the top but not the back. Where the sides meet the back, the finish has little cracks along that seam, almost the entire way around the instrument. It's pretty pronounced in some areas and less noticeable in others.

    Is this normal? Expected? It seems unexpected to me but maybe I've never looked that closely at an acoustic instrument that didn't have binding along both edges.

    Thanks for any thoughts you might have on this.
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    Last edited by spaaarky21; Nov-14-2022 at 8:55pm.

  2. #2
    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    If you want a “like new” mandolin then buy a new mandolin.

    If you want to buy a used mandolin in known condition then buy it where you can play it first.

    If you buy online then “Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances.”

  3. #3

    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    So I take it that's your vote for "no, it's not expected"?

    I don't mind online if the return policy is good and there aren't many alternatives nearby. I'm just trying to weigh my options if a new one purchased for 40% more would develop the same finish cracks at that joint in seven years. The only instruments I've had without edge binding were electric guitars, where the body was a single block.

  4. #4
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    I don't know what the finish is, I don't know how it was applied, I don't know how thick the finish is, I don't know how the wood was seasoned before the mandolin was built, I don't know how the mandolin has been treated...
    Basically, I don't know if it is normal or to be expected because of all the other things I don't know.
    Suffice it to say, a quality build made with quality wood and with a quality finish should not do that if the mandolin has been well cared for and not exposed to extremes of heat and cold.

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  6. #5
    Registered User thesecretmandolinist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    Finish cracking and checking is common on high end mandolins too. Both my Apitius Grand Classic and my old varnish fern had checking/cracking and are/were cared for very well. Most top tier instruments I have played that have been 5+ years old have finish checking or cracking.. Woods, Givens, Gilchrists, Gibson Master Models, etc. Varnish and nitro wear. The only finish that stays glassy is poly and most of us don't want that mess on our instruments.
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    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    Maybe I'm seeing the OP's pictures wrong, but it looks to me like the back was taken off this instrument and the finish was cracked in some places near the seam during the process of removal.

    If I'm wrong, sorry for guessing incorrectly, and good. If I'm right, I'd be examining the instrument to see why the back was removed.
    -- Don

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  9. #7

    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    Maybe I'm seeing the OP's pictures wrong, but it looks to me like the back was taken off this instrument and the finish was cracked in some places near the seam during the process of removal.
    I wondered the same when it arrived this afternoon. There are a few spots around the perimeter where the finish looks continuous, which would suggest that it wasn't opened. But if it was opened, those could just be the places where the joint closed the tightest and the finish buffed the nicest.

    Now that I'm looking at it under different light, there are only about 6 inches where the finish isn't cracked or chipped. Some places are worse than others. In the picture near the tailstock, some of the defects are more than just chips and extend pretty far out from the joint, all the way to the edge.

    It's a beautiful mandolin and would have been a steal if it was in the condition it claimed to be. Unfortunately, I better send it back.

  10. #8
    Registered User thesecretmandolinist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    Here’s some of the finish cracking/ grazing on my Apitius for comparison. Keep in mind, she’s 20-ish years old. She is kept in a Calton Case in a temp and humidity controlled room but she does go out into the wild often to play.
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    Apitius Grand Classic
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    Madura Triangular Tortoiseshell 1mm

    Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/bearplaysmandolin

  11. #9

    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    Quote Originally Posted by thesecretmandolinist View Post
    Finish cracking and checking is common on high end mandolins too. Both my Apitius Grand Classic and my old varnish fern had checking/cracking and are/were cared for very well. Most top tier instruments I have played that have been 5+ years old have finish checking or cracking.
    Thanks. I'm used to seeing little hairline cracks in guitar finished, especially near the neck on a Les Paul. But do you see much chipping on your mandolins? This is weird because the crack goes most of the way around and there is so much chipping along the crack.

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    I don't know what the finish is, I don't know how it was applied, I don't know how thick the finish is, I don't know how the wood was seasoned before the mandolin was built, I don't know how the mandolin has been treated...
    Basically, I don't know if it is normal or to be expected because of all the other things I don't know.
    Suffice it to say, a quality build made with quality wood and with a quality finish should not do that if the mandolin has been well cared for and not exposed to extremes of heat and cold.
    This is a modern Gibson, so I assume materials and craftsmanship aren't an issue. Seems like it was either neglected or, as Don suggested, migth have been opened for repairs at some point.

  12. #10
    Registered User thesecretmandolinist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    My Varnish Fern had the crack around the binding most of the way from the scroll to the tailpiece. The Apitius has it but not as much. If it is a nitro finished model it could be more pronounced. Why not shoot Dave Harvey an email and get his opinion. He usually answered my questions in a few days time.
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  13. #11
    Registered User thesecretmandolinist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    Oh, and with Gibsons craftsmanship shouldn't be assumed. Like any maker they push out some duds too. I played a 2017 MM recently that was one of the worst sounding mandolins I've ever heard. Adding insult to injury was the fact that it was the highest priced one in a shop that had Gibsons, Woods, Gils, Givens, and tons of other super high end builders.
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  14. #12
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    There's lots of possible causes for that sort of thing. Wood not completely seasoned, lacquer coats applied too quickly or too heavily, quick changes in environment [humid/dry or hot/cold], a lacquer mixture that was light on "conditioner," and so on.

    All nitrocellulose lacquers are susceptable to crazing, checking, or chipping with age. I've seen modern era Gibson and Martin guitars with worse finish imperfections than that after a few years of aging. I don't necessarily think that the instrument has been opened.


    Whether or not to send it back is a judgement call, based on price and your preferences towards cosmetic perfection.

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  16. #13

    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    Quote Originally Posted by thesecretmandolinist View Post
    Why not shoot Dave Harvey an email and get his opinion. He usually answered my questions in a few days time.
    That's a great idea. Is there a place I can find his email address or did you reach out through Facebook or something?

  17. #14
    Registered User thesecretmandolinist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    I can't remember if I got his email from this site or the Gibson site. I know it wasnt facebook because I dont have facebook.I think he is on here as well.
    Apitius Grand Classic
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  18. #15
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    Since the mandolin is 7 years old many things could have happened to it. I don't see any evidence of back removal - that would show really worse mess of chip out on such brittle finish and would be pretty hard to fill/buff missing splinters without still being easily noticeable.
    To me this looks like either quick humidity/temperature change that caused differential expansion between back and sides and cause dcracking of finish or (less likely) impact on tailblock (could be in case) where strng part of joint near tailblock was least affected and the sides near the block took most of the stress and the finish cracked.
    Anyway I would check whether the seams are solid and call it cosmetic issue. Some of the better finishers may be able to re-melt the nitro and make the crack less noticeable.
    Adrian

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  20. #16
    Likes quaint instruments poul hansen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    This is not the "normal" crazing in the lacquer which can happen over time. It looks like the two parts have moved with respect to each other.

    Are you sure there isn't a (wooden?) binding there? If it's the back it looks very thick.

    Maybe it has been hot, so the glue became more liquid and the back and side expanded differently. The fact that it didn't happen where the endblock provides a much bigger glue surface, suggests this.

    On picture 2 it looks like some of the lacquer rests go over where the parts meet, suggesting that it hasn't been opened.
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  22. #17
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    Quote Originally Posted by poul hansen View Post
    Are you sure there isn't a (wooden?) binding there? If it's the back it looks very thick.
    The F-9 s or F-5G's I've seen have often edges 6-7mm thick in places.
    Adrian

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  24. #18
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    So, assuming the back hasn't been off, and the instrument is intact now, whatever caused the cracking, is there a way to reconstitute the cracks near the seam with lacquer thinner or another thinner, and then rub it out?

    If this was my instrument I'd be loath to return it or try to sell or trade it off, but I might be willing to try to carefully clean up the cracks...

    Would it ever look as right as unaffected areas of the seam again?
    -- Don

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  25. #19
    Registered User E.R. Villalobos's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    My 2007 well played Weber has finish cracks on its nitro top. My understanding is this is caused by sudden changes in temperature and/or humidity with the wood and the finish reacting differently to change. There are other posts about this as well.
    I’ve only owned The Weber for a short while and like to think it’s spent many a night going in and out of bars and clubs and has a few wrinkles.

  26. #20

    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    Thanks for all the replies. I guess the takeaway is that it's normal for the age and finish if it's seen some big temperature/humidity swings. But it's also avoidable. I'm really on the fence about this one. I agree it's cosmetic but this was a big splurge for me if the finish isn't closer to new.

    Quote Originally Posted by HoGo View Post
    The F-9 s or F-5G's I've seen have often edges 6-7mm thick in places.
    It's a F-5G and the grain goes all the way to the edge. A binding around the back will cost you an extra $3,000 for the F-5L. 😄

  27. #21
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan in NH View Post
    If you want a “like new” mandolin then buy a new mandolin.

    If you want to buy a used mandolin in known condition then buy it where you can play it first.

    If you buy online then “Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances.”
    Having owned many mandolins I have only purchased two new. I always buy and sell with an agreed upon trial arrangement. I never want to misrepresent what I am selling any more than I want to purchase a misrepresented mandolin.
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  28. #22
    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    Quote Originally Posted by spaaarky21 View Post
    ...It's a F-5G...
    Well that fills me in on several of the things that I didn't know in my first post.
    The finish is lacquer (or at least was on F5g mandolins last I knew), and was most likely applied very thick (as Gibson was doing last I knew). The pattern of the damage seems to indicate wood movement under a thick, crack-prone finish. Contrary to some posts here, this is not normal finish crazing or checking as is common to find on instruments even with decent quality finishes. It is localized and follows a glue joint, and that indicates movement of that joint. I suspect the back has expended and or contracted, from changes in relative humidity, beyond the flexibility of the thick lacquer but not beyond the flexibility of the Titebond glue in the joint.
    So, is it normal? Given the construction and finish, probably so.
    (Also, I would not be surprised if a photo of the back would show flatsawn wood.)

  29. #23
    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    If your primary concern is how it looks and you can send it back, then send it back because this will bug you from now on. As mentioned in this thread, this is not the usual cracking and crazing of a lacquer finish, but it is also not completely unusual. If your primary concern is how it sounds, you may have a really good sounding mandolin due to a thin finish and "opening up" due to the places it is cracking. I have seen this effect on different kinds of acoustic instruments. I bought a used 2006 D18V guitar for a decent price because of the same kind of cracking. Very thin lacquer that didn't adhere very well at the edges in some places. The sound is phenomenal, and it hasn't cracked very much more in the 7 years I've had it. The look is not obvious to anyone else, but I notice it all the time. I plan to keep it.
    Tom

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  31. #24

    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    I bought my Gibson F5 in 2010, it was 30 years old when I got it but it looked for all the world brand new and unplayed, this didn't last long, after a few months the varnish or whatever finish it is started cracking all over the top, this doesn't affect the sound or playability, so I can't see any problem, just a poor finish.

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  32. #25
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    Default Re: Finish cracks?

    Most, if not all modern Gibson instruments are sprayed by robots rather than hand-sprayed.
    Depending on how the machines are calibrated on any given day, this can result in very heavy finishes.

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