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View Full Version : Finish/refinish old uke question plus what wood is this?



Ziret
09-27-2017, 05:19 PM
Last night on eBay I bought this old Japanese Luna uke. They said it was from the 60s, but the way the neck is the fretboard makes me think it's older. I imagine it's post WWII? The photo makes it look better than it is. The other photos disappeared from eBay before I could copy them. The finish is worn, scratched, and on the neck, discolored. It seems to be in good shape otherwise. I wanted to ask the experts: What would you recommend I do about the finish? I've done some work with wood and I just thinned down a neck and refinished it and it turned out great. I'm not afraid to make mistakes, or to correct them. I also wonder if any of you knows, or would like to guess, what kind of wood it is made from. Thank you very much for your help.
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janeray1940
09-27-2017, 05:44 PM
Nice score! Man, I have to admit I'm a little envious of this one. I'd love to find an old Luna.

I think you'll find the most definitive English-language info on Luna Gakki here (http://database.ukulelecorner.co.uk/i-j-k/kiwaya/kiwaya4), specifically addressing your "Imported by Rhythm Band" model. Doesn't help narrow the date beyond 1950s-1960s but because it was imported into the US and has a 5-digit zip code on the box, it's definitely postwar and I'm guessing post-1963, as that was when 5-digit zip codes were introduced.

Looks like mahogany to me. I'll leave advice about the finish to the woodworking experts rather than the history nerds like myself :)

Ukecaster
09-27-2017, 06:31 PM
If yours is like this one now on eBay, the grain, to me, looks like mahogany, just a very light color, or natural. Similar box too.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Wooden-Luna-Soprano-Ukulele-No-300-Model-By-Kamaka-Tokyo-Japan/253144525747?hash=item3af096ebb3%3Ag%3AgH0AAOSw4YJ ZYwRV

More info: http://database.ukulelecorner.co.uk/i-j-
k/kiwaya/kiwaya4 (http://database.ukulelecorner.co.uk/i-j-k/kiwaya/kiwaya4)

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Ziret
09-27-2017, 06:57 PM
I was thinking mahogany too, but I don't want to get carried away and find out it's poplar or pine. That one in eBay is on better shape, but otherwise nearly identical, except geared tuners. The model, 300, is the same.

Thanks Jane, excellent point about zip codes too. And thanks for the article. I missed that in my 15 minutes of frantic searching for information before bidding ended. Going you read it now.

Michael Smith
09-27-2017, 06:59 PM
French Polish is the only way I would go on a vintage instrument. Do some light sanding with 220 grit just enough to clean things up a little then apply french polish. I would only use the sanding to get off the grime taking care not to effect the vintage look.

sequoia
09-27-2017, 07:42 PM
Hard to tell from the picture, but it is probably mahogany. Remember though that "mahogany" is a slippery word and there are many different species of mahogany and many native to Asia where this uke was made. Philippine, Chinese, Indonesian, etc. etc. It could be Honduran although it looks a bit rough. Below a picture of Honduran mahogany.

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I would recommend caution before attempting to refinish this instrument. Unless you have some experience, the potential to make things worse is possible and it could turn into a real boy-scout project or worse: a nightmare mess. By the way, French polish is not a substance, but a technique using shellac in case you didn't know. Personally I think you might consider just cleaning it up the with a gentle solvent to remove the dirt and oils and then using some polish and buffing bring out the finish. I would not take sandpaper to it. The original patina and dents might just give it more value than a complete refinish.

Pete Howlett
09-27-2017, 09:25 PM
To 'French polish' using 'French polish' is a misnomer true. It is also a widely understood term for finishing in a particular way using shellac. Don't listen to the 'shellac police'. We all know what you mean. The rest of us don't 'finish' with lacquer BTW - we apply lacquer then finish by flatting, levelling and buffing out... bet hey, I always finish with lacquer....

Pukulele Pete
09-28-2017, 03:03 AM
I would leave it the way it is. It doesnt look pore filled so I would think French polishing wouldn't work well. If you have to do something to the finish I would just do a flash coat of
lacquer. IMHO

Ziret
09-28-2017, 04:25 AM
Pukulele Pete, what's a flash coat and what lacquer would you recommend?

Sequoia, what gentle solvent would you recommend?

I don't think I have the skill or patience to do a French polish, so I appreciate suggestions that are easier and faster.

1931jim
09-28-2017, 08:28 AM
Pukulele Pete, what's a flash coat and what lacquer would you recommend?

Sequoia, what gentle solvent would you recommend?

I don't think I have the skill or patience to do a French polish, so I appreciate suggestions that are easier and faster.

The art of French polishing needs patience. The days and weeks for curing between applications will no doubt deter you from this endeavour. Quality finishes are not acquired " easier and faster "

jcalkin
09-28-2017, 09:19 AM
I swapped my camping mountain dulcimer for two old banjos, meaning I had no real investment in them. Both banjos needed work and both were filthy. I wanted to put in the minimum amount of work that would make them trade-able again at a higher level. I scrubbed the wood with a dampened Mr. Clean scrubbing pad and off came the dirt and the flakes of finish. A single thin coat of Tru-Oil made the wood presentable to the eye and touch without hiding the age or dings. The mando-banjo sold right away on ebay for enough to make the whole effort worthwhile, and I still have the tenor banjo that I may set up as a baritone uke banjo. Its a pretty much skill-free method to keep the old warriors out there making music.

Ziret
09-28-2017, 02:03 PM
I swapped my camping mountain dulcimer for two old banjos, meaning I had no real investment in them. Both banjos needed work and both were filthy. I wanted to put in the minimum amount of work that would make them trade-able again at a higher level. I scrubbed the wood with a dampened Mr. Clean scrubbing pad and off came the dirt and the flakes of finish. A single thin coat of Tru-Oil made the wood presentable to the eye and touch without hiding the age or dings. The mando-banjo sold right away on ebay for enough to make the whole effort worthwhile, and I still have the tenor banjo that I may set up as a baritone uke banjo. Its a pretty much skill-free method to keep the old warriors out there making music.

Thanks I was thinking about exactly that. There's some reddish gunk on the heel that my first thought was, "Dirt eraser!" And I've been looking for something to try Tru-Oil on.

Ziret
09-28-2017, 02:05 PM
The art of French polishing needs patience. The days and weeks for curing between applications will no doubt deter you from this endeavour. Quality finishes are not acquired " easier and faster "

You are so right.

sequoia
09-28-2017, 06:36 PM
Sequoia, what gentle solvent would you recommend?

This will make some people just freak out but a gentle solvent is called plain old soap and water. Yes soap and water. However, a little gentle soap and a little water and immediately dry off. Water is just not a good thing for wooden instruments in any form so get it out of there quick. But for removing human grease, goo, sweat, funk and dirt, soap and water works good. You might want to follow up with some naphtha.... By the way, I've been thinking about what kind of finish this thing has on it. This is important. I don't know, but a mid to late 60's Luna might be nitro finish and putting shellac on top of that without taking it completely down to bare wood could be problematic.

In the end maybe a gentle cleaning followed by some gentle sanding followed by an oil finish and some buffing might be the way to go. Good luck! Send pictures!

Ziret
09-28-2017, 09:38 PM
This will make some people just freak out but a gentle solvent is called plain old soap and water. Yes soap and water. However, a little gentle soap and a little water and immediately dry off. Water is just not a good thing for wooden instruments in any form so get it out of there quick. But for removing human grease, goo, sweat, funk and dirt, soap and water works good. You might want to follow up with some naphtha.... By the way, I've been thinking about what kind of finish this thing has on it. This is important. I don't know, but a mid to late 60's Luna might be nitro finish and putting shellac on top of that without taking it completely down to bare wood could be problematic.

In the end maybe a gentle cleaning followed by some gentle sanding followed by an oil finish and some buffing might be the way to go. Good luck! Send pictures!

That sounds like what I want to do. Thanks so much. I will post before and after. With luck, after will be better.

I really appreciate all the help from everyone. Thanks for sharing your expertise, it's a valuable commodity.

maryvu
10-02-2017, 07:39 AM
I got this exact ukulele on Craigslist last month. The inside label was gone when I got it, so I’m happy to know more about it!
I did the following:

- rehydrated for a week
- repaired/cleated 3 cracks
- glued loose brace
- stripped/scraped old finish
- reglued Bridge
- new strings
- 8 coats rubbed oil (Tried & True linseed).

I still need to smooth a few fret ends, but I need a safe edge file.

I can’t believe how the grain popped and transformed the thing. Sounds and looks pretty great now! Good Luck! I did take off the Luna decal, but I’m happy anyway. Here are my before and afters. Cheers, Mary 103401 103402 103403

Ziret
10-09-2017, 11:41 AM
I got this exact ukulele on Craigslist last month. The inside label was gone when I got it, so I’m happy to know more about it!
I did the following:

- rehydrated for a week
- repaired/cleated 3 cracks
- glued loose brace
- stripped/scraped old finish
- reglued Bridge
- new strings
- 8 coats rubbed oil (Tried & True linseed).

I still need to smooth a few fret ends, but I need a safe edge file.

I can’t believe how the grain popped and transformed the thing. Sounds and looks pretty great now! Good Luck! I did take off the Luna decal, but I’m happy anyway. Here are my before and afters. Cheers, Mary 103401 103402 103403

Mary, that turned out great. The bridge popped off mine when I was testing stringing it, and there were two undisclosed cracks, but I would have repaired all that but for the finish. Someone played it a lot, which is great, but they also sweated a lot and the salt had melted into the finish and probably the wood, and couldn't be easily removed. So I was looking at a much bigger project than I bargained for. Which is normal. Anyway, I lost heart and the buyer took it back. You have a beauty there! I'm a little bit envious!