View Full Version : Abused Instruments

10-28-2010, 05:50 AM
There's been a lot of vintage vs new talk lately. I'm just curious to hear thoughts about abused instruments.

I find myself attracted to these scarred up little things. I've always liked vintage instruments because of the link to the past...the stories it's seen, the people that have touched it...all that jazz. I wonder where instruments like this have been, who put that much wear on the fretboard, why it was ultimately discarded...

Here's an example.



10-28-2010, 06:07 AM
Im with you.. I think one that shows that much wear on the fretboard is really interesting. It is a good thing to me to see one that was actually used, and used allot. That kind of wear is use, not abuse IMHO tho.. I wonder if it was just someone that loved to play, and play allot, or used profesionally. I mean, look at some of the pros hardware. I used to love to see the miles on the strat that Stevie used to play. http://deepwarriors.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Stevie-Ray-Vaughan.jpg.

I have noticed a trend of profesional artists not being ashamed of their tattered instruments lately. Playing in shows their hardware that has obvious use and wear on them. I think it is pretty cool.

10-28-2010, 06:38 AM
Willie Nelson and "Trigger"


10-28-2010, 06:53 AM
yep its a sad sight to see an instrument stuck away and not used. little dings and stuff make an instrument (not mine though ;)).

Although does anyone remember that really bad phase where some of the major guitar brands started producing pre-destressed instruments, brand new but they actually wore away the finish to make it look really old... I guess its the equivilent of buying pre ripped jeans. pretty rediculous on guitars though

10-28-2010, 07:06 AM
yep its a sad sight to see an instrument stuck away and not used. little dings and stuff make an instrument (not mine though ;)).

Although does anyone remember that really bad phase where some of the major guitar brands started producing pre-destressed instruments, brand new but they actually wore away the finish to make it look really old... I guess its the equivilent of buying pre ripped jeans. pretty rediculous on guitars though

I remember that...gah that was terrible. I think it's ridiculous on jeans too. I'm torn about the 'antique' look on banjos. I like it, but in enough years wouldn't the non-antique finish look antique?

10-28-2010, 08:00 AM
Yeah, imagine the stories that old uke could tell:)

10-28-2010, 09:22 AM
Along these lines, we are thinking of offering a "Distressed Finish". We already "age" our woods, and use traditional hand finishing techniques. These finishes can also be easily re-coated. Given those elements, in a way, the smooth ding free suface almost looks out of place. We wouldn't do anything to the frets or fretboard.

We were thinking this might relieve some of the "stress" a lot of people have toward scratching or denting their high-end instrument. We would take care of that for them! Then they could play to their heart's content - without a care in the world.

What do you think?

10-28-2010, 09:28 AM
Not too sure about that. IMHO, the stress, dings, scratches and war wombs are earned badges of honor, not bought.. Just my 2 cents on "pre" stressed finished on instruments..

10-28-2010, 10:31 AM
Along these lines, we are thinking of offering a "Distressed Finish". We already "age" our woods, and use traditional hand finishing techniques. These finishes can also be easily re-coated. Given those elements, in a way, the smooth ding free suface almost looks out of place. We wouldn't do anything to the frets or fretboard.

We were thinking this might relieve some of the "stress" a lot of people have toward scratching or denting their high-end instrument. We would take care of that for them! Then they could play to their heart's content - without a care in the world.

What do you think?

Personally, I wouldn't buy a distressed finish instrument. I think the ones who are obsessive about not scratching their instruments would not buy it either, because it looks like they abused it. Make sense?

10-28-2010, 10:36 AM
"I think the ones who are obsessive about not scratching their instruments would not buy it either (distressed finish instrument)"

Good point, and a very valid one I think too...

10-28-2010, 10:51 AM
don't do it!!! =D some distressed instruments look cool because of what has happened to them and their story to tell, it gives them their character. Pre distressed instruments... I can't think of a single positive thing about them, hideous things.

10-28-2010, 12:30 PM
yep its a sad sight to see an instrument stuck away and not used. little dings and stuff make an instrument (not mine though ;)).

Although does anyone remember that really bad phase where some of the major guitar brands started producing pre-destressed instruments, brand new but they actually wore away the finish to make it look really old... I guess its the equivilent of buying pre ripped jeans. pretty rediculous on guitars thoughThey are still doing that and asking for more for the instruments (Gibson and Fender). Check this blurb out for at $17K SRV replica
Fender Custom Shop Stevie Ray Vaughan Lenny Tribute Stratocaster Electric Guitar Features:

SRV-sanded, contoured body
Billy Gibbons-customized neck
Reflective SRV stickers
1900s-style mandolin body inlay
Mickey Mantle autograph
"Stevie Ray Vaughan 80" etched by SRV onto neck plate
Meticulously replicated wear and tear—
stratches, nicks, dings, and paint wear
Cigarette body burns recreated using SRV's cigarette brand
Reverse-mounted tone pots
SRV's non-original bridge and non-standard strap buttons
Recreation of cracked headstock end and worn-in string winder impressions
Flight case with Vaughan's name embroidered in the case fabric

This is not made up http://guitars.musiciansfriend.com/product/Fender-Custom-Shop-Stevie-Ray-Vaughan-Lenny-Tribute-Stratocaster-Electric-Guitar?sku=515826

The one made with off brand of cigarettes just wasn't selling. I hope the uke world doesn't get like this.

mm stan
10-28-2010, 01:08 PM
I like vintage instruments because they show charather from wear and tear, with that original worn look, If anyone started to sell pre disstressed ukes...I would not be intrested..I'd call them fakes...lol...

10-28-2010, 01:39 PM
Seems pretty obvious I'd better re-think that idea.

I spent a number of years with both finish manufacturers and furniture manufacturers - also as a consultant, creating finishes for furniture lines. With traditional furiture, the distressed pieces were always most popular. I think a lot of people just didn't want to wait a few decades to get the patina that comes with age. It was a lot of fun to do them - mainly because done right, they were just the prettiest.

Along with that, I didn't want our pieces sitting on the shelf either. I knew this was not as common a practice with musical instruments outside of electric guitars, but didn't realize the negative reaction would be so pronounced. I think the most telling comment, though, was from Skitzik:

I think the ones who are obsessive about not scratching their instruments would not buy it either, because it looks like they abused it.

As he said, wouldn't make sense to spend a lot of extra time and trouble when the very people it was intended for wouldn't go there.

Thanks, everyone!

10-28-2010, 01:50 PM
Yep, furniture is completley different case. People like the look as a fasion statement and want a vintage look without having to find old dusty stuff. They like the look, not the history of it. With instruments, it is completely different mind set I really think.. I would buy a beat up instrument with history, but never a "simulated" distressed instrument. Like I said earier, it is more of badge of honors than a fasion statement in that case..

10-28-2010, 02:57 PM
I got my wife this old Bluebird uke. By the looks of the e-bay pic someone had played the heck out of it so I figured it must be a playa. We weren't disappointed, it has a bright punch tone. She loves it.

She played it for about two years with the strings it came with. They looked like 1,000 year old cyrstalized nylons. They went dead so I tried worth mediums or hards (I can't remember which) and they sounded like the "original" strings.

I say it's not abused it's just been loved to death.

Definately one to play old tin pan alley songs on and it's LOUD!!!

10-28-2010, 04:41 PM
This is a little more on point than my previous question.

While I worked for a good while in furniture manufacture, I worked for a good while in furniture restoration before that. Did work for some national museums. Followed a similar path with musical instruments. Now I'm around half of Southcoast Ukes, but for several years before, I bought, restored and sold vintage instruments.

While I'm not involved in restoration any more, it would be fun to hear the underground take on the subject. I'll use furniture references again here. The "battle lines" in furniture have been pretty clearly drawn. It seems things aren't as clear in musical instruments, but the ideas seem to flow along the same lines.

With furniture, you have (#1) the European museum philosophy: a restoration means putting a piece back in the condition in which it was when it was originally built. This means removing all damage and often removing and reapplying finish. With truly fine historical pieces, it will involve research into the wood purchases and inventories of 200 year old cabinet shops, and searching for woods from the same locales for replacements. The process can run decades and the cost can be astronomical.

Then you have (#2) the American museum philosophy. Do not remove damage, do not change out damaged or replaced parts, no matter how inappropriate, and "restore" the original finish. This will involve a cleaning and "re-flow", of the original finish, followed by a topcoat of whaterever the original finish was. In other words, the American philosophy is to bring the piece back far enough to show it's beauty, but leave it's history intact.

Finally, there is (#3) the "Antique Dealer's" philosophy. This one is gaining or has gradually gained prominence. "Leave everything just as it is. Change anything and all value as an antique is gone!" Coincidentally, this philosophy also allows antique furniture dealers (and dealers in vintage instruments as well) to turn the highest profit.

I've got my own ideas. What are yours? What would you do. for example, with Skitzik's remnant or the Ukuleleblues Bluebird?

10-28-2010, 05:01 PM
Well in my case I have purchased new and used ukes and I buy ukes to play them.

One of the Gretch ukes that I bought was a sad case it had a popped bridge, the back was almost off the front had two large cracks, the braces were loose and it only had two tuners, but it did look like it had character. The price was $25 so not a big loss if it turned out to be firewood.

My local lutherie was given this brief, do what needs to be done so I can play it, $200 later I have FrankenGretch it still has a lot of scars but when I play it, it makes me happy that it is back making music.

So new or old, restored or not, distressed or pristine, what it has to do is be able to is make music.

10-28-2010, 05:05 PM
don't do it!!! =D some distressed instruments look cool because of what has happened to them and their story to tell, it gives them their character. Pre distressed instruments... I can't think of a single positive thing about them, hideous things.They just seem silly to me....

Hey Tudorp....how are you doing?

10-28-2010, 05:45 PM
My pholosophy is leave it alone and done erase history. The only exception to that is, bring it back to serviceable (useable) and that is it. Cosmetically, leave it as history made it.

Doin good Saluku. Lost a total of 70 lbs now torwards my healthy goal. Still a big old fat guy, but feel better already, and keepin on my quest.. Thanks for askin..

mm stan
10-28-2010, 06:39 PM
I just like to say, even in furniture or kitchen cabinets....Pre distressed things are faux.....beats the hell out of me why in the world people would ruin new stuff....and turn it into beat up stuff......if it was old and
vintage, that's a totally different story...it has a history and story behind it....what are you gonna tell your friends about pre distressed things...I pulled a hammer and chain and did that myself....You got to be out
of your darn mind...if you ask me... it just bothers me, to see well to do people trying to emulate my hardships....I just don't get it??????
Tudorp: It great to hear that you're on the right path of your dieting journey and continueing to do well.....Woo Wooooo 70#already...Good going buddy!!!! Happy 4U

10-28-2010, 10:41 PM
Beats me why someone wants something distressed; worked in the clothing industry too. Some people spent more on blue jeans with tears and hole in them than an intact pair. Prewashed to soften material, yeah, OK, but torn and tattered, crazy. Don't like the look of artificially distressed furniture either.

10-29-2010, 02:57 AM
I agree 100% with you Stan brudda. Furniture is more accepted like that, altho I would rather have the real history stuff, and if I can't, just do without. But, furniture does seem to be more acceptible, and chaulked up to "fasion". Stuff more personal and intimate like instruments a whole different ball game.

10-29-2010, 03:30 AM
I just want the instrument to be playable and sound as nice as it can.

As for furniture...I prefer the Classic American Yard Sale look. So even my furniture is kind of...used looking. I'd rather invest in important things like instruments then something as trivial as a couch...pre-distressed or not.

Back on topic though, I think you may be able to sell pre-distressed instruments to kids, especially if you could get one of those tween pop people to play one, but then you would have to price it to reflect that and it probably wouldn't be worth it in the long one.

10-29-2010, 01:55 PM
First, I get it on the distessing. We'll stick with the aged woods, the warm resins and the soft patina - people seem to like those. We'll forego the nicks and scratches (you're ruining all my fun!).

Back however, to the subject of the restoration of the "abused". Not a lot of reaction, but the prevailing sentiment seems to be to just get it playing well and leave it at that.

I want to try to make the case for restoration. I do it not just because I've seen a trade dying away, and with it the knowledge of what approrpriate restoration should consist of, but also because I think it is a disservice to the instruments themselves to not take some action to preserve them.

Here is an admittedly unusual and severe case of abuse. I know the red is a funky kind of thang, and I'm sure someone would appreciate it, but would you really just put new hardware back on this instrument and leave it alone?



10-29-2010, 01:59 PM
I am totally with you on this. I have a Soprano that is pretty beat up but not as bad as this one. I feel much more attached to it than one that just came off the Machine assembly line with a bunch of other Ukes built the exact same way.

10-29-2010, 02:21 PM
I do understand an earlier comment about people being too over-awed at a brand new shiny article. I built a wooden racing rowing boat a few years ago, and it came out like a work of art. It's something I get joy out of every single week. When I was putting the finishing touches on it I was so scared that I was going to scratch, ding or dirty it up I was in two minds about ever rowing it. On the last brush coat of clear finish on the shell I knocked it off the stands and put two big dings in the decks, one on the fore deck and one on the aft deck, where everyone was going to see them. After I cooled down, I laughed, because now I could happily take it out and not worry one hoot about scratching it.

Having said that, I just don't get pre-distressed instruments.

Bruce in Adelaide

10-29-2010, 02:49 PM
On FMM, 2 ukes of the same model of Gstring came up for sale: 1) near mint condition and somewhat $$$$$ and 2) a slightly dinged but "loud" version but only $$$. I bought the $$$ because I want to play it loud. I don't want to watch it sit pretty.

10-29-2010, 03:39 PM
nickman, you misunderstood me. I am trying to make the point that restoration is becoming a dying art because of an attitude that often seems to glorify "grunge". Here are the "after" pictures:




You can see that the scratches and damage have not all been removed and there are traces of paint. The tuners are not exactly right - the originals would have been frictions and these are planetarys - much more practical for steel strings. In short, there is no reason to have to baby it, or put it on a shelf - you can play it as much as you like!

Again this is not a typical example, but any instrument worth playing is worth preserving. As a finish gets older and dirtier, it starts to deteriorate, and the process accelerates rapidly if nothing is done to stop it.

You don't have to strip, as I obviously needed to do here. For instruments like the ones at the beginning of this thread, you take a look at what the wood is, and decide whether it is worth bringing more of it to light.

For mahogany, koa etc., of course. For birch, probably not. In the first case, the old finish is "reflowed", becomes more transparent, and is then stabilized and given an appropriate overcoat for protection. With the birch, just clean, leaving more of the black, decayed look, but again stabilize and topcoat, otherwise the finish that has lasted 80 years will probably be gone in a decade. In the case of the Bluebird, you then lose the artwork!

To sum up, giving your vintage instruments a little respect doesn't means you "refinish" them or sit them on a shelf. Just that you enjoy and respect them enough to protect and preserve the old finishes as well as their playability.

11-03-2010, 04:43 PM
Relic'ed instruments can be cool sometimes, but I still prefer mine well polished.:D

11-03-2010, 05:28 PM
I treat my uke like my shoes more or less (NOTE: I have extremely flat feet, no arches whatsoever, so I NEED good shoes) A new pair of shoes needs to be broken in, they need to be beat up a bit. BUT, I need them, so I don't intentionally beat them up or get them dirty. If they're overly dirty, I might clean them, but it is of no immediate concern to their usefulness. If I need new laces, I will put new laces on immediately. If I trip on something and scratch my shoe, I am not bothered because they still work just the same as they did before I scratched them.

So by this I mean that... I love my uke very dearly, and it knows I do by how I play it. But its main function is to make beautiful music, so that is what I care about. I don't think it would sound the way it does right now if I hadn't broken it in the way I did. Sure, when I was installing a pickup in it and I knocked a big chip out of the side of the hole, I was bummed big time, but my uke doesn't care, it just wants to be played and enjoyed!

So more scratches, more character, that's fine by me. My uke even has my own blood in the wood, so it knows I love it.

mm stan
11-03-2010, 05:29 PM
Don't get me wrong I like nice and glossy finishes....But as Antique Roadshows says loosing all the patina devalues the more high end ukes such as Martin...Keep it original....a good clean and polish would work for me. If it was another mid range brand or lower, that's another thing......I'd do it in a heartbeat...or if it has had a previous refinish before, what the heck....I'd do it!!... Guess it's personal preference....

11-04-2010, 03:08 AM
I agree with Stan. If it was a mid range uke with layers of paint like that, I would try stripping it off and getting it back to a more original state. I would not attempt that with a Martin or a Kamaka.

11-04-2010, 04:23 AM
Along these lines, we are thinking of offering a "Distressed Finish".
Like buying new jeans with holes and wear spots pre-crafted into them, eh? Or like buying a new car with scratches and dings to take the stress out of parking it unattended in a lot used by local skateboarders... very authentic... ;-)

11-04-2010, 11:51 AM
As I mentioned above, you can define 3 different philosophies on restoration. "Antiques Roadshow" qualifies as one of the prime present day proponents of #3:

Antique Roadshows says loosing all the patina devalues the more high end ukes such as Martin.

This is the most recent philosophy on restoration, and of course you are right in one respect, Stan. If the majority beleive that a restoration devalues an antique, then ipso facto, it is devalued. But as I implied earlier, it came about simply as a way for antique dealers to make more money. I watched it happen.

If a cusomer came in and saw an unrestored piece, they would generally want the dealer to have it restored. The dealer would usually not have the capability, but would imply that it wouldn't cost much. An unwary customer might buy on that basis, but if they checked first, they would usually then ask for a discount or the resulting price would often kill the sale altogether.

Then someone came up with the bright approach of telling their customers that they should leave eveything as is - that to alter anything would "ruin the value". Of course now total price came down, more money went into the dealers' pockets, and the customer didn't feel bad about the crusty old relic in their dining room. It was after all, "authentic, right down to the original finish".

Of course, true restoration doesn't remove the original finish, but the knowledge that such a thing is even possible, let alone how to do it, has rapidly dissapeared thanks to Philosophy #3.

If you go to the Smithsonian, however, or Winterthur (we did work for them), or the Louvre, you may be surprised at what you find. Not only do these museums properly restore their relics, as has been done for centuries, but now even have their own Schools of Restoration. Sadly, this has now become neccessary, again because of #3.

I wonder, though, if the folks at "Antiques Roadshow" would have the balls to tell the curators at the Smithsonian that they have spent a lot of time and money, and in the end, have done nothing but "devalue" their treasures.

11-04-2010, 12:15 PM
I know I'm probably just a bit of a purist, but I have never been able to afford the idea that you buy a musical instrument because it looks nice. I do have some very beautiful instruments, including some hand-made accordions and a stunning violin, but they were never purchased in the first place for this purpose - they were bought to have fun playing and if worrying about scratches was going to stop me enjoying playing them so much I never would have bothered.

The odd scratches and scrapes and bumps are badges of honour for me - "I got that one whilst having fun in Portugal" or "I got that one having fun at a big Bluegrass festival in Wales". The idea that I would show other people's badges of honour and try to pass them off as my own is just a very foreign concept to me.

I don't mind the bumps and scrapes, but:
if there was a bump or scrape that might have a future or present impact on my ability to have fun playing the instrument - it is not OK and I'll do something about it. If it's purely superficial then really - who cares - it just lends character to the instrument and the fun I have using it.

There is a tendency for people to think of instruments as more important than the music you play with them. I don't believe this to be healthy. A musical instrument is a tool for a musician to use. If the tool doesn't work you can get it fixed or buy a new one if you must.

11-04-2010, 12:32 PM
I agree with everything you say farmer. However, you're mainly talking about scratches and scrapes. Extend that definition, and there would be no reason to ever care about having an instrument made from wood with beautiful grain or color, or having one with a nice finish.

I'm just saying that if someone once built an instrument and you can see an attractive wood under the old black crust, and it seems evident that it once had a fine finish as well, don't let anyone tell you that restoring it to the point where you can once again enjoy those qualities (as well as the all important purely musical ones) will somehow devalue the instrument.

11-04-2010, 12:40 PM
I wasn't saying just scratches and scrapes and that more important things were those that made the instrument unplayable. I can certainly see the point in removing the old black crust if there's a chance that the instrument'll sound better afterwards. If it's unlikely that it'll sound better WITH the old black crust then this should be the priority - not the look of the thing. There is something very attractive about an ugly instrument that can move a listener to tears.

By all means make new instruments that look AND sound good, but (particularly among cheap ukes), there is a tendency for looks to be the priority rather than the playability. For the sake of a bit of glitter added to the finish of a mahalo they could spend the extra three minutes getting the action of the bleeding thing sorted out!

mm stan
11-04-2010, 02:28 PM
Aloha All,
I buy my vintage intruments on sound quality before asthetics.....If it doesn't sound good, I'll pass on it....As for finish issues, if it felt uncomfortable I'd consider it..like if it had heavy crackling or checking or
a severe worn through finish seeing bare wood...otherwise I'd just give it a good cleaning and polishing...I guess it's my personal preference... I'd just like to say if more of us had refinished our ukes now, in
the future there would be less of the original ones around, escalating the price of the few that would be around....making them so rare with unattainable prices for most of us....When I show my vintage ukuleles
to family and friends...I'm not there to show off how it looks, but how it sounds...when they see it, they go wow nice ukulele man, but when I play it, their mouth and jaws drop..If that doesn't say anything
I don't know what will....No hard feelings, just my preference.....

11-04-2010, 05:25 PM
I agree with Stan and Farmer and anyone else who said it:

sound quality comes above all else, whether in new instruments or old - that is their primary function.

Sigh ..... but I guess I'll take one more shot at beating a dead horse here - a carcass way beyond rotten. Has anyone ever even heard of a "finish restoration" or have any idea what it is? Have you ever heard of anyone who can do it? It makes me a bit sad, as it is an art I learned many years ago, and in truth, it seems to have disappeared, even as a concept. It very similar in nature to what is done to restore fine oil paintings.

When Stan, for example, speaks of "refinished" ukes vs. "original", it makes me realize that there is no longer even any concept of "restoration". This is what I find depressing, as Stan is obviously a very knowledgeable fellow (as well as a gentleman). I tried to give a very quick summation earlier:

a cleaning and "re-flow", of the original finish, followed by a topcoat of whaterever the original finish was.

I should have added, that the re-flow can incorporate solvents that will halt the deterioration process in varnish, for example (they are unneccessary with shellac).

Earlier I posted photos of an extreme case of abuse on a Regal Tenor Guitar where refinishing was the only practical recourse. I tried to find some old before and after photos of a piece where the finish had been restored, as opposed to refinished. Couldn't find any. Here is the best I could come up with (an old Bruno Tenor Guitar):



These are the "after" pics only. Maybe hard to tell, but those are decals, not inlay - front & back. Refinishing would have removed them. Also, the color on the back & sides was "toned in" - a crude version of the "sunburst" finish common on archtops. Wasn't sure if it was original or added (wasn't well done) but I kept it intact.

This was not a super valuable instrument - not one that may have been worth the money to restore from an "investment" standpoint. There are instruments out there, however, that are worth the investment. And even if you "throw your money away" on something like the Bruno, the restoration process keeps it from deteriorating to the point where the original finish is gone forever.

Does this make any sense? Again, is it something anyone has even heard of?

11-04-2010, 08:50 PM
Funny thing you should finally get to the example of restoration of oil paintings (or frescoes) as that is what kept coming to my mind throughout this thread. It was interesting that the response to the restoration of the Sistine Chapel was not all favorable. Muted colors became bright, not what people through the later centuries were used to seeing and it just didn't seem quite right to many. So should it have been left as "original" through the eyes of people viewing it over the last 80 or so years? Much of what was original, in fact, had been covered or lost from centuries of deterioration, accumulation of soot, grime, water damage, effluorescense of salts, etc.

Well, if an old uke has retained its beautiful sound quality, (after new strings installed, a little adjustment here and there of the nut or saddle, replace a tuner, vintage of course), but lost the beauty of the wood that makes it a ukulele, why wouldn't you want that uke to look like the beauty it once was, if it can be done properly. I agree that it is disheartening that true restoration is almost a lost art as well as the concept that restoration is "a good thing" as Martha Stewart might say.

There are many reasons people buy vintage ukes, but if it is because they just want to play it and like the vintage sound, then other factors take a back seat. If one is just a collector, personally I believe a correct restoration of the uke adds to its value, and I'd argue that point with anyone of the experts on Antique Roadshow. Gee, guess I had my say.

11-04-2010, 08:58 PM
BTW, Southcoastukes, what a beauty under all that red paint, huh? A job well done, beautiful! If that wood/uke could talk, I'm sure you would hear an "ah, thanks for getting all that crap off of me. I can breathe again. Damn, and I look good too! Really, thanks, I feel renewed."

11-05-2010, 12:43 AM
I did a restoration on a circa 1918-20 attic stored little uke that was headed for the dumpster, paid $20 for it. The shellac was black with encrusted filth and had bubbled so it looked and felt like 20 grit sandpaper. I used denatured alcohol and soft cloths and pulled off the filth, melted the shellac ("reflow") and though much of it came off, there is enough left so that I can match it with the real deal, the dewaxed flakes are in the garage, 3 colors so that I can mix and adjust final color if necessary. I would have left more on but it was just too cruddy. I ended up with a lovely delicate little beauty; solid top and back with an arched back of what sure looks like flamey koa (or possibly mahogany) with a rosewood fretboard and ebony saddle and nut.

I just got a circa 1940 Supertone (later Silvertone) solid birch standard or parlor sized flat top acoustic guitar in the mail today, my hubby went "Ew, it's really dirty". But when he sees it tomorrow he will see a new animal. The attic/garage dirt is off, the nickel silver bar frets polished, tuners removed, cleaned & lubed, nut re-slotted and shimmed and floating saddle adjusted. It has perfect intonation! It's a natural color so has a warm golden peachy glow that shows all the graining, an ebonized fingerboard with white inlaid dot fret markers, and great old geared tuners with black buttons. Along with the black floating bridge and black paint "binding" and soundhole ring, it looks really clean and almost elegant. It's sitting next to one of those ubiquitous black tobacco / sunburst style Stellas of which it is a forerunner, and while the Stella grabs the eye, the Supertone has more appeal to me. The Supertone though basically identical in dimensions is over a pound lighter, and has a clearer, brighter voice, though both are supposed to be birch, and both have ladder bracing.

So I agree totally with restoration where necessary. Refinish on a cheap and plentiful piece however doesn't bother me.

mm stan
11-05-2010, 01:14 AM
Aloha Southcoastukes,
You too are a gentleman too.....I agree, there's a big difference in restoration and refinish....and restoration is becoming a lost art....I used to have this rare martin style 2 and it had severe checking, but sounded
great. I took it to one of the best luthiers on the island and he didn't want to touch it...I convinced him to just do the back because it was so worned down, and he said that he wouldn't do the front and sides..
It came out beautiful the back....but he charged me over $200.00 for it. I was price shocked, If it were a uke of lesser value I don't know if I would have done it...From and investment standpoint, since it's
a expensive uke I can understand. It would make sense, however a lower price ukulele would not be cost effective unless it has some sentimental value..I understand it takes alot of work and time to restore a
uke, but the cost may be driving it out of business.. I would only refinish if the finish is worn through to bare wood, to stop the deterioration..ahh, hard to say...Southcoastukes, I value your knowledge and
expertise that you share with us..Mahalo..I often visit your website and it is full of really good and useful information. You are part of the success of the current ukulele movement and here on the forums..
I especialy like your string and tunings write-up..some of those things I already knew, but you were the first one I ever seen to have it printed and shared.. May your business future flourish!! MM Stan...

11-05-2010, 06:58 AM
Hey, Hey!

Those were some really nice posts. ADD got it right on the money. Stan, I'm very pleased to hear there are luthiers out there who are more than just "repair & refinish" guys (& BTW, thanks for the kind words), and seems Teek has the techniques to do it herself!

That's where I think restoration work may be headed, especially for the more modest instruments. As Stan mentioned, it can be expensive to have it done for you (though there is less chance of a bad result).

I've worn a number of hats and one of them (a long time ago) was working for Mohawk Finishing. Because I had a background in traditional finishes, I was also the only rep that the old Behlen Company ever had in the Southeast (now days, much of the Behlen product is re-labeled Mohawk).

If you want to try it yourself, Teek's procedure is fine - for shellac. Shellac is a wonderful finish, and more amenable to restoration than any other. There is one element you will need to add if you are working with other finishes. It can be helpful with shellac as well. Here is a link to a Mohawk product called Ammalgamator.


Behlen has an equivalent called Qualarenu. There is a video on the link that gives a brief view of it's use. (By the way, you don't have to use the Mohawk solvent for your cleaning.) This is a pre-mixed re-flow agent that will also stop the deterioration of the old finish. Afterwards, it is often best to let it "set up" a few days, especially if you had to work it hard. Then light padding (or spray) of shellac (pretty much a universal sealer), a light scuff (or light sand if you sprayed), and then you give a protective topcoat of whatever original finish is down at the bottom.

You determined this first by light applications of various solvents. If it started to come off with alchohol, you have shellac. Softened up with lacquer thinner - nitrocellulose. Neither (and this happens often with the crusty crazed black finishes) and it is probably varnish.

Qularenu used to be different - "hotter" - but now I think they are the same. Neither seem to be as effective at the "re-flow" as they once were. I'm not sure if some of the solvents are escaping, or the formula was changed. You can add a bit of Formaldehyde to make it bite more, or experiment with adding other solvents like Acetone. You'll get different reactions on different finishes, so start slowly. A bit of lubricant on your pad (I like Baby Oil), can help prevent pulling up the old finish with a hot mix.

Let me add one final plug for restoration at this point. To those who would say it is not really neccessary, let me ask whether you let the painted wood on your house flake and peel off. I would hope not, as then your wood begins to deteriorate and rot. Your porch falls down, etc., etc. Thankfully, real estate agents have not yet come up with the idea that peeling paint represents 'the original finish", and that re-painting would devalue your home.

While the damage to a musical instrument would not be as rapid as it is with exterior house trim, it is still headed down the same road to decay without some protection. Finishes are not just for looks, but have an essential practical element as well. Restoration is always preferable to "strip and refinish", so if you don't want to put out the bucks for a pro, and have something you wouldn't mind ruining, take a shot at doing it yourself!

11-05-2010, 07:31 PM
Greetings, all. I have to say, I LOVE bruised and battered ukes. I also love to take the broken ones and get them back to playable. The music is in them, just waiting, and when they get that first strum in 20, 40, 60, 80 years, I'm sure they love it too. When I first went uke-crazy a couple of years ago, a buddy said "oh, you like those things? I got one I'll send ya" A week later, in a nasty looking, 2-boxes-taped-together packing thing, was a Gold Label Kamaka soprano with fingerboard wear on every last position on the board. The first few frets were almost worn out. The stories that uke tells, and the sound, are just phenomenal! Someone played the living daylight out of it, for years and years, and other than a light cleaning and some aquilas, I didn't, and won't change a thing. I feel like I'm carrying on a tradition with this uke. Sometimes, when I get a songbook included with a uke, I go to the dogeared page of the book and play that song once more for the uke and it's former owner. It's the least I can do.
I don't hesitate to glue up loose braces and repair cracks, but cosmetics are like plastic surgery. I look at ukes with my ears.
I have nothing against beautiful ukes, I have a few that qualify cosmetically, but the Kamaka is the best looking one I have, to me, because it's done it's job, very well, for 50 odd years.
I'll post some pics if I can muster the technology.
PS it's great to be a part of this community. Y'all are cool.

11-05-2010, 07:43 PM
Check the board wear on that KK. Awesome! Plus a couple of my other ugly bettys, '33 Style O and 30's Recording King Gibson.

11-05-2010, 10:24 PM
Thanks guy's, I have enjoyed the thread and come away with more knowledge, great!