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richardmartin
12-02-2013, 06:55 AM
Hello
I just received a beautiful 2K. It is from between 1923 and 1927.

Does anyone have an idea of what materials were used for the wood finishing? What materials could be used to safely clean it? What material could be used to successfully re varnish areas that have lost varnish?

The front of the uke has a mat finish and contrasting the rest of the body which has more of a gloss to it. Was this intentional when it was new or is it the effect of time?

Thanks,

Richard

hmgberg
12-02-2013, 07:21 AM
Congratulations on your new (old) ukulele! I'm envious.

As far as I know, by the mid-to-late 1920s Martin was using nitrocellulose lacquer on all models. They began with the lower ones and only eventually on the higher models (presumably because they were unsure how the nitro would react with celluloid bindings) during this period. I would try cleaning it with a damp cloth. If that doesn't work, you can try naphtha.

If the finish is badly damaged, you can overspray the instrument with Niro. The new finish will melt into (amalgamate with) the old finish. This may impact the value of the instrument, if this is a concern for you. I prefer to French polish shellac over areas of significant finish loss rather than to overspray. The shellac can be removed with alcohol later if you want to return it to the way it was. The French polish approach also preserves some of the patina.

I have not heard of Martin finishing part of an instrument in gloss and part in satin. The high gloss may be polish.

RyanMFT
12-02-2013, 07:56 AM
Hi Richard,
Often, it is best to leave a worn area alone. I have several vintage ukuleles with play wear which has gone through the finish, and in general, I clean them up and then leave them alone. Frank Ford at frets.com often recommends this. You can re-spray it, but as hmgberg says, it will impact the value and I would add that it might not look that great to put new finish over a rough or worn surface.

I am a vintage uke fanatic, and I tend to love them just the way they are (after having cleaned them up and done any necessary repairs to make them playable).

Now, how about some pics?!

Peterjens
12-02-2013, 08:14 AM
Put the spray gun down and walk away.

hmgberg
12-02-2013, 08:47 AM
Yes, pictures would help a lot. I wouldn't do anything unless it was absolutely necessary. I did do a restoration of a Hollywood ukulele (French polish approach) and you can see pictures of that in my album. However, the original finish was mostly gone and what remained was flaking off. Nitrocellulose lacquer loses its plasticizers over time and that causes these problems generally, however the Hollywood appeared to have met with some other finish-destroying events.

There was also deep strum wear on the top. I have a few vintage ukes with significant finish loss in the strumming area. Most often I let it go, however, I decided to fix the strum wear on the Hollywood because it was so deep that as I played the uke, my fingers caught on bits of wood, tearing at them. I wanted to play the uke without damaging it further, so...

Finish repairs are challenging, and as Ryan says, trying to touch up areas doesn't always look that great. If you can avoid messing with it, if your concerns are only cosmetic. If the finish is so bad that it has failed you may reconsider.


Hi Richard,
Often, it is best to leave a worn area alone. I have several vintage ukuleles with play wear which has gone through the finish, and in general, I clean them up and then leave them alone. Frank Ford at frets.com often recommends this. You can re-spray it, but as hmgberg says, it will impact the value and I would add that it might not look that great to put new finish over a rough or worn surface.

I am a vintage uke fanatic, and I tend to love them just the way they are (after having cleaned them up and done any necessary repairs to make them playable).

Now, how about some pics?!

Kyle23
12-02-2013, 10:29 AM
I've watched Pawn Stars enough to know that if you try to fix a vintage item, you're going to kill it's value.

hmgberg
12-02-2013, 10:58 AM
If you have a vintage instrument that's cracked up, with utterly failed finish, holes and such, it's not worth too much anyway. It's always a judgement call when the condition is really bad. The market value is what a willing and able buyer pays.

RyanMFT
12-02-2013, 12:04 PM
If you have a vintage instrument that's cracked up, with utterly failed finish, holes and such, it's not worth too much anyway. It's always a judgement call when the condition is really bad. The market value is what a willing and able buyer pays.

Just checked out the restoration pics on your Hollywood ukulele, and wow, what a change for the better! I agree that some things are at the level that a restoration makes sense as it is beyond a condition in which it can function or be enjoyed. I bet you enjoy the heck out of that Hollywood ukulele now! I'm envious!

coolkayaker1
12-04-2013, 03:02 AM
Off topic, please. Ryan, on one of your recent vids with Jay, you mention a nicely repaired crack, Jay utters the name of who you used but I couldn't make it out. I have a Martin 3 with only one crack, but it's on the soundboard and it bothers me as the instrument is otherwise sweet. Do you recommend the person you used? Who, where, how, that sort of thing? Lol. Thanks for any advice. Steve

hmgberg
12-04-2013, 03:30 AM
Just checked out the restoration pics on your Hollywood ukulele, and wow, what a change for the better! I agree that some things are at the level that a restoration makes sense as it is beyond a condition in which it can function or be enjoyed. I bet you enjoy the heck out of that Hollywood ukulele now! I'm envious!

Thanks, Ryan! It was a labor of love. I got advice on FP finish from a few of the luthiers here, notably Rick Turner. Then, I found a guy in my area (well, two hours away) who restores antiques for museums. Joshua studied restoration and even spent a year in school specifically on finishes. He taught me the process, as well much other stuff about this kind of work. I found his philosophy, which is consistent with that of the luthiers who post here, compelling. The first maxim is, "do no harm." So, as I said earlier, if it doesn't need something, don't do it. Next, if you must do something, try a conservator's approach: preserve what you can of the original, using the least aggressive methods. Lastly, restore, but try to remain as true to the original materials as is possible.

I am currently refinishing a Martin concert. It had been previously refinished, quite poorly, an assault on the instrument really. My approach has been to strip off the refinish chemically, ugh! Nasty stuff. The refinished had used no grain fill. I learned that Martin used a particular kind of colored filler after some research. I used it. Then I applied sealer and am just now spraying the uke with nitro lacquer. This is also what Martin used. I'll try to get some pics up when it is done.

hmgberg
12-04-2013, 03:36 AM
Off topic, please. Ryan, on one of your recent vids with Jay, you mention a nicely repaired crack, Jay utters the name of who you used but I couldn't make it out. I have a Martin 3 with only one crack, but it's on the soundboard and it bothers me as the instrument is otherwise sweet. Do you recommend the person you used? Who, where, how, that sort of thing? Lol. Thanks for any advice. Steve

Steve: Unless the wood is distorted around the crack, it should be easy to fix. Any experienced luthier would be competent. It's most important to get the repair level, which is why it's more challenging if the wood is distorted. I would also recommend that you insist on a hide glue repair on that baby.

RyanMFT
12-04-2013, 09:34 AM
Off topic, please. Ryan, on one of your recent vids with Jay, you mention a nicely repaired crack, Jay utters the name of who you used but I couldn't make it out. I have a Martin 3 with only one crack, but it's on the soundboard and it bothers me as the instrument is otherwise sweet. Do you recommend the person you used? Who, where, how, that sort of thing? Lol. Thanks for any advice. Steve

Steve, our luthier is wonderful, but I don't think you should have to send your Martin across the country for him to fix when you should be able to have it fixed well by a local luthier. My guy is mainly a violin/cello builder/repairer, but is happy to take other work when he can. People send him orchestra instruments from all over the world to repair and it isn't uncommon for one of my humble vintage ukes to be on the bench next to a violin worth 10's or 100's of thousands of dollars! His name is John Jordan, and his website is Jordan Music Services. He is in Concord, California, but I am sure you can have a soundboard crack repaired well near you.

coolkayaker1
12-04-2013, 05:19 PM
Thanks so much for the replies, Howard and Ryan. My crack is not distorted. I appreciate the name of Mr. Jordan. I, too, would rather spend the money on the repair rather than round trip shipping. I'll see what's around iChicago. A lot of it is a trust thing...I hate to just pick a guy out of the phone book and then go with him because he smiles a lot and wears the same aftershave as me. Lol Howard, I know you're good at this stuff, if you wanted to take a crack at it, I'm game.

Ryan, your vintage uke videos are outstanding. Keep going!

UkerDanno
12-04-2013, 05:26 PM
Now, how about some pics?!

yeah, if there's no pic's it ain't true...