View Full Version : Vintage Martin Ukulele Finish

07-15-2014, 03:05 AM
I need a bit of help. I acquired a post WWII (1945-early 1950's with keystone tuners) Martin ukulele. It's a bit rough around the edges, but even with strings that may be almost as old as the uke itself, it sounds pretty darn good and is quite loud. It had a crack in the side which was roughly repaired, but is solid. The "repairer" sloppily brushed some sort of finish all over the top and sides of the uke. It looks like the finish, though checked and crazed all over the place, would polish up nicely and would have a nice antique shine if I put a little elbow grease into it, but on the top and sides, it looks like they didn't clean the uke first before applying the new finish, and it's pretty grimy, so no amount of cleaning will make it look much better.

I think the top finish layer might be shellac, but not too sure yet. Before I try alcohol to attempt to remove it, I'd like to know what sort of finish may be underneath. I suspect it's lacquer, but would like to know for sure as I'd just like to remove the top layer of finish and leave the original completely alone.

Of course, as rough as this uke is, I might even consider totally refinishing it as I don't think it would be worth much anyhow (though I'd like to keep the original finish if I could), and I got it rather inexpensively, for a 60-some year old Martin. This is a uke I plan on keeping as my only uke, and it would be a player uke, not a collectable uke, so I guess as long as it sounds and feels like a Martin should, I have no plans to sell it, like I am doing with all of my other ukes, to both pay for this one and to start my saving for an upgraded banjo.

Thanks all,

Rick Turner
07-15-2014, 07:58 AM
Martin started shooting nitrocellulose lacquer sometime around 1927-'28, and the funny thing is that not even the top experts like Richard Johnston or Frank Ford at Gryphon can absolutely set a date; there was probably some overlap between the earlier shellac/varnish period and nitro. It's certainly all lacquer from about 1930 onward. I think you'd be safe trying denatured alcohol in a small spot...try the heel cap, for instance.

If you do go for a refin (which I'm less against than many because nitro lacquer simply is NOT forever), have the bridge taken off first for a nice clean job.

I have an early '30s Martin soprano in funky shape...holes, cracks, etc., and when I do get around to doing a restoration, it'll be done with hot hide glue and probably a lacquer refin.

07-15-2014, 10:24 AM
Thanks. I'll try the denatured alcohol first. Since this uke will pretty much be a keeper, and since it's so rough, I may eventually go the refinish route. There's a certified Martin guy about 30-miles from me who already worked on a neck issue (warranty) for my guitar with a flawless repair, so I'll see if he does refinishing.