Deep into repair on a 1964 Martin 0-18 where I had to replace the top upper bout from the waist out (see pics) and wanted to see what tricks you folks might have regarding color matching the spruce. I've gotten a pretty good match on the grain etc. Normally I would have opted for full replacement but the balance of the top was in fairly nice shape so this slice and splice method seemed right. I don't want to overspray the original finish so matching the raw wood color is critical. Stories or suggestions welcome.

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I would stain the new spruce with concentrated orange pekoe tea, and then proceed with spraying nitro.


If it were mine, I'd probably seal the new addition by wiping a couple of coats of blond, dewaxed shellac before I did anything. I would use a combination of yellow and red dies in more of the shellac to match the color of the original part of the top and use it to color the new section. Once it was to my liking, I would finish off with what ever finish matches the original.

I like this approach because it allows me a level of reversibility that I can't get when I apply color directly to the wood.If I mess something up, some alcohol on a rag will get me back almost to bare wood again.  If you haven't worked with it before, remember to use dewaxed shellac if you are going to cover it with a different finish.

I have to admit I'm totally ignorant on this subject.just want to complement you on doing such a nice job.I am familiar with this mother has a 63 model.once again very nice repair.

I agree, nice repair.

I also agree with Ned's approach of sealing with shellac.  I would also seal a piece of scrap  from the same spruce  used in the repair.  International Violin sells small bottles of varnish, and I have had very good luck matching early Martin finishes by varying the proportions.  I originally ordered a bunch of different colors, but eventually found that I really only needed Amber, Brown, and Clear.  If it were one of those slightly orange New York Martins, you might need to add a little red.

I use a medicine dropper and literally count the drops.  Also use those small disposable 1oz. medicine cups and Q-tips as a throw away brush.  Stain your scrap spruce along the edge, and when dry, hold it up to the existing finish for comparison.  Label everything as you go.

I'm looking at a scrap that I used a couple years ago.  It was 10 drops of Amber to 2 drops of Brown that matched an 1893 0-28.  Then use those same proportions for a larger supply.


This took quite a beating as the entire bass side was obliterated. I've made the new side and have cleaned up as best I could the globs of titebond someone spread all over the inside. The side is easy to match but the top is another story. I've used the method suggested by Ned to match smaller repairs in the past but this is so large an area and right next to the original finish. The original top wood has that nice honey brown color in the wood and I do not want the new sections finish to take away from the spruces natural glow so I'm going to try the tea idea on a sample and see what results. Will post more shots this evening.

Whats the problem with refinishing the whole top? - Getting the new finish repair section to blend in with the original finish both in color and a smooth transition (given lacquer shrinkage and the problem with getting the two repair finishes to join) is going to be an issue down track.    Trying to match the two sections with anything other than the original finish type and schedule is also fraught over such a large area particularly when you have such a distinct line - it's going to show different under lights.

My thoughts are that a full top refinish is relatively easy and will be almost undetectable given the good technical execution of the repair so far - this attempt to mix, match and blend  seems to be a second choice.

However, I defer to my colleagues here - has anyone done this type of repair successfully?


Again I have no experience in this area.if I were the owner of the guitar I would prefer as much of the original finish as possible.maybe it don't match perfectly but still superior to new finish.just my two cents.

Being a vintage dealer as well as repairman you get kind of anal about original finish's. It's kind of nice to retain everything you can that's original although Rusty is totally correct about the eventual blend showing itself more in certain lighting and as time takes its toll. My concern with a total new finish would still be matching the spruce color before applying laquer. My friend Joe suggested leaving the guitar out in the sun for a few days, possible here in SoCal, with the entire guitar masked except the patch, and let her get a nice tan. Scares me a little but.....................Anyhow I promised a few more pics so here goes.

This shows the funky repair done by a previous "luthier".

The next pic shows how they creatively used the old top piece as a seam reinforcement.

I really like how they notched the X brace. Heres two more.

Just noticed the Taylor guitar top repair posting. Guess I'm not alone.

Rusty is making a pretty good point about the extent of the matching that's called for in this case.  Before I ask this, please remember that I like and own martins, OK?  Is a '64 Martin really worth worrying about the original finish on the top? The client may need to be sold on the idea but, as Rusty pointed out, in the long run it will look better and given the extent of the repairs you have already made, a refinish of the top doesn't seem that much more to me.

 Was a '44 0-18 worth worrying about back in '92 ? Besides a total refin of the top can still be accomplished, with about the same amount of labor and stress to the instrument as I would cause by doing it now, at a later date. Why not try and save the original ? That is the question. 

I've got no problem with trying to save the original part of the finish. I was just wondering if it was really worth worrying about. Sure, in twenty years it will be the same age that a '44 is now but it's not  2032 yet. It could be that you can match the original finish fairly easily and it's not a problem but it could take a lot of work to get it right too. I was just pointing out, or rather agreeing with Rusty when he pointed out, that it may be that the surest quick path to completion is to do a complete refinish of the top. 

In the end, you're the "man on the scene" and it's your call.

Between you and me, I love doing this sort of thing so I have to admit that I would probably try matching the old color and finish. It's one of the luxuries of not doing this for a living.


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