My first post here -- Gibson L5 finish issue -- Sweat damage?

I was referred from another forum and told that there may be a better understanding of this issue here. A client has brought me a beautiful and well cared for Gibson L5. On the side of the lower bout, just about where the player's armpit would be, there is fairly damaged area of the top clearcoat. The color is uneffected. It looks as though someone has taken a terry cloth towel damp with acetone and rubbed the finish. I have not yet touched the instrument and I'm poking here and there to see if anyone has any insight into this problem. The client tells me that he always keeps the guitar in the original case and that it has never been exposed to anything like the backseat of a new car. My first guess is that it is associated with perspiration but I've never seen anything so severe. On an L5, I assume this is a lacquer finish which would be a plus toward a successful repair. The big question is, how deep is the lacquer compromised and is it so compromised that it cannot accept a new top coat without getting into the color layers? The finish is a transitional sunburst and I'd rather leave it alone if I can.

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It could be that a plastic strap was wrapped around the guitar and lacquer and plastic don't get along very well.

Uh, huh, - the finish on these guitars can be thin and prone to crazing so don't got too hard with anything - if the finish still has integrity and can be cleaned (naptha) you can refinish it with lacquer (I like doing full or half panel refinishes to keep it hard to see) with a bit of retarder in it to get the base/existing coat to flow a bit. Use fairly skinny coats to start it off if you are concerned with the shape existing finish.

But these are other things I know - if the instrument has been polished with beezwax at any time just forget it - this stuff is impossible to strip (anybody know - I don't) in an economical timeframe, Also, beezwax absorbs all sorts of crud and goes soft after time. The acid from some players sweat is like the stuff from the critters in 'Alien' and will damage top coats and harware. I had a Gibson Supreme that had turned purple from the dye in this guys shirt combined with sweat - bizzare but true - I had to strip the lacquer down to the sealer coats to get it out - anyway, there are all sorts of things that make life interesting. Tell us how it goes, Rusty.
Do you have a pic? How old is the guitar? If the color is good I imagine a finish repair isn't a problem..... You just don't want to spray to heavy or with too much solvent that might "bring up" some of the undercoats that might bleed color towards the edge of the damaged area. But I'm pretty sure that gibson stains the bare wood for color, so it would only be a problem if they sprayed some toner at a later stage.
Lots of judgement calls to make here. If you're not used to working with lacquer, I'd be very careful. Especially with a valuable instrument like this....
Lacquer is all I've ever used and although I've been using it for many years, you'll never know it all...
All of the replies have been great and have helped by either confirming my thoughts or providing new info. I will document this repair in photographs the best I can and post them as I go. The current plan is to see how hard the existing remnants of the top is and go from there. My fear is that the lacquer has been corrupted with impurities and is soft thus unable to act as a foundation for a new top coat. This is sort of like when I was young and stupid and painted lacquer on top of spray enamel -- the whole mess becomes useless. Gibson verifies that the existing finish is lacquer but refrains from providing any additional information. The serial number indicates that the instrument was made in nov 1994.

I'm new to this forum and am encouraged by these quick replies that are right on the money. I don't know all of the forum rules yet but I'll get there. I may know some of you from other forums and for those who I've never met, its nice to meet you.
Rusty made an important comment about cleaning with Naptha. That should give you a pretty fresh pallet to work on. It wouldn't hurt to take a q-tip with a slight amount of thinner on it and test the edge of the binding or something. Trust but verify that nobody has tried to "fix" it already with something incorrect. I quoted a refinish before checking first and discovered that someone had used epoxy on their previous attempt. So instead of stripping, I was sanding.....a ton.....on a laminated instrument.....ugh..
Anything that made the lacquer "soft" should eventually harden, so I wouldn't sweat that. Just make sure its clean. Spray several dusty coats (not much thinner, not much buildup). You'll just want to seal that area up before you start building it back up to level. Too much solvent on the guitar's finish might affect the color if there's a lot of finish gone.
Yo friend, I know about the sense of leaving things alone. "Leave it alone" is something that I've told many people myself. Unfortunately, this is how I make a living and "leave it alone" is not an option in this case -- maybe it is, because I do turn away work sometimes but despite not having done this exact repair before, I believe that the odds are favorable to achieve a good result. If the lacquer is mush, I may walk away anyway. At the moment, I'm just collecting facts. Your advice is good and the easiest option that certainly will avoid trouble. However, so far, this discussion has been of great educational value. Its my hope that someone who has observed this problem before may share some experience that firmly put me on one side of the fence or the other. Maybe something like a concoction of magic pixie dust...
If it seems that I'd be doing more harm than good, I'll certainly walk away. The answer to the client will be that I've thoroughly researched the problem and his best outcome would be to send the instrument back to Gibson. I need to make an honest effort at least and I'll feel that tapping the forums first is a good start. Asside from the possibility that the lacquer is contaminated and unable to support a new topcoat, I'm confident in my ability to apply and blend a new topcoat -- this would be routine for me.


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