I acquired this A model that someone has stripped the finish off of. Can i get some suggestions where to go from here as far as finish sanding, stain type and general process for making this a player. I have a grandchild that wants to learn to play and simce i only have $200 in it, i figure its at least as good as a cheap chinese starter instrument.

I have refinished antiques and done some woodworking, so im not completely im the dark, but am concerned about any special considerations when it comes to vintage instruments.

Thanks for any input!


Views: 920


Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Yeah - purple.  Now you are talking!  She will love it, and her purple Gibson mando will make her the coolest kid in the bluegrass class. 

I guess my point is that as a bunch of older males we don't even notice how incredibly conservative and inflexible our thinking has become.  There are no rules - why not a purple mandolin?  Leo Fender sold a lot of guitars by adding some new colours to the palate.  It's not like you are protecting a big investment in this instrument, and it ain't a Loar

Here's something for inspiration

Couldn't agree more Mark,

WARNING:   Collectors may need sedation or CPR if they proceed.

If I had a buck for every self styled "collector"  earnestly sprouting wisdoms about the sacrosanct nature of what essentially is just a bunch of wood and some other bits put together to make a musical instrument I'd be rich.    I like historical preservations of all sorts of things - but once we have one or two in a museum somewhere that's enough.    So many fine instruments are denied their voice because misguided or greedy collectors and wannabee experts have sequestered them out of the limelight, off the stage  and into a vault or under a bed in the hope of fleecing someone down the road.   

I hope all my stuff is played until it is worn beyond redemption.   That someone would rather have an instrument rot away unplayed than refinished and back in the ring is just more of the same stuff.

I am reminded of an instrument we refretted for an owner who needed to play this guitar that he had bought from a large vintage guitar dealer (now bankrupt) - the dealer chastised him for the refret saying that he had ruined the instrument.   The owner didn't give a rats, he just wanted to play the thing.   

Anyway, we like purple here as well.



I'm no purist. If the guitar is badly made I'm the first one to correct it, after all that's what I do. Improve old guitars.

But I do have respect for well made and good sounding instruments and the history of it. I always leave the lacquer and small dings alone as much as possible. The Gibson mandolin in this thread is a very well made instrument. In fact probably one of the best mandolin designs there is. I have a similar one that outplays even the most expensive new one. Cheap China made mandolins are a joke in comparison with the old Gibson.

Aw - you guys are no fun!

I was hoping to provoke howls of conservative indignation with my inflammatory comments.  But here you go showing open-mindedness and pragmatism.  What is the world coming to?

Tim - we would love to see whatever you end up doing with this nice old Gibson (even if it is brown).  She is going to be a very lucky young lady. 

You guys are great :). I appreciate all of the input and expertise that you’ve shared. I’ll update when i get a plan. Thanks again!

For the record, the original finish was probably shellac. From the picture, the top may have been either black or the same brown used on the back and sides. 

You can make it whatever color you want BUT, 200 dollars for what appears to be a complete, playable instrument of this vintage, stripped or not seem a VERY good deal to me. IF, in the future, your grand daughter or one of her children should decide to sell it, a new finish that is as close to the original as possible will enhance it's value quite a bit. 

IF it were me, unless my grand daughter was  old enough to understand how to care for this mandolin, and actually want to learn to play it, I'd probably fix this one but supply her with a good, playable "starter" instrument. My reasoning is; While this instrument has lost a lot of it's value along with the original finish, it is probablly still a very nice sounding instrument. For me, the value of any instrument is really found in it's playability and it's sound. This instrument has the potential to become a "player for life" sort of instrument and until I knew that she was interested enough for that, I'd get her started on another instrument.

BTW, don't sand it down anymore unless you really, really have to do it.  What ever finish you decide on, I recommend shellac as a sealer coat for the wood. If you spray on anything, plug the sound hole to protect the original label.  

THis is all just my opinion... right, Mark? Russell? ( In the interest of full disclosure I've got to say, that I actually like the look of the purple ovation.) I'm also laughing at myself because I haven't posted here in months and months and the first post I make is 10 days late!! 

Ned, it's nice to see you posting!

Tim As far as choosing a colour or some such, I would do the shellac before anything else ( it seals everything, so a colour experiment can be taken off) and would definitely turn it into a blackface. It is not hard to do either, AND any blotchy appearance will be total history.

 I think it quite possible, that anything other than black will show blotches. This is an amazing score too. 

You do not say how old the Grandchild is, so indulge me a bit here. I am in total agreement  with all Ned had  to say on the subject. I would vera likely do two things: Get the axe finished, up and playable, and get a 100 buck mandolin for the young' one . Once the kid shows some aptitude and responsibility and some REAL interest in playing and caring for the cheap one, then maybe consider giving her the Gibson. If this grandchild is 21, you should just give her the axe I would think! Just my opinion... 

Thank you Kerry and Ned for your thoughts. I will consider everything you suggest. I am interested in the “shellac” process and more information on what a “blackface” mandolin is...., if you can offer more info on these topics that would be great. I will “google” these as well.

You can google "French polishing", there is a lot to be find on the net about putting on shellac.

The spirit varnish I use IS mainly shellac but with a very small amount added natural(?) chemicals to make the shellac work like a standard varnish. Spirit varnish is harder and not as sensitive to water. With a "French polish" you can get the perfect shine, but it takes hours and it's a bit tricky the first time.

I've done a restoration of a similar snake head Gibson that was all black. It had a shellac finish.

Well, don't let's forget Big Mon's supposed scraping job. I suspect his still has it's value!

 As Mark pointed out, it's stripped so you can do what ever you want. When I rework instruments of this vintage, I use shellac because it's probably what was originally used and what the next person (if there is one) that works on it will probably expect. Since I'm a hobbyist, time is NOT of the essence so building a finish via FP, while slow, is cheap and fairly forgiving. Google the process then try it.  Practice on a foot or so of 1X6, 1X8,  prepped for a fine finish to get a good feel for how it works.

It's possible to spray shellac or even brush it on, which is what I often do if I'm just looking to seal a newly sanded surface.  You can also build a finish this way but, personally, I don't think it's as nice as an FP finish.  If you want to spray shellac on a one off project like this, I would suggest looking for "rattle cans", which I think can be purchased on Stewmac's website.  I think I saw it at Rockler too.  Not sure since I don't do it that way.

Brushing pretty much guarantees that you will need to sand thing smooth which means that a nice shiny finish is more work. If you should brush it on, you probably shouldn't try to polish/ buff it until it's set for a couple of weeks. ( at least) Shellac is soft, compared to... well, everything. It is easy to repair but its also easy to damage and I've found it fairly unforgiving of the heat/pressure of a mechanical buffer but then I don't buff out a lot of instruments either. When I need to buff shellac, I do it by hand, which I find about as much fun as sanding, meaning that it's a hateful  but required task. I've wet sanded with micro mesh (a task which happily shares all the characteristics of both hand sanding and hand buffing all in one nicely wrapped, fingerprint removing, repeating process) with good results.   

I'm not sure what Gibson used to create their black faces but I get the feeling, looking a the worn edges of my black faced gibson, that the color goes right through the finish rather than being a stain applied directly to the wood.  I've used tinted shellac lots of times to color match a damaged area on an instrument I'm repairing and the best technique I've found is to sneak up on the match by building layers of lighter tint of the color I want until the repaired area blends into the original as well as I make it. This may be the way Gibson used to make their black faced instruments. I'm sure the finish is shellac but just can't be sure how it was colored. I do know that the back and sides appear to be stained wood with shellac over that, or perhaps the base coats were tinted shellac with a blonde shellac build over that. The grain of the wood shows through the back and sides while the black, white and red top finishes I've seen all  tend to mask the grain. Honestly, I think building a solid black finish using the FP method and tinted shellac would be a pretty time consuming endeavor. My experience is that building tinted shellac up for a dark finish takes a lot of time and effort  and the best results I've had was using an airbrush to build layers quickly. I have no idea how many hours of FP it would take to get a top as solidly, deeply black as Gibson's tops.


French polishing - doing it well - is not easy.  Since this is not a terribly valuable instrument, and a shellac finish is very easy to work on later down the line, you might try this easy approach to FP:



© 2024   Created by Frank Ford.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service