I just picked up this old teens or twenty's stella bowlback with the intention to clean it up, string it up, and either enjoy it myself or sell it. The mandolin is in surprisingly good shape structurally. Nice straight neck, no warps or cracks anywhere, and no loose braces. I'm just wondering if anyone knows of a way to minimize the scaly appearance of the finish. I guess I'm just looking for advice on how you guys would go about cleaning this old mandolin up without compromising its well earned patina. Also, am i correct in assuming that this is a shellac finish? And don't worry, I will string it up with extra light gauge mando strings.

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I would leave it sing as-is. Yes, earned patina.

Leave it.  That's half the charm.

Slightly dampened microfiber cloth is all I would try, just to remove dust.

Thanks guys...I'll take everybody's advice and just remove the dust and grit with a damp cloth. Can anyone tell from the pictures what kind of finish this is and does anyone know what would have caused the finish to get scaly. I'm just curious as i've never seen this particular reaction from a finish.

I love that finish on old Stellas, and I've seen my share.  It's pretty common on Stellas from that time period.  Into the 30s they used a nitrocel. I believe this is an older, shellac-based finish.  Cause is likely expansion of wood and finish at different rates over time? hunch.  These were mass-produced by the thousands and crudely built and finished off..not a lot of care put into details like at Martin, or even Gibson.  As mentioned, just wipe with a clean, damp's a great patina.  Tom

Thats great to know. Thanks for the info Tom.

It looks cool...maybe some Naptha and Micro-mesh?

If the finish is loose then how about Cellusolve?

My Idea was the same as everyone else's leave it maybe a damp cloth only.Great find BTW

I've restored several bowl backs with these type of finish issues and my approach is to clean first with mineral spirits, let it dry for a day, and then refresh the finish with a light french polish. I'll include a pic of a completed one so you see the results. What is cool is the scaly/cracked patina remains.

I agree with the others that a damp cloth and some distilled water first to get the chunks off... followed up by either mineral spirits or Naptha to do more of the heavy lifting.

And unfortunately knowing that you might be sick of hearing this but that scally appearance I think is pretty cool too...

Eric that looks great to me - excellent idea to over-french-polish with fresh shellac!


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