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Cleaning and Polishing the Finish on the 1919 Gibson A-4 Mandolin

I am proceeding cautiously with cleaning and polishing the finish on the A-4 mandolin.  I did some research, and read about polishing varnish-shellac-or-whatever-mystery finish is on the mandolin.  I want it to be clean and shiny, but I don't want to damage the original finish at all.

So I first cleaned it with soft towels and naptha.  Naptha is a good gentle cleaner, and it evaporates very quickly.

If you do use naptha for cleaning an old instrument, do it outside.

Some dirt came off, and it's starting to have a nice gloss and more clarity.  You can see the beautiful grain on the spruce top.  The finish is quite transparent.

I usually use (and swear by) Virtuoso Cleaner and Virtuoso Polish.  The cleaner is especially amazing.

So I tried some cleaner in some inconspicuous spots.  It worked very well.

Here's a sample of the dirt I got off a section of the top where your arm would rest.

I saw no damage, lifting, bubbling, at all with the cleaner and the polish, so I used it on the whole instrument as I would with a lacquer finish.

Now, just because it worked well on this particular instrument means it's safe for anything.  I'd still be cautious on any finish that you're not sure about.  Lacquer or poly, ok for sure.  Shellac, varnish?  Proceed with caution.

Look at the gloss on the back!  There was an area near the center with a lot of hazing and it came right out.

The finish looks like glass over red tint over the maple.  It has terrific depth and clarity now.

Top looks good too.

It was really hard to photograph due to the glare from the gloss.

There are a couple of wear spots that are a little less glossy, but it still looks good.

I polished up the tailpiece hardware, and put it back on.  Did the screw heads too.

After a couple of years, they'll get their own patina just from being exposed to the air.  But in the meantime, I got all the tarnish off.

You may recall from a previous post that the tailpiece cover didn't look so good.  (Note the top finish also).

Here it is back on the mandolin after being polished.  Night and day difference.

The headstock cleaned up nicely as well.

Love that fleur-de-lis inlay.

After I strung it back up, I put on my homebrew Kawika Hula Girl Shaker break in tool.  My trusty Hacker Hunter RP-38 is driving it.

I'll give it a couple of days treatment.  From what I understand, the mandolin hasn't been played since about 1967, so it can benefit from being 'woken up' again.

Here's a close up of the 'shaker.'

You can also see how nicely the finish cleaned up.  It's amazing that the finish is 95 years old.  A real tribute to quality work.

I need to take the mandolin outside and get some beauty shots soon!


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