Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

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Fingerboard Cleaning, Fret Dressing, and Tuner Lubrication on the 1919 Gibson A-4 Mandolin

So, the cracks on the Gibson A-4 are fixed.  Now I can clean the fingerboard, do a bit of fret dressing and clean and lubricate the tuners.

You may have read elsewhere on this here blog about my experiences cleaning old fingerboards.  My old Martin ukulele was about the worst.

This one isn't too bad.  First I like to do a cleaning with Simple Green and a toothbrush.  Not too much, just enough to lift the surface dirt off.

Then I use Dunlop Fingerboard Cleaner & Prep.  This stuff is great.  The downside is that on a dirty board, it takes numerous passes to get everything off.  This one took 8 or 9 passes.

I can't seem to find this sold in a larger size.  I'd like to buy a quart (about a liter) of it.

A lot of times on vintage instruments you see "fret sprout," where the fingerboard has shrunken up due to changes in humdity.  Then the sharp fret ends stick out a bit from the board.

This mandolin's frets were not sticking out at all below about the 10th fret, but the ones above that were.  I probably won't spend much time playing there, but I wanted to dress those fret ends anyway.

So I made a few passes with a fret end bevel file. Notice also how dull the frets look.  We'll fix that too.

That takes care of the frets sticking out from the edge of the board, but there are usually still some sharp edges on the edges of the bevels.

So I go back with a small fret end file and just touch those edges up - two or three file strokes does it.

Now you can run your finger along the length of the fingerboard edge and it's nice and smooth, no rough or sharp edges.

The final touch is to go over the frets with the magic 'Fret Erasers' from Stew-Mac.  Start with the 150 grit and work up to the 1000.

The frets wind up super shiny and smooth.

There is a touch of wear on the first couple of frets, but it just didn't justify recrowning them.  These frets are small to begin with, and I don't want to take off any material.

Here's the finished fingerboard.  I've been using Stew-Mac fretboard finishing oil for the last year or so instead of lemon oil and I love it.  The board winds up with a beautiful natural glow and is super smooth.

My container of this stuff will last for years.  It just takes a small amount on a fingerboard.

This board is ebony, and now you can see the beautiful brown streaks here and there.  They were invisible before the cleaning.

The tuners on these old Gibson mandolins are notorious for being hard to turn.  A couple of them on this mandolin were virtually impossible to move.

So I used a drop of Tri-Flow lubricant on the moving parts.  They've freed up nicely.  One or two of the tuners still have a place in their rotation where they tighten up a bit, but they're much better overall.

I polished up the base plates a bit with metal polish, just enough to take a bit of the tarnish off, but not super shiny.  I think they look good now.


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