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Cleaning an old guitar

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Cleaning an old guitar

Postby Alba » Sat Oct 24, 2020 12:03 pm

I wonder if anyone has any advice on giving my old 70's Gibson L6S custom a good clean?

Its an all natural, so just a varnish finish.

Its not too bad, but when i clean it with a little bit of Mr Sheen its clear there's a nice layer of crap on it and i'd like to get it back to a better condition as part of an overall refurb.

I have used white spirit and naphtha in the past, but on less precious instruments. I've read that a vinegar solution works well too but never tried it.

I don't really want to get proprietary cleaners like Buffalo Oil or some other overpriced stuff.

Would really appreciate any thoughts.
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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby zenguitar » Sat Oct 24, 2020 12:31 pm

White Spirit is exactly what you need. It is what is used to clean wood ready for finishing and cleaning finishes. Nothing in it to harm the guitar or it's finish.

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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby Alba » Sat Oct 24, 2020 1:11 pm

Many thanks, Zen. Is it advisable to give it a post white spirit clean fairly quickly or is it ok to just let the residue evaporate off for a while before its final polish perhaps a few days later?

Sorry to pick your brains but i love this guitar.
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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby ManFromGlass » Sat Oct 24, 2020 1:49 pm

Just curious - something like soap and a bit of water would not be good enough? Wouldn’t it be mostly human gunk that accumulates?
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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby Moroccomoose » Sat Oct 24, 2020 1:57 pm

Alba wrote:Many thanks, Zen. Is it advisable to give it a post white spirit clean fairly quickly or is it ok to just let the residue evaporate off for a while before its final polish perhaps a few days later?

Sorry to pick your brains but i love this guitar.

No need for post clean, the white spirit will evaporate.

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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby Sam Spoons » Sat Oct 24, 2020 2:11 pm

Not sure that's right, I always though white spirt left a slight oily residue when it evaporated, that can be cleaned off with meths but I wouldn't paint or varnish over WS unless with oil based paint (for which ws is is used as a thinner). I'm sure Andy will be back to correct me if I'm wrong.
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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby zenguitar » Sat Oct 24, 2020 3:57 pm

I just use kitchen roll and white spirit to clean and then buff it dry with a microfibre cloth (used to be a yellow duster but I've modernised).

And cleaning with white spirit was something I was taught nearly 30 years ago by Norman Reed. Since then every guitar I've worked on has been cleaned in the same way with no problems.

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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby Alba » Sat Oct 24, 2020 4:01 pm

Thanks for the advice, Zen ... and everyone.
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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby zenguitar » Sat Oct 24, 2020 4:02 pm

ManFromGlass wrote:Just curious - something like soap and a bit of water would not be good enough? Wouldn’t it be mostly human gunk that accumulates?

In theory soap and water will clean well enough. But it's risky because accidental spills can get on any unfinished wood (inside acoustic guitars, or where the finish has been relic'd by age or design), or into the electrics.

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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby Alba » Sat Oct 24, 2020 5:29 pm

zenguitar wrote: ... And cleaning with white spirit was something I was taught nearly 30 years ago by Norman Reed. Since then every guitar I've worked on has been cleaned in the same way with no problems.

https://www.totnesschoolofguitarmaking. ... utors.html

Norman Reed is the founder of the Totnes School of Guitarmaking. He started instrument making in 1971. First known for his lutes and baroque instruments, he later became established as a maker of fine steel-string guitars. His workshop grew and diversified, providing in addition the whole range of modern guitars, from classical and flamenco through to electric guitars and basses. Commissioned work came from people attracted to the Totnes area by the presence of a nearby music college at Dartington and a flourishing folk / world music scene in the locality. A great variety of instruments needing repair, extensive restoration, or copying, began arriving at his workshop, all of them related to the guitar, though very different from each other - for example indian sitars, russian balalaika and south american chuarango, or mandolin, mandola, cittern and bouzouki. The experience he gained in working on these laid the remaining corner-stone for the unique course he founded in 1985. Students can build a steel string, a classical, an electric, or almost any related instrument, according to their interest.

Some credentials! If its good enough for this man, its good enough for my Gibson.
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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby Martin Walker » Sun Oct 25, 2020 1:31 am

As a partial but hopefully still relevant aside to this, I've been wondering about treating the raw but shiny wood sides/front of my Prophet 12 with something, to give it a more 'cared for' look. Unlike guitars, this wood doesn't really get handled, so I doubt that it would need cleaning first.

However, a quick on-line investigation suggested guitar lemon oil (as used by many guitarists to both clean and condition their instruments), which apparently would result in a more 'nourished' semi-sheen with no stickiness (allegedly some great successes with old Minimoog Model D's and even modular synth casings), but with the risk of it darkening the wood, which I don't really want to do.

There also seem to be several grades of lemon oil, most for fretboard treatment, with others advertised for guitar bodies. What's the difference?

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/JIM-Dunlop-L ... xyIYhSVBKb

Any thoughts from the guitar experts?


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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby Watchmaker » Sun Oct 25, 2020 2:09 am

If you want the wood to retain it's natural color, a coat of clear acrylic lacquer should do. A satin finish looks most natural. You'll get a slight darkening from pretty much anything like an oil. I use Milsek furniture polish for finished furniture I've made and to maintain some very fine pieces but it is too oily for guitar necks :-) different treatments for finished and unfinished wood. Finished gets cleaned, unfinished gets oiled.

Also, WS is known as "mineral spirits" in the US and is great for cleaning any finished wood although I personally tend to use naptha because it evaporates more quickly and the smell doesn't linger as long.
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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby zenguitar » Sun Oct 25, 2020 2:46 am

Lemon Oil is a real minefield Martin.

On the one hand you have mineral oils impregnated with citrous lemon oils. On the other you have oils derived from Lemon Grass.

The good news is that neither will do any damage. But the 'proper' lemon oil for conditioning fretboards on guitars is the one derived from Lemon Grass,

If you were to ask me for a rule of thumb, I would suggest that the mineral oil based versions are best for cleaning. But the lemon oil based versions are best for nourishing and conditioning bare wood.

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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby ef37a » Sun Oct 25, 2020 2:31 pm

Meths was mentioned? Be careful with that, it is a mild solvent for most finishes including French polish.

I recently found out that 'Meths' is now mostly Ethanol these days?

NO!...DON'T!

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Re: Cleaning an old guitar

Postby Martin Walker » Sun Oct 25, 2020 2:49 pm

Thanks for the replies everyone - I'm beginning to go off the idea now, as it does indeed seem to be a bit of a minefield.

My interest was initially piqued by this recent post on a Gearslutz thread, showing a Prophet 5 treated rather attractively with Wilbert Lemon Oil:

https://www.gearslutz.com/board/showpos ... 95d3c2b47b


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