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Alembic Club » Owning an Alembic » Troubleshooting » Archive through June 11, 2010 » Can I polish an older finish to a high gloss? « Previous Next »

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Intermediate Member
Username: smuprof

Post Number: 105
Registered: 12-2003
Posted on Sunday, May 18, 2008 - 7:51 pm:   Edit Post

Hi All -

I have an 84 Exploiter, 80 Series I, and a 2006 MK (bought new). Obviously the MK has a beautiful glossy finish. The other two are in good shape (the Series has some "worming" from 25 years of belt buckles), but I'm thinking they could be real head-turners polished to a high gloss.

The Exploiter has a walnut top, and the Series is vermillion. I don't want to refinish them, as much as clean, polish, steel-wool, whatever to get a fresher, sharper look. In essence, I'm thinking if they were new in the factory, they are a couple of steps from a final glossy finish.

I've done a bit of woodwork before, so I'm pretty comfortable with that, but never spent much time on finish (a little stain, couple of rounds with sandpaper, poly, sand, poly, done). Clearly I want to take a great deal more care with my Alembics, so I'm looking for guidance on steps, grades, etc. I suspect it is some series of sandpaper, steel wool, and polishing compound, but I don't know what it is, and I'd love to hear from anyone that has done this before.

AND, if anyone has any thoughts on the worming, I'd like to hear them - don't appear to be through the finish, and it doesn't affect the performance at all, but its a personal quirk - even with the cheapest basses I owned I always turned my belt buckle to the side or covered it with a shirt tail. I was wondering if a little steam might pull the wood back out a bit . . .

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Senior Member
Username: 2400wattman

Post Number: 553
Registered: 11-2005
Posted on Monday, May 19, 2008 - 7:59 am:   Edit Post

The finish on that Series 1 was never glossy. I tried myself to get that thing to shine to no avail.Then I found out that Alembic was'nt capable of doing a glossy finish around that time(I think due to lack of proper equipment). BTW, that S1 was my old bass, how are you liking it?
Advanced Member
Username: keurosix

Post Number: 306
Registered: 10-2005
Posted on Monday, May 19, 2008 - 2:38 pm:   Edit Post

You can cloud the finish, or worse lift it off and lay the wood bare to the elements. If the area is small, you could fill in with crazy glue, but wait for more informed input from better qualified clubbers!
Senior Member
Username: terryc

Post Number: 507
Registered: 11-2004
Posted on Wednesday, May 21, 2008 - 3:54 am:   Edit Post

If the finish is intact then using a fine cutting compound(one which will polish out fine scratches from plastic - you can get them from automotive shops) is ideal.
If the finish itself(2400wattman says) is dull due to the original application it may still be possible to get a shine but maybe not as full as the newer poly finishes.
I agree NO STEAM
Belt buckle damage can only be repaired by re finish, only minor ones can be buffed out.
Intermediate Member
Username: smuprof

Post Number: 106
Registered: 12-2003
Posted on Wednesday, May 21, 2008 - 1:29 pm:   Edit Post

Okay, so I'm thinking no to steam . . . :-)

I'll try the cutting compound on an inauspicious area and see if I get anywhere.

The S1 is wonderful, Adam. I know the guy in the Carolinas only had it a short time - how long did you own it? I see you had the same thought on the finish - the wood is beautiful, but incredibly dark. I was hoping to shine it up, but maybe a refinish is in order at some point.

There are a couple of interesting aspects to the bass. The side position markers are very small (the other guys in Dallas noticed it too) - of course once you get used to the LEDs, everything is harder to see (I'm sure it's not my 46 year old eyes) :-)

The other one is the position of the neck pickup - it's really a neck pickup, so not a lot of slapping on this one (but hey, that's what the MK is for).

All in all still the pinnacle of bass design, with that great John McVie tone - glad I was able to snag it after missing the first time around.

Thanks for the input - if anyone else has any ideas, I'm open to hearing them.

Advanced Member
Username: dfung60

Post Number: 334
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Saturday, May 24, 2008 - 9:36 pm:   Edit Post

You can polish the finish to whatever glossiness you like using the same supplies and materials that you'd use on a car. This means progressively finer polishing compounds until it's as shiny as you like. When they do this in the factory, it's done with a bunch of big polishing wheels. I think it would take a lot of elbow grease to do a whole instrument like this.

The difference between a satin and gloss finish is the size of scratches left in the surface of the varnish. You need to use a more coarse abrasive to remove the existing scratches and leave a smooth surface, then progressively use finer and finer abrasives until the scratches are invisible. If you start with the fine abrasives, it'll take forever to bring the entire surface to the same level and you'll get spots that are shiny and others that are still dull along the way. You have to work slowly and evenly around the entire instrument, and, since you may end up doing that 3 or more times, it's a lot easier with power tools than with a sanding block.

The earlier instruments (pre-mid-80s, I think) used polyurethane varnish which is not as hard as the polyester that they've used since then. You can polish the polyurethane to a glossy shine, but, because the surface is not super-hard, regular handling will create fine scratches which have the effect of dulling the finish. Because it's hard to keep the finish even with regular handling, I think a lot of instruments from this time had a satin finish instead of gloss. Even then, when you see a lot of these old instruments, you actually see the opposite problem - years of handling actually has the effect of polishing the surface more, so you have variation in the satin finish where the more handled parts are shinier instead!

As the others have said, the steam treatment really only works on unfinished wood or wood that you're planning to refinish.

David Fung
Senior Member
Username: jazzyvee

Post Number: 1424
Registered: 6-2002
Posted on Tuesday, April 14, 2009 - 5:58 pm:   Edit Post

I have an orion guitar with a 1995 Orion with a matt finish and that has started to polish up in the area's that my body comes into contact with the front of the guitar..

Anyway I have a question about finishes on alembics.
Looking at pictures here and on ebay of old alembics, it seems the maple in the neck woods darken with age. My question is this, is it the wood that actually darkens or changes colour, or is it the varnish used on the instrument that darkens with age?

Username: tdukes

Post Number: 97
Registered: 4-2008
Posted on Tuesday, April 14, 2009 - 6:21 pm:   Edit Post

Mica had said at one time that they have started adding a UV protector to the finishes at some point to keep them from yellowing. I think on instruments older than this some of the yellowing is the finish. Maybe some is the wood too. I don't know about that.

Username: mica

Post Number: 6039
Registered: 6-2000
Posted on Tuesday, April 14, 2009 - 6:41 pm:   Edit Post

Jazzyvee, it's both. The wood (pretty much all wood) darkens with exposure to light. The older finish, a polyurethane coating, yellows quite a bit with age. It can almost make Purpleheart, Walnut and Vermilion indistinguishable. When we refinish an old guitar or bass, we ask if the owner wants the finish tinted to match the aged color. Don't forget that tobacco smoke also deposited on older instruments at a higher rate.

The new finish (since about 1982) is polyester. It doesn't yellow any near as much, almost not at all in most cases. We don't add a UV protector to the finish, but the finish itself does offer some UV protection.

For wood color changes, one of the most dramatic is Vermilion (Padauk). Take a freshly sanded piece of wood with its bright orange-red color, and after a day under sunlight, it's almost brown. like I said earlier, most woods darken (or "brown out") with age, some do it faster than others.

The finish on your 1995 Orion is a polyurethane that's quite thin. I think you're best bet is to sand this thin finish off and refinish.
Username: tdukes

Post Number: 98
Registered: 4-2008
Posted on Tuesday, April 14, 2009 - 8:42 pm:   Edit Post

Sorry to attribute that to you Mica. Maybe I was thinking of this thread. But, it was someone else who mentioned the UV blocker.


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