how can I strip laquer from tuning machines?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by toman, Dec 23, 2003.

  1. Hey guys, I have some pretty ugly machines on my bass, and while I can't afford to get any new ones right now these would look a lot better if I could strip the laquer off them. Any ideas on what might take this crap off? Obviously I'd take them off the bass, so I could dip them in something, or I was thinking I could sandblast them. Would that be to rough on the brass? I'm tired of the bling-bling on my bass! :bawl:
  2. Josh McNutt

    Josh McNutt Guest

    Mar 10, 2003
    Denton, Texas (UNT)
    I don't know about dips or sandblasting, but some three and four O steel wool should be fine.
  3. I am assuming that they are brass since they are covered with lacquer. Brass is pretty soft and scratches easily, so I would avoid the sand or steel wool. Find a paint and varnish remover that says it removes lacquer. You will have to disassemble the machines before you start. After the lacquer is gone, polish them with Braso or some other mild metal polish.
  4. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Paint remover's too agressive. Plain old lacquer thinner and #0000 steel wool will clean them up nicely. Wear gloves- that stuff is not good for the skin.
  5. Why is paint remover too agressive? And.. steel wool is NOT?
  6. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    Bob's right. Don't use steel wool. Little pieces of it will also come off and you don't want that stuff in the machines, in orunder the gears, or in your lungs.
  7. Josh McNutt

    Josh McNutt Guest

    Mar 10, 2003
    Denton, Texas (UNT)
    I only said steel wool because I know a lot of sax techs use it to give a finish a nice, dull luster after they delacquer a horn.
  8. All of the pro sax shops I've visited use large diameter buffing weels with very mild abrasives to achieve a mirror smooth finish before relacquering them.
  9. Josh McNutt

    Josh McNutt Guest

    Mar 10, 2003
    Denton, Texas (UNT)
    True, but that doesn't mean it's the best method. Buffing wheels tend to take more brass than necessary in the buffing process, so some people are using chemicals to take the lacquer off. Check this out:
  10. I'm not talking about taking the lacquer off with a buffing wheel, I talking about polishing the brass AFTER you have removed the lacquer with a chemical lacquer remover. The abrasives used for polishing are the finest available not the rough kind needed to remove the lacquer.
  11. mpm


    May 10, 2001
    Los Angeles
    This could be a tricky situation. If the peg gears/screws are bound by pins, rivets, or dog ears, etc., look out! They do need to be disaggregated from the assembly, so if you can't effectively re-assemble, deep doo-doo awaits...Lacquer thinner dip is effective, but brass is a very "susceptible" metal, it might pit, and it sure will need polishing after! Being able to have the constituent parts dissasembled is the most important part of this operation.
  12. Mike,
    I can't imagine a machine head that has been lacquered that would present any of the problems you mention. If it had wood pegs or something like that it could be a minor problem, but most of the common machine heads used in mass produced instuments are not that complicated. Most of the time they are going to consist of a brass plate with the steel worm gear, possibly with brass handles attached by a rivet and two metal "U" pieces that hold the worm gear attached by compressing the ends, a brass peg, a brass wheel gear, a screw and a washer.

    I think it is a given that the brass parts are going to have to be polished after the lacquer has been removed regardless of the chemical/remover used to remove the lacquer. Brass is going to tarnish/oxidize. That's why the lacquer was on there in the first place. BTW - Anyone who has ever tried to polish a brass machine head after someone has used steel wool on it knows how difficult (or impossible) it is to polish it back to "like new" condition.

    IMO, the old style steel/iron individual gears with wood pegs are a lot harder to refurbish than the full plate brass ones. Brass doesn't rust like iron!
  13. Thanks for the ideas; the more I think about this the more I think I'd be better off to just live with the bling until I can step up to some new machines. I'll think about it a bit more though, maybe I'll give it a shot one of these days when I feel like a bit of a challenge... :-/
  14. Good move man! I've taken various machines apart, and getting them back together with no rattles or buzzes is a real nightmare.
    There are so many nice machines on the market now, expensive though! Those Sloane machines are getting some good reports.
    There are some coming out of the UK that look beautiful too.
    Be sure and do some research on mounting too, especially if you go with the full plates!
  15. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Bob et al: #0000 steel wool is *very* fine, and is often used for cleaning metal and furniture. Used gently with lacquer thinner it'll do a nice job. I wouldn't worry about getting bits of iut in the gears if you wash everything off with thinner when you're done.
  16. Sorry mje, I've probably done more than a 100 sets over the past 40+ years, and yes steel wool does scratch the brass plates. #0000 may be less course than the others, but scratch it does. I suppose if you wanted to follow it up with micromesh up to 12,000 you could get an acceptable semi-polished surface, but not with ANY grade of steel wool. A brushed or distressed finish may be acceptable for some folks, but not on any bass machines I do.
  17. Anybody have some more comments on what are some nice machines that don't cost a whole lot? I'd prefer individuals on this bass; the plates are cool but just a bit much for this instrument. I was thinking some with the wood shafts would be pretty nice and low-key; are there many differences in installing those from anything else? Anything in particular I should be aware of in getting new machines in general?

  18. It seems most of those wooden ones run at around $350-$400. I assume you're talking about the ones with the white dot in the middle of the wooden shafts.
    There's a french style ( individual machines ) That seem to be be the least expensive of all the newer machines. The screw in the middle of the cogs is phony, but you can't really tell. If my memory serves, they are about 1/2 the cost of the other hot-shot machines, are light-weight and install the easiest of all machines i've helped install.
    I just looked in my newest Lemur catalog, and the ones i'm talking about are the first listing under French Style Tuners. $219. The wooden ones run at about $319.
    I've never installed the wooden ones. The French ones were really easy...No problems.
    All our Luthiers have had extensive experience in this department, as you maybe just wait for one of them to catch up with us on this?
    Branstetter...I know you're lurking here...c'mon!
  19. I actually prefer the wooden shaft gears to the heavy brass ones. The reason is simple - they are much lighter than the all brass versions. Anyone who has read many of my previous posts knows my opinion on this, weight kills sound - period. Most of these brass creations are beautiful works of art and many makers/dealers put them on their most expensive instruments because they help sell the product, but they are just too heavy. Since it is Christmas, I won't go into A0-B0 matching, but if you do a search you'll find the previous discussions.
  20. Bjazzman


    Dec 7, 2004
    Madison WI
    Im at a school for overhauling brass and woodwinds. The best way to strip laquer is either bic's which is methyl chloride or marhide which is used for the airplane industry. Be really careful with this stuff since the vapors are bad and you don't want to get any on your hand