Touchup finishing a bass.

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by SirFunk, Nov 30, 2002.

  1. SirFunk


    May 24, 2001
    Lincoln, NE
    Hey there, i have a fairly new upright bass, the edges are starting to wear off (i need to buy a stand) and today i put a little scratch on the top .. nothing really noticble:(

    I was just wondering:

    a.) Is there special instrument finish i woudld need to patch this up (i know the colors will never match, but i'll use a Q-tip and the spaces are small, it'll look better then no color :-D )

    b.) is there something else i can put on top of the finish, some kind of clear coat like polyurithane that wouldn't be heavy and effect the sound?

    SirFunk :-D
  2. EFischer1

    EFischer1 Guest

    Mar 17, 2002
    New York, New York
    I use Kolstein "instrument-all" cleaner and polish. It usually makes the scratches un-noticable and really makes your instrument look great.
  3. jugband


    Jan 16, 2001
    Bob Gollihur is fond of MinWax Wipe-on Poly finish for EUB and URB both.

    Minwax says; "Wipe-On Poly provides a thin, durable layer of polyurethane protection that delivers the beauty of a hand-rubbed finish."

    It costs about $14 per quart, or $9 per pint and seems to go on over just about any type of existing finish or stain.

    It comes in both gloss and satin varieties, and being wipe-on, you aren't likely to get it thick enough to deaden your tone unless you get carried away.

    You can order it from at a reasonable price, but probably every hardware store or home center (Home Depot/Lowe's) is likely to carry it locally.

    You might want to match the stain as closely as you can on the white spots, then give the whole bass a couple of coats, using very fine steel-wool and a tack cloth between coats.
  4. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    This sounds real fishy to me.

    Is it a ply or wood bass?
  5. kip


    Sep 11, 2002
    Sausalito, Ca
    To me too Ray. I use a citrus based cleaner/polish on minor scratches "Psarianos Violins LTD. violin cleaner and polish". works good.
    Surf Unk: For major refinishing see Newbie Link in setup. But the thing is, you are talking about sealing an existing finish, and I think this is Ray's concern.

    Stands: I've seen one where the end pin rests in a metal cup and you don"t lift the bass onto the stand. Folds up small too. I don't know where to find these.
    If you use a stand w/ bottom and neck cradles, check the stability, especially if you use alot of end pin. Also, the foam rubber stuff at the cradles can compress and not provide any cushion, and you get dings and dents. Years ago, working at a music store we saw that stands w/ that yellow surgical tube looking stuff would interact w/ certain finishes and turn the finish to goop. I would assume this has been remedied.

    I have also seen little ebony cleats glued to the bass so when you rest it on it's side, there is not contact or wear.
  6. SirFunk


    May 24, 2001
    Lincoln, NE
    Tis a wood bass
  7. SirFunk


    May 24, 2001
    Lincoln, NE
    These stands w/ the cup at the bottom, do you recommend these? i've seen them at their cheap though, the price makes me wary... here's a link

    And Here
  8. kip


    Sep 11, 2002
    Sausalito, Ca
    Of course, Hamilton. Minimizing cartage is a definite priority, but as I don't have one, perhaps others can attest to their durability.
    I know for sure that I was mightily pissed to find gouges on the lower edges of my bass cuz my $100.00 stand lacked adequate cushioning. I have improved this by adding thicker foam. But when the edges are gone, their gone.
    When all the chips are down, you're outa chips.
  9. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    NEVER put heavy synthetic furniture finish like MiniWax polyurethanes on a nice acoustic instrument. They build to a very heavy layer, can't be easily removed for repair, etc, are hard to retouch, and are in general Not Good. There are some waterborne polys used by acoustic guitar makers, but they're very different.

    (I'm not a luthier, but I do know a few things about woodworking and wood finishing.)

    If you want to just do touchup, go to a woodworking store and get a small bottle of Behlen's Violin Varnish and a sable brush. If you want to cover large areas, or refinish a bass (I assume this is a plywood bass, and not a $10,000 carved instrument) go to your local hardware or paint store and get a quart of Waterlox Original, which is a blend of tung oil and organic resins. Flows out nicely, has a warm tone, and it's a very tough finish. I've used it on furniture, house trim, and instruments alike.

    Both can be tinted if needed using a variety of dyes and pigments.
  10. SirFunk


    May 24, 2001
    Lincoln, NE
    Ok, i think what i'm gonna do is:

    pickup some of that Behlen's Violin Varnish to touchup the scratch, and the edges. and then get some MinWax Wipe-on Poly to go over the whole thing w/ a thin layer (or is that MinWax wipe-on stuff to heavy?) and then get myself that hamilton stand to try to avoid some future scratches :p

    BTW.. this instrument is carved, well, i'm sure the top and back are but i think the sides are ply, not positive though.
  11. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    I'm still of the opinion that you should reconsider, especially a wood instrument.

    Scratches are part of the beast --- that's why 100+ year old instruments look like old basses, and I certainly would not want someone putting a layer of anything on my fiddle! If the color is dark and you want to touch up little scratches, a little Old English is harmless, I've been told and agree with. It's just a dye that will darken the wood where the scratch is. I may be mistaken, but I think the varnish is still liquid and will eventually start to overrun the scratch on its own.

    The edges will lose their finish where you lay the bass down, but this ain't really an issue. I'm careful to lay down and pick up the bass in such a way that I'm not rubbing it against the floor. The varnish will bust off of this area. Just part of the games, as far as I'm concerned, but you can have little wooden feet glued to the ribs by your luthier of you want to be real AR about it.

    Scratches and wear is what gives bass character -- dat's de breaks. If you get all caught up in every little ding, scratch, and wear point you'll get too paranoid to take it out of the house, and on the slippery slope, too nuts to even play the thing for fear of putting a fingerprint on it.
  12. jugband


    Jan 16, 2001
    Minwax Wipe-on Poly is quite thin, Gollihur says that on completely stripped bass, you need about 3 coats. One coat isn't going to make a terrible difference, especially on a plywood bass.

    Of course, you COULD always put on 10 or 20 coats, and make it as thick as an electric guitar...

    If it's a carved bass, though, even a hybrid (carved top with plywood back & sides), you might want to consider how badly you want to apply any other finish over the entire existing one.

    People gripe about Engelhardt basses, and various other plywoods having thick, sprayed-on finishes.

    This is about 5 or 6 times what you'll get from a coat or maybe two coats of Wipe-on poly. A thin topcoat over an already-thick finish is not going to make any hearable difference.

    If you have a carved top, though, it has a potential of MUCH better sound than a laminated top, and you want to approach extra layers of finish on it with a lot of thought, and a lot of ear.

    People do all sorts of things to plywood basses.

    Rockabilly-only players, who tend to value the "Flash" more than the un-amplified sound sometimes even paint them with automotive paint, adding flame jobs, etc. :cool:

    They never play un-amplified, and the amps used are typically better at producing volume than reproducing the acoustic tone & character of the bass, so that's a valid attitude for their environment.

    As Ray was saying, though, most really old basses LOOK really old (MUCH "character"), but sound really good.

    If your bass is used, it will eventually come to LOOK used, and no amount of finish is going to prevent that. The only fix is to strip it down and refinish it about once a year, until the wood is so thin from re-sanding over the years that your soundpost punches through.

    An eigth-inch thick coat of clear acryllic (Hello Punk-Rock Guitar) is the only thing that will keep the finish pristine, and even THAT would dull and cloud with small scratches over the years. ;)

    You'd probably do better to just dye those dings, with the suggested techniques here and leave it at that.

    Just be as careful with the bass in the future as you can. When it acquires Character ANYWAY, as it certainly will (no matter what), just shed a tear and go on with your life.
  13. jugband


    Jan 16, 2001
    Are you talking about using a stand on-stage, or at home?

    Most folks don't advise using one at a gig unless there's no other choice. When the bass is laying on it's side, any damage that occurs is most likely to be cosmetic ("Character"), unless someone swings the corner of a guitar amp into it or something.

    If it falls while upright, especially if it should fall forward, all sorts of expensive structural things can happen, and much moreso with carved than plywood tops.

    Whenever I can, I use a "Horizontal Bass Stand, which is my 2-foot x 4-foot carpet runner that I use when there's no carpeted stage to lay it down.

    Here is a post that happened to come in just this morning with yet another tale of woe, from the 2xbass mailing list.


    A friend of mine has one of those stands that holds the bass by its endpin
    and upper bout edges (Hamilton?) instead of cradling the bass by the
    bottom edges and neck like the Meisel's do. He told me he likes his stand
    because you can walk up to the bass and play it (sort of) without having
    to take it out of the stand.

    It's also really easy to remove the bass from the stand, TOO easy... A
    couple of weeks ago, at a gig, he turned around to adjust his amp or
    something, bumped into the bass in its stand and it commenced a slow dive
    onto the hardwood floor landing scroll-first, neck snapping cleanly off at
    the heel. The beautifully "flamed" neck is now "firewood". Estimated cost
    to replace it: $4200 CDN, and the bass is out of commission until late
    January. He doesn't have a backup except for his Fender.

    Fortunately, he had the foresight to insure his bass by adding a "floater"
    to his home policy at Allstate. Surprisingly (to me anyway), they're
    paying up without any protest even though the incident happened at a gig.

    Be careful out there...
    Martin Virta
  14. For decades, I've been bringing a section of carpet to wherever I'm playing. In some situations, it keeps the bass from walking away from you while playing, and it means I'm always able to lay the bass on its side without damaging the edges.
  15. SirFunk


    May 24, 2001
    Lincoln, NE
    Herm, very good points all around...

    The only reason i wanted to apply another layer of finish or something, was that the finish seems REALLY thin, it scratched REALLY easy, i barley touched it w/ my finger nail, and it scratched right to the wood.

    For now though i thihnk i'll probably just touch it up.

    But the idea bout the carpet seems like a much better idea, atleast while giging.

    Thanks for all the info.
  16. jugband


    Jan 16, 2001
    If it's not specifically designed to be a "student bass" the finish should BE really thin. That's a good thing.

    The thick finish that many people dislike on Engelhardts also makes them more rugged (at the expense of some tone) for when said students work their magics on them...

    I don't think it should be so fragile that you can easily scratch it with a fingernail, though.

    Are you sure that it hasn't been re-finished by someone, perhaps unsuitably? Consider having a bass or violin luthier look at it.

    It sounds almost like you have some kind of improperly mixed oil or varnish finish, that never completely cured.

    For instance, pure Tung Oil won't cure by itself. It has to be thinned with mineral spirits to make it catalyze, or it will remain goopy, somewhat similar to what I think you're describing.

    If it's some kind of un-cured finish, no other finish applied over it is likely to work out... the bad finish will need to be removed first.

    Any bass finish can be pretty easily dinged & chipped, but you SHOULD need fingernails like a grizzly bear to get all the way to the wood, on ANY finish.

    If you're in some remote area where nobody repairs basses or violins, a good guitar luthier, or even a furniture re-finisher might be able to eyeball it & give you an opinion.
  17. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    The finish will chip pretty easily with the fingernail on mine. I've put a few nicks under the fingerboard myself with my thumb nail.
  18. Hi SirFunk :)

    Someone mentioned using dye...
    I would not recomend it as the wood itself gets colored. This is not the proper way as it contradicts
    most known varnishing techniques.

    Someone did just that to one of my basses,
    click here to view :
    The fine maple back has been severly damaged.
    Although these areas are large, using a dye on scratches is the same only smaller.

    There can be several explainations for the softness
    of your instruments varnish. I have experienced
    one bass that was "cleaned" with likely linseed oil
    (or something simular) and the result was an
    extremly soft finish ! Likely the varnish was oilbased.
    Also "fresh" Spririt varnish (French Polishing) can be
    soft and delicate.

    You can also let the bass get scratched for the next hundred years or so, it will get a very nice patina ! Here is my 140 year old with MANY scratches, a look i like :)

    Hope it´s not your 1890 Italian this is happening to ;-)

  19. tornadobass

    tornadobass Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Iowa City, Iowa
    Endorsing Artist: Black Diamond & SuperSensitive strings
    I recently touched up the edges on my American Standard plywood bass. Colored the bare wood with some waterbased stain, followed by wiping on a thin sealer coat of Formby's wipe-on urethane, like the Minwax that's been mentioned here.

    It came out fine and I doubt whether the vintage plywood will be changed in its tonal characteristics :) But wouldn't try this on an actual carved bass.