Cleaning Poor Lacquer Finish

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Jack E, Jun 9, 2018.

  1. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

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    953
    I've just bought a Bach Selmer Bb trombone, and could do with some advice on cleaning the lacquer finish, which is in poor condition - see photo:

    upload_2018-6-9_16-29-1.png

    From looking at it, I think it's been out of use for some considerable time, though the main and tuning slides both move quite easily, and I think only need cleaning and lubricating to put both in fully playable condition.

    But the finish looks a bit leopard-like. It appears that the lacquer has flaked off in tiny patches over large areas, and the brass underneath has gone green. The counsel of perfection, of course, would be to send it to McQueens and have them strip, polish and either relacquer or even silver plate - but as I don't have five or six hundred sovs to spare, that's a no-go.

    So, is there anything I can do which will, at least, stop it getting worse - and, if possible, make it look a bit more respectable?

    Thanks in advance,

    Jack
     
  2. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

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    Location:
    Chigley
    I hope that you get some sort of decent reply on this, many of us would benefit from a decent solution.

    As a start point I’d be inclined to both experiment and to live with the best improvement you can manage. I suggest picking some faulty areas on less visible parts of the instrument and initially just buffing them to see what happens, try without Polish first and then use it if need be. If it improves a lot then you’ll want to seal the area so that it remains shiny, I think that lacquer is available in spray on cans and I have heard of people doing small lacquer repairs with clear nail varnish (applied very thinly).

    Good luck with the improvements and good luck with playing the Trombone - don’t forget to tell everyone how very difficult it is :) .
     
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  3. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

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    953
    Thank you, 2nd Tenor.

    I did get some helpful advice on the Trombone Chat forum (which seems to have picked up where the Trombone Forum went off-line), from Gary Merrill, Bruce Guttman, and Maximilien Brisson (see links below); others with similar problems might find the thread on TC worth reading.

    I also had a lengthy discussion with Pete, an old friend down south, who also plays trombone, and has been playing brass for yonks. He came up with a possible explanation as to how my bone got measles in the first place, and how it could be prevented from happening (which is even more useful!).

    Pete said that some manufacturers apply a coat of lacquer which is baked onto the brass in an oven after spraying, and this ends up as hard as the finish on a car. In the case of Bach Selmer, though, he understands their lacquer is quite soft, and that BS say it should not be polished, as such - but just wiped over with a damp cloth if it has any surface dirt, then buffed up with one of their own specially impregnated cloths. What he suggests is that the lacquer on BS brass develops minute cracks and pinholes, which the special cloth seals - but if you don't use the special cloth, moisture can then penetrate the lacquer, and cause little spots of corrosion which then spread sideways underneath the lacquer.

    From the look of the instrument when it arrived, and from a few things the seller said in the ad, I suspect that my bone has had very little use, and is one of those instruments which was bought, soon tired of, and then stuck away in a spare room for several years - so any flaws which developed in the lacquer would have been left unsealed, and kicked off the 'chicken pox' appearance that it has.

    I think it's worth mentioning that the spotting is quite extensive over areas which show no signs of any scuffs or dings, not even tiny ones - yet, where there are a couple of shallow, large radius dents (too small to be worth worrying about) about 9 - 12 inches back from the bell, the lacquer has followed the curve of the dents without cracking or crazing. To me, that also suggests that the lacquer may be quite soft.

    To sum up, Pete's suggestion caring for the finish on Bach Selmer brass is to get their recommended cloth, and to clean the instrument exactly as they suggest, using no other products at all - and to be especially careful to clean it regularly, even if it's not being used. A bit too late for mine - but that's life, eh? :rolleyes: But I pass Pete's suggestions on, in the hope that it might help someone else.

    As to what to do about it; taking into account the suggestions on Trombone Chat, the options can be summed up as follows:
    1. Strip the lacquer myself, and leave it raw brass - either left to get a patina, which some people find attractive, or kept polished;
    I don't find the aged look attractive at all; maybe down to my time in the RAF, whose NCO's attitudes were "If it's brass, I should need sunglasses to look at it!" It would, I expect, take quite a bit of care to keep it shiny without laquer - but the dull patina look would stick out like a sore thumb, even if I were to play it with the juniors, and I doubt the rest of the band would be happy with that;
    2. Strip the lacquer myself, give it a satiny finish with fine wire wool, and re-lacquer with spray cans to give it a sort of frosted look;
    don't like that look either;
    3. Strip the lacquer myself, buff up the where the spots of corrosion are, and re-lacquer with spray cans;
    this would probably be less work than it might sound, as though there are a lot of spots, the great majority of them are very tiny - so the bulk of the finish wouldn't need any work at all apart from stripping;
    4. Try using a very fine polish (the sort used on silver jewellery) on the spots, to see if the corrosion could be lifted off without harming the surrounding lacquer - and then resealing those spots with lacquer.
    I think that could be a tricky one, for two reasons; first, there's no telling whether or not the touch up lacquer would be compatible with the original until you try it - it might result in bubbling or crazing; second, if Pete is correct and the lacquer is soft, it might not be possible to polish out the spots without marring the surrounding lacquer which is still sound. Having watched a video of a pro repairer partly re-lacquering a bell after removing dents, it was very obvious that one of the trickiest parts of the job was to blend in the new lacquer with the original finish - including having to alter the colour of the new lacquer to match the colour of the old!

    I could, of course, leave it as is - but I remember the way that some lacquered light alloy mudguard brackets corroded on the Harley-Davidson I had about 30 years ago. One fixing bolt had to be slacked off then re-tightened when I fitted a pillion seat, and the lacquer ended up with a few hairline cracks around the bolt head; within days, corrosion was spreading like a rash, underneath the lacquer, and the only way I could get rid of it was to take the bubbled and crazed lacquer off with fine wire wool and then do the same to the corrosion. In the end, I scoured the whole of the lacquer off, buffed it up with Solvol Autosol, and left it at that. The daft part about it was that, even though I lived within a couple of hundred yards of the coast, which was very exposed to south-westerly gales, the brackets never developed the powdery-white corrosion again; the worst it ever got was a bit dull after a month or so, when ten minutes polishing would bring it back to a mirror finish - so why did Harley's put the damn lacquer on in the first place??? :confused:

    And, unlike those mudguard brackets (which were very hefty castings), the brass on me bone is thin - so I really don't fancy leaving the corrosion as is, for fear of the thing ending up like a set of lace curtains.

    I haven't made up my mind as to what I'll do, yet - but I'll certainly post to let others know what I do, and how it worked out.
    Yes . . . my friend Pete warned me about that - and I found it as soon as I started my usual warm-up routine, playing harmonic progressions at the different positions. Sure enough, I noticed on one of them (can't remember whether it was 4th or 5th) that I couldn't play three notes on pitch holding the slide steady. To get the middle note of the three in tune (it was slightly flat), I had to tweak the slide slightly in - but to play the third note in tune, I had to push the slide back to the same position it was in for the first note, or else it was sharp!

    Mind you, even if stick to playing the baritone with the juniors' band, playing bone will really push me to listening to the pitch of every note I play, and detecting even tiny errors - so that's a win / win! :)

    And I must say, as well, that I'm having a lot of fun with it so far, and am well impressed with how smooth and mellow it can sound, right down to pp, if you want to play a hymn; and, now I've cleaned the outer as well as inner slides (with the help of Pete's advice), the slide is like an eel on wet ice :D - so I have to be damn careful to get hold of the slide before releasing the slide lock, or one nudge and it would take off like a torpedo :eek:

    It might be a student level instrument, but (apart from the finish!) I think it's well built, and I'm very happy to have got it for less than a hundred sovs :)

    With best regards,

    Jack

    oops!! forgot to add the links; first, to the Trombone Chat main page, second to the thread:

    TromboneChat - Index page
    Pitted Lacquer Finish - TromboneChat
     
  4. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

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    1,217
    Location:
    Chigley
    Thanks for the response/update, it’s good to see that you are getting quality advice.

    I think that, in your position, I’d be tempted to investigate striping the lacquer and polishing the exposed surfaces. Having read the linked to posts it’s probably your best option. The raw brass will, in time, dull but getting a shine back shouldn’t be too difficult. If folk in your band complain of a dull instrument then the time will have come for them to offer you a band instrument.

    A word of caution. Trombone slides are fragile, very easily distorted and pushed out of alignment.

    On a seperate point I don’t know what mouthpiece you’re using. In my experience a Wick 6BS and a Bach 6&1/2 AL make a world of (positive) difference. For slide lube I use Yamaha ‘snot’, but it sounds like that’s already in hand.

    Good luck with it all, if nothing else playing the Trombone will add context to your use of valves - the slide forces you to think about things differently.
     
  5. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    953
    From experience, I'd say that as long as I don't leave it for weeks or months on end, keeping it shiny after stripping the lacquer shouldn't be too much work - and even my worst enemies have to admit I keep my instruments as clean and well-lubed as it's possible to get them.
    I suspect that I would die of shame long before it ever got that bad! :oops:
    Thank you for the warning; that was horribly apparent as soon as I lifted it out of the case, and I've been handling it with great care ever since.
    It came with a Bach 7C, but when I tried that, it felt a bit too small for comfort, though I get on very well with a Besson 7 mouthpiece in my B & H Regent baritone. But I still have the Wick 6BS which Mesmerist recommended when I was using my band's Packer baritone - and that seems to suit both myself and the trombone very well. I will, though, bear your suggestion in mind, and keep my eyes open for a Bach 61/2AL on E-bay. From past experience, as long as you check the photos on the vital areas, you can often pick up good mouthpieces at bargain prices there; I think the 6BS cost me about £22 including postage!
    Over the next few days, I'm going to try a few different lube systems, and see which seems to work the best; talking to other people, it does seem that it's a very individual matter, in terms of both the player and the instrument. Back to the old engineer's approach; when theory fails, suck it and see!
    It certainly does! Many thanks, and best regards,

    Jack
     
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  6. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    953
    UPDATE

    I tried buffing out the green spots with various very fine types of polish - didn't make any difference at all. Ended up using Brasso, and even that wouldn't touch it. What I found in the end is that it's exactly the same problem I had on my Harley (see earlier post). The corrosion started from tiny little nicks or pinholes in the lacquer, and has spread sideways underneath the lacquer - so the only way to get rid of the corrosion and stop it spreading indefinitely is to take the lacquer off completely, buff it out, and then decide whether to relacquer or to just keep it polished.

    Re. stripping; I did see a suggestion elsewhere that surgical spirit might soften the lacquer - tried that, it didn't do a thing. So it's either a case of paint stripper (which I saw used by a pro instrument repairer onYouTube), or ultra-fine steel wool. I suspect that even the finest grade of steel wool will leave a sort of satin finish which will take a lot of buffing to get shiny, so I'll try paint stripper first, and let you know how it goes.

    Jack
     
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  7. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

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    1,217
    Location:
    Chigley
    Thanks for the update, been wondering about your project.

    I’m not surprised that the lacquer is proving hard to get rid of (Sod’s Law in Universal) but, to me, it seems a logical way way forward. IIRC there used to be dire warnings on the Trombone Forum about how hot water would strip your lacquer so I think that - and maybe increasingly aggressive sources of steam / warm air / gas heading towards heat assisted paint stripping if need be - might be an alternative (to chemicals) path forward, tread with care. A PM to Moomin might well give more information too. IIRC Gary Merrill from the Trombone chat forum does a lot of work on brass instruments and that forum might have brass technicians on it too who are happy to advise. Ideally it would be best to avoid the wire wool route as it will destroy any chance of you restoring the mirror finish hidden under the iffy lacquer.

    On Mouthpieces I marginally prefer the Wick 6BS over any other that I mentioned (far) above - sorry if I have mislead. Some day I might get a bigger one, but those wiser than me suggest that that would likely be a backward step (maybe slightly more tone but at the expense of both the high range and ease of playing).

    Good luck and thanks, again, for the update.
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2018 at 4:58 AM
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