hugh mason guitar
All good things come to an end. The 18 month loan of Hugh’s mandolin reached an inevitable conclusion. Lavish attention restored his battered and worn mandolin to a memory of factory gleam. Even more hours, summer picking under the old oak tree in Hockessin, returned some dirt and dullness to its finish. Time for spa treatment.
Strings into the rubbish bin. Gentle wipe-down with a hot damp slightly soapy cloth, first the body, then the neck. Extra attention to the fret board. Looking a little dry, methinks. Time for Behlen!
When Mohawk sponsored a banner ad in July 2016, they sent me a box of product to try out (actually, I sent a list of stuff I wanted). Included? Their fancy Behlen Fingerboard Oil. Not just a step up from mineral or boiled linseed oil. Far beyond, it turns out. A crisp hard finish. A Zamboni treatment for my fretboard, without the ice.
First I used it on the ’70s Conrad banjo. Then the Framus cello. And now, full circle, we have arrived at Hugh’s mandolin. The product has proven itself. A professional-quality sealer applied on instruments I own, use, and sell.
An Indonesian-made 1990s Hohner guitar and a 1970s Japanese-made Madeira (by Guild) guitar both received this magic elixir. Fan-TAS-tic results. One’s finger’s literally glide along the fingerboard. Moments ago, my newly returned and beloved 1996 Guild D4 fingerboard was refinished. Tomorrow, with D’Addario Bluegrass Mediums carefully wound, we’ll be flat-picking a lively homecoming!
Luthiers discuss the best treatment to an instruments’ fingerboard with cantankerous zeal. Only among cat food debates will you find more acrimonious opinions. There are generally two old-school options: mineral oil and boiled linseed oil (“BLO”). Almond oil is another, which I classify similar to BLO.
Turning to National Finishes Expert Phillip Pritchard, I ask, “What makes Behlen’s product so good?” Our Fingerboard Oil contains a resin binder that hardens in the wood to give a more permanent finish than a non-curing mineral oil or boiled linseed oil alone. Our product applies and looks like an oil finish but has a crisper feel and doesn’t require the maintenance of a non-drying oil. “What is its base? How does it smell to you?” It contains mineral spirits and has an oily hydrocarbon smell.
Fast curing, crisp finish. Odor? Not really. –editor
An errant New Year’s resolution beckons. Caught up with hobbies as a gentleman plumber, waiting for varnish to cure with the luthier practice, my attention turns to dead strings of forgotten manufacture on Hugh’s mandolin.
Nine long months since refurbishment, these strings have since lost their zing. Yes, the mando still plays wonderfully, resonance issues unnoticed or politely ignored. The pairs of wound G & D strings especially call for help. Since borrowing this Collings, along with further research into violin and viola strings, my shop now installs D’Addario strings exclusively.
Pete’s bouzouki has them. My Guild D4 and Hugh’s Santa Cruz wear the Bluegrass EJ19, light tops and medium bottoms. D’Addario’s Orchestral String Social Media Specialist was instrumental 🙂 at a critical juncture, after we received a mini-viola which required Extra-Small scale length strings.
This mandolin is now back to factory specification, wearing new EJ74 strings as originally installed by Collings. Highs are brighter and resonate longer, more sweetly. Lows power their vibration through the flame maple back, into my ample belly. Wow, hard to figure why I waited so long to replace my strings!
D’Addario goes way back to the Old Country in the Italian province of Pescara. There you’ll find a baptismal form filled out by Donato D’Addario in 1680, his occupation stated simply “cordaro” – the Italian word for “string maker.” ∆ In the early 20th century, the family began making strings in America. The rest is their modern history. The entire D’Addario Brand History cannot be condensed; I invite you to their website to read the entire story!
After all the work I put into Hugh’s MT2, I thought his problems were over. An Instrument Rescue, an intervention of sorts, had brought new hope into the floundering life of his beloved but demoralized mandolin.
Then a call comes in. “Jim, I have another project for you”. Lights and sirens, we drive over miles of dusty road, deep into county forest, to Hugh’s Shangri-La under the pines. His “new” 2001 SCGC D-Model has arrived, and is in rotation. His 1991 could now get a rest, and a little refurbishment. What was wrong?
Its top is getting a little wonky. There is a crack that stops under the bridge. Dry fingerboard, grooved frets, missing headstock binding, dirt, oils, burns, high action . . . Hugh has led yet another instrument astray. The 1991 has come to me for redemption; I shall guide it to the light.
Strings off, tuners off, deep cleaning. Level, crown, & polish the frets (Hugh’s fourth set in a dozen years, and this time, they were stainless). Pick out some glue on a top crack, reglue, sand, buff, and seal. Oil its fingerboard, install some naturally aged binding, and the tuners went back on.
With a possibly weakened top, we went with a lighter string. D’Addario EJ19 Bluegrass with the light tops and medium bottoms were perfect! The high action was no longer; we did not have to shave the bridge saddle; two strings with one pick, is the saying?
Over two decades old, D619 has amazing depth of tone, clarity, and volume. With fixed frets and settled action, Hugh again has a second Santa Cruz dreadnought on which to practice his interminable bluegrass flat picking. The ’91 definitely has a different sound than his 2001. Deeper, richer, louder. Age has its privileges; the ’91 is always senior spokesman within the bluegrass circle.