Phillip Pritchard Mohawk
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
EVERY FEBRUARY, PETE CLOSES his tailor shop and heads to Greece. Every year he says, “I’ve got to get you my bouzouki, Jim. It needs your attention.” The strings buzz at its 8th fret and up from worn frets. But he never actually gives me his instrument. Until this year.
He opens the case and again explains what he wants, repeating those three magic words every luthier wants to hear, “Whatever you think is best.” Doesn’t he know my favorite Oscar Wilde quote? Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.
“Pete, what about this big crack on top?” Pete had never noticed a clean 6″ crack through its white spruce top. It gets worse. A second top rack. The 12″ separation among its sfendamos side ribs plus a 6″ opening further toward the back. A casualty of a major συμπόσιον; someone must have gotten pretty well knocked on their head with Pete’s bouzouki!
Big jobs are nothing but a collection of small jobs. But after all that gluing and sanding, it’s clear Pete’s bouzouki will want its top refinished. Lacking a spray booth and years of experience, I turn to a name luthiers have trusted for decades. Behlen. I ordered their spray lacquer, prepared the top, and before you know it, I have Pete’s bouzouki on its way to looking like it came out of the Borgada Spa!
A few holes in my knowledge base are quickly plugged. Phillip Pritchard, Mohawk Finishing Products Technical Service Representative, has just returned my call. With his gentle North Carolina accent, he seems respectful even of the nitrocellulose lacquer of which we speak. Phillip’s insights into scuffing, sanding, buffing, polishing, the “Cut & Rub”, are so comprehensive, we link to his reply email.
American Toolbox has restored several instrument, notably Hugh’s Collings mandolin & Santa Cruz guitar, several Guild guitars, a few others. Pete’s bouzouki has been more complicated. Not as hard as Steve Field’s Joh. Bapt. Schweitzer 1813 violin, but major enough. Thanks, Behlen! You made me look like a pro!
Special thanks to Jayne Henderson for her advice and guidance.