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Thread: Mildewed Instruments

  1. #1

    Default Mildewed Instruments

    I recently had the opportunity to purchase two heavily damaged, but high quality instruments that had been left in a wet basement for many years. The result was moisture damage and extreme mildew. While I'm excited to get the chance to work on such instruments, I need to deal with the mildew for my own health issues as well as the next owner. One is a Gibson Melody Maker and the other is a Martin D-35. Has anyone ever dealt with this issue? What are the best, non damaging ways to remove and kill mildew?

    Thanks!

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  2. #2
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mildewed Instruments

    People have dealt with it. I'm trying to find a thread where a luthier restored a guitar that was with it's owner in his car when he drowned in the car. There's a lot of information about killing mildew and mold. Some of those threads are here.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  3. #3
    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mildewed Instruments

    Mike: NO way do I want a dead guy's guitar that survived the accident in my shop! No! Nada! Not happenin'!!!!!!!!!!!! Nope! Nope! NOPE!!!!!


    I deal with ancient mold, mildew, and the funk of history on a regular basis with old upright basses that are often hundreds of years old, so I have a reasonable amount of actual experience with it and in term of surface area- a huge amount! They are almost universally put together with hot hide glue, are extremely fragile structurally, and have even more fragile varnishes.

    Depending upon where you live and what caused it, there can be a lot of variety in the actual composition, but the basic idea is the same. I use a dilute -very dilute- solution of simple bleach and water in a small container with an aspirator on it (mister). Occasionally I'll use my air brush to get into hard to reach areas. LIGHTLY mist everything, do not drown it. 'Better to do several sessions that too much at once.

    The two instruments you mentioned (link does not work for me) came with a very durable nitro production finish, so they should be fine. Even with ancient oil varnishes, they can handle light applications. Do a little test run on an inconspicuous area of the back first.

    After all is done and dry, fill the body with Cheerios to absorb any residual smell from the mold and the bleach. Honestly- Cheerios. Newspaper has a similar quality, but the ink can come off easily. Kitty litter is not something I want in my instruments...

    Make sure to charge an additional hazmat fee; it is a legitimate concern. Occasionally it will be so bad that I may refuse the instrument. Are these two instruments Katrina or Nashville flood refugees? For several years after both of those, all of the shops in the southeast were bombarded by that toxic junk.

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    Default Re: Mildewed Instruments

    I recently used an ozone generator, to de-mildew several vintage cases. Seemed to work well. One needs to be able to isolate the generator, to avoid breathing the ozone.

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  7. #5
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mildewed Instruments

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Richard View Post
    I recently used an ozone generator, to de-mildew several vintage cases. Seemed to work well. One needs to be able to isolate the generator, to avoid breathing the ozone.
    Ozone on cases is fine and in my mind the best way but there are some problems with using it on the instruments if I recall correctly.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mildewed Instruments

    Quote Originally Posted by j. condino View Post
    Mike: NO way do I want a dead guy's guitar that survived the accident in my shop! No! Nada! Not happenin'!!!!!!!!!!!! Nope! Nope! NOPE!!!!!...
    Well, we know it wasn't you

    If I remember correctly the restoration was done for the man's family. It meant something to them. I just can't seem to locate the thread.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  9. #7
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    Default Re: Mildewed Instruments

    I would suggest using a damp cloth to remove as much as possible of the visible mildew. Next I would put the instrument in a sunny well ventilated spot. Light and drier conditions will do a lot to take care of mildew. This may be all that is needed on the melody maker.

  10. #8
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mildewed Instruments

    Here it is.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Mildewed Instruments

    Tea oil often is recommended to kill mold and mildew. So about 8 years ago, after I bought a 1914 Gibson A too long in a closed case, I decided to give tea oil a try. I stuffed 100 teabags into the body and let it sit for two weeks. When I took out (shook out) the teabags, the mold smell was all but gone.

  12. #10

    Default Re: Mildewed Instruments

    Great comments! Thanks very much. So far, all I have done is wipe them and their cases down with warm water to remove surface mildew. For the Melody Maker, that made a big difference. For the Martin, by far the worst of the 2, it cleaned it up, but the finish has been dulled out. In addition, this being a '72 D-35, it suffers from an extreme case of the dreaded binding exfoliation, which I will need to deal with a little farther down the road.

    Here's more of the backstory, these guitars come from Western Illinois and they were left in a very damp basement for years. Definitely not Katrina or other storm damage, but as bad as any I've ever seen. In the case of the Martin, the pickguard has curled radically, the bridge is loose (and in the incorrect location!).

    I'm not sure what happened with the pic links... I'll try to add them here again.

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    So far I'm liking J Condino's idea of extremely dilute bleach water followed by Cheerios. Who knew those tasty little O's of oats had such power!

  13. #11
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mildewed Instruments

    Generic Cheerios are pretty cheap too!
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

  14. #12
    Registered User tree's Avatar
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    Default Re: Mildewed Instruments

    What year is the Melody Maker?

  15. #13

    Default Re: Mildewed Instruments

    1964

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    Default Re: Mildewed Instruments

    Rice (uncooked, of course) rattled around extensively inside an instrument can knock loose stuff that's growing on the interior surfaces. That would be my first step, anyway. Once you dump it out, wear a mask and blow some canned air in through the end pin hole to get more of the spores out.

    Occasionally I've bought old books that have a mildew odor. Setting them on top of some cat litter for a few weeks has done pretty well to attenuate the odor. I'd be unwilling to do this to a musical instrument, if only because it would lower the relative humidity to the point of possibly causing a crack to develop.

    I've encountered mildewed cases; unless you can set them outside, open, in full summer sunlight for a few weeks, it's simpler to just throw them away.

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