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Thread: Waxing the mandolin

  1. #1
    small instrument, big fun Dan in NH's Avatar
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    Default Waxing the mandolin

    No, that's not a euphemism for something rude. I've been watching some Rosa String Works YouTube videos lately, mostly videos where he does setups on Eastman mandolins.

    It seems like in nearly every setup video once he has the strings off the mandolin, he uses paste wax and gives the mandolin a coat of wax. Then he buffs the mandolin to a nice gloss. He says this helps the tone of the mandolin.

    Now pondering this, I'm thinking that maybe for Eastman's violin varnish mandolins a coat or two of past wax over the varnish might be a good way to protect the mandolin's finish. But for Eastman's more usual neigh-bulletproof space age high gloss finish I don't know that this would be a necessary thing.

    Has anyone else ever heard of waxing a mandolin?
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    Registered User urobouros's Avatar
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Personally, I'm unconvinced that finish makes enough tonal difference to matter. That said, I've always thought that thinner was the goal for those that do. Adding a wax seems like it's going to dampen the tone either from a thicker finish or excess moisture. Just my armchair $.02 though
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    Registered User Sue Rieter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    My Mid Mo mandola seems like it has very little "finish" to it. When I emailed Mike Dulak about that, he said "Yeah, I don't inhibit the wood with excess finish. Howard's Feed and Wax is a great product to anoint every part of the mando (not the tuners or tailpiece). In hardware stores in the 'cleaning supply' area."

    My understanding is that you want to avoid anything with silicone.
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    A good quality wax (designed for wood finishes) is unlikely to change the tone of the instrument. It might make it shinier, and it will protect the finish from some things like moisture (sweat!) drops and the like, or at least give you time to wipe it off before it mars the finish. (I put some Renaissance Wax on my guitars and mandolins usually when I first acquire, and clean, them, and then kind of forget about it, unless I do a deep cleaning for some reason.)
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    All I'll say about this is that I hope whatever he is using doesn't contain any silicone. If it gets into a finish, it can wreak havoc if any finish repairs have to be done later.
    To keep the finish on my personal instrument in nice shape, I wipe the instrument down with a soft cloth when I'm done playing it.

    In the shop, the only polishes or waxes that I use are a high-grade white violin polish, sold by violin supply houses such as International Violin Co; and Stew-Mac's Preservation polish. I only use the Stew-mac stuff on modern instruments. I use the violin polish on older instruments.

    I do not believe that waxes would have a positive effect on tone.
    Finishes continue to cure for many years after they are applied, partly by evaporation of the solvents in their base, so I prefer not to cover them with anything that might slow down the curing process.

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    Registered User thesecretmandolinist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Different strokes for different folks but I'm not waxing my mandolin. I wiped her down with a soft cloth, use saliva for any thing on the body, and use a fretboard oil about twice a year to keep the fretboard and bridge in good shape. I'd think that wax would present all sorts of problems over the top of varnish... possible cloudiness being one of them.
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    " Rosa String Works...uses paste wax and gives the mandolin a coat of wax...says this helps the tone of the mandolin."

    This sounds utterly preposterous

    I have an old can of Johnson paste wax from the 1960s (shows how much I use it). I use it on fretboard/frets after a fret dress or refret to give it a nice polish. I have never used it on finished wood
    too many strings

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  11. #8
    🎶 Play Pretty 🎶 Greg Connor's Avatar
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Sue Rieter View Post
    My Mid Mo mandola seems like it has very little "finish" to it. When I emailed Mike Dulak about that, he said "Yeah, I don't inhibit the wood with excess finish. Howard's Feed and Wax is a great product to anoint every part of the mando (not the tuners or tailpiece). In hardware stores in the 'cleaning supply' area."

    My understanding is that you want to avoid anything with silicone.
    Mike gave me the same advice. I tried it and it seemed to work great restoring the finish. I’m not sure it changed the sound much.

  12. #9
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan in NH View Post
    He says this helps the tone of the mandolin.
    If the tone of the mandolin is less than desirable, muting it is a step in the right direction, but then the wax should fill the whole body. Everything else is just another myth.

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  13. #10
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    I wouldn't wax any older instrument that may have finish cracks or seam separations (even invisible). Anything that gets in those tight spaces may be a problem for future repairs, wax being a great prevention of gluing.
    I don't use wax, just clean moist rag and wipe dry, trying my best not to wipe any dirt into any finish cracks.
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Lots of good advice here, especially cautioning against using anything with silicone. I'm not a luthier, but do a good amount of woodworking so I'll only offer a few tidbits here. Applying wax typically leaves a layer only a few microns thick. Adding a second coat dissolves the first coat and after buffing you end up with same finish of a micron or two. The idea of building a finish with wax doesn't really happen. It can add a very minimal amount of protection, such as beading up water before it gets a chance to do any damage. And maybe restore a little luster. But your base finish does the real protection.
    Personally I don't think it would add anything to the tone of an instrument. Lessen the tone? My ears probably wouldn't know the difference.
    If you really want dig deep into the world of wood finishing, including lacquers, varnishes, shellacs, solvents, and waxes read up on books and articles by Bob Flexner, Michael Dresdner, or Kevin Southwick among many others. These guys are the pros, not me. It's a whole science unto itself.
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    Registered User Tim N's Avatar
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Jerry Rosa emphasises that he believes the Renaissance wax makes a difference to the tone, but he also emphasises the importance of rubbing it straight off again. Its not about building up an additional finish. And he has often remarked that his own instruments sound much better without any finish, but recognises that it is not really practical or desirable to leave an instrument raw. He has a huge amount of experience, but is as opinionated as the next man! I find it hard to believe that the tiny amount of remaining wax could affect the tone, compared with the actual finish. Slightly off subject, I never wax or polish my car, I think that is totally uneccessary on modern vehicles, and it is possibly true of instruments too.
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  17. #13
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Jerry Rosa's approach to both repair and maintenance is very different than mine.
    I don't recommend the application of paste wax to any finished surface.

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  19. #14
    Registered User Bob Buckingham's Avatar
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    The only time I ever used wax it was Ren wax on a Tru oil neck on a banjo that stayed tacky many years after it was made. One quick light coat wiped on and off. Problem solved.

  20. #15
    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Several builders recommend wax as a protective layer. I can see how wax can have some good uses. I've tried various good waxes (Mother's, Turtle Wax carnuba, Johnson's Paste wax, and a couple of others) on new mandolins with shellac and various lacquer finishes. I was not impressed with any of it. Regarding sound, any finish layers you add to the bare wood will inhibit the sound to some extent (that may not be noticeable or even matter to some folks). IMO, modern lacquers and shellac provide all the protection necessary without the need to add more layers. Regarding "violin varnish", that could mean almost anything - from a traditional shellac spirit varnish, to a modern oil based varnish.
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan in NH View Post

    Has anyone else ever heard of waxing a mandolin?

    Wax? No, never heard of that. Polish, yes, but I suspect there’s a difference between Wax and a Polish and maybe I’m splitting hairs.

    I used GHS Instrument Polish many years ago. I didn’t use it to protect the finish though, but rather an attempt to “freshen-up” the finish. Over the years I’ve found that just wiping the instrument down after every use is all that is needed.
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan in NH View Post
    No, that's not a euphemism for something rude. I've been watching some Rosa String Works YouTube videos lately, mostly videos where he does setups on Eastman mandolins.

    It seems like in nearly every setup video once he has the strings off the mandolin, he uses paste wax and gives the mandolin a coat of wax. Then he buffs the mandolin to a nice gloss. He says this helps the tone of the mandolin.

    It's psychological tone improvement. A nice clean, shiny mandolin just sounds better.

  24. #18

    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Most of my experience is with guitars but same kind of beast. A lot of the top end guitars have a satin finish. Because the gloss somewhat deadens the sound a little. My Eastman has a satin finish. A coat of wax will make a gloss finish look real good, but necessary? You might need a buffer to polish the wax. I think it was Jerry Rosa that put strings on one of his unfinished mandolins and said the sound is sooo much better on a "white" instrument, but you need a little protection for the wood. Dan in NH, I am too.

  25. #19

    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Martin sells a product called “Luxe Guitar Detailer” that is a single-use, wax impregnated cloth. On the other hand, my Martin came with instructions to only use plain water when cleaning the guitar’s finish.

    It’s akin the the never-ending debate about oiling fretboards. One camp claims it’s mandatory maintenance, the other says not necessary and potentially harmful. YMMV.

  26. #20

    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Hudmister View Post
    It's psychological tone improvement. A nice clean, shiny mandolin just sounds better.
    "Hey, I waxed my mandolin while I was changing the strings I've had on there for 6 years. It sounds so much better now! I think I'll wax my mandolin every time I change strings!"

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  28. #21
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Disclaimer: "Paste wax may be hazardous to your finish's health. Wax at your own risk."

  29. #22
    Ursus Mandolinus Fretbear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim N View Post
    Jerry Rosa has a huge amount of experience.
    He has enough to know that the commercial guitar products sold for the express purpose of "Polishing" stringed instruments (which people feel confident to use) contain chemicals that will cause plastic pick-guards to shrivel up, and then cause top cracks.
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    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Your hairs are getting through this unsplit and unscathed. Guitar polishes have fine abrasives that buff and clean, the same as 3M Machine Polish. I don't think waxes contain abrasives. Waxes add finish, abrasives subtract.

    Not recommended, but I once did a bad job spray painting an electric guitar body. Buffing didn't bring up any shine, so I finally gave up and polished it with Pledge. Big improvement! (The next guitar came out much better.)
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    I used Turtle Wax on a 1930s Duolian to protect the paint and protect the bare steel areas, one time.

    Never on a violin, guitar or mandolin.

  32. #25
    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: Waxing the mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Sue Rieter View Post
    . . . My understanding is that you want to avoid anything with silicone.
    Does Minwax paste finishing wax have silicone?
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