Dan Erlewine's Mod Squad

February 14, 2006

Recently, I asked the Mod Squad’s Max Feldman to clean this ’59 Gibson Les Paul “Black Beauty.” A hazy film of dirt, sweat, food, drink, barroom smoke, and guitar polish besmirched the beauty of this rare guitar.

“My first pass at the dirt was with a rag dampened with warm tap water,” says Max. “The water softened the haze some, but it didn’t remove the dirt. I wanted to keep scrubbing, but Dan made me stop and use saliva, which softened the dirt so fast that I was able to pick up the dirt with the rag.”

The water and saliva dissolved most of the haze quickly—excepting a grey stripe near the upper-bout strap-holding pin.

“Dan had me try a bit of silicone-free Preservation Polish, and it removed the haze instantly,” says Max. “Dan said that cleaners and polishes containing silicone are no good, because silicone works its way into the instrument’s finish, making it feel greasy, and, eventually, causing the lacquer to deteriorate.”

I explained to Max that when polishing, the idea is not to apply polish to the finish—that’s just polishing dirt. The idea is to remove the dirt, and then polish what’s underneath. Use polish sparingly on a soft, clean cotton rag. Then, keeping a second clean rag in one hand, loosen the dirt with the polishing rag, and pick it up with the clean rag.

Finally, Max gave the finish a light degreasing with a clean rag dampened with hydrogen peroxide. Then he did a final buffing using two clean rags—one barely damp with Preservation Polish, and the other soft and dry to finish the job.

“Dan wanted me to get rid of my spit germs,” says Max. “I thought it would be cool to send the guitar back covered with my loving drool, but Dan didn’t want the customer to kill us.” —A GP columnist for 16 years, Dan Erlewine works for Stewart-McDonald's Guitar Shop Supply in Athens, Ohio, and is the author of Guitar Repair Guide and How to Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great [Backbeat Books].

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