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Feb 22, 2024 - 11:43:36 AM
118 posts since 11/3/2015

Hello all -

I am the new owner of a 1975 Stelling Bellflower in pretty much original condition with the exception of a new Remo head. Being an early Stelling, all the finish - resonator, neck, and headstock, has been subjected to serious checking due to the fact that the early (non-lacquer) finishes were defective. Most of this is cosmetic in nature except for the neck, which has enough checking to have a somewhat detrimental effect on playability due to the resulting roughness. For this reason, I would like to have the neck refinished and, given that the banjo would need to be disassembled, the resonator as well.

Although this is an early Stelling, I don't think it rises to the level of collectable and so I am not particularly worried about maintaining perfect originality. Also, given that the banjo needs to be disassembled, I would likely have the flange, hoop, tailpiece, and hooks re-plated as the nickel plating is pretty rough as well. I can get the re-plating done locally but am in the hunt for someone who can do a good job refinishing the neck and resonator. I have refinished furniture but am no willing to tackle this myself. It does not have to be lacquer (the original isn't).

Any thoughts or recommendations out there?

Feb 22, 2024 - 11:51:54 AM
likes this

2896 posts since 9/18/2010

The 70s Stellings were finished with lacquer from Sherwin Williams. There was a law suit because someone left out a plasticizer in a batch of lacquer and thus the serious checking of early Stelling finishes. It would have been covered under warranty for the original owner and could have been refinished by Stelling (when they were still in business). Now, you're on your own.
Anyway, that's all beside the point, and lacquer can be used to refinish it now if so desired.

Feb 22, 2024 - 11:43:16 PM



5052 posts since 2/20/2016

It's a high quality banjo, and if you're going to refinish it, it deserves a high quality nitrocellulose lacquer finish.

Since they are in your area, you might stop by Bernunzio's and see if they can recommend someone for the job. If they can't, you might check with Lyn Hardy in Woodstock--

Feb 23, 2024 - 6:19:55 AM

118 posts since 11/3/2015

I sent John Bernunzio an email about it and I'll be up there on Saturday picking up another banjo so I will follow up then. This banjo was owned by Hub Nitchie of Banjo Newsletter and was purchased by Bernunzio at his estate sale. Not sure why the checking was never redone while it was under warranty but there you have it.

Feb 23, 2024 - 7:45:40 AM

2896 posts since 9/18/2010

Originally posted by TTtheBear ...Not sure why the checking was never redone while it was under warranty but there you have it.

Not sure about Hub, but some people really liked the "distressed" look.

Feb 23, 2024 - 12:00:22 PM

118 posts since 11/3/2015

I don't mind the look all that much, except for the head stock. The checking on the back of the neck impacts playability to some degree however, as it is a long way from smooth. Hub bought the banjo new and his motivation for not having it redone under warranty will forever be a mystery.

Feb 23, 2024 - 2:29:27 PM



29 posts since 7/18/2019

I’m not sure what Sherwin Williams lacquer John (‘sunburst’) is referring to but please add more info John.

I’ve pretty much only used SW’s pre-catalyzed (synthetic) lacquer (also available in 5-gallon pails) but that’s not nitro-cellulose, so John, when you’re referring to what ‘lacquer’ Geoff used early on then I’d be appreciative for more detail. (I do Stelling stuff.) PM ok.

But, regarding specifically nitro finish ‘checking’ or ‘alligatoring’, then there may a fix for repairing those degraded finishes although I’ve personally not used it. The finish repair product is named ‘amalgamator’. It works by softening the top coat so it can ‘re-flow’ – albeit very slowly, like days and days.

When learning about this material I declined to proceed because using it can be a rather messy procedure and I didn’t have any needy finish-damaged things floating around in the shop I was willing to either experiment with or ‘sacrifice’ for the greater good.

Frank Ford described the ‘almagator’ material on his site but not sure if that topic still exists.

Amalgamator is also available from specialized piano repair wholesale suppliers {account usually required) and may still be available at the site as ‘’amalgamator-solvent’’.

Feb 23, 2024 - 6:54:26 PM

2896 posts since 9/18/2010

The finish was nitrocellulose lacquer made by Sherwin Williams. Someone messed up at the factory and left out a plasticizer chemical, or used the wrong stuff, or some mistake and the resulting finish checked prematurely and severely. There was a law suit, and Stelling and perhaps other manufacturer using the same finish won and were compensated by SW for the cost of warranty refinishes. The product was discontinued following the problem.
(A similar thing happened again with a Fuller OBrien varnish when I was finishing Stelling instruments and once again a lawsuit resulted in compensation for several manufacturers.)

I have used "amalgamator", AKA "Butyl Cellosolve" AKA 2-Butoxyethanol. It will redissolve and "repair" checking in lacquer finishes, but in my experience the fix is only temporary and the checking comes back eventually. I suppose because there is still not enough plasticity in the finish. I would bet that those old Stellings are not reparable with butyl cellosolve long term, and besides most of the ones that I've seen have been checked so long that the wood beneath the finish is darkened where the check are.

Edited by - sunburst on 02/23/2024 18:56:22

Feb 23, 2024 - 8:52:12 PM



29 posts since 7/18/2019

Thank you John…….a very thorough reply from your personal experience. I suspect you’re correct that the amalgamator fix would only be temporary; so, in the case of the origQ likely there’s no practical or trusted alternative to stripping the finish one of the old fashioned ways.

Ted – as delicate as a neck and resonator are, me personally, I would likely not hand this project over to a furniture refinisher without impeccable credentials. You may even be underestimating your own patience, attentiveness, and overall capability to undertake the refinishing on your own.

I would like to hear from anyone else who’s used an amalgamator product – but this might necessitate a new topic.
(….John…btw…pm on its way.)

Feb 24, 2024 - 6:17:12 AM

118 posts since 11/3/2015

I did some investigation of amalgamators and reached the same conclusions as john. I am off to Bernunzio's today and have also emailed a local luthier. I would not use a furniture refinisher. I lack the skipp, patience, equipment, and ventilation to try it myself.

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