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I recently acquired a 1926 Conn Alto that belonged to the poet Robert Bly since he was in High School. It is gold plated and overall in good shape, but it has some light to medium tarnish and I would like to clean and hand polish the horn. My tech and I realized it has lacquer over the gold over a good portion of the horn. Most of the body is matte gold, with the engraving section and a few other areas being polished (not matte). Would this have come from the factory with lacquer or did someone do this along the way? What are people's advice on removing the lacquer? (how to best do it and should I do it)

Thanks,

Peter.
 

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i am sure they didn't have lacquer over the gold-plate.
some makers in the more modern times lacquered over silver,which when aged and scratched,looks a bit rough.
 

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Areas with tarnish are no longer lacquered or plated so you can use a tarnish remover on them without affecting the plating. That's all I would do to it except for a cleaning. You can't polish it either because of the matte finish and gold plating.

ETA: That is to say, you can't polish it if you want to maintain the vintage appearance. It could be polished and relacquered just like any other horn but you really wouldn't want to do that.
 

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Areas with tarnish are no longer lacquered or plated so you can use a tarnish remover on them without affecting the plating. That's all I would do to it except for a cleaning. You can't polish it either because of the matte finish and gold plating.

ETA: That is to say, you can't polish it if you want to maintain the vintage appearance. It could be polished and relacquered just like any other horn but you really wouldn't want to do that.
Maybe this is a misunderstanding of terms, but I have polished many vintage silver plate horns that have matte finish with no issues. I just polished a 1918 Conn curved soprano with great results. I am talking about gently hand polishing the matte areas to remove oxidation, not to actually make the area shiny. I realize gold plate is often thin and gold is softer than silver so there would need to be some special care here. Also, since it seems the lacquer is not original, why would it be an issue to remove the lacquer? I would think there are ways to do this that would not do anything to the gold plate?
 

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One possibility would be to boil off the lacquer. If it's old-school lacquer, it will come off when submerged in near-boiling water. You could test that on a key. I usually set up a big pot on my stove, then submerge the keys. Pick them out with tongs, sometimes brush them a tad with a very soft toothbrush, resubmerge. That usually does it. Old lacqs usually don't put up much of a fight to this method.

For an entire sax body, I fill my kitchen sink and submerge in sections. Anyplace I miss I may try to pour water repeatedly over the areas...or then go to a chem stripper (Citri-Strip, for example).

Sometimes I'll then follow with Wrights Silver Cream top clean and rinse off any remaining residue, and give the polishing process a head-start.

Goldplate is less robust than silver, but if the plating is still good, quite honestly I wouldn't worry about having to baby it. I have used Blitz cloths and Hagerty Silversmith Creams on gold plate and there were no adverse effects.

Best of luck.
 

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So first, a hot water bath will probably get rid of the lacquer. You could go to a chemical stripper if that doesn't work but word has it on this forum that it will.

FWIK, gold doesn't tarnish. It's the silver below making it harder do. I've used a Blitz rag on a couple of gold plated 20s vintage horns I have. Something like that should clean it up nicely.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
One possibility would be to boil off the lacquer. If it's old-school lacquer, it will come off when submerged in near-boiling water. You could test that on a key. I usually set up a big pot on my stove, then submerge the keys. Pick them out with tongs, sometimes brush them a tad with a very soft toothbrush, resubmerge. That usually does it. Old lacqs usually don't put up much of a fight to this method.

For an entire sax body, I fill my kitchen sink and submerge in sections. Anyplace I miss I may try to pour water repeatedly over teh areas...or then go to a chem stripper (Citri-Strip, for example).

Goldplate is less robust than silver, but if the plating is still good, quite honestly I wouldn't worry about having to baby it. I have used Blitz cloths and Wrights Silversmith Creams on gold plate and there were no adverse effects.

Best of luck.
Awesome suggestion. I may do only the body at this point, as the pads are in excellent shape and I cannot spring for a full overhaul right now. The plating is in very good condition overall.
 

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I see claims that gold doesn't tarnish but I've owned a gold-plated alto (as I recall, a Conn) that had a polished, shiny finish (not just the engraved areas - all over the horn, body and keywork) and along with the shine there was a purple-like tarnish. I was able to remove that purple hue and restore the shine by using a mitt used to clean and shine silver-plate.

Most (but not all) gold-plated saxophones I've seen had a matte-like appearance with only certain areas (like within the engraving and on the pad-cups) being polished/shiny in appearance.

I had a silver-plated Buescher TT soprano that had a clear-lacquer after-market coating. It was obvious because of the spots where the lacquer had vanished. I did not try to alter the finish, I just used the same silver-mitt to clean up the finish and restore the shine to those areas where the finish was polished rather than matte-like in appearance.

While I am no expert on technical repairs and finishes, I agree that hot water may be the best solution to removing the lacquer. DAVE
 

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Maybe this is a misunderstanding of terms, but I have polished many vintage silver plate horns that have matte finish with no issues.
You are correct, I've also successfullyn [polished matte silver horns, but not very frequently. I would suspect that if you ploshed them every day you would polish out the mattness sooner or latere.

BUT

In this case it is gold plateed so does not tarnish, hence there's nothing really to polish, plus gold is more likely to wera down by polishing than silver IME. I find that the matt gold can go dull due to minute amountsb of dirt or grease and I find that in this case cleaning is bets. water and washing up liquid is good on large areas, smaller finnicky bits like between tonholes and rods etc can be cleaned with lighterfluid on a rag or Q tip.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Oh to have a pure gold horn that wouldn't tarnish! Yup, gold doesn't tarnish, but with the silver underneath the gold pulling in oxidation it may as well, just likely takes a bit longer with the gold being a kind of gatekeeper against those interlopers of aging who eventually get through! I'm gonna post a couple links to pics here in a bit...
 

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I see claims that gold doesn't tarnish but I've owned a gold-plated alto (as I recall, a Conn) that had a polished, shiny finish (not just the engraved areas - all over the horn, body and keywork) and along with the shine there was a purple-like tarnish. I was able to remove that purple hue and restore the shine by using a mitt used to clean and shine silver-plate.
Serpent's explanation seems about right and it does apply to what you are saying. My Conn NW2 soprano is burnished gold and has had a good case of purple hues. Keeping it in the original case really exacerbates the problem. I now keep it on my desk in open air. Interestingly, I also had the "sister" alto to this for over 20 years and never had the discoloration.

Here's a link to the soprano's photo album:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/StuartSaxophone/photos/?tab=album&album_id=446529685444467
 

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Robert: That photo in post 12 is exactly what I was writing about on the alto I once owned. A silver-mitt removed the purple and returned the finish to a polished gold color. DAVE
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Serpent's explanation seems about right and it does apply to what you are saying. My Conn NW2 soprano is burnished gold and has had a good case of purple hues. Keeping it in the original case really exacerbates the problem. I now keep it on my desk in open air.
Why would keeping it in the original case make it worse, and why would keeping it out of the case be better? I have always thought that keeping a plated horn out of the open air is best for slowing the oxidation process?
 

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Surely, if the silver beneath the gold is tarnishing, then the gold in that area has worn off, or very close to it. Even a light polish IMO is likely to remove the rest of the gold (if there is any left) and make a shiny silver patch.

Another possibility is if the gold plating is not pure gold, but an alloy of gold and copper, to alter the colour of the gold. Is it possible to plate with an alloy?
In that case, the copper in alloy the could be tarnishing.

Gold plating is usually extraordinarily thin (over thicker silver), in order not to be incredibly expensive. Putting lacquer over very thin plating would be a method of protecting it from wear.
Pure gold does wear very easily. IMO polishing what you have there presents a high risk of making the sax look very patchy - silver and gold. It's a pretty bad look.
 

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I agree totally with Gordon. There is no point in polishing gold as it doesn't tarnish (as I said above, just clean it).

Polishing gold plate is likely to wear it away.
 

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Why would keeping it in the original case make it worse, and why would keeping it out of the case be better? I have always thought that keeping a plated horn out of the open air is best for slowing the oxidation process?
I discussed this with Brian Getasax who told me it's the (don't hold me to the science) nitrates or other impurities in these stinky old cases that helped the purple discoloration. If I can find that communication, I'll post it. I can only go on direct observation.

I tend to agree with Gordon and Pete about thinning of the plating but that's not what my experience has been. As mentioned, I had a sister alto which was played well and showed signs of playing wear and a general loss of deep gold color associated with burnished gold Conns. The soprano shows purple, the alto didn't. Polishing the soprano does not appear to be stripping gold. It does restore gold color.

I am am not arguing there is no loss to the plating. I really don't know but it doesn't show any silver peaking out from under the gold plate. Visit the photo album.
 

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How do you explain the appearance of the horn shown in StuartSax's post? That was just like a saxophone I once owned - and the plating was not worn off. When the tarnish was removed, the surface looked good, not spotty, and no silver was showing through. I have another gold-play=ed saxophone (a Cigar Cutter alto) that does have silver showing through. And it has not tarnished.

Gordon and Serpent had plausible explanations - after all, I don't know what actual material was used in creating the final shiny gold finish so it could have been a mixture of some materials used in the plating process. But the saxophone I owned certainly looked like gold-plate and it looked original to me. Somehow, I am not convinced.

How do you know that gold does not tarnish? Is that a tale that is handed down over the years or is there a solid, scientific determination about that? And, please don't ask me to research it because other than this thread, I really don't care. I'm just engaging in a conversation. No animosity intended. DAVE
 

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Discussion Starter #19
from the website: https://www.ganoksin.com/article/gold-jewellery-tarnishing/

Tarnishing is superficial corrosion of the carat gold surface and is evident by a usually dark discolouration – the tarnish film. Pure gold, of course, is not susceptible to tarnishing and this property is generally not greatly reduced by alloying to carat golds as long as the gold content is high enough, i.e. about 18 carat (75% gold) and above in the coloured golds (but there are circumstances in which higher carat golds tarnish – see later).

Thus tarnishing is generally seen only in the lower carat golds (8-10 ct), occasionally in14 and 18 ct and even higher caratages in some countries. It is the base metals, particularly copper, and the silver in the carat gold alloys that are attacked by the corrosive agent(s). Copper oxides are red – black in colour and silver sulphides* are black, although the tarnish films may be more complex in nature, such as hydrated oxide/sulphide mixtures.

The oxygen and sulphur compounds in the atmosphere (sulphur dioxide & hydrogen sulphide gases, organic vapours, etc) are possible sources of tarnishing. Moisture assists the tarnishing process. Perspiration, which is essentially rich in sodium chloride – common salt, can also cause tarnishing, as may other agents such as perfume or deodorant sprays. Some foodstuffs contain acid and/or sulphur compounds (fruit juices, pickles, onions, etc). Organic sulphur-containing compounds, present in the materials of storage boxes, are another known source that can cause tarnishing.
 

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Fascinating somewhat contradictory article from website: https://corrosion-doctors.org/MatSelect/corrgold.htm

Gold is the most non-reactive of all metals and is benign in all natural and industrial environments. Gold never reacts with oxygen (one of the most active elements), which means it will not rust or tarnish. Gold tarnish is very thin and shows up as a darkening of reflecting surfaces.

Gold Tarnishing
Possible causes include: (reference)

Perspiration (everyone's body chemistry is different, hence this is why some are more susceptible than others); for women, the time of the month can influence their body chemistry.
Perfume, hair or deodorant sprays,
Tarnishing during storage (storage boxes may contain organic sulfur compounds),
Leaching of acid/ cleaning solutions from surface microporosity from cast jewelry; this causes corrosion locally (such porosity may even trap perspiration during wear, causing local corrosion)
Preparation of vegetables such as onions and spices (many foodstuffs contain sulfur compounds and others are also acidic).

Another possible mechanism may be surface micro-porosity on the surface of investment (lost wax) cast items. This porosity may trap acids and other cleaning solutions, sprays, or perspiration and cause a local corrosion which 'creeps' over the surface of the item.

The tarnish films formed are generally harmless although unsightly and may lead to a black smudging of the skin. Such films can be easily polished off by a jeweler to restore the bright gold color.
 
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