Clark JM Jazz Mandolin
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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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May 28, 2009 | A clean mandolin is a happy mandolin

When summer approaches and the opportunity for porch picking and festivals finally arrives, the issue of mandolin cleaning comes up. First, if you are the kind who actually covets the distressed mojo of a worn, battle-fatigued instrument, this article is not for you. Stop reading. Also, if you're the kind who doesn't see the need to take care of anything you own, one who still has the unopened nose-hair trimmer from Fathers Day (hint, hint, hint, Dad), you aren't going to have much patience or use for any of these recommendations, either. The notion that cosmetic and care translate over time into attractiveness (and resale value) will be very much lost on you.

Understand there are three kinds of elements that deteriorate an instrument's finish, and they each require a somewhat different approach to care. First, there's the human, skin oils, perspiration, saliva (gross, yeah?), and these all have different impacts base on a player's body chemistry. Some can be devastating over time, others just take an occasional wipe. The second is environmental, dust, pick micro-shavings, smoke, and will vary with the frequency and intensity of your activity. The more your mandolin is out of the case, the bigger the issue. The last is weather, humidity, temperature, all the factors of nature you need to keep in mind for not only maintaining the finish, but the larger issue of the wood itself. We'll call this last one "just say no to crack."

Like cleaning your house, the best way to keep your finish intact is to do a little, a lot. In otherwords, if you wipe your instrument every time you put our instrument back in the case (good habit!), you will have less build-up, less work to do over time. If you are using a good microfilament (or micro-fibre) cloth, you might actually never need a commercial polish.


Old T-shirts are a bad idea. They scratch, and you may not notice at first, but over months you'll see the micro-scratches multiply. Terrycloth towels are a HUGE no no. These are ten times worse than about any fabric, and will rob the finishes luster (let alone scratch) over time.

Chamois cloths you use for drying your car are fine; really about any car care cloth is all about preventing scratches, so you can get this or cheese cloth at any auto parts store. The latter is very good for getting major build up, without harming the finish. Micro-fibre is also great, and yes, the same cloth you use for cleaning eye-glasses is perfect, albeit a tad small for your hands.

Don't forget about the less obvious parts of the instrument; besides the body, back, and sides, it's good to get under the strings and around the tuners near the strings. A cue-tip can get to those hard to reach areas, but you may not ever have to worry about that. Some will go so far as to remove all strings and oil the fingerboard. That might be a bit extreme and we'd rather change strings one course at a time and wipe prior to replacing with the new. Setting the intonation on the bridge is work, and we're lazy.

Order a Jupiter Silkweave Cloth from the JazzMando Merchandise CenterWe'll put in a commercial plug for our Jupiter Silkweave cloth. You can buy microfiber locally, but if you want a perfect size cloth you can keep in your case, this is the answer to a maiden's prayer. We even have some flute players in Florida who order these in bulk for their flute students. The Silkweave cloth works great on precious metals, too.

Prepare to wipe out.
More on the Jupiter Silkweave cloth.

Keep it clean
The cold facts

This short-term investment of time will prevent build up, keep your instrument looking nice, and preserve its overall value.

Posted by Ted at May 28, 2009 1:09 PM

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