Discovering Vintage Guitar secrets with a Blacklight!

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  • By Erik Bogaards
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Discovering Vintage Guitar secrets with a Blacklight!

Ever get that feeling you want a sneak peek under the skin of a vintage guitar, just to see what happened to it? With blacklight you can!


What does UV blacklight do?


In short, blacklight (or black light) produces fluorescent UV-A and as a result it causes some things to light up in the dark. It’s a cool feature at parties and on stage, but blacklight can also come in handy in the workshop. Because it gives you an extra pair of eyes when looking at vintage guitars. This is mainly due to the use of nitro-cellulose paint in the past, which according to many, is an important part of that magic vintage sound.

But nitro  also has disadvantages, like being a lot less wear- and scratch resistant. And it starts to 'crack' after a while. Some people like that used look, but others hate it.  As a result these guitars, that are usually over 50 years old, have gotten some touch ups throughout the years. Or in some cases a complete refinish. If this is done well it does not have to be a problem, but it seriously effects the value of vintage guitars.

A blacklight can really help to find these touch ups and refinishes because original nitro-cellulose lacquer will light up like a sort of yellowish green or greenish yellow.  Touch ups will usually give a different color as do cracks and playwear.  So a blacklight can give you that sneak peek below the surface of a guitar almost like an X-ray revealing guitar secrets. Super handy! Especially since you can buy a blacklight for less than 20 euro’s. Like many other professionals we also use blacklight when we assess guitars.



What does UV Blacklight NOT do

It blacklight might seem like a quick and easy way to tell if an old guitar is real and original but unfortunately a blacklight will not reveal all guitarsecrets. Every guitar has a story and a blacklight doesn't really tell you much about that at all, because it only reveals the current state of a guitar, NOT how it got to that state.  

Maybe a blacklight shows a few dull spots on the neck or body of a guitar, which are just due to wear and tear. A reset of the neck will probably leave traces, but after that a guitar can be played for years.

Throughout the years hundreds of types of paint were used. Some light up like a Christmas Tree, others not so much. Contrary to popular belief, lighting up less under a blacklight does not mean a guitar is 'younger'.  Maybe your guitar has a different kind of paint that doesn't light that much under a blacklight.

And unfortunately, there are plenty of counterfeiters who can even fool a blacklight, just by putting paint in the sun for a while or leaving a guitar under a sunbed. As a result completely refinished guitars can light up greenish/yellow under a blacklight, just like another vintage guitar.

So we only see a blacklight as one of the tools to use when assessing vintage guitars and in order to be ‘real’ a guitar has to do more than just light up. Assessing vintage guitars is a bit more demanding than just putting it under a blacklight and see if it lights up, like Fellowship founder Rudi Bults explains in this video.



Do you want to know more about vintage guitars or do you have any questions or doubts about the condition of a vintage guitar? Feel free to contact us.


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