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How to do durable silver or gold plating on musical instruments

Q. Hi,
My name is Julian. I live in NYC.
I would like to find out how to gold plate a saxophone. I would like to use type II GOLD (99.9% pure hard gold) with a thickness of 5 microns. Yes 5µ, not 0.5µ
Please advise.
Thank you very much

Julian Hammond
- New York
July 21, 2023

nickel book
The Sulphamate Nickel How-To Guide

by David Crotty, PhD & Robert Probert


A. Hi Julian.
You are certainly welcome to try to do this yourself, and readers are welcome to help you and will probably be happy to answer your questions. Still, you and other readers should be told, just in case you don't know, that electroplating is a well developed industrial science and industrial process, and that there are job shops with decades of experience available to undertake such jobs.

You will need an underlayer of nickel plating or white bronze tri-alloy. Normally nickel plating is shunned these days because many people develop skin allergies to it, but with 5µ of gold over it I would anticipate zero porosity and zero exposure to nickel. Tri-alloy plating is significantly more difficult, and probably essentially impossible for a hobbyist to formulate themself.

If I were you I would not attempt to plate an expensive item like a saxophone until I had acquired many months of experience gold plating smaller, simpler, sample parts. Again, it's not my intention to say what you can & can't or should & shouldn't do, but it probably is my obligation from many decades in the industry and running this site to not lead you down the primrose path. Best of luck!

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

thumbs up sign Thanks so much for responding to my post, Ted.

RFQ: I would send it out to be plated rather than attempt it myself.
Please feel free to offer any referrals.
All my gratitude.

Julian Hammond [returning]
- New York
July 21, 2023
    privately respond to this RFQ   ^
Ed. note: As always, gentle readers: technical replies in public and commercial replies in private please (huh? why?)

A. Hi again. There probably aren't too many plating shops with gold plating tanks that are big enough, but our Directory of Jobshops lists a couple, and Epner Technology in Brooklyn is probably the closest shop able to gold plate a saxophone.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

⇩ Closely related postings, oldest first ⇩

"Gold Plating Technology"
by Reid & Goldie
(hard to find & expensive; if you
see a copy cheap, act fast)

on AbeBooks

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Q. I am a supplier and manufacturer of brass parts.

This is the process that we are using:

1. First we totally clean the brass parts after buffing. We boil them to remove any greases and then we wash them with soap and water

2. Then we use electrocleaning for 30 seconds before starting the actual plating process

3. We plate the mouthpiece with a copper strike. We use 1A per square inch for abt 1 minute. For each solution we use a 1 litre tank

4. Then we rinse the mouthpiece in de-mineralised water

5. We nickel plate the parts with 0.1 A per square inch for 5 minutes

6. Then we rinse

7. Then we put the mouthpiece in a nickel activation bath, 1A per square inch for 1 minute

8. We rinse

9. Then we silver plate or gold plate. Silver plating with 0.1 A per square inch for 3 minutes. Gold 0.6 A per square inch for 2 minutes (all solutions are cyanide based)

For such an application the plating must be very hard wearing.

We are noticing that our finish is not very strong. We are noticing that sometimes the plating is peeling off, sometimes exposing nickel or copper.

Kindly suggest what solutions are most suitable for our application and if we need to add other steps/or change them in order to improve the quality of the finish (hardness and wearing).

Thank you,

Kevin Camilleri
- Attard, Malta
May 28, 2012

A. Hello Kevin,
You don't mention what type of silver or gold solutions you are using. The type and plating thickness of the deposit would be the key here. In other words a hard gold with a heavier thickness would last longer than a pure gold at 15 microinch thickness. The same would go for silver plating. Please advise.

Mark Baker
Engineering - Mesa, Arizona

A. It seems the gold current density may be too high. Try cutting the current in half and doubling the dwell time. Also you may need an activator for the copper/nickel surface.

Scott Hope
- Chicago, Illinois, USA

A. Have you considered putting a PVD coating in lieu of the gold and silver. Gold and silver are very soft metals, and are going to wear off over time. You can get similar finishes in PVD coatings that are much harder than steel -- they were developed to cut steel. You should be able to find someone in your part of the world doing decorative PVD. Check them out -- you may need to add trivalent chromium atop the nickel, but my guess is it will be cheaper to have them do the PVD work for you than it will be to gold plate your parts in-house, and maybe even less expensive than the silver plating. The end product will hold up much better.

jim treglio portrait
Jim Treglio -
PVD Consultant & Wine Lover - San Diego,

A. If you are seeing a degree of peeling problems, I would have a quick look at your initial cleaning process - when you mention boiling water to degrease and the use of soap and water, this step can be a strong candidate for your problems.

Consider using a degreasing agent, an alkaline clean, DI water and a quick water-break check. Then see if your process improves.

Fritz Malhous
- Vancouver BC Canada
July 24, 2012

A. I agree with Scott. The gold current density is WAY too high. .6 A/in2 is 86 A/ft2. Are you sure you don't mean .06 A/in2. Even that is on the high side of normal current density for a gold cyanide bath, which is 3 to 8 A/ft2 or .02 to .055 A/in2.

Chris Owen
- Nevada, MO, USA

A. If adhesion is the problem, then we need to know the preparation cycle. And be reminded, that if it is leaded brass, that Hydrochloric and sulfuric form insolubles on the surface that you cannot plate over -- leaded brass must be run through fluoboric acid.

robert probert
Robert H Probert
Robert H Probert Technical Services
supporting advertiser
Garner, North Carolina

Gold plating fading too fast

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Q. Hello people!
I am a super amateur I might be doing everything wrong so let me know.

I want to plate a musical instrument mouthpiece (trombone trumpet or horn).
A trombone mouthpiece is about 7 in square, a trumpet and horn about 4 in square.
To gold plate I am using a kind of adaptor that I found working for that with stainless electrode,
4 amps
5 volts
Temperature is about 140 degrees. After 30 seconds in the microwave for 4 oz. of liquid gold solution, duration of plating about 1 minute.
Before electroplating I clean the silver with a silver polish, then dish soap, then boiling water.
Then I plate with cyanide free 24k gold liquid solution.

It works but the plating stays for only about 1 month, as the mouthpiece is placed on the lips for about 5 hours a day everyday.
I cannot use any hard chemical as the mouthpiece has a direct contact with the skin (I think).

is there something I can do so that my plating will last longer?
Maybe some kind of electrocleaning is necessary?
Longer plating time? Temperature?

I do it because I have a silver allergy and for some of my friends in the same situation and this gold plating removes all the problems I suffer from the silver.
If somebody could suggest me ideas I am open to suggestions!


Julie Harnois
- Notre-Dame-des-Prairies, Quebec, Canada
September 21, 2013

A. Hi Julie. First, in case you weren't aware, there are professional plating shops who can handle this for you if you are interested in that approach..

I am aware of the Medallion Liquid Gold process, which is an immersion/replacement plating process ... but I am not personally familiar with using it as a base for subsequent electroplating, and I'm not sure that it is a good idea because immersion plating usually doesn't have the same adhesion offered by electroplating. You might be better off simply skipping that step, but I don't know whether the mouthpiece is made of solid silver, and is free of nickel or other plating, and therefore whether gold can be electroplated directly onto it.

Electrocleaning can be very important in a production environment, but I don't think it accomplishes cleaning any better than scrubbing with a pumice solution and a tampico brush. So, after scrubbing, I'd rinse well and try directly gold plating.

It's probably not FDA approved, but for personal use you could try topping the gold plating with a UV-hardened clear coat -- basically UV hardened clear nail polish. Since people often put their fingers in their mouth, it can't be that toxic :-)

Note that these ideas are for personal use, not for something you would sell. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. I am not using Medallion kit, I'm using real electroplating gold solution.
This mouthpiece is silver plated and yes there is nickel in the silver that they use to to that. Under it it's just raw brass.
Nail polish get sticky when been too long in a humidity place
I tried that and it kind of tastes awful.
Thanks for the cleaning part! I will try that.

Julie Harnois [returning]
- Notre-Dame-des-Prairies, QC, Canada
September 25, 2013

UV Nail Lamp

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A. Hi. Sorry I misread your posting. Don't give up on the nail lacquer, though. I wasn't referring to acetone-based air dry formulations, but to the Ultraviolet cured gels. Maybe take your mouthpiece to a manicure salon that offers those UV trays that you put your fingers in, and ask them to put nail lacquer on it -- you might find the taste of that less awful :-)
Another option is to purchase an "at home" gel manicure kit. They come with a UV light and the polish is readily available. And there are 'food-safe' clear coats.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. So Now time goes by and I got quite good at it and we started a business with my brother; he does chrome plating on guns and I do my little mouthpiece plating on the side :)
What is your opinion on Cyanide based plating for mouthpieces?
Cyanide is quite dangerous for people and a mouthpiece, well, is on the mouth all the time
Is it dangerous for the person? If I google cyanide plated mouthpiece on Google people are getting crazy and say how bad it is.
Is cyanide plating that much more long lasting?

Thanks a lot

Julie Harnois [returning]
- Notre-Dame-des-Prairies, QC, Canada
July 22, 2014

A. Hi Julie. There are two issues here, the possible danger to yourself as the plater, and the possible danger to the user...

Cyanide is an extremely powerful poison that should not be used in a residential environment or by people who don't thoroughly understand it. A small trace ingested can kill you, and it's also possible to accidentally acidify it, releasing poisonous hydrogen cyanide fumes. I'm not sure what your plating shop looks like and what expertise you have.

But as for the user, they are in no danger if you are absolutely sure that the mouthpieces are scrupulously rinsed. After all, virtually all silverplate, including flatware, is silver plated from a silver cyanide plating bath, and many foods like almonds and lima beans have traces of cyanide in them.

I'm not quite clear whether your interest is silver plating or gold, but there are many formulations for gold plating baths: some are cyanide based and some not. If you will be gold plating rather than silver plating, yes, I'd certainly be looking for a cyanide-free formulation. Silver is trickier because, although there are cyanide-free proprietaries, almost all decorative plating is done from cyanide solutions.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. Hey Thanks Ted
We have an outside garage where my father already uses other chemical and I got all the equipment, ventilation, googles, gloves, already and everything I need to do it safe. And he is always looking to see what I do to see if I do it safely.
(I'm not a teenager don't worry) but I use my father's atelier quite a lot.
I will need to introduce silver plating in my processes as I get more and more customers so I will have to get into the silver cyanide anyway.
Nobody in my region is doing that kind of work and I could really develop something.
I want to get really serious into it, I already have everything in place for my cyanide-free gold plating, but even the best gold plating I can do on a mouthpiece starts fading after 6-9 months everyday use.

I go through ultrasonic cleaning with the good products, electro cleaning, water test, acid pickling, good voltage best anode I can get but there is something missing.
I made a lot of people allergy-free -- I got several cases of exam stress related allergy and musicians are really picky about their mouthpieces, and as I can do a nice job in 24 hours, people keep referring my name; if you go to the music store here to have that job done they have to ship it and you cannot have your mouthpiece for like 3 weeks.

When musicians start getting stressed (around conservatory exams or big auditions) I get a lot of customers and so they cannot stop playing for 2 days in a row, because it's like the week they need to practice the most.

I also figured out that most people had a mouthpiece that tough was silver, but its actually nickel silver, or "german silver" and that's probably more their allergy problem.

So I wonder as I will start the silver for mouthpiece restoration (some come to me with raw brass mouthpieces) if I should get into cyanide gold and get even more happy customers.


Julie Harnois [returning]
- notre dame des prairies, QC, Canada

A. Yes, cyanide silver plating solutions have been used for probably 150 years and are the standard. But there are proprietary silver plating solutions that are cyanide-free and, while they are not widely used for decorative silver plating, they still might suffice. I think they're worth a try.

adv: Cyanide-free silver plating solutions are available from EPI / Electrochemical Products Inc. [a supporting advertiser]

But, I'm not at all sure that I'd agree that cyanide gold plating solutions are better than cyanide-free. If I were you I would talk to a major supplier of gold plating chemistry about what is best for mouthpieces.

Luck & Regards,

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

thumbs up signThanks Ted!!

Julie Harnois
- notre dame des prairies

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