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Oil vs Spirit Varnish


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#61 Bill Yacey

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 10:20 AM

There aren't any shortcomings with laquer for the guitar industry. It's fast and polishes to a high gloss, which is what they want. All the guitars from before the 30's were varnished. They sound great. My experience with 99% of guitar players is they can't tell the difference in the sound of a cheap or high quality guitar. They just want a flawless high gloss.

Where I live, nearly all the guitars of any age has the laquer cracked up due to taking the instrument from a warm building out into -35C weather, even just to put into a warm car. Some people may like the effect, but it is a shortcoming as the finish doesn't have much in the way of "give" as an oil varnish has.

"It is the mark of an instructed mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision which the nature of the subject admits, and not to seek exactness when only an approximation of the truth is possible." - Aristotle

 


#62 jonathan vacanti

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 11:03 AM

Nice guitars Frankie. I built a few archtops, but I used laquer because people didn't like the look of the first one which was oil varnished. It wasn't a mirror finish like people expect. Do you have that problem? What system do you use?

#63 upnorth

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 03:51 PM

Absolutely stunning looking instrument there Frankie! Your finish does look very nice indeed. Personally it is nice to see a non-lacquer finish on a guitar. I prefer it myself but also see that it could be hard to get the general public to accept it.

Can you tell us a little bit about your ground and the ingredients in your varnish as well as why you think it sounds better?

My opinion from making both guitars and violins is that no statement about varnish can apply to both. The instruments are so different and damping can be good on a violin but bad on a guitar where much more energy is needed to get the sound.
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#64 Montuoro Guitars

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 04:30 PM

There aren't any shortcomings with laquer for the guitar industry. It's fast and polishes to a high gloss, which is what they want. All the guitars from before the 30's were varnished. They sound great. My experience with 99% of guitar players is they can't tell the difference in the sound of a cheap or high quality guitar. They just want a flawless high gloss.



I am sorry but I do disagree. Maybe if you are building guitars in a industrial setting then yes the fast drying attributes of lacquer are great. But most hand makers, such as myself only making a dozen or so guitars a year are far from being anything like a factory environment. Unfortunately for me I can indeed hear the difference between a varnish finish and a lacquer finish. And so can 99% of the players I do business with. And once you get used to it there is really no substitute. The only reason factories do use lacquer is because it dries faster and is generally very easy to use. Factories really don't consider tonal variations in finish as much as they should. And thats for very specific money related concerns. Time is money.

Lacquer is a brittle finish that just does not allow the material to mature. Encasing the wood cell with finish the wood pitch wont be able to crystalize. And you are left with an instrument that will not gain much voice or tone as it ages. As it is, it can and will take 50 some years for this to happen. Varnish on the other hand is soft and flexible. And when you properly seal the instrument before finishing you wont interfere with the cell integrity. Flexible, thin finish is far superior to brittle lacquers.

I have had a lot of success with the spirit varnish that I make for my guitars. And in fact it does not take much longer then the lacquer to dry. At least dry enough to wet sand. As for the gloss you mentioned. I understand that most mass consumers like things shiny. But again I generally run into people that have the opposite idea when it comes to patina. To most discriminating clients shiny is equal to lower grade instruments from china etc.

Many fine made factory guitars such as Martin and Gibson etc had their hay day in the 20's and 30's. Gibson for instance used an oil resin varnish. Martin used shellac. Even when Martin switched to lacquer the guitars were still sealed with shellac. And the amount of lacquer applied to those guitars was far less material then utilized today. In modern times everything is about money and time. With much care we can capture the same tonal qualities that are available in vintage instruments. But part of that is keeping in mind that we are applying finish to musical instruments and not to furniture.

This is of course solely my opinion. Not designed to anger anyone. Just based on my own personal experiences. I appreciate your thoughts on the subject. And I hope you don't take this the wrong way. Blogs can read funny sometimes.

#65 Montuoro Guitars

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 04:46 PM

Nice guitars Frankie. I built a few archtops, but I used laquer because people didn't like the look of the first one which was oil varnished. It wasn't a mirror finish like people expect. Do you have that problem? What system do you use?



Oil varnish on guitars is a tricky way to go. Although Collings are building guitars utilizing the same alkid resin varnish that they use on their mandolins. And its the same oil varnish that was used by Gibson. It takes FOREVER to dry. I stay far away from it myself.

Truthfully the best way to go with a guitar finish is shellac or any other spirit based finish. And in fact you can get a spirit based varnish such as shellac to a super high gloss. Even more so then even lacquer. You just need to allow it to cure longer. But really its not much longer.

I have never really had many people demand their instruments super shiny. Its generally the opposite. They like a muted patina. Do you build more guitars or violins?

BTW: Thanks for your kind words regarding my guitars.

#66 jonathan vacanti

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 05:00 PM

I build violins with an oil varnish, but I built a few archtop guitars with laquer finishes. I think I'll spray the next one with shellac. My point was that the guitar 'industry' doesn't need a better (and more demanding) finish than laquer because 99% of the buyers can't hear the difference. The last 1% are players that can hear the difference and buy hand made guitars like yours.

#67 Montuoro Guitars

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 08:11 AM

I build violins with an oil varnish, but I built a few archtop guitars with laquer finishes. I think I'll spray the next one with shellac. My point was that the guitar 'industry' doesn't need a better (and more demanding) finish than laquer because 99% of the buyers can't hear the difference. The last 1% are players that can hear the difference and buy hand made guitars like yours.



Yes I agree. But it is amazing when people hear those differences and they don't know what it is exactly. Truthfully for me it wasn't until I switched 100% to hide glue and to varnish that I felt my instruments really stood out. Aesthetics alone can't do that. Many people can make attractive looking instruments. But to produce instruments that sound like the instruments of the past requires that we do not change anything. Many people are trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to this. I am reserved to the fact that our forefather luthiers have figured it out. I enjoy continuing the tradition of building and sticking to the traditional style as much as possible. Its more work for sure. But in the long run most will never look back at lacquer and carpenters glue.

#68 jonathan vacanti

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 10:51 AM

The only thing is that when you're average college kid mistreats his $300 guitar, then contacts the company and says the shellac has imprints in it and the hide glued seams are open and he's pissed. And another company doesn't have that problem because they use wood glue and laquer. I read Taylor guitars sells 200 baby taylors A DAY. That's a lot of college kids. I think there's a place for those materials. I would hate to give a 2nd grader anything more than a laquered violin either, because they're just going to sit on it anyway.

I've never heard a modern steel string with a shellac finish. I'm excited about making one.

(I probably should shut up about guitars since this is a violin forum)

#69 upnorth

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 11:18 AM

Frankie,

I am interested in your use of varnish and would like to know your ingredients and ground.

This conversation about lacquer guitars is really not too pertinent especially since Taylor does not even use it any longer, they use an ultra fast drying UV cured finish now.

I french polish shellac my classical guitars and I believe they sound much better than if I were to use lacquer.
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#70 ~ Ben Conover

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 11:22 AM

Strad made a very nice guitar which I saw on show in the Asholean museum some years back.
What varnish did he use for that ?
To me it looked like an oil varnish that had mostly worn off, just the ground showing.

Cheers.




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