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Guitar Finish

Question

I am getting into guitar building (just finished my first) but once I think my piece is ready for a finish I am worried I am about to wreck all the hard work I’ve put into the piece because I’ve chosen the wrong finish or I don’t know how to apply it.— Charlie Levesque

Answer

Garrett Hack replies: The way to gain confidence with any finish is to work on some samples first. Prepare them to the same degree as your guitar. Traditional instrument finishes are some sort of resin or varnish. Modern makers use lacquers. I would use shellac. Mix your own from good quality flakes, keep it thin, pad on many layers, and level with 0000 steel wool between every 4 or 5 coats after they are cured overnight. Build to a gloss you like, then pad on a couple of coats of very thin varnish.

Phil Kinsler replies: I’m not a guitar builder but I own more quality instruments than my talent deserves. Love the woods and the tonal possibilities. This question intrigued me so I did a little research. Apparently one can finish a guitar with everything from oils and wax to nitrocellulose and polyurethane. To some extent this depends on the kind of guitar you’re building and how much or how little you want the finish to effect the tone. Acoustic guitars want to be allowed to vibrate, therefore many manufacturers use the thinnest finishes they can balance with the need for longevity. Electric guitars may depend more on how the finish effects the electronic pickup.
I found a good site that reviews some of the choices at zinginstruments.com/types-of-guitar-finishes. One of the major distributors of finishes can be found at stewmac.com and search for “Finishing.” They seem to carry most everything, many in spray-can format.

Tags: Finishing