Finish Options

Unlike many choices you'll have on your custom instrument, your finish options are limited: I do nitrocellulose lacquer, oil varnish, and traditional French polish. At one point I offered a water-based lacquer finish and liked its water-white transparency, but became disillusioned with its durability, and no longer use it.

Nitrocellulose lacquer is by far my first choice. Nitro not only looks good, but it is tough, durable, thin, repairable, and it has stood the test of time. The sheen can be gloss or satin; a satin finish doesn't require final wet sanding and buffing, so it's a slightly less expensive option.
Oil varnish doesn't have the flawless quality of a good lacquer job, but it's appropriate for violin-family instruments, and it's requested by some customers on other instruments. An oil finish is more labor intensive than lacquer, and is often paired with a French polish top coat. Oil varnish is fairly durable, but difficult to repair. When drying conditions are poor or when I'm operating under time restraints, oil varnish is often cured under UV light.

French polish requires more preparation and labor than any of the other finishes. I don't find it as durable as either oil varnish or nitrocellulose lacquer, but it has a distinctive appearance that's without compare, and it is the traditional finish for classical guitars. French polish is perhaps the most repairable of the finishes I offer.

Staining is another finishing option. Stain can be as simple as an aging toner applied to a guitar top to knock off the "new" whiteness, or the use of a contrasting pore filler along with stain to change the appearance of the underlying wood. Sunbursts can be applied in varying levels of translucency; I try to never get so dark that the grain of the wood is hidden. With varnish finishes, the color is normally applied in the first coats of finish, rather than to the unfinished wood.

As you can probably see, I like traditional colors; in fact, I've whittled my palette down to only four: vintage amber, red mahogany, tobacco brown, and black. All my hues come from mixing these basic tints. If your taste leans to calf-pie green or mauve or electric blue, however, talk to us. There are things I haven't tried yet, but I ain't a-skeered to.

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