Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

November Strad


NewNewbie
 Share

Recommended Posts

  • Replies 51
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

I'm not surprised, and I can see why making varnish is so hard.

 Natural products vary, combinations can cause variation.

 How you prepare them, the order, the quantity etc etc.

Makes me appreciate the fact that you make it look easy, when it's

not.  

Up until now, I have been making small batches ( 100 ml or so

) of varnish, and so I wonder how things might change if I try

to make bigger batches. I'm not going to make 20 gallons though.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nice article Joe. I still get Strad even though I have been mainly making classical guitars for the last year or so (other than a 1/16 size Norma Jean violin for my new 2nd grand daughter).

Classical guitar makers either lacquer (nitro) or they french polish and alas, there is none of the "mystique" that surrounds violin varnishing. Another local maker put me onto a localy made "penetrating oil" type product which I have used to nice effect - I'm not mad about high gloss on instruments and this stuff results in a nice even satin finish. And it's so EASY to work with - like applying water with a cloth. I'm told by some of this coutry's top players that my Norma Jean guitar has a special sound - a fluke no doubt, but I did use my violin making "sensitivities" when making my guitars. In fact, I use many violin making techniques.

Now, I don't know too much about what the effects of finishes plays as regards guitar sound - compared to violins but I suspect one could use this stuff on violins without negatively affecting sound (heresy, I hear you say:-). It tends to harden the surface of the soundboard wood which is similar to what we expect in a violin, is it not?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Joe,

As you know I am no expert on finishes, all I can say is this stuff (http://www.woodoc.com/products...ations/w10_18_1_1.pdf) works incredibly well on guitars. That is, in terms of final finish and what it does (doesn't do) to the sound. The tip came from a well known maker (here) who has been making for 30+ years.

I just surmise it may work on a violin too. As I understand it, we look for something that stiffens the surface. I would not suggest high-end makers use this stuff but for guys making middle-of-the-road violins, violas etc. or those that re-finish off-the-peg white instruments, it may be just the ticket?

But no, its nothing new under the sun, I expect this genre is readily available all over - I just would never have thought of using it myself. And, in my opinion, it is possibly better than the very widely used (nitro) lacquer on classical and other guitars. Maybe.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

quote:


Originally posted by:
AMORI

Hi Joe,

As you know I am no expert on finishes, all I can say is this stuff works incredibly well on guitars.

Guitar makers seem to use all sorts of polyesters etc. Nothing seems to matter in the varnishing of a flat-top guitar from what I learn on a forum of guitar makers.

Maybe the curvature introduces a variable that requires a different treatment. Any comments?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would be more inclined to think finish is perhaps as important to guitars, but rather guitar makers are just generally satisfied with whatever finishes they opt for. Guitar makers are likely less in tune with the tonal differences in finish since they do not (at least to my knowledge) string up guitars before finishing, thus allowing comparisons, and because guitars are rarely stripped and/or refinished. Both of these procedures are occasionally done by some violinmakers, and this seems to be where some of the knowledge of the importance of varnish stems from.

On another note -and one of which I am very incredulous- in another violin forum, there is a discussion underway of the tone of bows being governed by finish, with some even talking about grounds (yes, grounds!) as being a main contributing factor.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The point is about topology. A flat surface can bend without stretching. A curved shell must stretch. I come back to my view that viscoelasticity losses in a stretching film might cause serious damping.

Also, if a significant part of the top has a cylindrical (barrel) arch, that would be a surface of zero curvature and perhaps forgive some viscoelastic losses if the point is valid. (I say a cylinder has zero curvature because you can flatten that section without stretching the edges.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think you are all making assumptions that aren't necessarily true. Much of this depends on what type of Guitarmaker you ask the question of. A maker of steel string guitars will almost certainly use one of the modern nitro or poly finishes. Makers of Classicals will almost exclusively insist on a French polish finish, especially for the top. They will argue that this type of finish is the one that will least interfere with the sound., largely because it is such a thin film and does not have the dampening properties of other types such as oil or indeed the more modern types of finish.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"The point is about topology. A flat surface can bend without stretching. A curved shell must stretch."

I'm not so sure I agree, but then there is not enough information yet to disagree. Can you provide a concrete example of what you mean when you say a flat surface can bend without stretching, whereas a curved shell must stretch?

In considering the possibility that finish is non critical for guitars but critical for violins, the important question is why. Both are resonators of very similar construction and function. Just exactly why would varnish have no effect on guitars and a significant effect on violins or cellos? It is also worth remembering that there is a whole class of guitars -namely jazz guitars- that are arched, and thus fall into the violin family of topology, and even the ubiquitous western style acoustic guitars have a small curvature or arch built into the backs.

How does one then explain away the purported non-factor of finish choice for jazz guitars if flatness of the tables is the deciding factor?

In addition, I agree with Mignal that finish is likely to be given much more consideration by high end classical guitar makers, where the prices are easily in the same stratosphere as top notch violinmakers.

While finish may be less critical in guitars, it is likely still a factor, and economics of thought and process lies at the heart of explaining why some guitar makers might feel that finish is not a factor in tone production.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mignal. Most steel string makers do use nitrocellulous lacquer, yes. But I'm not sure I agree that most classical makers French polish. Many do but many do not - I have been "into" and researching classical guitar making for about 18 months after spending close to 10 years with violins and have found that many of the high-end makers are lacquering. I personally think that lacquering** does mute sound a little but obviously they do not.

Michael, a very large percentage of classical makers use spruce (Euro or USA) for soundboards, others use western red cedars etc. which are quite close to spruce in many ways. None use dense woods for sound boards but yes, many dense (but resonant) woods are used for back and sides - I am led to understand that back and sides hardly contribute to the guitar sound, the sides nowdays are very stiff and thick and the back is heavily braced to "reflect" sound.

GMM, you may be right that the finish is not as critical as on a violin. But I'm not so sure! There is a big difference in the sound of a classical guitar in the white compared to the same guitar finished - just like on violins. My research seems to indicate that guitars and violins (and a few other string instruments like lutes etc.) may have similar basic criteria that govern good sound.

Never-the-less, this finish I have been talking about does work a treat, believe it or not. At some point in the future I do intend testing it on a white violin.....

**It may rely on how qualified the lacquerer is at achieving thin coats.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"GMM, you may be right that the finish is not as critical as on a violin. But I'm not so sure!"

You mean I made a concession for nothing? I had stated earlier that finish was likely as important for guitars, but then tempered my position a bit. I think I have to revise my opinion again. I now say finish is even more important on a guitar, but I'll leave to someone else to prove it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think you should be looking at the high end of the classical guitar world, that's where you will find that the vast majority of makers will French Polish. Some will offer an alternative, especially for the back/sides of an instrument but for the tops they will mostly insist on a French Polish finish. Of course there are exceptions.

The use of the more modern finishes on some guitars can be explained by the speed of applying such coatings and their durability. French Polish in the guitar world is seen as being a very delicate finish, easily scratched and abraded. It's not uncommon for a high end french polished guitar to go back to the maker after a few years because certain areas of the shellac has worn through. There is also a strong expectation from players to have a perfect, high gloss, very durable coating that remains that way for the lifetime of the player who has bought it.

I guess Willie Nelson is one of the exceptions.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

quote:


Originally posted by:
GMM22

I'm not so sure I agree, but then there is not enough information yet to disagree. Can you provide a concrete example of what you mean when you say a flat surface can bend without stretching, whereas a curved shell must stretch?

By shell, I meant that the thickness is ignored with respect to the surface dimensions. A slice of a basketball cannot be flattened without stretching the perimeter, but a section of a beercan may be. I realize that small stretchings will occur through the thickness of a curved plate, but the violin is varnished after it is made, and the film is presumably not stretched when dry. Of course, this last is another question altogether.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I started out my instrument making in the classical guitar world. Today's highest end classical guitars, Jeff Elliott for example are "French Polished". The Master classical builders of the "past", Robert Bouchet, Fleta, Romanillos, and Hauser all French polished their instruments. French polishing is nothing more that a Spirit Varnish applied in a labor intensive manner that requires a good bit of skill to make it look really good. Many current classical makers will use some type of more modern finish for the "standard" model and offer French Polishing as an upgrade. The basic criteria for finishing a classical guitar is really the same as a violin. You want to use a finish that does not penetrate the wood, brings out the beauty of the wood and adds some level of protection. You don't want a heavy thick finish that dampens the sound.

Keep in mind that the guitar as we currently know it does not have 300 years of tradition to compare or overcome.

Steel string makers use Nitro cellulose lacquer alot and is generally sprayed on opposed to being applied with a brush or a pad. Nitro needs to be applied in a well ventilated area because it is so bad for you to breath the fumes and can be explosive if it is sprayed around any type of open flame.

Anything that flexes has to stretch so the idea that a flat guitar top doesn't stretch is not really accurate.

One reason that the classical guitar has never made it's way to the orchestra is that it is not as loud an instrument as a violin and cannot not be heard in the overall mix of the orchestra. The bow of a violin drives much more energy into the soundboard that the plucking or strumming of guitar strings. If you think of it in those terms the dampening effect is in some ways more critical for a guitar than a violins.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

quote:


Originally posted by:
BarryD

Anything that flexes has to stretch so the idea that a flat guitar top doesn't stretch is not really accurate.


It is accurate to say that a curved shell starts to need stretching sooner than a flat plate. I tried to make that point in my previous post. Of course, any plate or shell will have a finite thickness. This is not what I was talking about. For negligible thickness, the stretch of a flat plate will go to zero, but that of a curved shell will not. Depends on which kind of mode one is talking about though. One could twist a curved shell without stretching it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Boy do I hesitate to get in to this one. Usually it's because I don't know that much about the subject but in this case it's because opinions on guitar finish are as varied as belly buttons. Ive finished hundreds of guitars in my time and know a bit about Jeff Elliot's evolution from nitrocellulose to french polish, as I was his first apprentice along with Jim and Ken White.

Jeff apprenticed with Richard Schnyder in Kalamazoo who was in turn taught by Juan Pimentel. Juan used french polish and initially so did Richard. I remember stories about the "Manieca' SP? (rag doll) and how long it took to build up a finish especially in the corners. When I started both Richard and Jeff were using Lacquer. The conventional wisdom at the time was that the finish was only marginally important to the sound and it was mostly a matter of aesthetics and durability. I didn't really believe that but I was young and was looking for the magic bullet to make my guitars the best in the world (sound familiar?)

Richard's association with both Gibson and Kasha may have had something to do with the nitrocellulose thing. I think that he eventually went to water based lacquer on the back and sides and french polished shellac on the top. I can't believe it but we used to spray lacquer in the hallway where we put out the trash with no exhaust fan.

A big factor then was that all the big time classical players Segovia, Parkening, et. were playing Ramirezes and they had the thickest orange acrilic lacquer finish you can imagine. Hauser copies with spruce tops were not the norm as they are now. I know because I had to strip a couple Ramirez tops and I can still smell the lacquer. They were loud and clear which influenced many to think that finish was not that big a deal-- at that time, not now. Ovations were a big deal in the steel string world and they used even thicker and harder stuff-- stripper wouldn't even take it off. I remember refinishing a Ramirez with seed lac but it was pretty yellow. I can't remember the outcome and to tell you the truth most of the time people hear what they want to hear when you change something on an instrument proportional to the amount of money they have invested in the change. I even used seed lac as a sealer coat. Most everybody was using lacquer, except Bob Lundberg the great lute maker and he used nothing but wax (his own creation) on the top and padding laquer on the bowl. That's what I used on the four baroque guitars that I made. I think Jeff didn't get into french polishing the tops regularly untill he teamed up with Cindy Burton who was really good at it, but I could be wrong. The way we thought about french polish back then was that it was very cool, and since the finish was so thin, probably good for the sound (disregarding the Ramirez anomaly) but a luxury we couldn't afford due to the maitanance issues. So most of us sprayed nitro and then went to water based lacquer. There was a learning curve about shellack and not ordering or buying a guitar that looked like it was coated in glass. As in "you made a great guitar it looks almost as good as a Martin". Anyway that's my two cents. Oh, some people spray a thin coat of shelac and then rub it out and then do the french polish thing. Many folks mistake the name as if it were a material and not a process.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.



×
×
  • Create New...