Guitar Making Tip No. 996 is about your finish. People are discovering that a guitar dipped in lacquer does not sound as good as one with a lighter finish. Many makers are getting away from the shiny gloss and going to a flat look with a thinner application. Here is why.
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Less People Want a Lacquer Dipped Guitar
Especially on lower to middle end models, having a guitar that looks like it was dipped in clear plastic is very common. The guitars hold up well, because the thick coating is a huge barrier to scratches and dings.
However, over time people started using thinner finishes that gave the guitars a different look. It was a flatter and closer to the wood look.
This change in finishing technique and gloss level differentiates higher end guitars from entry level guitars in a couple ways. The gloss change makes the guitar recognizable as different, and the thinner finish actually does something pretty amazing for the acoustic guitar…
Guitars With Thinner Finishes Vibrate Better
A finish is a restrictive coating. It will have an effect of stiffening the plates when applied very thick, and in most cases this is not a good thing. In some builds, adding a little stiffness will add brightness. If a guitar is already bright, it can be too much.
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Thin finishes that are close to the wood allow the guitar to sound just the way it was intended to sound. It will be as close to just the sound of the wood as you can get while still offering protection.
In a perfect world, the guitar would need no finish at all. It would only be the wood, and it would not have a coating that inhibited movement. However, we do not live in a perfect world, and wood needs help to keep it from expanding and contracting as the seasons change.
What Kinds of Finishes Work Like This
The best finishes for a thin look are oils, wiping varnishes, and lacquers. Oils will be the thinnest, and have the least effect on plate movement. Thinned varnishes will be next, followed by lacquers. You can use lacquer for a thin finish as long as you don’t go overboard.
Treat the finish as a tool rather than a gloss layer. All you really need the finish to do is protect the wood from humidity changes. Yes, you do want some protection from scratching, but this is a high end guitar and the end user should be nice to their instruments.
Once you have enough finish in place that the guitar looks nice, and the wood is protected, just stop. There is no reason to keep adding layer after layer. In fact, the more you add, the stiffer the coating will be, and the more restricted the plate movement will be.
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