View Full Version : French Polish Finish

Harry Vanderploeg
12-27-2012, 11:54 AM
Hello Folks,
First time poster here, I have a 1969 Gibson that has been very abused, check it out here. http://s1108.beta.photobucket.com/user/harryva/story/6543
If you looked at the story of it than you know I have it to the point of applying the finish. My question is; Since I applyed the waterbased stain directly on the bare wood (Mahogany) and plan to French Polish it what should I do about the raised grain? Thank you.

george wilson
12-28-2012, 10:40 PM
First of all,never use water based stain since you cannot sand the guitar. Use oil base. Secondly,I would not try French polishing. The shellac will not stay bright unless you use Siam Seedlac,which has an orangish brown(mostly brown) color to it. It will stay glossy,though.

Your guitar was finished with nitrocellulose lacquer,and it is a much more durable finish than shellac. A capo won't sink into it,and it won't soften with sweaty hands.

You will lose the Gibson name(a decal) if you try to take the finish off. I think you will lose the serial# also,unless they are stamped INTO the wood. Just leave the face of the peg head and spray over it. Clean the lacquer there with gasoline before you spray over it. Lacquer has the nice ability to "weld" itself back together,so and crazing will vanish when you spray over it. Stewart Macdonald sells nitro.lacquer. You need to let it dry for a few weeks,wet sand it with 600 wet or dry,and buy some Meguairs polishing compounds to rub it smooth.

Try carefully sanding over the water base stain to smooth the grains down,then re-stain with the same color oil base or alcohol base stain.

Harry Vanderploeg
12-29-2012, 12:38 AM
Thank you George.

David Keller NC
12-31-2012, 9:10 PM
Harry - it may be a bit too late for this. As George notes, you wind up with a problem if you use water-based stain on bare wood. However, there's a way to make the guitar look the way you want it without having to stain the wood at all - you stain the finish instead. This is called "toning", and it does require that you spray the finish - a stain/finish combination that has been brushed on looks truly awful.

If you decide to sand the back/sides and start over, you can use both solvent-based pre-cat or nitrocellulose laquer with Transtint stains (Transtint also mixes with shellac). Simply prep the wood, then shoot 2 wet coats of clear laquer or un-dyed super blonde shellac onto the guitar. Follow this with coats of laquer or shellac that has been very lightly dyed with Transtint in your preferred color, continue applying these toning coats until you reach the desired tint/darkness. It is far better to go with lightly-dyed toning coats and more of them than with a single heavily-dyed toning coat.

Once you have the color you want, let the finish cure for a week before clear coating it! I cannot say that last part more strongly. If you're impatient, then the solvent in the clear coat may sufficiently dissolve into the toning coats to cause some very ugly runs. If you let the toned coats harden/cure for a week at room temperature, then spray the first couple of clear coats lightly and then wait 24 hours, you can then apply several wet coats of clear laquer/shellac without fear of messing up the toning coat.

If you do decide to go with shellac, you can get it to cure to a finish that won't become sticky with play, but it is extremely important that you make your own shellac from flakes that have been carefully handled. Joel at Tools For Working Wood has shellac that fits this requirement. Shellac from pre-mix or from flakes that have been exposed to excessive heat/humidity will never cure to a good, hard surface that will stand up to playing.

george wilson
01-03-2013, 3:10 PM
3 instruments I made with 3 different ways to apply color:

The first is a bass Viola daGamba with oil base varnish tinted with color,brushed on by hand with a 1" ox tail hair coat brush. Color must be applied thin to the varnish to get it on evenly like this,in several coats,which darken the color with each coat.

The 2nd.-a guitar with a sprayed on nitrocellulose finish. There is overall color,but more concentrated color is sprayed on around the edges to create the "sunburst" effect. Some builders,even famous ones like Stromberg(worth 6 figures now) , applied this too excessively,and get the edges completely black.

A copy of a Chet Atkins model guitar with the color stained on the wood,and clear lacquer sprayed over it. I used NGR stain(non grain raising)stain,which has alcohol,not water in it. It says Gretsch,but is a repro of a 1958 vintage guitar that was selling for $10,000.00 at the time,which I did not care to pay!!! It has no Gretsch label or stamped on serial number,so it would not be taken as a fraud by some collector(who knows enough to come in out of the rain!!) The originals had aluminum vibratos,not gold plated. Guess Bigsbys at the time were only available plain,as the other hardware was gold plated. I made the knobs,too. Originals did not use the stair step tuners.

Now these are made in Japan,but they have smaller necks than the originals,and I have large hands. Also,the originals had rosewood fingerboards. Mine is ebony,and has a longer scale than an original. So,not an extremely exact copy. Made to suit me.

P.S.: Part of the reasonI would not pay $10,000 for a 1950's Gretsch is that they were the MOST variable quality guitars ever made,and a real rip off in prices,too. I love the way their pickups sound,but the workmanship can be SO BAD. I have a 1966 Anniversary model whose top is glued on 1/2" off center. Under the neck block,if you peer into the sound hole,there is a 4" square piece of 1/8" plywood JAMMED under the neck block to try to make it match the curve of the arched back!! Some examples are impeccable on the other hand. It's a complete gamble. Since Chet Atkins,in a youthful moment,signed up to play Gretsch guitars(the first endorsement he ever got),they were able to jack their prices way up higher than their guitars really merited. I do like their body shapes and F holes,though. The Filtertron pickups have a great sound if you play clean,too. They are not wound as much as Gibson pickups,and give cleaner sounding notes. Especially the high notes.