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Lacquer VS French Polish

Postby SamC » 03 Aug 2009, 11:30

Here are my experiences and opinions....

French polish is easily damaged with the slightest touch of a fingernail. A nice finish for a classical IMO, but not tough enough for a hard played flamenco. I cannot tell any improvement in tone for flamenco comparing two fairly identical guitars, one French polish and the other lacquer. A fine classical might have a tonal difference, but the main reason FP is used over lacquer is cosmetic beauty. FP is easier to repair than lacquer if the damage is just the finish. Lacquer is more durable and easy to clean and looks good enough on a flamenco. Hand rubbed varnish is both durable and beautiful and has excellent tonal qualities, but the labor and time involved is not worth it. I think that FP was so popular in the past on expensive fine guitars as many individual Spanish guitar makers did not have any room or equipment for spraying lacquer and applying it by hand is more difficult than applying varnish. Lacquer is my choice on a flamenco. What is your preference?
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Re: Lacquer VS French Polish

Postby at_leo_87 » 03 Aug 2009, 23:34

i have never owned a french polished guitar so i cant really speak from experience. but something about the idea of a french polished guitar is dreamy. the knowledge that it is much more of a delicate finish makes it even more seductive.

plus, a worn out guitar kind of looks cool.

but in terms of practicality, lacquer wins.
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Re: Lacquer VS French Polish

Postby lucas » 04 Aug 2009, 16:49

This topic is especially interesting to me, because I am currently in the market for a new flamenco guitar. I would like to know more about the practical differences between lacquer and French polish finishes.
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Re: Lacquer VS French Polish

Postby flyeogh » 04 Aug 2009, 20:50

My FP Anders* just somehow feels perfect. I'm not good enough to compare sound as 1) I have not got fine tuned ears and 2) my guitars vary greatly in many respects.

My Alhambra lies around a flat in Madrid and is picked up by anyone who wants to make a noise. Its shellac skin(I believe that's right) is bomb proof. And it sounds great (opinion of several not just me :D )

My Anders has some marks where the high E has snapped and dinged behind the bridge ** but despite doing a few miles for lessons has survived well. Precious little baby that she is.

So I guess depends on your usage and care you can give. Also when I bought my Anders, Anders had started to use a new FP man who could FP some parts and leave others untouched. I opted against but Anders showed me some interesting effects.


* Anders Eliasson now of Huelva, formerly Granada
** I have seen this on a few guitars. Would a thin strip of golpeador material be well postioned there :?:
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Re: Lacquer VS French Polish

Postby SamC » 05 Aug 2009, 10:54

Nigel, The Victor Manuel Diaz I use to have, had the piece of golpeador behind the bridge for protection. It was important on that guitar for two reasons: His French polish work was poor. It was too brittle and flaky. Accidentally drag a nail gently across it and a big chunk of it came off. Also with the 12 hole bridge, removing strings required using a dental pick to loosen them and it was easy to touch the top and damage the FP. The little stringador was shaped to give it character and looked good. I have never heard of any complaints on Anders French polish. With FP it is not just an art applying it, but the quality of the product used and how it is mixed.

Lucas, The decision to go French polish or lacquer depends on how much you have to invest in a flamenco guitar and how you plan to use it. A less expensive guitar will probably not have a quality FP. This is a labor intensive process and time is money to a FP person, so a FP on a cheaper guitar will probably be a rush job using poor ingredients. Many master guitarmakers offer either finish on their high end flamencos, so then it comes down to personal reasons. How hard you play and where you play are certainly considerations.

Anthony, Interesting thought about the seduction of FP. After the Diaz alluring me with her fine complexion, then losing it prematurely, I became shy of cosmetic allurement and opted for the working girl that wasn't high maintenance and could provide a long term relationship without disappointment all the while delivering the goods with class and style. 8-)
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Re: Lacquer VS French Polish

Postby at_leo_87 » 06 Aug 2009, 04:48

Manos Lentas wrote:
Anthony, Interesting thought about the seduction of FP. After the Diaz alluring me with her fine complexion, then losing it prematurely, I became shy of cosmetic allurement and opted for the working girl that wasn't high maintenance and could provide a long term relationship without disappointment all the while delivering the goods with class and style. 8-)


GREAT analogy! i guess i gotta try both before i can decide which one i really want. :lol:
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Re: Lacquer VS French Polish

Postby Ramon Amira » 21 Nov 2009, 16:22

Well, I am the original owner of a rare signed 1970 Manuel Contreras flamenco guitar, that I am getting ready to sell, and this was finished by French Polish method. It is now forty years old, has been played almost every day for forty years, at home and in performance venues, has traveled with me across the country several times, and still ninety-nine percent of the finish is like the day I bought it. So I personally would prefer French Polish method, but there are many different opinions on the subject. Manuel Reyes Sr. once said, "I know a guitarrero, a very famous one, who sprays his guitars with commercial varnish, just like you spray a car. I think it is a sacrilege to do that to a guitar." So you have to choose whose opinion to take. It's not easy.
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Re: Lacquer VS French Polish

Postby Peter Tsiorba » 05 Feb 2010, 01:54

One way of looking at finishes, is through this criteria: High-tech or low-tech. Some finishes are indeed so high-tech that you do indeed need the military-industrial complex working behind the scenes to produce the stuff for the finisher's use. Those finishes, like everything else, have their pluses and minuses--but they are an industrial product.

French polish is VERY LOW-TECH by comparison. Secretions of parasitic laca bugs, dissolve the stuff in alcohol (food-grade stuff in my case) use a little walnut and olive oil, and you are on your way to a traditional finish. I love french polish. Learning curve is steep, methods labor-intensive, and the resultant finish--exquisitely beautiful. It does not hide or coat the wood in a plastic'cky sort of way. And a good FP is not as fragile as often feared. I spent several years spraying catalyzed industrial finishes at a furniture-building shop. The smell, noise, toxicity, filthy space with all the over-spray. FP feels like a zen monastery by comparison. Peaceful. No space demands. Non-toxic. Love it!
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Re: Lacquer VS French Polish

Postby SamC » 06 Feb 2010, 12:22

Peter, You make some very convincing points. I think with old world craftsmanship, FP is the only finish that would be appropriate. My bad experiences with extremely poor FP jobs has made me a little shy, however several points you have made have helped me overcome this fear.

1. The easy of repairing damage with FP.
2. The non toxicity of the finish.
3. The beauty and old world charm it gives an instrument.
4. Durability if done correctly.
5. Also the extra love the instrument receives from the rubbing.

Have you ever tried hazelnut oil instead of walnut? I am considering scraping off the Spanish varnish finish I put on my 74 red & rosewood and having you give it a french polish. I need to redrill the string holes in the bridge as the spacing is off on the B and E 1st string. I recently purchased a long bit for doing this but haven't got it done yet. I think the tone of this guitar would really open up if the heavy finish was removed.

What do you recommend for caring for the FP finish? Any special kind of rag?
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Re: Lacquer VS French Polish

Postby SamC » 06 Feb 2010, 14:58

Thought some of you might find this video interesting. One issue I have with German is the use of rotary power tools whether for sanding or polishing. My personal opinion is rotary power tools are not conducive to fine guitar making.





Here is a link to Milburns method of french polishing. I studied it out a few years ago, but never got the courage or inspiration to try it. http://www.milburnguitars.com/fpbannerframes.html

I would be interested in our guitar makers opinions and methods of french polish.
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