A vast majority of wooden musical instruments are either varnished or oiled in order to better protect them from any external pollutants such as dirt, changes in humidity or small impacts. The finish also has an aesthetic role and is used to bring out the shine of the natural wood or to apply a color or tint. Nowadays, we can come across a multitude of different finish types. There are classic alcohol- or oil-based varnishes (such as shellac-based buffer varnish), nitrocellulose varnish, as well as modern industrial polyurethane and polyester varnishes (two-component varnish).

Use of different finish types in lutherie

Shellac varnish applied by hand is traditionally found on high-end classical guitars. It is an entirely natural varnish which has the advantage of being reloaded at a later date in the event of wear. It guarantees a beautiful sound because the layers of varnish are very thin and do not block the vibrations of the wood. However, it is more fragile than industrial varnishes and requires careful maintenance. Nitrocellulose varnish was developed in the 1920s and was used extensively on acoustic guitars from brands like Martin and Gibson. Applied using a spray gun in relatively thin layers, it has the advantage of being well resistant to humidity, easier to maintain while being favorable to the acoustics of the instrument. Varnish refinishes are possible. The two-component varnishes that appeared after the Second World War are now widely used in the industrial manufacturing of guitars. Also applied with a spray gun, these varnishes form a very thick layer and block wood vibrations. Their only advantage is their great resistance. This is why this type of varnish is also applied in automobile bodywork. This varnish is very difficult or even impossible to refinish, especially if it is not transparent but tinted.

martin 00 21 1957

Working on varnishes and finishes

We offer complete shellac hand-varnishing as well as partial shellac refinishing in our workshops. We can also mask varnish chips or accidents in small areas on other types of varnish. However, we are not able to offer complete refinishes with industrial varnish. Do not hesitate to show us your instrument that needs varnishing, we will be happy to advise you.

Nous ne sommes toutefois pas en mesure de proposer des vernissages complets au vernis industriel.

N’hésitez pas à nous montrer votre instrument qui a besoin d’une reprise de vernis, nous vous conseillerons avec plaisir.

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