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Not all that shines is... French Polish   You are logged in as Guest
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gj Michelob

Posts: 1428
Joined: Nov. 7 2008
From: New York City/San Francisco

Not all that shines is... French Polish 

We had this discussion before. GSI [where I purchased it] as well as other dealers, insisted on advertizing the AF/R 25 Conde Hermanos, Negra as “Brazilian Rosewood” notwithstanding a clear indication on the label that reads “Caviuna”. I protested this practice which I found misleading. GSI has finally revised its literature and speaks of “Caviuna” on its website.

HOWEVER, these guitars are also advertized as being “French polished’. The one I purchased was not: it was lacquered.

Recently, I wanted to sell it, but had a superficial scratch. I decided to have German Vazquez Rubio (who just made a new blanca for me) refinish the entire instrument and French-polish it.

Here is the moral of this story.

Two significant changes:
Cosmetically the new finish emphasizes the texture of the wood beautifully;
Acoustically –and most importantly- the sound has improved drastically. More volume sustaining a brilliant sound, with that woodsy undertone I always seek in a flamenco guitar, and this guitar did not have.

I don’t suppose we have this opportunity that often, to play a guitar first as “lacquered” and later as “French-polished”, to juxtapose its performance in different “shiny varnish”. I am pleased to report French polish in this instance made a substantial difference and improved the instrument appearance and sound to the point I am now hesitant to sell it (although I remain enamored with Blancas and wanted to exchange this for Caviuna for Cypress).

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gj Michelob
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 29 2009 8:22:26
 
Andy Culpepper

Posts: 2130
Joined: Mar. 30 2009
From: NY, USA

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

Wow, cool gj.
I personally love the look and feel of a french polished guitar, not so much a sprayed on lacquer finish.
Of course, a french polished shellac finish is thinner and more delicate, but to me that is its appeal as it makes the guitar feel more alive and uninhibited. Also as my luthier says, french polish is "infinitely repairable" if you decide the thing's been abused a little too much

I never heard of a test like yours being done where a guitar that was lacquered was then stripped and french polished...seems like pretty strong evidence from your point of view that it did make a difference to the sound.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 29 2009 8:42:49
 
gj Michelob

Posts: 1428
Joined: Nov. 7 2008
From: New York City/San Francisco

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to Andy Culpepper

quote:

french polish is "infinitely repairable" if you decide the thing's been abused a little too much


That was in fact my greatest disappointment in discovering that my guitar was not french polished -as advertized. to repair that scratch I had to refinish the entire thing. Had it been Shallac, the restoration could have been limited to the affacted area... ended up investing $1,000 instead of $100. One could easily say french polish will reward you "tenfold"....

I aslo agree that the 'feel" of the instrument is different. There is something more delicate about its new appearance, which suits the new sound which -as you it- "it makes the guitar feel more alive and uninhibited".

I did not mean to experiment on such expensive guitar, but I ended up with astonishing findings on a query that had always puzzled me: does it even make a diffrence, considering the two large plastic guards we have on the top? Yes it certainly does.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 29 2009 9:22:56
 
Anders Eliasson

Posts: 5032
Joined: Oct. 18 2006
 

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

For me there´s no doubt. FP is the best....

Nitro Cellulose is VERY good as well.

But most factory guitars are varnished with PU or polyester and that is something I would never do to a fine instrument. It looks wrong (plastic) it feels wrong and it kills sound. Its basically like having a thin tapplate covering the whole instrument.
I´m 99,9% sure that new Condes are PU coated.

Another thing is that its not so easy to make a comparision the way you do DJ. Are you sure, the guy who stripped the guitar didnt remove a tiny wheeny bit of wood as well. Its VERY difficult not to do so, and in the case some wood was removed, even just a tenth of a milimeter, the whole comparision falls apart because now its not the same instrument.
I´m glad the experiment was a succes.

Another thing is that I find it to be a very poor business policy that a big company like GSI sell a Lacquered Caviuna guitar as a French Polished Braz rosewood guitar. I´m not american, but I´m pretty sure its not according to consumer laws.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 29 2009 11:49:28
 
gj Michelob

Posts: 1428
Joined: Nov. 7 2008
From: New York City/San Francisco

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to Anders Eliasson

quote:

Another thing is that I find it to be a very poor business policy that a big company like GSI sell a Lacquered Caviuna guitar as a French Polished Braz rosewood guitar. I´m not american, but I´m pretty sure its not according to consumer laws.


I agree. I was very angry when I discovered that the wood really is what the label says “Caviuna”. Originally, I was told that the label listed Caviuna as a subterfuge (an “importation scheme”) to allow CITES-less Brazilian Rosewood enter the US. Since I complained, and quite adamantly, GSI has changed the description of this wood to Caviuna. But still lists this model as French Polished. They told me it is a “peculiar Madrid School French polish” different from shallac, yet nonetheless French Polish. I am surprised they did not also suggest that if I bury the guitar a plant would grow yielding gold Spanish coins

You make an interesting point that a thin layer of wood might have been removed in the process, along with the Laquer. I would not be able to detect such subtlety as it is not really apparent. However, yes the experiment was a true success.

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gj Michelob
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 29 2009 16:14:41
 
jlneng

Posts: 118
Joined: Jun. 28 2009
 

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

Hearing tales such as this is the main reason I started making my own guitars for myself & friends.......
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 29 2009 19:45:59
 
at_leo_87

Posts: 3016
Joined: Aug. 30 2008
From: Boston, MA, U.S.A

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

quote:

Since I complained, and quite adamantly, GSI has changed the description of this wood to Caviuna. But still lists this model as French Polished. They told me it is a “peculiar Madrid School French polish” different from shallac, yet nonetheless French Polish. I am surprised they did not also suggest that if I bury the guitar a plant would grow yielding gold Spanish coins


wow

i'm assuming you won't do business with them anymore...

quote:

Hearing tales such as this is the main reason I started making my own guitars for myself & friends.......


hey, i'm your friend right? lol.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 29 2009 20:52:59
 
stormserge

 

Posts: 13
Joined: Oct. 4 2009
 

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

I French polished many guitars in my heyday and it takes 2 weeks in average to do it right and neck
was primed with N.cellulose lacquer anyway because neck is very porous and sucks polish by the gallons.

What they are doing now is probably spraying lacquer at first and than sand it
hand-rub it. It looks good but is much thicker than real French Polish.
Technique is probably carryover from violin making where thick brush-on varnish contributes
to the sound somewhat. For guitar though - the thinner- the better IMHO.

BTW Nitrocellulose lacquer can be applied in the same manner as shellac F.P. and I have done it.
Call it French Polish if you will.

There is nothing as thin, easily repairable and nice looking
as French Polish but these days are gone and people who did
it well are mostly gone too.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 29 2009 21:32:28
 
stormserge

 

Posts: 13
Joined: Oct. 4 2009
 

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

I French polished many guitars in my heyday and it takes 2 weeks in average to do it right and neck
was primed with N.cellulose lacquer anyway because neck is very porous and sucks polish by the gallons.

What they are doing now is probably spraying lacquer at first and than sand it
hand-rub it. It looks good but is much thicker than real French Polish.
Technique is probably carryover from violin making where thick brush-on varnish contributes
to the sound somewhat. For guitar though - the thinner- the better IMHO.

BTW Nitrocellulose lacquer can be applied in the same manner as shellac F.P. and I have done it.
Call it French Polish if you will.

There is nothing as thin, easily repairable and nice looking
as French Polish but these days are gone and people who did
it well are mostly gone too.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 29 2009 21:34:25
 
Peter Tsiorba

Posts: 120
Joined: Oct. 27 2009
From: Portland, Oregon USA

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

Hello friends,

I am new to this forum, but not new to Flamenco guitars. I'm glad French polish is alive and well and has many admirers.

I French polish all of my guitars. I find it to be an excellent finish in many ways. It does take time. It is delicate, at least initially, as it takes several months for the finish to fully harden.

On the upside, it is very repairable (as mentioned earlier) as well as low-tech and very low in toxicity. Hands-down the GREENEST finish around.

Below is a snapshot of a flamenco guitar top in German spruce, with maple golpeadores.



Attachment (1)

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 29 2009 23:05:36
 
RobJe

 

Posts: 283
Joined: Dec. 16 2006
From: UK

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

I can conform the difference in sound through another experiment - playing a few FP and lacquered A26s at the Conde Felipe shop a few years ago - about 6 of each. The lacquer imparted a charateristic tone which I did not particularly like. You could tell the finish with your eyes closed. Loudness was more difficult to relate to finish as there was conserable variation between all the guitars. I guess that a busy professional beating up guitars, travelling round a lot and playing through an amplifier with FX might put up with lacquer. I prefer FP although I have a 68 lacqured Ramirez that sounds pretty good.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 30 2009 4:15:25
 
keith

Posts: 888
Joined: Sep. 29 2009
From: Taxachusetts USA

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

Michelob--here are my thoughts about your conde (i use to own one) and stripping a guitar (had a chance to play one a few weeks ago). conde's are a little heavier than a lot of flamenco guitars out there. this might explain the tag line that accompanies them: "built for the heavy hand" (or something to that effect). i suspect when you had the guitar "stripped" a little wood came off as which made your conde sound like a "normal" flamenco guitar. i use to own a conde a-26 and found it a tad heavier than my ramirez flamenco which i bought after i sold the conde. both had pegs.

a couple of weeks ago i had the chance to play a ramirez that had the top stripped and then french polished. the sound was ok but not awesome. the top was pretty fragile as well. i suspect the guitar lost a little when the top was stripped and redone.

i think the general axiom that one should not sand a "real" flamenco guitar is a sound one. sanding a factory guitar is probably ok in that they tend to be a little thicker than one would like and i bet one could improve the sound by doing so. i am happy your experiment was successful--i bet there was a little wood that needed to be taken off and definitely i bet getting rid of the lacquer helped to some degree.

as to the false advertisement at g.s.i....the link i sent you says it all. there was a lot of unsettling opinions, my included, about the wording of their ads.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Oct. 30 2009 7:05:48
 
jlneng

Posts: 118
Joined: Jun. 28 2009
 

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

RobJe,
I have to agree with your comments about a professional playing through a microphone would prefer lacquer. A friend of mine who is a professional flamenco player of some renown made a comment to me after a gig this summer in a very hot room. He said that if he was playing a FP guitar that evening, his white shirt would be a mess and so would his guitar. I think that most of us non-pro's who are used to playing where we want to don't realize that one might have to play in adverse conditions; high humidity and high temps. I have a 2009 Conde with non-FP finish and I am very happy with it. I did not suffer the headache and/or mark-up of dealing with a US distributor, I specified/purchased it while in spain for business and had it shipped to me here. Built for the heavy hand is also an appropriate description that was mentioned earlier. While the action is low, it takes a heavy right hand to get the most out of this guitar. I have acryllic nails courtesy of a talented girl that I see about once a month and they are a perfect match for the conde. I use my hands so much for work and at home building guitars that acryllic is my best option. As for refinishing guitars, I have re-done tops a few times and if done right the amount of wood lost is almost nothing. It might take some time for a spruce top to "normalize" after refinishing, just like a new spruce top takes time to show itself. The hardest part of refinishing the top is dealing with the fingerboard, and the bridge. If the bridge is removed, which is what I would do, it is much easier to do a complete job with minimal wood loss on the top. My 2$
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 9 2009 19:30:53
 
Anders Eliasson

Posts: 5032
Joined: Oct. 18 2006
 

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to jlneng

quote:

a professional flamenco player of some renown made a comment to me after a gig this summer in a very hot room. He said that if he was playing a FP guitar that evening, his white shirt would be a mess and so would his guitar.


Why??????

FP doesnt go of if its hot and humid. Thats one of the worst cases of prejudice I´ve heard for a long time.
The guitar could end up being a mess, but only if the player doesnt stay within the tapplate

RobJe: Your old Ramirez is most probably finished with nitrocellulouse, which is a very good lacquer talking about sound. In fact, I would use Nitro if it wasnt so dangerous. Its highly flameable and very bad for your health. Here in Spain its not in use anymore. They use plastic But Nitro is still used a lot in the US.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 10 2009 1:14:01
 
RobJe

 

Posts: 283
Joined: Dec. 16 2006
From: UK

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to Anders Eliasson

Hi Anders. Yes I think that the Ramirez is nitro - the guitar still sounds as if it made of wood! I read that nitro is used on other acoustic guitars but I didn't know that it was no longer used in Spain. We don't want to kill our luthiers in the EU!

I don't play so much these days as my fingers are in a bit of a mess, but in the past, on warm nights on the stage, the FP on the back of one of my guitars suffered a bit. I have seen old FP guitars with sweat marks on the back and I have one myself (65 Conde) that appears to have been damaged in this way (before I bought it). I have never messed up a shirt with FP from a guitar though!

A guitar should be allowed to have a few battle scars. I have often wondered whether the finish becomes too thick when luthiers refresh FP.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 10 2009 3:36:01
 
jshelton5040

Posts: 1074
Joined: Jan. 18 2005
 

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to Anders Eliasson

quote:

ORIGINAL: Anders Eliasson

FP doesnt go of if its hot and humid. Thats one of the worst cases of prejudice I´ve heard for a long time.
The guitar could end up being a mess, but only if the player doesnt stay within the tapplate


I'm forced to disagree Anders. It's not the heat or humidity, some people have body chemistry that is very hard on FP. I know because I'm one of them. Surely you have seen FP guitars that have turned white where the player's body touched them.

Varnish is even worse, if I lay my hand on varnished wood it turns soft in seconds. If I have the misfortune of sitting in a varnished chair it comes off on my clothes.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 10 2009 7:19:07
 
Anders Eliasson

Posts: 5032
Joined: Oct. 18 2006
 

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

John Shelton, the paint stripper

That sounds a bit tough. How does the varnish on your guitars react to this. As far as I remember, you use Nitro?

No, I havent seen a guitar, being FP or varnish with a white spot where it has been in contact with the player. I have seen guitars without FP or varnish, so it could just be because it was never repaired

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 10 2009 9:15:20
 
Patrick

Posts: 1189
Joined: Jul. 7 2003
From: Portland, Oregon

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

Then again, lacquer can have its problems too. I have owned two DeVoe’s and what ever he uses has some issues. I have always played these guitars with a shirt. On the soundboard where my right arm wrest, a dark area developed on both guitars. Also on one of them a bit of rough, orange peal developed on the side. I could understand the discoloration if skin was in contact, but that wasn’t the case.

I also owned a Tezanos Perez that had a small crack in the lacquer. Pretty hard to fix.

On the other hand, I have played French polished guitars for several years and see no discoloration or thinness in the finish.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 10 2009 10:13:56
 
Peter Tsiorba

Posts: 120
Joined: Oct. 27 2009
From: Portland, Oregon USA

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

quote:


Anders Eliasson wrote:

No, I havent seen a guitar, being FP or varnish with a white spot where it has been in contact with the player.


If the french polish/shellac mixture is not well de-waxed, it will have tendency to cloud and turn milky in contact with moisture or sweat. Shellac itself is not likely to be the problem, but wax content will do that. My darker shades of shellac are usually mixed from button lac, which has plenty of wax in it. After dissolving button lac, and allowing it to settle for a while, the waxy slurry settles to the bottom of the jar. By carefully siphoning-off the upper (transparent) layer of the solution, de-waxed portion is obtained. Blonde shellac is already de-waxed, so this step is not even an issue.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 10 2009 11:26:08
 
TANúñez

Posts: 2531
Joined: Jul. 10 2003
From: TEXAS

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

quote:

I am surprised they did not also suggest that if I bury the guitar a plant would grow yielding gold Spanish coins


gj are you being sarcastic? you know very well that would not be possible. Burying a Conde would only yield a Royal Spanish Cypress tree.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 11 2009 5:10:39
 
jshelton5040

Posts: 1074
Joined: Jan. 18 2005
 

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to Anders Eliasson

quote:

ORIGINAL: Anders Eliasson

That sounds a bit tough. How does the varnish on your guitars react to this. As far as I remember, you use Nitro?


This is one of those differences in language. I think of varnish as the finish on violins. We only use nitrocellulose lacquer which is impervious to my sweat. Fortunately we now have a separate spray room with good ventilation so there are no fumes in the shop. Many years ago a good friend and luthier offered to teach me how to French Polish but he gave up after realizing I am one of those people who can't do it because of my body chemistry. He is now a professional polisher doing refinishing on high end pianos.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 11 2009 6:03:02
 
jlneng

Posts: 118
Joined: Jun. 28 2009
 

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to RobJe

Thank you Anders for your comments, I can only go by what my friend spoke of. As he has been playing professionally for over 40 years, I have much respect for his opinion. FP today maybe quite a different animal than what was used years ago. As I don't own any FP guitars, I cannot comment directly. However, I don't think that if one was soaking wet with sweat dripping on an FP guitar, that it would do either the player or the guitar any good.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 12 2009 17:25:59
 
Tom Blackshear

 

Posts: 1104
Joined: Apr. 15 2008
 

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to jlneng

quote:

ORIGINAL: jlneng

Thank you Anders for your comments, I can only go by what my friend spoke of. As he has been playing professionally for over 40 years, I have much respect for his opinion. FP today maybe quite a different animal than what was used years ago. As I don't own any FP guitars, I cannot comment directly. However, I don't think that if one was soaking wet with sweat dripping on an FP guitar, that it would do either the player or the guitar any good.


I think it's clear that shellac will harden up quite well in about a year and it takes a lot of sweat to damage finish, when the older shallac is well aged.

But when it is new, it is very soft and subject to damage. Eugene Clark in Tacoma is one of the best french polishers I've seen as far as getting a nice color like the old Spanish guitars with Gomo Laca that had the tint already in the flakes, and supplied by the distributor. Now, there is no more tint like that and many builders just use the yellow tint that is supplied from these finish outlets.

And of course, every builder will have his own tint to work with, if he chooses not to use the yellow color.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 13 2009 4:53:20
 
Ricardo

Posts: 8419
Joined: Dec. 14 2004
From: Washington DC

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

Regarding sound differences on a refinish. I assume the tap plate is always replaced with a new different one. This changes the sound significantly in my experience. Just changing the plate changes the sound even if you don't touch the finish.

About "heavy hand" guitars. I feel this is more about the set up, but I am usually impressed by Conde's that when you need to play them really hard, they respond, where as many guitars have more volume and harmonics than a conde but can sound really bad when you drive em hard. Could be related to the "pulsation" anders always talks about too, which I still don't understand as part of guitar construction.

And about FP guitars and sweat. I mean, everyone must have seen those nerds that where socks on the right arm or a cut sweater sleeve, to protect the guitar finish? It can really mess up your guitar's finish. Even lacquer guitars can get messed up. But FP guitars that were sweated on a lot, especially from like old spanish guys, can end up looking bad and smelling worse!!!

I like a guitar that looks like it was played a lot though, I admit.

Ricardo

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 18 2009 20:49:00
 
Anders Eliasson

Posts: 5032
Joined: Oct. 18 2006
 

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to gj Michelob

Your description of the heavy handed guitar, one that doesnt bail out when played hard is typical for a guitar with a high pulsation.

This all sounds good, but a lot of players, also professionals dont like a high pulsation guitar, because its harder to play. You have to have a high pulsation yourself in order to get the full out of a guitar like that. If you dont have that, you cant power the guitar and it sounds dull.

Finding the right balance is IMO the most important thing in constructing a guitar. But on the same time, you cannot make everyone happy, and we the builders have to accept that there are players prefering an instrument that we didn´t build.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 19 2009 2:59:50
 
Tom Blackshear

 

Posts: 1104
Joined: Apr. 15 2008
 

RE: Not all that shines is... French... (in reply to Ricardo

quote:

ORIGINAL: Ricardo

Regarding sound differences on a refinish. I assume the tap plate is always replaced with a new different one. This changes the sound significantly in my experience. Just changing the plate changes the sound even if you don't touch the finish.

About "heavy hand" guitars. I feel this is more about the set up, but I am usually impressed by Conde's that when you need to play them really hard, they respond, where as many guitars have more volume and harmonics than a conde but can sound really bad when you drive em hard. Could be related to the "pulsation" anders always talks about too, which I still don't understand as part of guitar construction.

And about FP guitars and sweat. I mean, everyone must have seen those nerds that where socks on the right arm or a cut sweater sleeve, to protect the guitar finish? It can really mess up your guitar's finish. Even lacquer guitars can get messed up. But FP guitars that were sweated on a lot, especially from like old spanish guys, can end up looking bad and smelling worse!!!

I like a guitar that looks like it was played a lot though, I admit.

Ricardo


The newer Condes have good articulation, and it is due to the newer designs they switched to since the late 60's. I approve of the way they play but like all things new they can have some downside depending on who actually builds the guitar.

I've noticed that their newer design comes fairly close to the old Gerundino design. The two high braces on either side of the middle seem to be the balance for the over all playing technique and if they are tuned right, then everything else seems to work right.

I just finished up a flamenco negra and thought that I was going to have some trouble with the articulation and sound, that was too active, but when I installed the tap plate, everything came into focus. The tap plate has a lot to do with adjusting sound. The guitar has a good operating value that I hoped for but didn't know until the plate was installed. I realize this is the way it works but I still get a little paranoid until it happens.

The french polish always takes me a long time to finish out, as I like to see it fairly smooth on the suface without a lot of shrinkage. Aside from warm lights and a little fan blowing across the work, I don't know of a faster way to accomplaish a solid finish in less that 2 months.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 19 2009 3:33:10
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