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britguy

Posts: 712
Joined: Dec. 26 2010
From: Ontario, Canada

Is French Polish more fragile??? 

This may be a luthier issue, but I thought I'd try here first:

I have a couple of quality luthier-built guitars with French Polish finish. They are both only about one year old from new. Both of them have a fair number of signficant markings in the finish, almost as if they were much older, harder used guitars. In particular that little strip of face area alongside the fingerboard on the bass side, which looks like it has hardly any finish left! And I dont have a long thumbnail. . .

I try to take good care of my guitars, and do not bang them around, or leave them in places where they might get damaged. Why are these two showing so much wear after less than a years use??? Is French Polish less durable than other finishes. And can they be 'refinished' at some future date, if it gets much worse?

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 18 2011 20:59:15
 
Gimar Yestra

 

Posts: 298
Joined: Jan. 19 2011
From: The Netherlands

RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to britguy

shellack finishes are much thinner and less hard than modern finishes, so they wear quicker, they are also less resistant to water, and I assume also to sweat etc

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 18 2011 21:30:31
 
GuitarVlog

Posts: 441
Joined: Mar. 19 2009
From: San Francisco Bay Area

RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to britguy

I'll let our luthiers fill you in on the details but, yes, French Polish is more fragile.

The good news is that:

  • It is still the best finish for optimal tone.
  • It is the easiest finish to repair or touch-up and you can learn how to do it yourself.



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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 18 2011 21:56:42
 
Anders Eliasson

Posts: 5780
Joined: Oct. 18 2006
 

RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to britguy

Yes, FP is more fragile. Thats why they started using other things and ended up with polyurethane which is very good for glassfibre boats but not so good for instruments.

If you wear the guitar alongside the fingerboard, its a sign that shows you to tighten up your right hand tecnique if the guitar is being used for flamenco.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 8:10:12
 
elbabilonio

 

Posts: 27
Joined: Jul. 26 2011
From: Doha, Qatar

RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to britguy

French polish is indeed fragile. My guitar that was used for only a few months showed signs of wear due to heat contact. You just can't do anything but take it to a luthier to put another coat on it (or at least that what I was told). I have since sold that guitar and got another one with micro thin laquer finish. I have to say that the thin laquer is a good alternative as it is still light yet sturdy enough to resist wear! For some reason, I have only seen that finish used by Canadian luthiers. The Quebec-based La Patrie use it for their classical guitars, I think.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 9:11:17
 
jshelton5040

Posts: 1500
Joined: Jan. 17 2005
 

RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to GuitarVlog

quote:

ORIGINAL: GuitarVlog

  • It is still the best finish for optimal tone.
  • It is the easiest finish to repair or touch-up and you can learn how to do it yourself.

  • Both of these statements are disputable. This subject has been argued endlessly by luthiers to no resolution. Many reputable luthiers believe that nitrocellulose lacquer is the best finish.

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 14:06:02
     
    Patrick

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

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to britguy

    Bottom line is, how are you ever going to know which is best? It’s impossible to build two identical guitars two compare the difference. Lester DeVoe has said many times, he can’t tell the difference between the two tone wise and sticks to lacquer. Robert Ruck uses lacquer on his flamencos. Ramirez has used it for years. And as far as thinness, a well applied lacquer can be just as thin as French polish if not thinner.

    As for repair, I don’t buy the argument that French polish is easier, in fact in some cases, lacquer is superior. Get a big deep ding in French polish and see how easy it is to repair…it ain’t. Deep dings in lacquer can be drop filled that if done right are invisable.

    I have a DeVoe that was getting pretty rough. It had capo marks, a discolored area on the face, orange peel, and a few deep dings. It was looking well used (as it was). I had a guy in Portland refurbish the whole guitar for under $250 and it looks virtually brand new.

    I don’t have anything against French polish; in fact I have owned several guitars that had it, but some of the best I have owned were (are) lacquer.

    One reason you see a lot of guys use French polish is lacquer is nasty stuff to use if you are not set up for it. Neither is better than the other, just different.
      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 17:01:21
     
    Ruphus

    Posts: 3782
    Joined: Nov. 18 2010
     

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to Patrick

    quote:

    ORIGINAL: Patrick

    One reason you see a lot of guys use French polish is lacquer is nasty stuff to use if you are not set up for it.


    Setting up a chamber with suck off to avoid cancerogene Nitro fumes seems no small dime, indeed. However, most of demanded luthiers should earn enough to afford it.


    quote:

    ORIGINAL: Patrick

    I had a guy in Portland refurbish the whole guitar for under $250 and it looks virtually brand new.


    That sounds like reasonable to me.
    I had a lofty German luthier who thought me stupid enough to shell out some 800 € or so, for only redoing a top.
    I didn´t thank him for the offer.

    Ruphus
      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 17:23:26
     
    keith

    Posts: 1108
    Joined: Sep. 29 2009
    From: Back in Boston

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to Anders Eliasson

    Anders, actually polyurethane would not be the "liquid" of choice for fiberglass (e type, s type and mat), nylon, kevlar or other laminate clothes (such as spectre). The "liquid" of choice for lamination (say for boats) would be polyester, vinylester or epoxy (resins and catalysts). Polyester is the cheapest and most brittle and epoxy is the more expensive and more flexible (needed when impacts occur).
      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 17:36:41
     
    jshelton5040

    Posts: 1500
    Joined: Jan. 17 2005
     

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to Ruphus

    quote:

    ORIGINAL: Ruphus

    Setting up a chamber with suck off to avoid cancerogene Nitro fumes seems no small dime, indeed. However, most of demanded luthiers should earn enough to afford it.

    Ruphus

    There's a good deal more to it than just "sucking off the air". Incoming air needs to be filtered and the room needs to be spotless with halogen flood lights. The compresser(s) need to be outside the spray room so you need remote switching. Not to mention air line filters and water extractor, repirators, lacquer and thinner storage and hangers for the wet instruments. You don't want to bring the smelly things back into the work shop for at least 12-14 hurs.

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 18:31:12
     
    estebanana

    Posts: 9396
    Joined: Oct. 16 2009
     

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to britguy

    Lacquer on the body and neck with French polished top is a nice way to go.

    The deal with finishes is that they have a damping effect on the wood. It's not a such a big difference between thin lacquer and French polish. Lacquer is a bit more brittle and it provides a slightly different damping than Shellac. It can be a bit tighter.

    What you really want to avoid are thick finishes which to too much damping to the guitar not just the top but the whole thing. Cheaper plastic based finishes often get applied really thick and they do contribute to less than optimum resonance of the body a top. The good thing is that anyone with the good sense to build a fine guitar won't put a heavy finish on the guitar, which means a guitar caked with plastic finish is usually not well built to begin with so it does not matter.

    You can also have your shellac finished guitars stripped and sprayed with lacquer and as long as the coats are thin the guitar will not change much if at all. What damages guitars during the refinishing process is when someone thins the top by employing poor stripping and sanding technique. Or when someone in earnest tried to sand out deep marks or gouges and changes the original dimensions of the top.
    If the guitar has deep marks, cracks or chunks missing there's a limit to how much a refinisher can do to effect a pristine job, (unless in some cases you want to pay top dollar for restoration work).

    I've seen some nice old Conde's that have been mauled by refinishers and the tops worked too thin, so beware who you have to the work. That said it's probably easier to have a shellac finish repaired every few years by a skilled guitar maker. And in the end mars on a flamenco guitar are part of the game.

    Mileage varies, some players really dig in and some don't. If the new guitar is getting an excess of marks I would look at my technique before having the guitar worked on. When I began playing I was sloppy with the right hand and I marked the guitar like crazy. After refining how I play over 15 years I've come to the point where I am a neat right hand player and I don't mess up the face of the guitar as a result of playing, my playing is also better. You can play good flamenco without ever touching the top especially if you're not in a cuadro situation. Usually the hardest worn guitars are working guitars in cuadros, but that said you can also play in cuadro and not do gratuitous damage to the guitar. It's all about right hand technique.

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 19:24:39
     
    Richard Jernigan

    Posts: 3435
    Joined: Jan. 20 2004
    From: Austin, Texas USA

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to estebanana

    quote:

    ORIGINAL: estebanana
    You can play good flamenco without ever touching the top especially if you're not in a cuadro situation.


    ¿Golpes?

    RNJ
      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 20:21:45
     
    britguy

    Posts: 712
    Joined: Dec. 26 2010
    From: Ontario, Canada

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to estebanana

    Many thanks for some very informative responses.

    I've learned a lot. Among other things, I should seriously look at cleaning up my playing technique(s).

    (Not that I didn't already know that. . . )

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 20:26:09
     
    gbv1158

     

    Posts: 410
    Joined: May 29 2009
    From: Italy

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to britguy

    as a friend of mine sayes ( he is a guitar teacher), French polish gives sounds with a perfect combination of "timbre" and "color" wich the best lacquer finish still would tend to "vitrify".

    I believe that light scratches and small dents are accepted, as long are not sign of hands technique to improve!; also must never forget that the heat of the right arm can dull the resting surface, but this can be avoided using a soft insulating small cloth.

    ciao,
    giambattista
      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 20:31:33
     
    estebanana

    Posts: 9396
    Joined: Oct. 16 2009
     

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to Richard Jernigan

    quote:


    ¿Golpes?


    Without touching the top very much outside the tap plate.

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 20:37:40
     
    Andy Culpepper

    Posts: 3026
    Joined: Mar. 30 2009
    From: NY, USA

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to britguy

    Hey britguy,
    There is a product from Australia called "Hard Shellac". You French polish with it exactly like regular shellac but it contains additives that cause it to harden up after 2-3 weeks and become very durable. You can create a very thin finish with it like traditional FP but it works really well for people who strip shellac off guitars with their sweat, and it's more resistant to scratches and dings.
    I'm offering it as an option now because I work in a small shop that's not set up to do lacquer.

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 20:40:24
     
    estebanana

    Posts: 9396
    Joined: Oct. 16 2009
     

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to britguy

    Britguy,
    I'm just saying if you spend money to have work done, scratches could happen again rapidly unless you figure out what part of your hand movement is causing it. Then your money would be not well spent.

    You probably also know this, but for the benefit of others, look at players with a big sound, but very little right hand movement. Many Spanish players are like that. The circle can get ever smaller and still be effective. Also golpe's get more accurate and musical when you really scrutinize where you are placing them on the top and when.

    Of course there are those players who just go for it and don't care how the guitar gets marked. On your guitar it's your choice, it's valid both ways. Only thing is don't play hard and wide then expect someone to work miracles to clean up after it.

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 20:46:45
     
    estebanana

    Posts: 9396
    Joined: Oct. 16 2009
     

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to Andy Culpepper

    quote:

    There is a product from Australia called "Hard Shellac".


    I'm actually finishing my guitars with a secret mixture of my own saliva and kangaroo excrement. And it cross links after one week. Costs extra.

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 20:49:29
     
    Richard Jernigan

    Posts: 3435
    Joined: Jan. 20 2004
    From: Austin, Texas USA

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to estebanana

    quote:

    ORIGINAL: estebanana

    quote:


    ¿Golpes?


    Without touching the top very much outside the tap plate.

    ...thought that was probably what you meant.

    RNJ
      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 20:50:40
     
    estebanana

    Posts: 9396
    Joined: Oct. 16 2009
     

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to gbv1158

    quote:

    as a friend of mine sayes ( he is a guitar teacher), French polish gives sounds with a perfect combination of "timbre" and "color" wich the best lacquer finish still would tend to "vitrify".


    This is really interesting, because I've heard Michael Thames say pretty much the same thing, but he said the vitrifing quality was not pejoritive, but actually a thing he looks for.

    Damping is the enemy not whether a finish effects the sound one way or another. Personally I'm not refined enough to hear between well applied lacquer and French polish because there are so many other factors on guitars that get in the way of straight up comparisons. I think a lot of people imagine they hear a difference, but no two guitars are identical and a perfect controlled comparison is darned near impossible.

    Thames' statement was about how he generally thought there was a difference between lacquer and shellac; Lacquer created tighter film on the guitar a "loose" sounding guitar would benefit from a tighter wrap of finish. But I still think the re can be sound color or quality to each finish, but it's really really subtle. I think high damping finishes in the end are the problem not shellac vs. lacquer.

    When you hear an anecdote like Thames' you can't take it as gospel or fact. What you can do is tuck it away in your memory and keep listening over time an make up your own mind. I think we to often take things we hear about guitars and consider them fact, when it's really a perception of another person. Perceptions should be shared and talked about, but not taken as the only pure truth.

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 20:58:54
     
    estebanana

    Posts: 9396
    Joined: Oct. 16 2009
     

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to Richard Jernigan

    quote:

    Without touching the top very much outside the tap plate.


    ...thought that was probably what you meant.

    RNJ


    Are you a wide wrist movement pounder or a small circle player? Or a combo of both? How do you feel about marks on your guitars? Differently on your classicals than your flamencos?

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 21:05:43
     
    Andy Culpepper

    Posts: 3026
    Joined: Mar. 30 2009
    From: NY, USA

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to britguy

    Putting any finish on the guitar causes damping, but IMO french polish does it in a good way. I haven't played a guitar without finish and then put lacquer on it so I can't say how lacquer affects the sound. But I do think my guitars sound better after finish (FP)
    My understanding is that some instruments like violins need more damping to sound good, so a penetrating oil varnish is a good thing.
    It could be that different guitars need more, less, or different kinds of damping.

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 21:26:29
     
    Richard Jernigan

    Posts: 3435
    Joined: Jan. 20 2004
    From: Austin, Texas USA

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to estebanana

    quote:

    ORIGINAL: estebanana

    Are you a wide wrist movement pounder or a small circle player? Or a combo of both? How do you feel about marks on your guitars? Differently on your classicals than your flamencos?


    There aren't any marks at all on my Arcangel, though I've had it for 11 years. The only marks on my '67 Ramirez blanca are from handling and accidentally contacting hard objects. I've had it since it was new. It went to quite a few parties in its youth. The cedar top is pretty soft, the polyurethane lacquer thinned out considerably and got a lot stiffer as it cured over the first several years.

    That said, the wrist rotates considerably in some rasgueados playing flamenco. Flamenco pulgar is done from a different position than arpegio and picado. My right hand and arm movements aren't as radical as Paco's, but they do move. Playing classical I come fairly close to the "quiet right hand", with arpeggio, pulgar, tirando and apoyando played from the same position--lots of scale practice years ago.

    Among others, I visited Arturo Huipe in Paracho in December 2006. He had at least a couple dozen unfinished guitars hanging in a humidity controlled room, and a few finished ones. He showed me two cedar/cocobolo classicals with Fleta plantilla and bracing. One was nitrocellulose, the other french polished. They looked exactly the same. The woods, top, back and sides, could have been successive boards from the same logs. Huipe said that as far as he was concerned, the finish was the only difference.

    I didn't look very carefully at the nitrocellulose guitar, because after playing it for a few minutes, it didn't interest me at all. I ended up buying the french polished guitar. The french polish is fairly thick and glossy, but it is french polish, as I can tell from a little cloudiness on the back after playing it for a couple of hours in the summertime. The cloudiness goes away after the guitar is wiped down and it rests in the case overnight.

    I think the french polished guitar was a bargain at $1,500. I'd say it's on the borderline between a high end student guitar and a concert guitar. It's very well made, plenty loud, good intonation and setup, no serious dead spots, open right up to the 19th fret, but not as wide a tonal range as my best classicals.

    The nitrocellulose guitar was a couple hundred bucks less, but definitely not interesting to me. It was not nearly as loud as the french polished one, and generally seemed dead. Maybe too much lacquer--as I said, I didn't look very closely.

    RNJ
      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 19 2011 22:34:15
     
    britguy

    Posts: 712
    Joined: Dec. 26 2010
    From: Ontario, Canada

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to estebanana

    quote:

    I'm actually finishing my guitars with a secret mixture of my own saliva and kangaroo excrement. And it cross links after one week. Costs extra.


    Wow Stephen! That might be just the ticket!

    (Don't mix it in your mouth I hope???)

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 20 2011 12:50:16
     
    gbv1158

     

    Posts: 410
    Joined: May 29 2009
    From: Italy

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to estebanana

    quote:

    I think a lot of people imagine they hear a difference, but no two guitars are identical


    true, but lacquer still acts as a stiffening of wood (however, as an additional membrane) with effect on its acoustics.... in other words the sound loses its "naturalness"

    ciao,
    giambattista
      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 20 2011 13:48:19
     
    Ruphus

    Posts: 3782
    Joined: Nov. 18 2010
     

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to jshelton5040

    quote:

    ORIGINAL: jshelton5040

    There's a good deal more to it than just "sucking off the air". Incoming air needs to be filtered and the room needs to be spotless with halogen flood lights. The compresser(s) need to be outside the spray room so you need remote switching. Not to mention air line filters and water extractor, repirators, lacquer and thinner storage and hangers for the wet instruments. You don't want to bring the smelly things back into the work shop for at least 12-14 hurs.


    Always good to learn about details.
    Thank you, John!

    Ruphus
      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 20 2011 14:26:46
     
    Ruphus

    Posts: 3782
    Joined: Nov. 18 2010
     

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to britguy

    Of the subtle factors that must be influential on a guitars characteristics, I like most believe that finish matters.

    Then again, provided that slightest differences of the finish like thickness and consistency will matter, I wonder long since how come tap plates are being glewed onto the sensible structure so naturally?

    With the idea of finish properties mattering so much, glewing on a relatively thick piece of plastic should be strangling savage, unless its attributes were counted in beforehand by the means of some magic formula, or so.
    Just saying.

    Ruphus
      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 20 2011 14:55:33
     
    Anders Eliasson

    Posts: 5780
    Joined: Oct. 18 2006
     

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to keith

    quote:

    Anders, actually polyurethane would not be the "liquid" of choice for fiberglass (e type, s type and mat), nylon, kevlar or other laminate clothes (such as spectre). The "liquid" of choice for lamination (say for boats) would be polyester, vinylester or epoxy (resins and catalysts). Polyester is the cheapest and most brittle and epoxy is the more expensive and more flexible (needed when impacts occur).


    I talk about finishing glassfibre, not laminating it. Epoxy and Polyester are not resistent to the sun and you need to cover it with something like gelcoat or polyurethane.

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 20 2011 17:17:30
     
    Anders Eliasson

    Posts: 5780
    Joined: Oct. 18 2006
     

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to estebanana

    quote:



    quote:

    There is a product from Australia called "Hard Shellac".



    I'm actually finishing my guitars with a secret mixture of my own saliva and kangaroo excrement. And it cross links after one week. Costs extra.


    Yes and I´m using a very special spanish product called gomalaca just like the old masters... It costs extra of course
    (its an insider joke)

    I have nothing against a good nitro finish, but I dont like working with it.... So here you get French polish.

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      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 20 2011 17:21:32
     
    Patrick

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

    RE: Is French Polish more fragile??? (in reply to britguy

    quote:

    in other words the sound loses its "naturalness"


    How in the world can you prove that? You can't

    Vicente and Paco don’t seem to mind when they play their lacquer DeVoe’s.
      REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Dec. 21 2011 20:32:49
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