French Polished Shellac

“French Polish” is the finish most often found on hand-built classical guitars.  French polish is a process, a combination of shellac and how it is applied to the guitar.  It is not a product that you can buy at a hardware store.  My purpose here is not to go into depth about the process, but to explain a few properties of this type of finish to those not familiar with it.

First, briefly consider other finishes.  A lot of “factory guitars” are finished with Nitrocellulose lacquer or Polyurethane that are sprayed onto guitars.  Those finishes can be pretty thick and tough and look glassy and glossy.  These finishes look good when new and are resistant alcohol, but they are not the best for sound (or in this beholder’s eye, beauty).   While anything is possible, these finishes are not easy to repair.

My guitars are French polished.  They sound better that way.  Also, I don’t have to have expensive specialize equipment to spray and to protect me from lacquer or poly, although I have brushed on lacquer once (enough).   I find lacquer very unpleasant to apply and during the drying/curing period!

  French polish is a “Spirit Varnish”.  The ingredients are shellac, alcohol, and some oil. Non-toxic and even edible ingredients! 

A carefully applied French polish finish is attractive, transparent, thin, and light.  Because of these attributes, French polish finish is much easier to scratch or dent.    Expect some dings and scratches.  You can minimize those by learning to handle guitars carefully and with respect.  If you touch the top with your nails, you can expect some scratches and dings.  We all do it, but we can learn to do it less often!  Some great players have guitars that look like they have been played hard, and others look immaculate after years of playing.  The first mark can be upsetting, (nobody knows this better than the luthier that applied the finish) but usually no real harm is done.

Sometimes people’s sweat, skin oils, and body heat (!) can mar the finish.  This is dependent upon individual’s body chemistry and habits.  The finish sometimes dissolves where the guitar touches the player’s chest or right arm.  This only happens to certain people who practice for hours on end.  Sometimes you might see players put a cloth between the guitar and their body, or wear a sleeve on their right arm to protect the finish where the guitar touches their body.

Heat is another enemy of French polished shellac.  Don’t leave your guitar in the sun, or in your car’s trunk on a hot day!  Don’t leave it right next to a heater!  The reasons go beyond damage to shellac.  I think I should make a post about threats to guitars in the near future…

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Carina Nebula – New Guitar

This is a guitar I built for Valerie in Vancouver. Dark cedar, dark East Indian rosewood. She studies with Stanton Jack in Vancouver.

This guitar: It’s great in so many ways. Some new pictures of the Carina Nebula by the new space telescope remind me of the rosette. Cosmic!

Posted in bridge, cedar, inlay, Rosette, sides, top, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

On the bench – 640 Cedar

640 Cedar top (5 fan bar bracing I’ve been using on cedar for a few years).
Movingui back and sides. Body is my “Bebe” style. Just a bit smaller my typical full size, but not as small as my Torres FE 05. Very comfortable to hold.

My usual nut is 52 with string spacing of 43. At saddle 58, but I might go a but wider at the saddle.

Cedar 640 is not particularly rare for me. It’s my preferred scale length and has been for about 25 years!

I’ve been using Movingui for about 4 years, but this is the first time using the “Ribbon” grain figure.

This is a spec guitar, but it’s specs are such that I would like it! Probably will be strung up late July, and I plan to take it to California for a show in Sept.

I’m not sure yet about case and tuner options.

What do Cedar and Movingui sound like with this bracing? Here is just an example. Well my recent post has a nice example.

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Bolero (Arcas)

A simple hypnotic tune…

Not easy to play flawlessly, but William Bajzek makes it look easy. Besides enjoying classical guitar (and playing celtic flute) William likes to build electronic stuff. I like to build wooden stuff (guitars) and this is a beautiful cedar top with movingui back and sides.

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Left-handed complement?

I made a custom guitar for Jake Carlon in Pullman WA. Jake came to Blaine last summer to meet me and look at my shop and some of my woods. He expressed a couple of preferences then. First and most important, he plays lefty. Second, he wanted a Torres FE5 body. Third, he loved the Movingui that I had for back and sides. So I made him a guitar. He is a rare player in that he plays guitar with the strings reversed – Left Handed. Most guitars are optimized for fretting with the left hand and plucking with the right hand (right handed). Setting up a guitar for a lefty player enables them to play easily and in tune. Here’s what Jake wrote about his new guitar.

After spending some time for a few days with "Luz" I have to say this is incredible. This is one of the finest instruments I've ever owned/ played.
The Movingui looks absolutely stunning and goes so well with the Spruce, very handsome pairing. Overall aestetics are really tasteful and fun. The dark purfling and rosette is a wonderful contrast to the light color of the main body.

The tone is waking up more and more every time I go to play it and I can hear the harmonics and fundamental so clearly and the overall sound is incredibly clear. The whole register has a nice bold voice, and the top end really sparkles and doesn't become muted like other guitars sometimes do in the extremes of the registers. In comparison, my Cordoba sounds and feels so muddy and clumsy (guess that's what you get for buying a low end factory-made classical). 

Playability is perfect. Action is right and the slightly larger frets really make fretting and vibrato easier than the smaller standard frets. The smaller body size of the instrument is also great, easier to rest my arm on while playing and I don't feel like I'm losing circulation.

You definitely made a lot of my colleagues jealous when I brought it to school earlier lol. 
I want to say thank you for such incredible work and for making a real piece of art. I'm very glad I chose you to realize my new instrument.

I made a short video with pictures of Luz, played by Jake… He also wrote the tune!

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The passing of Jose Luis Romanillos

I met Jose Romanillos in 1996 at a meeting of the Guild of American Luthiers in Tacoma. I was immediately intrigued with his approach to making guitars. In particular, the way he worked the top with a wooden plane, and measured flexibility with his hands. His process of assembling pieces of the guitar was distinctly different from any other that I knew of. He was sure about what he believed about guitars, but he recognized that there were other valid approaches… just not for him.

In 2004 I jumped at the chance to build a guitar in Spain with Jose, his son Liam, and Gerhard Oldiges. I learned a lot in the Romanillos workshop, and the model based on Jose’s design has become one of several designs I build. The Romanillos design is sort of a “touchstone”, a reliable base to which I return, often interspersed with trying some new fangled approach. 🙂

I have a picture of myself with Jose, but I like the following one. It shows a person who was gentle and enjoying and sharing their work. My sincere condolences are with his family and friends.

Jose having a laugh

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Blast from the past… 8 string guitar offered – used

I get emails from Elderly Instruments in Lansing Michigan. They have a guitar which I built a while ago. Here’s a screen dump of a part of the listing.

You can find more information about the instrument at the link below.

This was the first guitar with 8 strings I made. April 1997 according to my records. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this guitar. It looks to be in pretty good condition. I cannot resist noting this elderly instrument (25 years old) is at Elderly Instruments. !

But the action looks perfect, the finish looks good. The top shows some playing wear, but there is thin golpeador on the top that protects it.

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Support your local guitar support

I regularly visit a guitar bulletin board: the Delcamp Classical Guitar forum .

Another member of the forum, Amy Gaudia, has made a guitar support that is getting great reviews. It’s called Amy’s Handmade Guitar Support. (Click the link!)

I’m plugging Amy’s device for fun. She’s a guitar lover who has made a neat thingamajig.

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I don’t have popup windows…

I hope that’s true. If you ever see them on my blog, please let me know.

When I visit websites nowadays I’m immediately bombarded with a popup window, asking me if I want to subscribe, or be notified of every update, or follow, etc. I just want to get to the content. The popups are annoying. I frankly do not care if there are enough people to ‘monetize’ the website. I don’t take ads from other businesses.

I figure, you came here out of an interest in guitars, or building, or to investigate what I do or what I build. Possibly you might be interested to do business with me. Maybe buy a guitar, or have one made.

Part of the reason I do the blog is just for myself. The blog is a way to represent, to myself, what I do. What my efforts are about; music and guitars. It’s an active way of sharing. I do plenty of receptive sharing too…

If you find any of what appears on the blog interesting or helpful, I welcome you. Without popups or annoying requests for personal information.


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Rich Rorex visit and video

Rich and his friend Karen Ruth Foster Erickson, came to visit the workshop this fall. She is a videographer, so…

I’m the guy who talks a lot. 🙂

Find Rich Rorex at

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