Construction - Finishing 3

In conclusion, I thought it might be worthwhile to summarize my experience with different types of finishes.  Please take these comments with a grain of salt. Others surely have more experience and knowledge than I.

Nitrocellulose Lacquer – Finishes applied from 1975-1980 were primarily lacquer.  Though easy to use and very forgiving, the medium didn’t necessarily produce the warm look and feel of a vintage instrument.  Instruments would often sound open strung up in the white, but seemed a bit constrained once the lacquer was applied.  Granted, the effect was temporary as instruments were played and subsequently came into their own.

Oil-Based Alkyd-Resin Varnish – From 1980-1990 I used oil varnishes made with alkyd resins. Todd Phillips, who’d grown up in the wood finishing business, recommended several products.  Moving to oil varnishes during this time was largely a matter of necessity, as I had no access to spray equipment and came to rely on brushing.

Alkyd resins are polymeric chemical structures derived from various sources (often referred to as synthetic resins). I recall reading somewhere that Gibson used this type of varnish on instruments produced in the early 20th century. If true, the fact is not surprising.  Alkyd resins were cutting-edge technology back then. Henry Ford used them on his early automobiles.

Today, alkyd resins are part of nearly all oil-based paints and varnishes. Not being a scientist or chemist, I can only conjecture on how these products might be suitable for present-day Luthiers, though my experience was fairly positive.

Oil-Based Natural-Resin Varnish – Numerous violin supply houses provide these formulations, though they can be fairly pricey. I’ve never been brave enough to heat oil solvents to temperatures required to melt some of the resins used.

Spirit-Based Natural-Resin Varnish – As previously mentioned, this is the type of finish I currently use, and I’m very pleased with the result.