French Polish...

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments

French Polish...

Post by RJMailloux » Sun Nov 12, 2006 5:47 pm

As a classical guitar novice...I understand the term
"French Polish" applies to the type of finish applied
to a guitar...Could someone elaborate as to the
materials...and techniques used to finish a new
classical guitar. Thanks RJM


Post by Azalais » Sun Nov 12, 2006 8:02 pm

Pepe Vergara

Re: French Polish...

Post by Pepe Vergara » Sun Nov 12, 2006 8:21 pm

RJMailloux wrote: ... I understand the term "French Polish" applies to the type of finish applied to a guitar...
French polish is not a type of finish. It is a technique on how to apply shellac (a natural resin derived from the Lac bug cocoons) to a surface. The finish type is called shellac (or goma laca in Spain and Mexico).

There are many ways to apply this shellac. One of those is French polish. After filling the pores and sealing the wood (pores filled with pumice and sealing with a lower concentration of dissolved shellac), shellac previously dissolved in alcohol (pure ethanol) is rubbed with a muneca (a little ball made of cotton with probably wool inside to absorve and retain the shellac). Oil (preferable olive oil) is used to help move the muneca around. There are several steps to it. The process is simple, but hard to do well until you have gained some experience.

One of the main troublesome results is uneven surfaces. That is the reason a very fine grit sandpaper (wet-dry 600 or higher) must be used between (one or several) layers to make sure the surface is even. Shellac is not the greatest finish to provide strenght or protection against dings, bumps, water, or so. It protects way less than lacquer. However, many people says that it keeps the sound unaffected. With the advent of new lacquers, it seems that that could be no longer the case. The Milburn tutorial is the effort of several people to provide a uniform way of doing French polish. I learned a different way. However, since I learned about it, I have used it with excellent results.


Post by Azalais » Sun Nov 12, 2006 9:37 pm

I agree with pepe... there are many ways to do it, and it also depends on the weather and the materials at hand. In many ways it is like baking bread... you probably need to use a recipe the first few times you do it, and after that you develop your own feel and deftness, your own ingredient list and your own technique... and most importantly... you learn how to recover from your mistakes :wink: (It also takes a lot more upper arm strength and stamina than I had anticipated!)

Pepe Vergara

Post by Pepe Vergara » Mon Nov 13, 2006 1:42 am

Azalais wrote: ... It also takes a lot more upper arm strength and stamina than I had anticipated!

Agree!!!. One thing that I had to learn to live with is my long right-hand firgernails. At the beginning and part of my learning curve was to avoid scratches with my fingernail, especially after having the guitar almost done. I finally learned how to do it without harm: Very Carefully!! (meaning, more time devoted to FR). That is one of the reasons, I started finishing my guitars with lacquer, leaving FP for those very rare special cases.
Last edited by Pepe Vergara on Mon Nov 13, 2006 2:36 am, edited 1 time in total.


Post by Azalais » Mon Nov 13, 2006 2:14 am

part of my learning curve was to avoid scratches with my fingernail, especially after having the guitar almost done.
:cry: oh, yes... been there, done that too! even digging your nails into a bigger muneca it always seems to happen at least once!


French Polish..

Post by RJMailloux » Mon Nov 13, 2006 1:57 pm

Thank you both...a very informative response...
much appreciated. The use of olive oil was
particularly interesting.


French Polish Article

Post by pham » Fri Nov 17, 2006 4:20 am


re: French Polish

Post by qallunaaq » Wed Nov 22, 2006 8:00 am

... while waiting for supplies to arrive so I can learn to FPolish, following A.'s advice, I'm still looking for Q&D (quick and dirty) ways of repairing/hiding a few nail scratches on the sounboard.

Care to share tips/secrets/experiences or more web sites?


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James Lister
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Post by James Lister » Wed Nov 22, 2006 10:09 am

Glad to know I'm not the only one with the long nails/French polishing problem. I've even considered learning to polish left handed (slightly easier than learning to play guitar left handed!).


Post by sandinojones » Wed Nov 22, 2006 8:53 pm

Hey Pepe...

I was reading your site last night (awesome stuff... I love your work) and saw pictures on your trip to Granada where you stated that ,modern Spanish makers are eschewing F. polish in favor of newer laquers. Is this a new development and are the results good enough where we will see more and more guitars finished this way and fewer with F. polish?


Pepe Vergara

Post by Pepe Vergara » Wed Nov 22, 2006 9:16 pm

One of the things happening in Spain is that unlike in the past, the children of the luthirs are not interested in guitarmaking. So, they go into other things. The family tradition of passing the baton to the son is not happening. If you ask me, I think the children are seeing other opportunites that pay better. Luthier job is not rewarding unless you have the luck of having a prominent player play your instruments. So, Granada for example is now being changing in the lutherie world. At least two couple of luthiers from Canada and the UK are now living in Granada and making guitars there. In few years, this humble guitarmaker will also be moving to Granada. I refuse to let the tradition die. Regarding the finish, for many years now, many luthiers (even soem of the ones that work alone) do not do French polish. They contract that to another person. So, in Granada, there are few people who only do French polish for other luthiers. There are also people with shops for finishing only. So, it is easier and cheaper to send the guitar out for finishing once it is ready for it. With the advent of new lacquers tht are applied very thinly, the difference in sound may be reducing when compared to FP. Lacquer also offers more protection than FP for other aspect. My thought is, yes. Lacquer will become more and more standard, and FP will be offered in special cases for a higher price.


Post by sandinojones » Wed Nov 29, 2006 9:24 pm


Do the newer laquers/techniques involve nitrocellulouse?

When you finish with laquer do you buff by hand in your shop or a machine?


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