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Thread: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

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    Registered User jtsc's Avatar
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    Default lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    I play mando but don't build and don't know the first thing about the magic of lutherie. I'm wondering if there's a way to tell the difference between a lacquer finish, varnish finish or french polish finish. Any thoughts?

    thx,
    Doug

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    You can test with solvents (in inconspicuous places, like under a tuner plate).
    Can you tell by looks or sound? Not really, at least not always.

  3. #3

    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Quote Originally Posted by jtsc View Post
    I play mando but don't build and don't know the first thing about the magic of lutherie. I'm wondering if there's a way to tell the difference between a lacquer finish, varnish finish or french polish finish. Any thoughts?

    thx,
    Doug

    To test for one of the three mentioned you should use solvents as mentioned by Sunburst. Acetone or lacquer thinner will melt out nitro, alcohol will melt shellack and varnishes won't melt easily with either. Plastic finishes are impervious to solvents so they are out for that but by a process of elimination one can usually tell one of those three..

    Dave

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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Bucher View Post
    To test for one of the three mentioned you should use solvents as mentioned by Sunburst. Acetone or lacquer thinner will melt out nitro, alcohol will melt shellack and varnishes won't melt easily with either. Plastic finishes are impervious to solvents so they are out for that but by a process of elimination one can usually tell one of those three.
    This is simply wrong—acetone will attack lacquer, varnish and shellac, very quickly. Applying just that one solvent is scarcely a process of elimination that will help ID a finish. A safer initial approach to identifying a finish would be to cite the particular instrument you're thinking about and ask people with more experience what it is. Often you can solve the question that way, before risking damaging the finish with solvents.
    .
    ph

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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    What about a black light to determine varnish or no?
    Dusty Oliver

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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    [QUOTE=Paul Hostetter;909043]This is simply wrong—acetone will attack lacquer, varnish and shellac, very quickly. Applying just that one solvent is scarcely a process of elimination that will help ID a finish. A safer initial approach to identifying a finish would be to cite the particular instrument you're thinking about and ask people with more experience what it is. Often you can solve the question that way, before risking damaging the finish with solvents.[/QUOTE


    Well its how I do it. Start with alcohol. Spirits and Naptha won't do it. I see what happens, move on to acetone based solvents (Benzene and toluene , I leave them alone (insofar as they are each a component of lacquer thinners), and by the process of elimination you can arrive at a safe deduction. I do it this way and it works well, always has and always will. A client brings an instrument that needs repair or restoration or I want to blend in or feather a finish, I HAVE to know what the finish is. Using solvents, if I can't tell otherwise or am unsure is how its done. My wife if a conservator at Kansas City museum and Union Station. Thats how she does it and I do restorations and thats how I do it. It works so its not wrong. Usually its as simple as sanding a tiny section ans smelling it. One can tell with experience with this method if a finish is one of the three. But the solvent test is usually where I end up just to make sure. It works. I'll stake my professional reputation on it!



    Dave

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    man about town Markus's Avatar
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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Best way to know, ask the builder.

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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Dave - what is your professional reputation? I've been around a long time and until very recently, with some posts containing really sketchy (or oddly worded anyway) information, I never heard of you. No one I know has any idea who you are—where you've worked, what you've done, who you've worked with or for. You come on like an expert, but it's a bit out of the blue. You have a profile page, why not post some of your CV there?
    .
    ph

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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Quote Originally Posted by Markus View Post
    Best way to know, ask the builder.
    Good thought, and an obvious first line. But most of the quality instruments I see are made by long-dead makers. In the case of known factory makers like Martin and Gibson, it's easy. Others, not so.
    .
    ph

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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Hostetter View Post
    Dave - what is your professional reputation? I've been around a long time and until very recently, with some posts containing really sketchy (or oddly worded anyway) information, I never heard of you. No one I know has any idea who you are—where you've worked, what you've done, who you've worked with or for. You come on like an expert, but it's a bit out of the blue. You have a profile page, why not post some of your CV there?

    Well, I met you at a GAL convention in Tacoma 16 years ago. At that time I was already selling instruments but had only been around a couple of years. I was certainly a tyro! I was at the first three Healdsburg guitar festivals. I've operated for 10 years out of my shop in Gualala CA in Mendocino county before moving to the midwest. I've talked to you three times at least and showed you my instruments. I've worked out of two websites and made mostly CBOM instruments, perhaps fifty of them. There are plenty of pics on the Cafe. As for out of the blue, why don't you read "The Story of...CBOM which is in the CBOM section of the Forum. I invented that term. I now work in Kansas City where I mostly repair guitars for several professional clients. There are dozens of pictures of my instruments here that I've recently uploaded. None are later then about six years old. My CVs are pretty good. Check out the photos I've placed here. I don't think of what I say as sketchy though I always say beware the orthodox. Does anyone famous play my instruments? No, not really. I used to wish for that and still do but its not as easy as all that. Go on read The Story of...CBOM.


    Dave Bucher
    Citeraro extraordinaire


    Dave

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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    I don't know Dave, and have no reason to doubt his credentials, but some of his approaches are a bit different from what we would do. Nonetheless, there are other ways to know what a finish might be. There are certain tells in each finish that can be determined by knowing what finishes are generally used by what manufacturers or builders and knowing the history of some of these companies. In addition, Poly often has a different look than nitro and varnish even different again. Often you can tell simply by the odor of the finish. As finishes age it can become a bit more difficult to tell, but still they are different. They will check differently as time goes on. Finally, the chemical test is a good one. Poly will not be phased by acetone, but lacquer and varnish certainly will. If you see a chipped area it will look differently if it is poly as compared to lacquer. And, as stated above, you can always check with the builder or ask those who may know.
    Have a Great Day!
    Joe Vest

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    Café habitué Paul Hostetter's Avatar
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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Well, I met you at a GAL convention in Tacoma 16 years ago. At that time I was already selling instruments but had only been around a couple of years. I was certainly a tyro! I was at the first three Healdsburg guitar festivals. I've operated for 10 years out of my shop in Gualala CA in Mendocino county before moving to the midwest. I've talked to you three times at least and showed you my instruments.
    I have absolutely no recollection of any of that, I'm sorry to say. I haven’t been to a GAL convention in about that long, and when I was there last, I was up to my ears in French guitars. I attended the first “Healdsburg” when it was still in Marin, and maybe two others in Healdsburg, the last being in 1999.

    I've worked out of two websites and made mostly CBOM instruments, perhaps fifty of them. There are plenty of pics on the Cafe. As for out of the blue, why don't you read "The Story of...CBOM which is in the CBOM section of the Forum. I invented that term.
    The acronym? There are 1896 posts in that forum, and today was the first time I ever looked at it.

    I now work in Kansas City where I mostly repair guitars for several professional clients. There are dozens of pictures of my instruments here that I've recently uploaded.
    I saw something about inlaying and gluing in frets.

    None are later then about six years old.
    Then? I thought the thing I saw about inlaying and gluing in frets was recent.

    My CVs are pretty good.
    Perhaps you don’t know what a CV is. One normally has but one CV, and again, I would think the place to post it, once you get one together, would be on your profile page, not in a thread.

    Curriculum vitae

    Also spelled: curriculum vitæ

    From Latin curriculum (“course”) + vītae, genitive of vīta (“life”).
    Pronunciation
    • /kəˈrɪkjələm ˈviːtaɪ/
    • /kəˈrɪkjᵿləm ˈvaɪtiː/

    Noun: curriculum vitae (plural curricula vitae)

    (UK) A written account of one's life comprising one's education, accomplishments, work experience, publications, etc.; especially, one used to apply for a job. Abbreviation: CV

    (US) A detailed written account of one's education and experience used to seek positions in academic or educational environments, typically including academic credentials, publications, courses taught, etc.


    Check out the photos I've placed here.
    At the moment, there’s not a single photo in this thread.

    I don't think of what I say as sketchy though I always say beware the orthodox.
    OK, for example, you just posted this proclamation, which is incorrect and misleading:

    Acetone or lacquer thinner will melt out nitro, alcohol will melt shellack (sic) and varnishes won't melt easily with either.
    When I pointed out that your information was erroneous (fearing that someone would actually take your advice and try it), you backpedaled and wrote something different. To me, that’s sketchy. And your insistence in another thread that something you read in a Schaller ad about reverse gears was all anyone needed to know was also a disservice. I think it is incumbent upon people who pretend to offer information here to have their facts straight, and to present them in a cogent, well-written manner.

    Does anyone famous play my instruments? No, not really. I used to wish for that and still do but its not as easy as all that. Go on read The Story of...CBOM.
    I Googled it and finally found it. I gave up combing the archives for photos—I didn't find many, but I think I saw enough. You are a partisan of the unorthodox, it’s true.

    I am sorry I don’t remember ever meeting you or seeing your instruments, but keep up the good work.
    .
    ph

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  13. #13

    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Well Paul. I'm not going to get in an argument with you but I did not back pedal. I do know what CV means. I meant that there are lots of photos of what I have made that I have posted in the last 5 weeks or however long it has been. The comment about how old the instruments are means complete instruments. I am unorthodox. As far as who knows me ask Chuck Erickson, Steve Owlsley Smith, Phil Crump, Tod Taggert, Tom Ribekke, Bob Eaton, Gerold Trimble, Jeff Trougut, Bill Bussman, Graham McDonald and quite a few more. Though I have not been around for a few years I think most will remember me. I did not have anything to do with CBOM being on the Cafe here I assure you but the CBOM world is a rather small pond and that you had not heard of it says something about what you have been up to...namely not Citterns, Bouzoukis and Octave Mandolins. And finally I meant what I said to be a help and there is nothing wrong with what I said. There was no back peddling to cover my tracks or whatever you think. And don't call me on spelling of some of these peoples names, you know who I mean. I understand that you are protective of others making possible errors from bad advice but I've been repairing for 17 years and not had an error yet. I have not ruined an instrument yet and am very careful about repairing/restoring valuable antique instruments and doing things like not ruining prewar Martins and so on. Finally my vocabulary is vast though I always enjoy learning new words.

    Dave

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    Registered User man dough nollij's Avatar
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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Wow. How 'bout them Dodgers?

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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Quote Originally Posted by man dough nollij View Post
    Wow. How 'bout them Dodgers?

    One good thing about this, I edited my profile. I did not even know I HAD a profile. Oh..about the Dodgers? I hate 'em! I was always a committed Giants fan and the Giants and Dodgers are arch enemies. Now that I'm in KC, I'm a Royals fan.


    Dave

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    Registered User chip's Avatar
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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Dropping a nickel from three feet and landing on the back of the mandolin will tell you alot about the finish....

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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Arguing about identifying finishes, now that's understandable. But hating the Dodgers. Well, that's unpardonable.

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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    A joke, btw. Just in case....

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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandobuzz View Post
    A joke, btw. Just in case....

    Yeah, we used to go to games at Candlestick and see Giants Dodgers games and I can still remember my sister singing "Roll out Lasorda, we'll have a Lasorda of fun!" I chuckle still...

    Dave

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    Registered User Cathal Whelehan's Avatar
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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Hostetter View Post
    .......I think it is incumbent upon people who pretend to offer information here to have their facts straight, and to present them in a cogent, well-written manner.
    Hmmm.... I'll have to read the thread again then as most of what I just read was highly condescending and vindictive and there was absolutely no need for it, IMO.
    Cathal

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    Default Re: lacquer, varnish or polish - how can 'ya tell?

    Awkward!
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