As a guitar builder, I've tried about all the different finishes there are and have my preferences, but what do you like? I put up a poll, but I would be interested in your comments as well.
In the poll, please indicate in the first two items if the type of finish is important to you in choosing a guitar. From the next four items, choose the type of gloss you like AND
from the last seven, the type of finish material you prefer.
The industry standard, highest gloss, best protection. In the poll, I did not distinguish between the various kinds of lacquers as they all look pretty much the same, but these days lacquer could be nitro cellulose, acrylic, urethane, catalyzed polyester. Which lacquer to use is usually more about the builders resources and production requirements. All offer excellent protection, some people think the gloss looks "factory", especially when thick. Some people feel lacquer, especially if thick dampens the tone, though this is debatable. Nitro does not age all that well, can crack over time. I recently used a urethane lacquer that is unbelievably hard and can be buffed the day after it is applied. In fact, if not buffed within 24 hours, it takes all day to buff it (don't ask how I know this
) Great protection though and looked great. Lacquers are moderately difficult to repair as long as the lacquer used "burns in" well, not all do. Often easier to spray and buff the whole panel than to spot repair.
A traditional finish. Moderate gloss, does not polish up as high as lacquer, but close. Excellent light refraction which means it really looks good, good protection against moisture. Not as hard as lacquer, but better protection against dings than French polish or oil. Slower process to apply, slower to harden up good for polishing. Typically, does not look as thick as lacquer, even when fully pore filled. Ages very nicely. Moderately easy to repair.
A traditional shellac finish, very thin. Standard finish for the highest quality classical guitars. Excellent sound transparency. Can be brought to a very high polish, a matte finish or anywhere in between. Can be fully pore filled or left with pores showing, a matter of taste. Finish is reasonably hard after about a year, fairly soft in the first year however. In the first year, quite susceptible to dents, scratches, moisture and especially perspiration damage. Ages well. Very easy to repair. French polish can be used to repair most other finishes.
Usually a sprayed urethane. Good protection and durable, less showy than high gloss lacquer. Can be fairly thin as it does not have to polished. To some people, however, it still looks like a factory finish. Factories like it because it does not show flaws like gloss and does not have to be polished out, saving time. Usually used on lower cost instruments. Hard to repair.
Any number of oil finishes mixed with any number of ingredients. Some oils include tung oil, linseed oil, walnut oil, Watco Danish Oil. Added ingredients might include beeswax, stains, etc. Attractive when first done, but tends to collect dirt and dust and becomes dull rather quickly, but this may be the preferred look. Can be wiped down with more oil from time to time to refresh the finish some. Offers very little protection to the wood, but high sound transparency and a nice hand feel. Quick and easy to apply, very low cost.
Make a new guitar look old. Some people love it, some think it is kind of hokey, but it is certainly an option to consider. Materials used are carefully guarded, so who knows. A lot of them seem to involve irregular stain, French polish with various distress and wear marks.
Any others? Let me know what you think.