"French Polish" finish?

ChiefbigeasyChiefbigeasy New Orleans, LA✭✭✭ Dupont MDC 50; The Loar LH6, AJL Silent Guitar
For the second time in a year, my local luthier mentioned an old style guitar finish called a "French Polish." He described it as an older style finish that was more common before the modern finishes became popular. He's of the mind that this was a better finish in general for all guitars because it produced better tone. He thinks it fell out of favor because it was labor intensive to apply and maintain, and it's not as pretty.

Anyone ever heard of this?


  • edited December 2014 Posts: 3,707
    Very thin, high skill level and lots of time.

    Great finish, still used in very high end furniture and I know of one violin luthier that has done some French polished instruments.

    It's a process that uses shellac then finishes with paste wax .....lots and lots and lots of rubbing..but not too hard or you go through and have to rework an area.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • Rob MacKillopRob MacKillop Edinburgh, Scotland✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 201
    I've played many lutes and 19th-century guitars (modern copies and originals) and I have to say I love it. Luthiers I've spoken to say it's not so hard to apply, just a little time consuming.
    The theory is that it allows the wood to breathe better, and that has an impact on the tone. Tone is of course a subjective thing, so I can't say everyone would prefer it.
    It looks beautiful and natural, but it doesn't offer the protection of modern finishes. That might be OK if you like a guitar to show its age and character. Some people prefer to have a 30-year old guitar look like new.
    So, there are pros and cons. Personally, I prefer it.
  • It's very thin finish and relatively brittle It would offer almost no protection against spills and dents though. No parking your beer on your axe LOL

    There would be very little damping of sound due to finish and it is not easy to get an even coating....takes skill.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • Al WatskyAl Watsky New JerseyVirtuoso
    Posts: 440
    PM me .
    French Polish .
    Its over rated.
    Its light.
    Very thin.
    Actually easy to repair, but it needs repair often.
    Selmer used 2 coats of nitro and then over polished .
    Its a method.
    People have been spraying finish for at about 100 years now. At least since the 20's . Some folks spray the same stuff they might polish with . Others with harder finish.
    Don't get engaged with the Polish vs. Nitro business. A more durable finish is preferable.
    Cheap fiddles are sprayed with solvent based finish . Better fiddles have an oil varnish. Some folks over polish their oil finish to add luster.
    These days some excellent builders even use poly.
    You design with the finish in mind.
  • Micky DunneMicky Dunne Liverpool UK✭✭✭✭ Olivier Marin, JWC Modele Orchestre, AJL La Flasque
    Posts: 152
    I have an Olivier Marin, beautiful guitar that sounds amazing and looks amazing, a real work of art! This is partly down to the high sheen from the French polish that is really aesthetically pleasing but you touch that baby with the slightest knock of a pick and you have a scratch. I have a clear scratch plate below the sound hole and wish I had gotten one above it. If you don't have the best right hand (like me) and occasionally hit the guitar you WILL leave a mark.
    Fast and bulbous
  • BohemianBohemian State of Jefferson✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 303

    I have owned a few French polished guitars including a 1961 Ramirez 1A flamenca blanca. The French polish on my Ramirez was not at all fragile.

    I prefer other finishes for the "feel" and I find no tonal difference detectable.
  • jonpowljonpowl Hercules, CA✭✭✭ Dupont MD-100, Altamira M01F
    Posts: 694
    @MickyDunne Is that OM guitar a spruce or cedar top? I've heard the cedar tops are more fragile.
    Micky Dunne
  • Al WatskyAl Watsky New JerseyVirtuoso
    Posts: 440
    The french polish on your Ramirez wasn't french polish.
  • Micky DunneMicky Dunne Liverpool UK✭✭✭✭ Olivier Marin, JWC Modele Orchestre, AJL La Flasque
    Posts: 152
    @jonpowl Yeah it's Cedar.
    Fast and bulbous
  • BohemianBohemian State of Jefferson✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 303
    "The french polish on your Ramirez wasn't french polish."

    The French polish on my Ramirez was in fact French polish.

    Ramirez' catalized, plasticized finishes came on board in late 1963.

    I know for a fact that it was French polish..

    a. Because of the way it was ordered and purchased and documented..
    I was the second owner with all the documentation including the written request from the first owner with all the details.. He a doctor in Carmel Calif.
    b. Finish retouched by Carlos Francisca Vega.. a known authority on Spanish classical guitars, author on same, a known authority on Ramirez history and their guitars and personal friend of the family
    c. A later repair and refinish of the French polish on the top in 1989 by a SF Bay Area luthier guitar tech of some notoriety. The top was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake.

    The guitar was actually constructed by Contreras when he was Ramirez' shop foreman.. 2 years only.

    The guitar was in fact French polished.. absolutely evident by look and feel , history and verification by professional makers.

    I have one advantage in the "debate" , I owned the Ramirez and had it in hand. 650 (652 with compensation) scale, with friction pegs, euro spruce over cypress, cedar neck.

    I know a French polished guitar from "other". Of the 100 plus guitars I have owned, perhaps five were French polished, every one Spanish made. I have built and french polished guitars ( and other wooden items as a professional furniture maker and reproductionist for 25 years)
    Rob MacKillop
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