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Can the actual finish on a guitar affect it's tone?!? (dumb question I'm sure)


BenderOfStrings

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I may be hearing things but since I've lately been searching for an acoustic I have tried out MANY! What I have found is that guitars with a satin/dull finish seem to sound...hollower, more echoy than guitars with a high gloss finish.

 

Am I nutz?!? Is this what I'm really hearing or is it one of those deals where my mind is tricking me to hear something different simply because the guitar appears different?

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Yeah, "handling noise"- the aforementioned acoustic amplification of rubbing and brushing against a rougher or dirty finish- will cause that perceived effect.

 

I think that it's certainly more noticableon an acoustic instrument!

 

If a high-gloss finish is too thick, too layered-up, and tacky and soft, or thick and too hard, it will dampen and darken and dull the volume and timbre of an instrument. Takamines used to feel too tacky and soft, and seemed to lose something to my ears if I played one myself. Other players liked the same ones, though, so it's highly subjective!

Ask yourself- What Would Ren and Stimpy Do?

 

~ Caevan James-Michael Miller-O'Shite ~

_ ___ _ Leprechaun, Esquire _ ___ _

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John, Paul & George all insisted some of their guitars that were stripped of all finish sounded better that way. Paul's Rick bass and George & John's Epi Casinos are the instruments in question.

 

I've always heard that, all other things being equal, lacquer finished guitars have a more pleasing tone than poly finished guitars. I suspect that this is mostly due to how poorly/thickly poly finishes were applied to guitars in the 70s & 80s. Most companies have dramatically improved the poly finish process on new guitars. However, there may be some merit to lacquer as a sonically superior finish. I'd like to see some science behind why it would be though.

Mudcat's music on Soundclick

 

"Work hard. Rock hard. Eat hard. Sleep hard. Grow big. Wear glasses if you need 'em."-The Webb Wilder Credo-

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Originally posted by Mudcat:

I've always heard that, all other things being equal, lacquer finished guitars have a more pleasing tone than poly finished guitars. I suspect that this is mostly due to how poorly/thickly poly finishes were applied to guitars in the 70s & 80s. Most companies have dramatically improved the poly finish process on new guitars. However, there may be some merit to lacquer as a sonically superior finish. I'd like to see some science behind why it would be though.

I think some of this also may have to do with poly finishes trapping moisture inside the wood. So guitars with poly finishes don't "age" as well as guitars with nitro lacquer finishes that let the moisture gradually escape over time.

 

Note that a thick finish of any kind will dampen the wood's vibrations.

"You never can vouch for your own consciousness." - Norman Mailer
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I can tell you that finish does make a difference.

Years ago, when I was young and stupid, I had a great sounding, though tough playing, archtop acoustic. It had a really sharp looking tobacco burst finish.

I got a wild hair and sanded the thing down, masked it off and applied some red, white, and blue enamel paint. Well, the great tone went away. So, with it playing tough & sounding crappy, I got rid of it. I should have sanded that enamel back off and set the relief but didn't know any better then.

 

Our Joint

 

"When you come slam bang up against trouble, it never looks half as bad if you face up to it." The Duke...

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Any violinist will tell you the finish affects the tone. The Stradivarius tonal mystique is not merely in the wood or the internal structure; it also comes from the finish.

 

It's reasonable to imagine that any component of an instrument affects its tone to some degree.

I used to think I was Libertarian. Until I saw their platform; now I know I'm no more Libertarian than I am RepubliCrat or neoCON or Liberal or Socialist.

 

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Hey all. Lurker here, poster mainly on the bass forum. Player and instrument builder.

(Hi Caevan :wave: )

IME, the finish can definitely play a major role in the tone of an instrument, especially the acoustic ones.

For example, I have two older ('85) Ibanez basses, made a month apart. One has the original finish, while the other has had some of the finish removed. By this, I mean that all of the poly top coat, and some of the color finish has been sanded away.

The difference in the instrument's tone has to be heard to be believed, it is that extreme. The original finish bass has its own character, but sounds distinctly diminished next to the other bass. This one sings and barks in all the right ways.

It makes an even bigger difference when comparing oil or wax finishes to poly and lacquer finishes IMO.

The difference is real...

 

Peace,

 

wraub

 

I'm a lot more like I am now than I was when I got here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hey, Wraub! How's it goin'? How's things with the bass-building project you and Bastid E were gonna undertake?

Ask yourself- What Would Ren and Stimpy Do?

 

~ Caevan James-Michael Miller-O'Shite ~

_ ___ _ Leprechaun, Esquire _ ___ _

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Gabriel,

So guitars with poly finishes don't "age" as well as guitars with nitro lacquer finishes that let the moisture gradually escape over time.
Hence the "mojo" of the Highway 1 Strat :cool:

 

Dave

Gotta' geetar... got the amp. There must be SOMEthing else I... "need".
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Well at least I know I'm not going crazy. I may not be using the acurate wording to desribe it, but I could swear that all of the satin/dull finished guitars I played sounded more hollow and had more of an echo. Where the ones with a laquer finish seemed to sound more tight.
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With classical instruments, the quality of the lacquer is considered to be a major part in the tonal quality of the instrument.

 

I remember reading an article where scientists wanted some scrapings from a stradivarius so they could try to recreate the laquer for use today, as the original 'recipe' has long been lost.

 

The only problem was finding a musician who would let them chip a piece of the intrument away!!!

 

BOT...I imagine the same goes for modern guitars.

Many moons ago, when i was looking for an acoustic to do some duo work, a salesman informed me that the major differences in price were a combination of brand name, material quality and finishing.

 

Branding is easy to understand.Materials in manufacture likewise.

I didn't realise though that most top-line luthiers retain specialist lacquerists, and that it was considered a highly skilled job!

 

So...uh...yeah! I reckon it probably does make an enourmous difference.

How can we fight ignorance and apathy?

Who knows! Who cares!

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Oh yeah, it makes a huge difference. Nitrocellous Lacquer actually crystallizes over time becoming more brittle, but also more tone inducing. It's like the finish and wood become one. A lot of makers quit using it because it'll crack and such but they are morons; the more years it's on an instrument, acoustic or electric, the better your tone.

 

Those polyurethane finishes suck because they damp out the wood's vibrations and destroy the tone. The oil type finishes don't really make much difference.

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Originally posted by Caevan O'Shite:

Hey, Wraub! How's it goin'? How's things with the bass-building project you and Bastid E were gonna undertake?

Hello again... E and I are moving ahead rightly. Prototypes down, design improvements a-plenty are happening, and tools are arriving.

I have a seperate day job, and a moonlightinging photography gig too, so time is the main problem.

So much to do...

What's new with you? :)

Back to lurkin'...

 

Peace,

 

wraub

 

I'm a lot more like I am now than I was when I got here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Originally posted by DC:

Oh yeah, it makes a huge difference. Nitrocellous Lacquer actually crystallizes over time becoming more brittle, but also more tone inducing. It's like the finish and wood become one. A lot of makers quit using it because it'll crack and such but they are morons; the more years it's on an instrument, acoustic or electric, the better your tone.

 

Those polyurethane finishes suck because they damp out the wood's vibrations and destroy the tone. The oil type finishes don't really make much difference.

The logical (and coincidentally irrational) conclusion to this statement is to buy a guitar and wait a decade for it to "mature" before you record with it.

There's no breathing through fresh nitro either and it's typically applied over a color coat that is on a primer coat that has been applied to a surface traditionally honed smooth with a sanding sealer/filler compound.

 

Keep in mind that some wine turns to vinegar when aged!

We'll call this the "Philosophical Interpretation of the Natural Aging Process and the Merits of Decay"

 

"... hey man not that guitar!.. it's far to young. Hand me that '76 burgundy Custom it should be just ripe for playing."

 

Nitrocellous lacquer is difficult to work with. It's got an industrial hazard work sheet that would choke a cow. It's unstable for mass production and costly to use... but was the best product available at the time.

 

? At what point does a guitar then become too vulnerable to the deterioration caused by excessive moisture loss. It will continue to be sucked out of the wood until you can jam your finger into it so at some point it has to be stopped.

 

Something that makes a "huge difference" in the sound of your guitar is painting the strings or boring huge holes through the body or perhaps gluing coins all over the surface of it.

That's "HUGE" :D

I still think guitars are like shoes, but louder.

 

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Originally posted by Guitars are like shoes. But louder.:

The logical (and coincidentally irrational) conclusion to this statement is to buy a guitar and wait a decade for it to "mature" before you record with it.

 

We'll call this the "Philosophical Interpretation of the Natural Aging Process and the Merits of Decay"

 

"... hey man not that guitar!.. it's far to young. Hand me that '76 burgundy Custom it should be just ripe for playing."

I've wondered about this....

IF I acquire a vintage '59 LP

IF I acquire a vintage Fender tweed amp

 

Am I qualified to play that equipment, since I was not yet born in 1959, and am not of suitable vintage? :D

 

Originally posted by Guitars are like shoes. But louder.:

Keep in mind that some wine turns to vinegar when aged!

LOL :D
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Well, I think it's worth bearing in mind that no one "thing" makes a HUGE difference, it's the combination and execution of a number of "things" that does; it really all boils down to, "The most important ingredient on any recipe is the person doing the cooking."

 

Do Parker guitars suck, just because they DON'T feature a nitrocellulose-lacquer finish? NO. Their new whiz-bang glass-composite exoskeleton finish over lighter, resonant tonewoods is an integral part of what makes them perform well. Would a Les Paul be improved by applying that finish instead? Probably not. Unless you redesigned a number of its other features, in which case... it ceases being a "Les Paul", and becomes something else.

 

No matter what materials are used for a finish, if the person designing the guitar thinks about it, they will likely be able to find a way to make it work. It's been mentioned that "poly"-finishes have often been applied too thickly; gee, d'ya think that "poly" could be thoughtfully applied to avoid undue damping, or even deliberatley used to intentionally darken the tone of a given body material for controlled damping? Probably!

 

Violin makers strike a balance between tonal transparencey and damping, to achieve a sweet, responsive timbre that is clear and present yet warm and controllable. If their finishes only catered to letting everything through undamped, their instruments would sound unbearably shrill and harsh, especially in the upper-register on the high-strings. Too much damping, and they'd be muddy and indistinct.

Ask yourself- What Would Ren and Stimpy Do?

 

~ Caevan James-Michael Miller-O'Shite ~

_ ___ _ Leprechaun, Esquire _ ___ _

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billster,

Am I qualified to play that equipment, since I was not yet born in 1959, and am not of suitable vintage?
IMHO, no :D

 

But then again, I'm old enough to play an original Telecaster :P

 

Dave

 

BTW, ON topic, as has been said, everything combines to give the tonal and voice of a particular instrument. Even the musician :D

Gotta' geetar... got the amp. There must be SOMEthing else I... "need".
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Just some food for thought.

 

Gibson thinks the nitro-cellulose finish is an integral part of a fine Gibson guitar. They continue to use it because the great vintage instruments are great vintage instruments, in part, because of that finish.

 

It is a dangerous material to use, and not particularly easy to properly cure in a high volume manufacturing environment. Yet they still use it on every Gibson instrument.

 

BTW - Every so often the factory has a fire emergency. The dangers of working with laquers are very real. I was in the building one Sunday when an electrical short caused a fire in the finish room. The Nashville Fire Department did a splendid job of putting it out before it became a devastating fire. It could have been much worse, given the amount of laquer available for fuel. :eek:

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Neil,

BTW - Every so often the factory has a fire emergency. The dangers of working with laquers are very real. I was in the building one Sunday when an electrical short caused a fire in the finish room. The Nashville Fire Department did a splendid job of putting it out before it became a devastating fire. It could have been much worse, given the amount of laquer available for fuel.
While I certainly would not want anyone to get hurt on my account (buying a Gibson), but it seems the "old" way is still the best way very often. The "new" way is always a quality compromise.

 

I used MEK (solvent) to clean the dust (from roughing the surface) off the fiberglass outer core for recurve bows when I worked at Remington Arms R & D (product diversification). It works GREAT, just don't breath :D

 

Dave

Gotta' geetar... got the amp. There must be SOMEthing else I... "need".
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From my perspective, Gibson's continued use of nitro on many of their instruments is more a marketing strategy than anything else. Since HJ took over, the attitude seems to be making "heritage" or "heirloom" instruments...trying to put across the idea to the consumer that the instrument WILL be collectible someday, so you should pay the extra price for the "superior" nitro. And, with the plethora of "vintage" dealers who make their living from "collectable" instruments, the myth is reinforced....

 

This is not to say that nitro is a bad or inferior finish; it is actually quite good. But not superior to French polish or a thinly applied catalyzed polyurethane, at least regarding tone quality.

 

The bottom line for me is the actual thickness/density of the finish compared to the thickness/density of the wood that it's applied over. The thinner the lumber(as in an acoustic instrument), the more the finish will have an effect on the tone....could you tell the tonal difference on a Les Paul?...I'd be surprised if in a double blind test that you could. How about a hollow swamp ash Tele? Maybe, but probably not....How about a D28? You might be able to tell the difference, but as to which is superior would really depend on the listener.

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