Early Guitars and Vihuela

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hi everyone!

so i've picked up an incomplete renaissance guitar from Prof. Joseph Mayes of New Jersey, and thought to ask the forum about finishes.

the instrument has a light shellac coat on the back and sides, but i was wondering if there was any way to refinish the back and sides so that the figuring/flame of the maple stands out more. a violin restorer friend's offered to do a typical violin reddish varnish on the back, sides, neck and pegbox. it's certainly tempting as it's very striking but would that clash with the renaissance æsthetic? would it be better to leave it as-is or do a lighter coloured finish?

i'm also wondering if the ziricote fingerboard needs any sort of finishing, as a bit of research indicates it has a tendency to crack - but perhaps here in tropical Singapore, it won't crack so much...

any suggestions are welcome!

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Hi Edward, what beautiful wood for the back. I am not sure 'the renaissance æsthetic' exists (or can be known), except as a 20th century invention :-) so if I were you I'd go for what you think is beautiful. For the soundboard, as little added finish as possible.

that's a good point! i think i'll be fuss-free and keep it simple, and just shellac the whole thing after doing a bit more fine sanding down some rougher spots. thank you! :D

The shellac finish, using french polish technique will bring out the figure in the maple wonderfully.  This takes time and a little learning of the technique.  Time to finish is about 10 to 15 hours over a week.    You can get a bit of color by using a medium color shellac.  Quality of shellac matters, work from dissolved flakes.  

Use at least a 2000 grit paper for the final sanding, I will even use an paper bag from the grocer as a super fine last buffing/sanding before starting and during the finish.

A very thin coat of diluted shellac for the soundboard will protect it from dirt.

A little oil on the finger board, walnut or camellia will allow you to buff and protect the wood.  You can get this at health food/apothecary store.

I always want to rush and get the instrument done, but a great finish make the instrument POP!  Take your time, too much work in it now to rush an average finish.   I always spend more on the wood to get the best figure, but labor hours are what make an instrument sound and look fantastic.  Your maple has nice figure, make your instrument a show piece, love looking at the wood every time you play the instrument.

Shellac has lots of historic relevance.  Also can be repaired with little to no work.  Best of luck.

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my problem is that i've never done a French polish before, and i very much doubt it's a historical finish for renaissance guitars. 

i'll definitely use the oil for the fingerboard. not sure about the shellac for the soundboard - i'm more inclined to do the egg white and water thing.


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