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Are  soundboards of guitars of the Panormo workshop 2nd quarter of 19th Cent. varnished? If they are, with what, French polishing/shellac? Or how are they sealed otherwise?

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There are two distinct layers of different polishes. I cover this in my forthcoming book. But if it is urgent for you to know, please message me and I'll give you come details. j@theguitarmuseum.com 

Dear James, thank you very much. I am just finishing the guitar - befor glueing on the bridge I should know if the soundboard should be varnished first. Usually I seal soundboards of lutes with Danish Oil, a recommendation od David Van Edwards. This works fine. Could I do this on the soundboard of the Panormo?

David is usually spot on. So I would do what he suggests. But you can do what ever you like with the soundboard polish. There is no point in trying to replicate what they did, it's far too complicated and thick. The only important thing is a one-piece soundboard with symmetrical bracing, or a two-piece soundboard with asymmetrical bracing.  

Dear Dr Kahlert,

Some suggest that the soundboards were left with no finish at all - but expereince teaches that they soon becomw very soiled and marked.

I use Stand Oil (not the modern stuff which has various chemicals added) but the original: ie Linseed oil which has been left to stand in a wide shallow dish (preferably by a window) for a few months (variable). The oil thickens and then when applied(it flows with the rubbing action) is like the consistency of a stiff varnish and so it doesn't penetrate much into the wood but, as it further oxidises and hardens, produces a good, transparent, but matt sheen finish.

Incidentally I haven't found, as James does that this oil is 'too complicated and thick' - perhaps he's not tried proper unadulterated stand oil. Try it yourself: it's easy to apply with a soft cloth/rubber and well oxides (hardens) in a day or so. Note that Stradivarius (and others) used linseed oil on violins prior to varnishing (see Sacconi).

There's no evidence that modern oil finishes, such as 'Danish' oil, 'teak' oil and the like were around in earlier times despite their use sometimes these days.



Martyn, I think you misread my message, all I refer to is Panormo’s original finish, I am not referring to what you or Henner are trying to recreate. Also, absolutely no London makers (we are really discussing Panormo’s original finish), left their soundboards un-polished. Even Lacote guitars which were made for the British market, had a much thicker polish than those he made for his French clientele.

Dear James,

Thank you for this but I'm afraid your assertion is incorrect.

Although a 'French polish' finish (a type of thin spirit varnish applied with a rubber in several coats) was introduced in the eighteenth century-  it only became general practice in the second half of the nineteenth (mostly on cheaper furniture since it was applied and dried so very quickly  - hence cheap!).  Such a 'polish' finish may, indeed, be sometimes found nowadays on some early nineteenth century guitars - but these are generally instruments which were 're-polished' in the later nineteenth as French polishing became more general.  The bellies/fronts of guitars in their original state are not polished in this manner - an oiled finish as described was general.
As an aside, a similar thing took place in early pianos up to about 1850 - generally they have a fine oiled finish but most (like my own Rolfe square of 1815) were  French polished later in the century....  in fact, like many guitars. We really do need to be extremely careful not to be inadvertently misled by the now extant finishes on instruments and critically examine the history etc..
I also am unclear what you mean by 'you or Henner are trying to recreate' (which implies my advice about the actual early practice) since this seems to contradict your earlier statement.



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