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Questions: Martin Finish

Questions: Martin finish

by Walter Carter

Originally published in American Lutherie #104, 2010

Kerry Char from Portland, Oregon asks:

Exactly what kind of finish were Gibson and Martin using before they switched to nitrocellulose lacquer? How was it applied, and when was the switch. I’m thinking that it was oil varnish similar to violin varnish, because it is resistant to acetone. But if that’s the case, how did Gibson do some of their sunbursts? I know that the earlier ones were rubbed, but later ones from the ’20s and ’30s look sprayed.

Walter Carter from Nashville, Tennessee replies:

Neither Gibson nor Martin made an across-the-line change from varnish to lacquer. Richard Johnston and Dick Boak note in their recent book, Martin Guitars: A Technical Reference, that Martin finishes were French polish (shellac) until 1918, when they began experimenting with different combinations of varnish and lacquer. Martin first used nitrocellulose lacquer in 1926, and by 1929 it was the standard finish on most Martin guitars. For Gibsons, Stephen Gilchrist offers this information:

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