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Alternatives to Lacquer?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Jason_A, May 12, 2011.


  1. Jason_A

    Jason_A

    May 26, 2009
    Marion, IA
    I would have figured that this topic would have been asked a lot in this forum but I didn't find anything recently (maybe I didn't search well enough). In any event, I was just wondering if there were good alternatives to lacquer for spraying guitars? I've used several different nitro lacquers in the past (McFadden, Constantine's, Behlen), and I also tried KTM-9 from LMII. I just wasn't sure what all else was out there. I've seen a few people mention the use of urethane - are there specific brands that work well for guitars? I know some of those finishes (auto paints, anyway) are super expensive.

    I'm also interested in the tradeoffs/benefits of using finishes other than lacquer. I don't believe most urethane finishes burn in, so are there special considerations for buffing so you don't end up with witness lines? I know a lot of those catalyzed finishes set really fast, which would be a real nice bonus, being able to sand/buff much quicker. My guess is that those finishes also build much quicker than lacquer (i.e. fewer coats required). Are grain fillers still required? Other benefits/disadvantates I should consider?
     
  2. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    I will be following this thread closely, Ive wondered the same thing.
     
  3. Blind Dog

    Blind Dog

    Jun 19, 2010
    Gilbert AZ
    I have used Behlens Nitro on several guitars and I have used catalized automotive lacquer on 2 guitars. The first one was metal flake and I needed the quicker build to cover the flake. The advantage of the automotive finish is the quick drying time. With cat finish you can level sand and buff the next day. Another thing to note is that any sanding dust from leveling a previous coat will not be dissolved by the next coat with cat/urethane like nitro would do.
     
  4. mikeyswood

    mikeyswood Banned

    Jul 22, 2007
    Cincinnati OH
    Luthier of Michael Wayne Instruments
    Acrylics = tough and low VOC
    Epoxides = extremely durable but tough to apply
    Urethanes = high VOC and weak finish
    Esters = Requires EPA booth but is the best chemically as well as physically
     
  5. That's not even true in Gestapo-land, Southern California where VOC laws are born, enforced and then sent to other states and countries.

    IF you are a proprietary user and shoot less than a certain weight in paints a year, you are still exempt.

    The old weight limit was somewhere around 60 lbs/year - and that's a LOT of paint

    Cal/Epa and Cal/OSHA will not give blanket exemptions, but they don't enforce the law if it looks like you aren't telling a lie and they don't find very much paint and thinners in the shop.

    I painted a few dump trucks and lots of Bobcats, a few Ford 755 tractors, man-lifts and other rolling stock for an asphalt and concrete demo company for years and this was the case.

    This may change any day however.
     
  6. Beej

    Beej

    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    I think mikey's referring to the minimum level of safety that one would want to engage in as well as the lowest environmental impact, rather than a legal requirement...
     
  7. mikeyswood

    mikeyswood Banned

    Jul 22, 2007
    Cincinnati OH
    Luthier of Michael Wayne Instruments
    Look through the forest and you'll see some trees.
     
  8. Jason_A

    Jason_A

    May 26, 2009
    Marion, IA
    So it sounds like there might be some other alternatives to consider. Are there specific brands I should look for - particularly stuff I could walk into my local Sherwin Williams or automotive store and ask for? Or is this all speciality stuff that I'd have to order online, or special order from a paint supplier?

    Mike - could you expound a bit as to why esthers are ideal? Do they buff out better, provide a more durable film, burn-in, dry faster, cheaper, etc?
     
  9. Tdog

    Tdog

    May 18, 2004
    I've started using ML Campbell's Krystal.....Its a cat Lacquer and is very tough......So far so good.....I could change my mind in a year, but for now all seems well. This is what ML Campbell recommended for guitar finishes.

    Apply a coat or 2 of Campbell's Level Sealer.....Sand it a tad to level things out....In about an hour you can spray Krystal.....After @15 minutes apply a second coat.....Buffs out quite nicely after only a few hours.

    The guys at Campbell told me that I could apply several very heavy coats of the sealer and sand back in 24-72 hours to eliminate the use of grain filler......I'm not so sure....The sealer seems to settle/shrink into open pores of the grain and expose the texture.

    This stuff, I'm told, is supposed to remain super-clear and not yellow like nitro will, and also provide a very durable finish.

    We'll See!
     
  10. mikeyswood

    mikeyswood Banned

    Jul 22, 2007
    Cincinnati OH
    Luthier of Michael Wayne Instruments
    ...esthers?

    Polyesters and epoxides are distilates of bisphenol-A (which is a fantastic molecule for physical resistance). Lacquers are extremely weak and only in use because "that's how Leo did it." Acrylics are a good middle of the road for low organic content and ease of application, but anything with nitrogen will always be weak.

    Surfers use esters for durability and clarity. It cannot be matched. Epoxides are a close second, but I've yet to achieve a spray-able viscosity while maintaining clarity in epoxides.
     
  11. waiting to get more from mikey, but I know that most polymerizing finishes will not burn in the previous coat like evaporative finishes like nitro lacquer.
     
  12. mikeyswood

    mikeyswood Banned

    Jul 22, 2007
    Cincinnati OH
    Luthier of Michael Wayne Instruments
    True. However, the witness lines that you see are due to uneven curing of the top surface that refracts through a different density. Thick coats and ultra pure (99.99%+) finishes avoid these.

    Any coating that is able to blend into previous coatings will always be susceptible to dissolution in hydronium hydroxide. There is only an estimated 30% of us that is not hydronium hydroxide.
     
  13. Beej

    Beej

    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    Sweat and surface oils on your body.

    Mikey is the undisputed KING of cryptic communication...

    lol.
     
  14. mikeyswood

    mikeyswood Banned

    Jul 22, 2007
    Cincinnati OH
    Luthier of Michael Wayne Instruments
    H[SUB]3[/SUB]O[SUP]+[/SUP] and OH[SUP]-[/SUP]; H[SUB]2[/SUB]O doesn't exist as a neutral molecule. Humans are over 70% water and exposure of weak finishes to us degrades the finish.
     
  15. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    If I remember my chemistry correctly, water does in fact predominantly consist of H[sub]2[/sub]O. In its natural state, a 10[sup]-7[/sup] fraction of it is dissociated into H[sup]+[/sup] + OH[sup]-[/sup] (hydronium), with the H[sup]+[/sup] then joining an H[sub]2[/sub]O to form an H[sub]3[/sub]O[sup]+[/sup] (hydroxyl).

    Thus the pH and pOH of pure water are both 7.


    If water were fully (or actually, 50% would be the max) dissociated as is suggested, pure water would be an outrageously fantastic electrolyte, as opposed to the poor conductor that it is.
     
  16. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    To go completely the opposite way of this discussion(which I am not qualified to, nor have any desire to participate in...LOL) I prefer Lacquers, Nitrocellulose or Acrylic because they burn in, and make finishing easier(if that is possible). I use urethanes on ocassion, but have found my oldest instrument which is 27 years old, still looks decent and was finished with Parks Lacquer, so theorhetically if you want a finish to last 200 years, follow up with the above discussion, or buy some varnish from Antonio Stradivari....is varnish supposed to last 350 years?
     
  17. I'm tempted to go and try some aircraft nitro-dope too for a color coat.

    Besides, I like the smell.
     

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