Satin v High Gloss Finish

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by malthumb, Dec 7, 2003.

  1. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    Question for all you bass builders....

    What are the relative merits / disadvantages of satin finishes as compared to high gloss finishes?

    I'm looking at getting a new bass with a very nice top wood. I have the option of having it finished with a satin finish or with a high gloss.

    My first impression is that high gloss will be more protective and will show off the beauty of the wood better.

    My second impression is that a satin finish may deliver a more honest feel for the tonal capabilities of the instrument without several layers of finish.

    For what it's worth, I have two basses of one brand that have high gloss finishes, and two basses of another brand that have satin finishes. They all sound great.

    Are there any significant advantages of one or the other?


  2. RobbieK


    Jun 14, 2003
    If you like the look of the satin finished hand-rubbed warwick thumb basses and so on, but are worried about the almost complete lack of durability that this type of finishing offers, why not get your luthier to use a semi-gloss or satin lacquer on your new axe.

    Don't be fooled by the blurb of various guitar brands. The choice finish on a solid body bass guitar has virtually no effect on the way it actually sounds (seriously). It does, of course, slightly change the way the back of the neck feels under your thumb.

    Also, the way you feel about an instrument effects the way it sounds. Choose the finish that you think looks the coolest, and it will make the bass sound great. :)
  3. Satin and gloss poly finishes are the same in chemistry. The difference is a component called "flattening paste" that is added to knock the gloss off of the cured finish. They are equally protective.
  4. Carey


    Jan 18, 2002
    Redlands, CA
    My finishes are polyester for gloss and polyurethane for satin. The difference, as I understand it, is that the polyester is more related to plastics amd the polyeurethane is silimar to rubber. And this seems true in finishing the finish (buffing or rubbing out). The polyester get VERY hard. In fact, you can clean it with a moist paper towel and not scratch it. Try that with lacquer. The polyurethane I use is "satin" in that it has flattening agents added to it to break up the surface sheen. It gets very hard too, but in more of a tough way than a brittle way.

    I haven't yet been able to detect a sonic difference between the two types of finishes, or even between these finishes and oil, which is pretty much worthless for protection in my opinion.

    And, there are so many other factors that affect tone that worring about what the finish will do seems to be a bit nitpicky to me.

    My advice is to get the one that you will be the most comfortable with. Gloss is great for that glasslike shiny "Whoa" factor. Satin is nice for the more subtle touchable tactile quality, kinda like oil, but with way more protection.
  5. By "poly" finish, I was referring only to Polyurethane. Not polyester

    Polyurethane clearcoat can be as hard or harder than any other finish. Changes can be made during the component mixing stage before spraying. The difference you see in buffing doesn't necessarily come from it's "hardness" but rather from the way the molecules want to remain linked. Some engineered polymers will be like taffy - softer in surface hardness but sort of brittle in certain applications while others have a surface hardness but can't have the top layers of molecules seperated like in sanding or buffing.
  6. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    Polyurethane is a widely variable substance. Its properties vary from soft to hard according to the degree of crosslinking. I have on my desk right now a PU sample deck, with pieces ranging from an almost silicone-like 40 Shore A durometer to a very hard and stiff 75 Shore D. The polyurethanes, regardless of hardness, tend to have very good wear properties.
  7. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    Hey guys,

    Thanks for the quick and informative replies. Based on the consensus that finish won't matter half a hill o' beans to the overall tonal quality, I think I'll be getting the high gloss finish.

    Thanks again,

  8. mslatter


    Apr 8, 2003
    My experience with polyurethane is pretty limited, as my initial tries with it were disappointing. I was using the quality of finish available at your average home improvement store (the Minwax brand, more than likely) and this was probably 10 or more years ago. What I'd found and what turned me off, was that poly didn't flow well and didn't burn in between layers, making it pretty fussy to apply. Then, even well-applied, it was hard and scratch resistant, but god forbid you should ever smack it hard enough to make a dent. On a thick-ish finish, it didn't just dent, it kind of shattered, leaving a nearly irrepairable finish. Pissed me off to no end. I've used on non-critical projects, but have sworn it off for anything I think could take a ding.

    So, yer saying there's a lot more to learn about poly than I'd assumed. Any recommendations on a "best" poly finish for an instrument?
  9. I'm not surprised at the results from the use of the Minwax product. There are 2 general varieties of polyurethane for painting - the consumer grade version that is one part, either brush or spray. This dries and cures through evaporation only. The other is available through professional outlets and is a 2-part catalyst hardened acrylic poly used primarily on auto finishes. This hardens by chemical action and cures through evaporation. Damned hard and but difficult to finesse and recover from blow-ups like lacquers.

    This 2 part stuff requires special spray and respiratory equipment. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS without the proper equipment.
  10. Hman


    Jan 8, 2002
    San Francisco, CA
    Carey...both of you finishes are just amazing. Now that I have both, I can't decide which one I like better! Good thing I don't have to choose.:)