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tung oil finish

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by godoze, Dec 14, 2002.

  1. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    well, i was just on the web site of of respected bass maker that said no, he will not put a tung oil finish on a bass, that it is poor finish, and that if you don't mind sanding down your bass every couple of months and refinishing it you will be ok - I am paraphrasing here.

    This person goes on to say that only small luthiers use this finish because it is cheap and avaliable in harware stores.

    I would like the thoughts of the pro luthiers on this please. And also, what finishes do you use?
  2. JP Basses

    JP Basses

    Mar 22, 2002
    Paris FRANCE
    I'm just a micro builder so...I use teak oil + wax finish :D

    because, IMHO, nothing beats the feel of oiled wood. Especially for the back of the neck.

    None of my basses need to be sanded and refinished every 3 monthes. Oil offers less protection to scratches and dings but whenever there is a scratch or something else, the oil finish allows you to sand it down and refinish the small area to get you bass back new!

    As far of sound, IME and to some extend, thick and solid finishes (like varnish) dampen the extreme frequencies of the instrument (extreme lows and highs).

    BTW, where are you paraphrasing from??

    Peace, JP
  3. Brooks


    Apr 4, 2000
    Middle East
    I am no luthier, but I do own a tung oil finished Rick Turner Electroline, and I wouldn't consider Rick Turner 'a small luthier'. Each finish has it's advantages and disadvantages, and each can be applied in different ways.

    A properly applied tung oil finish is a time consuming and meticulous affair. My Electroline hasn't been re-oiled or sanded in 3 years now, and the finish is still perfect.
  4. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    actually Mr.Pulcinella says(on his website) that he will do tung oil upon request but does not recommend it. Sorry for the confusion.

    Still, I'd like your opinions.
  5. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    So what is the verdict ? I mean, I am getting ready to have a new bass made for me . There is a possibility i suppose of a tung oil finish - at least one of the luthiers that I have contacted uses only tung oil.

    I really do not want to have to sand my bass ! Am I being over dramatic ? Am i making a mountain out of a molehill ?

    Just want to make sure i make the right decision...
  6. xush


    Jul 4, 2001
    mobile AL
    will he (or did he) tell you why he thinks you'd have to sand it that often? I've got an oiled Alembic that's over 20 years old, hasn't ever been sanded...I'm sure I'm not the only one who's got a tung oiled bass in this condition.
  7. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    i think the idea is that for an "active" (his word) bassist the tung oil is not the way to go.

    check the FAQ at his website. matt pulcinella guitars.
  8. mikgag

    mikgag Guest

    Mar 25, 2002
    We're a small custom shop and all we use is tung-oil. Feels great. Looks great. Smells Great. Easy to do and easy to maintain. IMO wood wasn't meant to be covered in hard plastic......
  9. elwood

    elwood there is no spoo

    Jul 25, 2001
    Mid-Hudson Valley, NY
    I love the feel of oil better than anything else. That said, it seems to my ear a hard finish gives a more distinct tone. No science to quote on that one, but oil also offers the least moisture protection of any finish used on basses, and that can keep you tweakin' that truss rod. Wouldn't want to be doing an outdoor gig on the Missouri with an oil finish bass. YMMV.

  10. IMO the reasons given for not using and oil finish are bunk.

    I use oil finishes as do literally hundreds of luthiers, both pro, semi-pro, and those considered to be serious hobbyists. It is true that a couple of coats of oil won't seal wood completely from moisture but a couple of coats isn't doing an oil finish properly. It takes much more than that get the protection that oil can offer. If there ever was a place that oil is properly used is on the stock of firearms. As the son of a talented gunsmith, I can vouch that if moisture were a problem with oil finished gunstocks, it wouldn't have been used for the last hundred or so years for just that purpose. Gunstocks are more than platforms for the hardware. They are designed and intended to hold a firearm action very solidly so that adjustments in the aiming system can be made accurately. If stocks were swelling, bending, twisting, or doing any number of things that wood does when subjected to moisture, it would make it impossible to make the minute corrections required to get the weapon to fire where it's aimed.

    A proper oil finish could take literally dozens of coats. This can be taken to a beautiful dazzling finish by building up the coats. Take a look at the MIMF forum for examples of this technique. Some of these finishes rival lacquer in their depth and beauty.
  11. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson SUSPENDED Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    I have a Walnut and Purpleheart 78 Tobias with tung oil finish. Mike Tobias was the first and last person to sand it... when he built it.

    Maybe Matt doesn't want to spend the time doing it. As Hambone said, it can take lots of coats to do it right. My Tobias still looks like it did when I got it a couple of decades ago:D
  12. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Not referring to mileage, but to old knowledge and new science:
    A solid laquer, polyurethan or other similar finish will crack. It is only a matter of time. Thus let moisture in.
    A properly applied oil finish will not crack, it is not stiff or brittle enough! No moisture will enter the wood.
  13. I'm a big oil fan also, I ofter strip and refinish my new gear with oil because I like the feel of it.

    BTW how many coats do most of you use on a neck? On a body? I use around 8-10 depending on how the wood feels about it.
  14. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson SUSPENDED Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    I have a 78 Walnut Tobias with oil finish that is among the most stable basses I've ever owned. We have four seasons here and lots of humidity. The action is very low and it's also among the most articulate basses I own too.

    I can see what you say happening but I could also see there being other factors involved, like construction and materials. Just a thought.
  15. elwood

    elwood there is no spoo

    Jul 25, 2001
    Mid-Hudson Valley, NY
    That's good to hear, since I really prefer the look and feel of oil. There may be a tung oil bass in my future after all. If there was any problem, low action should have made it obvious.

    I know a guy with one of the Smith BSRGN 5's that does have problems with humidity affecting the action. This is not a cheaply constructed bass, but it still may have to do with other factors, as you mentioned.


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