what finish looks ‘as natural as possible’?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by bon viesta, Feb 15, 2021.

  1. bon viesta

    bon viesta

    Dec 10, 2020
    me and my dad talked about the possibility in the bit distant future to build a bass from scratch (a rickenbacker... don’t tell john hall!) using wood from his lumber yard of choice which he says DOES have bubinga. he’s a luthier, but mainly does guitars so he said he’ll need to buy bass building equipment for specifically the neck. but anyways, my main rickenbacker/bass influence is paul mccartney. what did paul mccartney have? a bare wood rickenbacker 4001. it looked awesome, and obviously is what i want to emulate, but bare wood is a no-go. it will undoubtedly become nasty within a month. so my question is what finish looks almost “not there”? something that’s durable but isn’t glossy or even satin-y shiny, just sort of there. if such a thing even exists. i want to feel like i’m ‘one with the wood’, glossy is nice but isn’t what i want. glossy seems to me a bit too ordinary, simply because that’s the way they usually come out of the factory. i would go with satin but satin has a bit of a shine to it and also it slowly becomes glossy over the course of several months. oil finishes usually darken up the wood and also aren’t very durable, so i’m not sure about oil either. my father uses nitrocellulose on all of his several guitars he builds, but he doesn’t go anywhere other than at home with his guitars and we all know how nitro does with time, especially when you’re on the move, though some of you like that stuff but i don’t really want it. so all of my nitpicking out of the way... what do you suggest?

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    Last edited: Feb 15, 2021
    teh-slb and westrock like this.
  2. My go-to natural finish is Lee Valley pure polymerized tung oil. This sealer is matte finish but you can get higher luster versions if you change your mind:


    Keep in mind that this is an oil so will significantly darken/amber wood. If you want to keep the wood looking as un-finished as possible water based poly is probably your best bet. Have a look here:

    Using water based products for instrument finishing, Target Coatings 9000 6000 and Varathane WB

    ...but keep in mind those might be higher luster than you are looking for.

    Other options you could consider include Rubio Monocoat, and while some people swear by it, I have not tried it personally.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2021
    Bushmaster likes this.
  3. T_Bone_TL


    Jan 10, 2013
    SW VT
    Not a finish, precisely, but "as natural as possible" in spades:

    Clear carnauba wax, buffed on (the Beall buffing system works nicely, IME.)

    Beeswax also works, you'd want the lighter colored version(s), not the old black wax, and it's not as hard as carnauba.

    Veering towards finish (hardens/polymerizes), may amber it up a bit more: boiled linseed oil, or walnut oil - and add wax as above on top.

    Without ambering, but also without being a hardening or polymerizing oil, mineral oil (from the drugstore)...(and wax on top)

    Anything where you are using wax "in a protective role" just put "rewaxing" on the regualar maintenance schedule, since it's not plastic.

    I use wax or wax/oil on all my tool handles, since I like to feel the wood (not plastic.)
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2021
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  4. bon viesta

    bon viesta

    Dec 10, 2020
    hmm.. tell me, how would water based satin poly work?? it’s effectively just a thin clear matte layer over the maple.
  5. GMC


    Jan 1, 2006
    Wiltshire, UK
    If you want a reason to build a Ricky 4001 clone then just say to yourself that you want to build one. If you want to recreate the Macca sound...then he used a Ricky 4001 on very few recordings or performances. Most of his portfolio of work was recorded using a pair of Hofner Violin basses. There are plenty of websites that can guide you though the "what", "when" and "where". A short scale hollow body bass with those specific pickups will get you very close to that sound. Especially if you load up a set of Rotosound flat wound strings. The rest of his sound is a result of his playing style and his personal dynamics or muscle memory.
    Williethump likes this.
  6. 3bc

    3bc Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2010
    Chicago Burbs
    Had a German $$ for many years that was a natural oil finished with wax finish. I had to rewax the body every so often. It was a natural as it gets. No gloss, basically no sheen. No tint on the swamp ash wood. It very much looked like a tree turned into a bass.
  7. JeezyMcNuggles


    Feb 23, 2018
    Santa Maria, CA
    I suck, but nobody really notices
    You want a flat poly. Screenshot_20210216-041553_Samsung Internet.jpg Google it
    bon viesta likes this.
  8. Here's one method for getting a matt finish without coloring the wood much. Flood the body with blonde shellac and wipe of the excess before it dries. (shellac starts to dry pretty quickly) Once the body is dry rub in paste wax with #0000 grade steel wool for a matt finish.

    Similar results can be achieved using just oil, or wax and rubbing it in with fine grade steel wool, or fine grade plastic type sourer. You just want a very light abrasive effect to prevent the build up of shine. Go lightly.

    Try a few tests on scrap wood and see which finishes you like the look and feel off.

    Thinned down matt polyurethane can be wiped on for a thin sealing coat that doesn't leave the wood feeling like it has been dipped in plastic and it's durable. ( I just thin with turpentine, nothing fancy, it seems to help with the matting effect.) There's a "hippie sandwich" type six string I made in the late 70's with a finish done that way. It's still going strong. Of course any areas you touch continually will eventually develop a bit of a sheen, that's what friction does.
    bon viesta and Bushmaster like this.
  9. Plain Old Barry

    Plain Old Barry Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2018
    Water-based polyurethane will darken or amber the wood the least of any finishes mentioned so far, including blonde shellac. It is available in matte and dead flat, but possibly not in stock in home centers, try a good paint store or woodworking supplier.

    Test on scrap prepared just like your work first, dead flat polyurethane tends to look, well... dead, while *some* shine will enhance the wood a bit. Keep it thin to avoid looking plastic.

    The sheen in canned finishes are made duller by adding a "flatting agent", often a ground up substance that settles out over time in the can. Gloss has none and is the clearest, dead flat has the most and is the cloudiest.

    Clear gloss lacquers and shellacs can be rubbed up or down in sheen with compounds and skill. Urethanes and enamels typically don't rub well, so they need flatting agents added.

    Hope this helps!
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2021
    bon viesta likes this.
  10. dwizum


    Dec 21, 2018
    Just an observation. Don't get too caught up in the material. IME, the method (and amount) applied are just as, if not more, important for creating a finish that mimics bare wood. If I were in your shoes I'd pick the material based on whether you wanted some amber or totally clear, then get some in your hands and practice on scrap until you get what you like.

    Bubinga and maple both finish very easily and can look "naked" with a variety of finishes on them. The one difficulty you'll likely have is that a finish light enough to appear invisible will wear quickly on the maple and look dirty pretty quick.
  11. packhowitzer

    packhowitzer 155mm of pure destruction

    Apr 20, 2011
    this one seems pretty natural:

    teh-slb and Paco Leon like this.
  12. dwizum


    Dec 21, 2018
    Oh great, now we're going to have a tonewood debate about vines...
    packhowitzer and fat_nermil like this.
  13. Flying B

    Flying B

    Apr 29, 2018
    Osmo oil is the most natural looking finish I've seen, it won't yellow the wood like Danish oil or tung oil etc.
  14. rudy4444


    Mar 13, 2012
    Central Illinois
    I'm not big on building instruments and then working to make them look like something they aren't, so I normally use natural finishes.

    I've had some experience using natural wax finishes and found the best natural wax finishes to be 100% pure beeswax or Carnauba wax, but applied in a way that causes the wax to permeate the wood surface rather than only "rubbed" on the surface. You can see the technique I use in the short scale fretless semi-acoustic build I documented here, starting with post #65:

    30” Scale Compact Semi-acoustic Fretless Bass Build

    I have also used the so-called European hard waxes, starting my use with Rubio Monocoat but moving to Osmo Poly-x hard oil. I can highly recommend the Osmo product, and its use is demonstrated in this short scale P bass build here, starting with post #73:

    Building A Short Scale P Bass
  15. Slidlow

    Slidlow Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2009
    Oshawa, Canada
    Of course I prefer grape vines:woot:!
    Jeff Siddall, bon viesta and dwizum like this.
  16. Robscott


    Mar 20, 2017
    Tonbridge UK
    Matt water based poly will get you there. I just finished a bass with it and there is no ambering up at all. It is diamond hard and although I used Satin there is barely any sheen. Matt would be better for what you want, or you could knock the sheen off with some fine grit. I sampled lots of different products and it is the only one which retained the natural colour of the wood (Swamp Ash in my case). The brand I used is Polyvine but I doubt you can get it in US. However there will be many brands available. Good luck with your project and always SAMPLE TEST FIRST!!!
    bon viesta likes this.
  17. bon viesta

    bon viesta

    Dec 10, 2020
    alllll of wings, minus back to the egg. my favorite bass sound. past 1966, and excluding let it be, paul used that bass for mostly everything. but it isn’t my main priority to sound to like macca anyways, i just love the look of his bass.
    GMC likes this.
  18. deff

    deff Supporting Member

    Oct 15, 2018
    Gloucester, MA
    I could attempt to build a lot of basses out of all of the Kudzu I have cut down on my property.
  19. bon viesta

    bon viesta

    Dec 10, 2020
    rickenbacker basses just look so cool, something about them. they look like a... creature... or something. with that awesome looking horseshoe pickup... droooool. i couldn’t care less if paul mccartney secretly played a hofner on silly love songs and london town, but the way that thing looks and sounds on youtube anyways with flat wounds is to die for.
    ctmullins likes this.
  20. johnson79


    Jan 8, 2010
    Lancaster, PA
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