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Aug 9, 2022 - 5:52:48 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15839 posts since 8/30/2006
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My customer wanted his rim and neck wood to be cut In January. He had developed his specs.

He works up at high altitude doing scientific research, the Black Walnut banjo and neck go with him as he downloads and gathers data.

His hobby is obtaining cheaper and mediocre-sounding instruments and turning them into great sounding gems by French Polishing.

I shipped him his unfinished rim and neck and went back to work for a year while he turned his banjo into glass finish that interacts very well with light.
I was very surprised and truly thrilled with the way it looked, but after assembly I was impressed by the way it sounded. I have other HeliX here to compare with that get played regularly = Bamboo #001, 2009; Black Walnut #001,'09; and Chestnut #003, '09.  Busy year. 

Yes, I felt French Polish protected, enhanced and perfected my experience and promoted the best possible result from standard hardware and simple tone ring.

I burnish my boiled Linseed oil with an 80-count handkerchief.

My customer seeks out mediocre instruments to French Polish and then re-sells them sounding fantastic.

French Polish makes banjo parts sound better, it's right there in your ears.  Rim and neck 

Are there other people who have done this with rims and necks?

Edited by - Helix on 08/09/2022 06:23:49

Aug 9, 2022 - 6:39:20 AM

14859 posts since 6/29/2005

I have.

Aug 9, 2022 - 9:15:03 AM

9999 posts since 8/28/2013

Many, many banjos and other instruments including Vegas were French polished before the advent of nitro in the mid twenties.

I would suspect that tonal changes would be minimal, but if you hear them. they exist and are probably due to a thinner finish.

I also wonder if altering the finish is all that your customer is doing, or if he is also making other changes in set-up or configuration.

Aug 9, 2022 - 9:57:35 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15839 posts since 8/30/2006
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Now you guys have had your say, please let others contribute. Both of you are welcome to come and sit on my tailgate and drink some Hibiscus tea, hot or cold.  Call first. 

He just makes cheap guitars sound great without changing setup or anything other than French Polish.

I don't have to give you sound bytes.

Please don't kill the thread.

Is anyone else besides these two regular contributors doing French Polish on Rims and necks? And how do they sound?

Edited by - Helix on 08/09/2022 09:58:54

Aug 9, 2022 - 1:17:39 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15839 posts since 8/30/2006
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I use a standard setup, so all four banjos are optimal and use the same type rim
The French polished openback sounded better from several people, players and visitors
I took a picture of the o’scope signal with a Polaroid and wrote down the settings on the back of the photo and put it away, no I didn't.

Whatever setup changes were made by the new owner, I don’t know

When I get time, I will try a few myself

Edited by - Helix on 08/09/2022 13:18:42

Aug 9, 2022 - 7:03:04 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15839 posts since 8/30/2006
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Ken Levan and George, such class.

I'm really sorry to see this.

Aug 10, 2022 - 5:08:24 AM
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Players Union Member

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

27705 posts since 8/3/2003

Helix: this is an open forum and any member has the right to voice his or her opinion. You do NOT have the right to tell them to butt out so don't!

Aug 10, 2022 - 6:37:29 AM
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703 posts since 7/10/2012

I was enjoying the direction this thread was taking. I've never French polished anything... It's hard for me to imagine FP alone significantly affecting tone, but I've certainly been surprised in the past by the impact subtle differences in building technique can have.

I hope others pick up the thread and continue the exploration of the topic. I don't understand why anyone would thumb their nose at folks trying to add good information to the discussion, especially folks who add so much so regularly. 2 cents --> bucket.

Aug 10, 2022 - 12:07:17 PM
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14859 posts since 6/29/2005

"He just makes cheap guitars sound great without changing setup or anything other than French Polish."

Apropos of that, a very well known guitar builder, regarded by many as the father of flat top steel string guitar luthiery— 52 years experience building,  is a big advocate of French polish. He doesn’t want nitro in his shop, so will sometimes send his own guitars out to be lacquered on the backs and sides, but ALWAYS French polishes the top himself because it makes a thin beautiful coating and doesn’t deaden the sounding board, which is the most important part of a guitar, sound-wise

He  has had a lot of experience with repairs of other guitars and inasmuch as he says factory guitars are usually “overbuilt” to use his term, and way too thickly finished to make a mirror finish, he has observed that when you strip and sand the top of a factory built guitar and French polish it, it sounds better because, (1) the top was too thick and the sanding thins it down, which can re-voice the sounding board, and make it sound better, and (2) the French polish doesn’t deaden it like whatever finish was on it before did.

Maybe that's the experience of the person in the OP who makes cheap guitars sound better with French polish.

I don't know what the effect on banjos would be—they work differently than guitars, but French polish would not hurt anything, for sure,and looks good to boot.

Aug 10, 2022 - 12:18:59 PM
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7094 posts since 9/21/2007

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Aug 10, 2022 - 1:09:30 PM
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7094 posts since 9/21/2007

Hi Larry, as George wrote, pretty much all classic era banjos were French polished. From Stewart to Vega and all points in between and beyond.

I expect that since the soundboard of a guitar is finished, Ken is likely correct that the subject's mediocre guitars were revoiced, directly or indirectly. With those repairs, it sounds like "He" is doing a lot more than just scraping off the finish and padding on shellac.

I think it is peaches that you are having a positive experience with French polish. Considering that it dries very fast, if you changeover to it as "spec" then you might reduce the amount of time you spend on finishing. More time playing.

Shellac flakes are cheap and fun to work with. And you can cut it with 190 Everclear. The environmental effects of using shellac (a natural and renewable resource, safe to consume by humans and animals) and pure alcohol is a good thing.

Aug 10, 2022 - 2:53:02 PM
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14859 posts since 6/29/2005

When French polishing a banjo rim, you can do it with the rim mounted on the lathe, with shellac and alcohol in the pad and a little oil as a lubricant while it's spinning. Works like a charm.

Aug 10, 2022 - 7:12:39 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15839 posts since 8/30/2006
Online Now

Present day banjo rims and necks

buffing with a collette, if that works for you

I was responding to tdennis

Edited by - Helix on 08/10/2022 19:14:47

Aug 11, 2022 - 4:39:02 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15839 posts since 8/30/2006
Online Now

dpgetman My "client" didn't tell me his hobby at first, He contacted me with specs. I really like that. After we had written everything down, it was still weeks before he disclosed to me the extra sound quality he got out of really just entry level guitars from pawn shops, not big box.

That's what seems to alarm other people: How could it be so easy?  No, I shouldn't have mentioned anything about repairs.

I expect that since the soundboard of a guitar is finished, Ken is likely correct that the subject's mediocre guitars were revoiced, directly or indirectly. With those repairs, it sounds like "He" is doing a lot more than just scraping off the finish and padding on shellac.

Joelhooks, you can suspect anything.  I think you like to do monkeywrenching.  Let's say he just isn't telling lies, so please don't imply anything.

And the popcorn?   Is it popcorn, or just pure corn.  Where's Ken Levan with his Arizona hot air license plate?  That contributes so much.  And make them as large as possible.  Come on over and sit on my tailgate.  

Your contribution is so noted, we'd like for you to make room for other ideas, please, how about some Hibiscus tea?

 


 

Edited by - Helix on 08/11/2022 04:53:44

Aug 11, 2022 - 7:32:14 AM

7094 posts since 9/21/2007

Aug 11, 2022 - 9:22:39 AM
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5946 posts since 12/20/2005

Larry, I always have, and still do, respect your knowledge of banjos and consider us to be friends.
But come on man, lighten up.
I don’t see anyone weighing in with hostile intent.
It’s a good topic.
You would expect people to join in.

Aug 11, 2022 - 10:17:30 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15839 posts since 8/30/2006
Online Now

Lets do lighten up.

I respect you too, Leslie

And Joel, locked up for all time, what a bonus to have you along for the ride

So to the general population, you’ll see there’s enough history here that something is fishy

Philosophies differ

Aug 11, 2022 - 2:31:47 PM
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7094 posts since 9/21/2007

The strange thing about all of this, Larry, is that I am agreeing with you. It is almost like you are suffering from persecution delusion.

Spanish guitar builders swear by FP, and they likely have a good reason for it.

While I can't see that it would have that direct of a difference on a banjo (seeing that the head is the sounding board and does not get FP), it can't hurt.

And for the reasons I stated above, it is a MUCH healthier choice to work with than any modern finishes.

Considering that all of the banjos (except for one) that I own and play predate nitro, and that the catalog descriptions for them specify "polish" or "French Polish" (historically it was often only referred to as just "polish"-- also just "polish" in 19th century woodworking and sloyd method books), you can see that I am an advocate.

While I have not explored the skill of learning how to FP, I have recently started using shellac finishes for all the woodwork I do. I have several colors and use those instead of staining.

I would think for OT banjos it should be the preferred choice.

Aug 11, 2022 - 2:44:44 PM
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5946 posts since 12/20/2005

I know I can google it but I’d rather hear it here.
I can see the ingredients, or some of them already indicated.
Still, how do you put this into practice ?

Aug 11, 2022 - 4:08:03 PM
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7094 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Leslie R

I know I can google it but I’d rather hear it here.
I can see the ingredients, or some of them already indicated.
Still, how do you put this into practice ?


It is more skill than anything.

Ingredients are shellac flakes, highest proof of grain alcohol (if you are luckily enough to live in a state that sells this, some of us are forced to use poisoned alcohol, a carryover from the successful prohibition era), and a tiny amount of some oil (many people use different things, 19th century instructions usually specified something called "sweet almond oil" but today people use olive, mineral, or other).

The rest is method, practice and skill.

Aug 11, 2022 - 5:22:19 PM
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14859 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Leslie R

I know I can google it but I’d rather hear it here.
I can see the ingredients, or some of them already indicated.
Still, how do you put this into practice ?


Leslie,

There is a current thread I posted several weeks ago "French Polishing a Resonator" https://www.banjohangout.org/topic/384560 

There you can see the ingredients, pictures, and a few basic instructions.

I am about to send a walnut banjo to Germany where both the rim and the neck are French polished—the subject of this thread.  I'll post some pictures of it (on another thread) before I send it out.

Ken 

Aug 11, 2022 - 7:38:30 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15839 posts since 8/30/2006
Online Now

Sorry Joel. You fold your criticism into others' words, it's almost like deliberate. Could we get away from the personal stuff and back to any other contribution you might wish to make.  Joel's last incursion into Trademarks and other nature photos, just doesn't wash with trying to stay on the subject.  I now de-bestow the honorary title of J-hook, I won't use that any more.  

So, no, I do not feel a positive regard for the material. just feel free to contact me off forum.  See, the person just buys inexpensive guitars, you made too much of suspicious revoicing, and cracks and repairs, which are minimal.

The reason for fewers repair is TIME,  They want to spend their time enjoying the process.   The person has credentials that don't need insults like they are lying.  Hearsay isn't against the rules here on the hangout.

I tell the truth, what's the problem.  Shakees, or Shakeys or styrofoam straw hats were definitely commercial, but many people went and tried to learn some piano or banjo or bass or guitar.

Maybe from this thread, other people will give french polishing a try.  

For Ken, thanks for taking the expertise to the appropriate thread.

What others can note is the: "While I can't see that it would have that direct of a difference on a banjo (seeing that the head is the sounding board and does not get FP), it can't hurt."

I resist stating opinion as a fact, so I don't disagree with Joel and Ken about the Head being a sounding board.

I disagree about it being the only contribution to sound from the entire living playing banjo. Ken and Joel know this.

If I do French Polish Leslie R  It will be with a Helix type rim and Helix type tone ring, that's the trouble here, I wish you could have heard the banjo before I shipped it to higher altitudes. It's totally subjective.  It's like several people saw something in the sky.

I have used Tung Oil and Behlen's Lacquer.  Varnish led to the famous Helix blocked photographs of Midnight Zephyr #002  

I have used the lathe to sand and finish rims.

For French Polish, I would go totally traditional, by hand/eye/feel.  Certain things on banjo assembly need to feel right, 

 


 




Aug 11, 2022 - 8:17:45 PM
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5946 posts since 12/20/2005

This has been a topic on an interesting subject. A subject I was not aware of.
I’m glad it was started.
I’ve got a lot of nicely figured black walnut from a tree I had milled about 25 years ago.
I’m going to be trying this on something. What it might be, don’t know yet.

Aug 11, 2022 - 8:21:46 PM

5946 posts since 12/20/2005

It was mentioned French polishing was used on banjos, up to maybe the 20’s
Was it used by all of the major mfg’s ?

Aug 11, 2022 - 8:41:52 PM
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PaulRF

Australia

3356 posts since 2/1/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Leslie R

This has been a topic on an interesting subject. A subject I was not aware of.
I’m glad it was started.
I’ve got a lot of nicely figured black walnut from a tree I had milled about 25 years ago.
I’m going to be trying this on something. What it might be, don’t know yet.


I believe Ken has a photo of black walnut on his thread that looks amazing after being french polished.

Paul 

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