Sunday, August 07, 2005


French Polish Class

This update is long overdue.

A few weeks ago I drove to Evanston IL to take a three-evening class in learning the French Polish method of finishing guitars at R.E. Brune's shop. His son Marshall taught the class. He's a pretty young guy, still in college, but he's been french polishing probably since he was a toddler. He really knew his stuff and was an excellent teacher and was very knowledgable about guitar finishing and construction, as well as the history behind the guitars in their collection. There were only two students in the class, me and Robby O'Brien who flew in from Denver. Robby made the steel string and classical building instructional DVD's that Luthier's Mercantile sells with their guitar kits.

What's French polishing? It's a hand rubbed finish technique that's been in use for centuries, and it involves the use of shellac, which is actually some kind of residue left in trees by bugs.

We weren't allowed to take pictures in the shop for insurance reasons, they have quite a collection of historically important guitars, and they do a lot of restoration work on priceless instruments, so it's understandable they don't want a lot of pictures out detailing what's in there. Here's a pic from Richard Brune's website showing the workshop that we used for the class.

I'll give some more pointers on the French Polishing method we learned when I can show some photos of the process in action when I start finishing a guitar. French polishing has a reputation for being a very time consuming and complicated process. One of the videos I have that details a FP method says to plan on 40hrs of labor over six weeks to complete a finish on one guitar. Brune had claimed that with their method they can do a complete guitar in one day if they're in a hurry, though they usually like to take a little longer. That was what piqued my interest in this class in the first place.

We also got to look through Brune's personal collection/museum of instruments and that was a highlight of the class. It's kind of like being able to go into the Smithsonian and take stuff off of the walls to look at it closer. I wish I knew more about the history of the classical guitar, this experience has certainly piqued my interest.

One in particular that I remember was a Torres from 1860. He is considered to be the "Father of the Modern Guitar." They had also just gotten in a Torres to be restored. An elderly man in Spain had passed away and his relatives found this old guitar in the attic. It was all cracked up and not playable, they almost threw it in the dumpster. They remembered a relative living in New York that played the guitar and decided to send it to him. It's amazing how close they came to tossing a valuable piece of history into the dumpster. Richard and Marshall will likely spend hundreds of hours carefully restoring it, they are one of the few places in the US qualified to do that level of restoration work.

Also, in their collection they had a guitar that Brune had made that was owned by Andres Segovia, probably the most famous classical guitar player ever.

I also saw guitars by Hauser, Fleta, Ramirez, and others. While I knew the instruments I was looking at were very special, much of it was probably lost on me since I'm pretty ignorant of the classical guitar world.

That's about it. I'll explain more about the actual finishing technique later on when I can show pictures of what I'm doing. I can highly recommend Marshall's class to anyone interested in learning this type of finish.

Heh heh... You said "piqued". Twice.
If I had a nickel for every time I got piqued...
...I'd be eating nickel soup.

Sounds interesting. I'm glad you had a good time and learned something. Always remember, It's hard to learn something when you don't have a good time, and it's hard to have a good time when you don't learn something.

I'm dizzy.
My motto in life is "Have a good time, all the time." Or maybe that was from Spinal Tap. Either way, be somebody.
How's the back these days?
The back only bothered me for about a week, and then it was fine all of a sudden. I think I just strained a muscle or something. Thanks for asking.
You were cured by the power of the French Polishing Technique. What can't it do?

My friend Ben likes to shellac everything. In school, he used to carry a can of it around in his backpack. Then it opened up and he shellac'ed everything inside of it.
You're right, it was the French polishing that did it... I'm gonna become a shellactivist. "French polish... it won't rub you the wrong way." If there's a bad french polishing joke, I haven't heard it.

I'm off to see the boondogs.
Shellactivism will catch on, mark my words.

"French Polish: Shining Happy People Since the 1600's."
That's so cliche, using an REM song to make a joke about french polishing and it's possible healing effects.

That was much better than mine, I literally laughed out loud. I literally chewed the scenery.
You're right, it IS cliche'. I totally forgot about the "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Shined)" campaign they had in 1995. I feel like a hack.

"Where is the rent? I must have the rent!"
And who could forget Don't Shellac to Rockville.

We've stumbled upon an untapped resevoir of comedy.
I think we just tapped it dry, however. Trust me, I've been thinking of more, but they're embarrassingly bad.
Always leave them wanting something else.
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