Spruce top, maple sides, oak fretboard, maple neck. 

Trying to choose a clear finish that will preserve the wood, especially the spruce top... would prefer to use the same finish on everything...


Views: 454


Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Let me say up front I do not play myself and am new to guitar building. I am now working on my #11 since deciding to build a few for grandchildren starting back in November. I am a retired professional boat (yacht) builder so do know a few things about quality finishes if not acoustics. In the past six months I have also learned a lot about building guitars!

Here are a few of my builds:


Not knowing any better, all my builds have been finished with a very high quality marine varnish, at least three coats and usually more, with fine sanding between coats. I think you likely remove at least one half of each previous coat when sanding. I do the insides (only one coat) too before assembly, under the reasoning that this helps prevent humidity absorption. Sometimes I spray, but honestly, I can get a beautiful wet glassy look with just a foam tipped brush too, so lately I haven't bothered to get out the spray gear since I dislike the spray cleanup process so much.

Maybe the varnishing is bad for the acoustic quality, but to my admittedly untrained ear all my guitars have sounded great to me, and the ones who have ended up with them say the same thing. I'm sure I will hear from some people with very good technical reasons why varnish is wrong, but if the ancient masters used it, I feel it should be quite acceptable now for amateur me.

Here's my process: The first coat is a severely thinned back application, meant to penetrate and seal the wood. Then a light sanding down to 400 grit, then re-coat two to four times with a good thorough sanding with 400 between coats.

The varnish: I use Epiphanes high-gloss marine varnish, purchased from Jamestown Distributors in Rhode Island. They offer two to four day shipping in the US. After the first opening and use out of the can ALWAYS strain any further use from an open can. You can buy paint strainers at Home Depot by the box of one hundred for about twice the price of one of the little blister packs of three or five.

Additive: I use 'Penetrol' oil which is widely available through most paint and hardware stores, usually adding about 15-30% by volume. This is a rather thick 'thinner', used for its 'flowing' effect rather than as a thinner. This will cause the varnish to 'flow out' like glass;

The actual thinner: sometimes, especially in warm weather, the varnish will be too thick, even with Penetrol, and tend to sag in places. Use mineral spirits - the real thing, and not that pretend 'no odor' kind to get the right consistency. You will need to experiment a little to find just the right mix. After you learn, you will be able to judge by how the stirred varnish drops off your stir stick. Once you nail that you will know!

I hope this helps.


Great advice and information! Thanks! 

I've used boiled linseed oil and sprayed on multiple light coats of shellac (out of a rattle can.) No issues with that finish.

I couple coats of Danish Oil followed by a few coats of Minwax Satin Lacquer, which has the best spray tip and the smoothest end result.  The Minwax alone works great on paper boxes.


The Essential Pages

New to Cigar Box Nation?How to Play Cigar Box GuitarsFree Plans & How to Build Cigar Box GuitarsCigar Box Guitar Building BasicsCigar Box Guitar Parts Store

Site Sponsor

Recommended Links & Resources


2017 Halloween Build-Off!

Started by Shane Speal shanespeal.com in Feature Articles. Last reply by harry thompson 8 hours ago. 31 Replies

Banjo question

Started by Rose Ericson in Performances, How to Play, Lessons, Concerts. Last reply by Titch the Clown 18 hours ago. 46 Replies


Started by Joe Nanzer in Performances, How to Play, Lessons, Concerts. Last reply by Joe Nanzer on Sunday. 8 Replies

Latest Activity

Chick Who Tinkers commented on Chick Who Tinkers's photo


"No worries, Chris. Hope your wifi gets sorted easily for you. We'll chat about all things…"
16 minutes ago
Dennis Reedy commented on Dave Lynas's video

Postmaster 2 sample

"Dave when you finger pick do you use your fingers or finger nails... what do most people do?"
17 minutes ago
Dennis Reedy commented on ChickenboneJohn's video

ZZ Top's "25 Lighters" on cigar box guitar

"Great lesson ,ZZ Top is my favorite band, more lessons on their songs would be great. You are a…"
24 minutes ago
Chris Lyons commented on Chick Who Tinkers's photo


"Hey love, my Wi-Fi's down. If it comes back up Ill message later and share how I tamed that…"
47 minutes ago
Primitive Acoustics commented on Primitive Acoustics's video

Crank Wheel Cigar Box Guitar

"Twitch and Chick-Thank you so much for checking this out and taking the time to comment!!"
1 hour ago
darryl kernaghan replied to Janis Wilson Hughes's discussion Scroll saw fret slot cutting - I need a thicker blade - help a sister out please
"These are what i use in my saw Janis, my saw takes pin ended blades, .5 mm is just nice for…"
1 hour ago
Mike Whitney replied to Mike Whitney's discussion Round peizo... feeling underwhelmed.
"Man, I know...! - and old enough to know better. I grabbed some 'chopstick' like scraps…"
1 hour ago
Muddy Creek Guitars commented on T-Gripped's photo

Cancer Booth

"Great work for a great cause!"
1 hour ago
Muddy Creek Guitars liked T-Gripped's photo
1 hour ago
darryl kernaghan replied to Janis Wilson Hughes's discussion Scroll saw fret slot cutting - I need a thicker blade - help a sister out please
1 hour ago
darryl kernaghan replied to Janis Wilson Hughes's discussion Scroll saw fret slot cutting - I need a thicker blade - help a sister out please
"I just had a quick look, i suspect these are too long for your saw, [ 11"], but it gives you…"
1 hour ago
Erasmo Coco commented on Erasmo Coco's video


"Thanks again Dave ! Glad you like it."
1 hour ago




© 2017   Created by Ben "C. B. Gitty" Baker.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service