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For all you thinking about refinishing your guitars...

ShawnShawn Boise, Idaho✭✭✭✭
Long story short...

I was on a business trip and took my guitar along to play in the hotel. Left it out in the car not realizing how hot it was to get that day and the finish (French polished top, Shellac over poly back and sides) melted :x

Well, I decided since I've wanted to take the terrible poly finish off the rest of the guitar, this would be the perfect opportunity to do so. Interestingly enough, it only took me about 3 hours to do the entire guitar with an orbital sander (80 grit, finishing with 220 grit). It came out much better than I expected and I had a few surprises as well. First, I must state that this is a Gitane DG255, so I figured Gitane would go cheap on some materials...wrong...the bindings and purfling are clearly ebony and maple since I can see the grain in both. I think most people assumed they were plastic, but they are definitely solid wood. Another shock...the headstock overlay is also real ebony! I figured it was painted on, but it appears Gitane actually painted over the ebony for some reason.

Well, that aside I'm terribly happy I did finally got the time and courage to go through with this. I haven't applied the finish yet (that comes tomorrow), but I'm doing a light stain on the top, finishing the back, sides and neck in clear Nitro, and then doing the soundboard with a thin coat of Nitro under French polish. In case anyone else ever decides to do this, just be careful, but you definitely won't regret it.

Here are some before/after pictures:


  • Jeff MooreJeff Moore Minneapolis✭✭✭✭ Lebreton 2
    Posts: 476
    I assume the last two pics are the done guitar.
    I like your choices of stain, and appreciate your go for it approach! I find that when I do an improvement to a guitar, I play it a lot more?

    I do neck mods and can wind up in a refinish, so share with us your method for "nitro", if you've got a "non-equiped" method. If its a spray can, what kind? And if you nitro the top, why bother with polish? Why not just stay real thin with the nitro?

    The color tone you achieved is perfect.
    Nice job and thanks for posting this.
    "We need a radical redistribution of wealth and power" MLK
  • ShawnShawn Boise, Idaho✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 296
    Hi Jeff, sorry for the confusion. The last two pics are the "before" shots...unfortunately that is the finish that literally melted, which is terribly sad, because like you, I thought it turned out really good. I'm still going for a vintage look using amber shellac for the french polish, but I'm using clear nitro for the neck, back, and sides. It should lighten up the guitar with all that thick poly-whatsit off though.
  • fraterfrater Prodigy
    Posts: 763
    I would apply a bit less orange... time will get you that effect with shellac, but much more naturally.
  • ShawnShawn Boise, Idaho✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 296
    Whew...finally done.

    Labor intenstive process, but I'm completely happy with the results. I applied one coat of sanding sealer to the back, sides, and neck (but not the top). I then French polished the top with Amber Shellac, and did the rest with Blonde shellac, then applied one very thin coat of Nitrocellulose lacquer to the instrument. After curing between each stage I then hand sanded with 800 grit, down to 1000 grit, and finished off with 2000 grit...ending with something between a semi-gloss and satin look. For the finishing touch I took a piece of cloth and rubbed it hard to get a nice smooth finish, and then went back and forth between 2000 grit and cloth for a super smooth feel. This project was very laborous, and I can't believe not a single thing went wrong...except for my arms and hands hurting like a #$%^&.

    I honestly can't believe how well this turned out, and without the poly finish it sounds almost ("almost" being the key word here) as good as my Dupont MD50. I think the french polish on the top looks more natural than it was before, and I can't wait to play it as I'm letting the moustache end piece dry right now.

    Here are a few pictures of the finished article...
  • Jeff MooreJeff Moore Minneapolis✭✭✭✭ Lebreton 2
    Posts: 476
    Nice Work.
    When it really hardens over time, I'm guessing you'll get even better sound.
    Shellac gets really brittle no? I've always thought that the harder (more brittle) the better? But I'm not a finish guy.

    I've been playing gj for about 10 years, and had lots guitars. The one that I have worn the frets completely out on is one I completely re-did 6 or so years ago. I think that working on them, for some folks, make them more yours than would otherwise be the case.

    Your top looks aged. One of the first guitars I refinished, I put "prestain" on. I think its silicone (not that good for the top of a guitar), but the finish (stain and top coat) went on like a factory finish. Since then, in the later mods I've done on other guitars, I've just avoided doing finish at all, even when the result wasn't very visually finished and even downright careless.

    Gotta respect the work you put in. Do you think you've improved the sound enough that its worth doing the work for that reason? I want to do some mods to a Cigano. Both to electrify it and change the neck profile for a gigging guitar. I like the sound but it suffers a little mud in the bottom, like many short scale guitars.

    How would you describe the difference in sound?

    Yours looks good
    "We need a radical redistribution of wealth and power" MLK
  • ShawnShawn Boise, Idaho✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 296
    Hi Jeff,

    There is a tremendous difference in the sound, so much so, that I think most people would believe this instrument to be a luthier made one. Gitane's are of course well known to have slightly more low end and muddiness in the bass than say, a hand made Selmer. By removing the Poly finish I can't even detect that bass sound that was once there, and now there is almost overwhelming high end response, with crisper mids. In fact, leaning off of this revelation I would say the volume of the instrument was increased by 3 fold or more! I have an older Dupont MD50 as well, and quite to my surprise I can barely tell the difference in sound and volume between the two instruments now. I would even put forth the idea that Gitane actually makes "great" instruments, but has a terrible finishing process that dampens the sound of their instruments. I just wish I had recording software to give you an idea of what it sounds like...I think everyone would be totally surprised that the sound was coming from a mere DG255.

    This refinishing process added such a huge sound improvement that I'm almost thinking of stripping down my Archtop and doing the same.
  • ElliotElliot Madison, WisconsinNew
    Posts: 551
    Wow...that's really an Ace job, Shawn. Congratulations!
  • How much do you charge for this service?
  • fraterfrater Prodigy
    Posts: 763
    This time you got it just right. The tint reminds me my Eimers sporting an original Maccaferri top. Thumbs up!
  • Jeff MooreJeff Moore Minneapolis✭✭✭✭ Lebreton 2
    Posts: 476
    Thanks again for sharing your work and experience.

    Given what you've said, anyone reading your thread here is gonna be tempted to leave their own guitar in the car too, then refinish it! What kind of car do you use?

    Your 255 and my Cigano's are closely related. Both have tops befitting low end factory made guitars. But the tops aren't plastic, they're sitka! I think the short scale Ciganos are peculiar in the value for $ category and some of them are comparable to their elite brethren despite every good reason to the contrary.

    I'm a romantic like some others playing this music. I need the illusion that whatever guitar I'm playing at the gig is a tool of musical magic. The niggling concern that it can't possibly be true given the provenance of that instrument may be the real illusion.
    Selmers, Gibsons, Martins, etc... are nearly all factory guitars. Maybe a greater portion of these guitars real value comes from manufacturing technique, the blueprints, and luck than is commonly believed.
    One of my Ciganos is in fact a dog. But it is destined to be an attempt in alchemy.

    By the way, I like factories. In fact nearly everything I eat, wear, live in, ride and drive, and enjoy listening to is dependent on them. The problem isn't factories, they just need to be democratically run for the benefit of our little planet.
    "We need a radical redistribution of wealth and power" MLK
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