Caring for a French Polish classical guitar.
January 11, 2020 10:55 AM   Subscribe

How to care for a French Polish guitar when I'm a bull in a china shop?

I traded a website for a classical guitar from my good friend who's an aspiring luthier. The guitar has a spruce top, with rosewood sides and back, finished in french polish. So within 15 minutes of playing (if that) I put a good nick in the top, maybe 5mm long. Wondering just what I'm dealing with, I lightly dragged my thumbnail across the surface. Now I have a 20mm "crease" next to that from the lightest of pressure. I played a little more (2hrs) and now there's a good little collection developing.

I'm I strummer, and not really a fingerpicker at all. Already anticipating this, I had him place a pickguard on the top like he does with the flamencos. This is new territory for me. I'd like to play it without worrying too much about messing up the look. He sells these for €4,000 and I don't know what to think about how to approach this. It doesn't do much good to just let it sit in the case. I'm not really going to enjoy switching my style to fingerpicking, although it's a good opportunity to build that skill. I'd just like to sit and play Grapevine Fires or There's a Light That Never Goes Out for the pleasure of it. Do I just try to keep wear to a minimum and live with it? But, I Am Not Trying To Break Your/his Heart.

I'm on the horns of a dilemma. I want it to be Just Like Heaven
posted by humboldt32 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (4 answers total)
I'm a firm believer that instruments are made to be played. Also, spruce isn't the hardest of woods, so if you're going to play it, it's going to get worn.

That said, the one gouge looks like it's actually a chip in the wood, and the other one you said you did to see how soft the wood is. He gauge/chip seems like it would require some unusual technique, especially in that part of the guitar. And the other one, well, you've probably learned your lesson. So, without seeing you play, I'm wondering if maybe you have unusual strumming technique or are just playing too hard for an instrument like that (that was originally designed to be played with fingers).

ultimately, you could have it finished with a polyurethane, and that will be more forgiving to abuse, but it could also affect the sound.
posted by jonathanhughes at 11:35 AM on January 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is very personal and might also have a regional component, but for me and most folks I know play wear on a satin-finished (e.g., not gloss) is itself a beautiful thing, like irregularities in the color of genuine leather. I bought a new mahogany guitar (so, softer than rosewood) two months ago and it is already checked and scratched and dinged like a years-old gloss-finished instrument would be. Of course, I like it, so there's that.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:45 PM on January 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yep, As you have discovered, french polished guitars are quite different from laminated factory made guitars.

If you are going to play this with a pick and you don't want it to be scratched up you are going to have to be very very careful. I can see the transparent tap plate in the lower photo. It doesn't cover to the lower bout (it rarely does) - you are bound to scratch the surface after it if you strum with a pick. But if that's how you play you are going to have to accept it. Look at Willie Nelson's guitar.

This type of guitar isn't really designed with pick playing in mind. Sure you can do it if you like that sound on it. But playing with your fingers is incredibly gratifying and I would agree with your statement that perhaps now is the time to learn. Playing with your fingers on this style of guitar would really be playing to its strengths of warm and varied tones that you just cant get from a steel string guitar.

Covering it with a laminate finish would really be a sin. It would devalue the guitar for anyone who would really want to play the styles that are associated with it.
posted by Lucky Bobo at 12:49 PM on January 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

I will add, playing this kind of guitar with picks is somewhat akin to playing Conga drums with sticks or a drum kit with bare hands. It is built for specific techniques.
posted by Lucky Bobo at 12:53 PM on January 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

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