Friday, December 11, 2009

U-Beaut Hard Shellac - Once Bitten, Twice Shy

I didn't want to die wondering whether U-Beaut's Hard Shellac could have been the answer to my finishing dreams and I experimented with it on this little Claro Walnut/Engelmann Spruce 12-fret double-0, destined for my own use. Having been distracted by other projects recently I've only just strung the guitar up and, although it's still a little tight and is yet to have its initial fret job and setup, it sounds very promising already. What's more, I love the way it looks - up to a point.

Reports from those who had used an earlier formulation of this finish were encouraging, but there were occasional angry mutterings about serious crazing which sometimes materialised weeks or even months after application. In response to criticism, the manufacturer added a plasticiser to the recipe and re-released the product, advertising the fact that it was now suitable for musical instruments. I certainly found it a dream to spray after reducing it 50/50 with denatured alcohol to a 2lb cut and, after waiting three weeks or so for it to fully cross-link and harden, I was able to rub it out to an impressive shine. I was an instant but cautious convert! My optimism was tempered by the recognition that any finish - particularly a shellac variant - has to prove its resistance to use and abuse over time before it can be declared commercially viable. With neither use nor abuse to blame in this instance, my hopes have been dashed already however and, after six months, the finish on the neck of this guitar shows the first barely discernible but unmistakeable signs of the same crazing which so frustrated (some) users of the earlier formulation. There's an equally faint suggestion of the same thing happening at the waist on one side and there's no telling if it will worsen or appear elsewhere over time. I must say, I'm not too upset though; it was a risk I was willing to take and at least it's answered the questions I had once and for all - in my mind anyway.

Interestingly, this Australian product has recently been added to the inventory of one of the leading U.S. lutherie suppliers and there's been a good deal of excited chatter about it on one of the on-line guitar building forums. Based on my very limited experience, I can only urge caution; either the additional plasticiser hasn't been entirely successful in curing the crazing problem, or skilful application is absolutely critical to success. Although I was at pains to spray thin coats, waiting an hour or so between them (it was a hot day), it just may be that the ambient conditions at the time weren't ideal, or that my rudimentary skills with the spray gun weren't up to the task. Perhaps those applying it as a french-polished finish will have better luck, but after this experience, I'm fearful that the results are likely to be unpredictable at best - not a recipe for good customer relations. For the time being at least, I'm inclined to stick with the water-based KTM-SV I discussed in my previous post.