Early Fender instruments with lacquer finishes have been prized and sought after for decades by players and collectors, and part of the attraction has been the way the lacquer ages. Gurus of vintage tone have consistently chosen lacquer finished instruments over the years, as lacquer lets the wood breathe and vibrate more freely. Modern polyesters and polyurethanes are harder than lacquer and are much less affected by environmental conditions, heavy use and aging. Lacquer is a bit softer, and while it does allow the voice most associated with vintage instruments, to be heard.
Important points to remember about your lacquer finished instrument:
- Finish Checking: All of the materials that make up a guitar expand and contract with changes in temperature and humidity, and they do at different rates. Wood expands as it warms, and it does so faster than the finish placed over it. When this expansion occurs, the finish will stretch slightly, but when it cannot stretch anymore, it will slit and fracture in little lines over the wood. This finish “checking” or “crazing”, usually occurs in winter and is typically the result of bringing an instrument inside from the cold. Remember to allow plenty of time for acclimation to the new temperature and humidity changes and you will minimize the finish checking through the years.
- Shrinkage: As the instrument naturally ages, the wood will shrink somewhat over time. As this happens, you may notice the lacquer settling into the grain of the wood.
- Chemical Reactions: Use only a non-silicone based guitar polish, and avoid using guitar straps, stands or wall hangers made from vinyl, plastic, or surgical rubber tubing, as these materials may react with the lacquer and mar the finish of your instrument.
- Cleaning: Smoke, sweat, grease and grime will all contribute to the aging, discoloration, and wear of the finish. If you want your finish to age gracefully, take good care of it and keep it clean.