View Full Version : Finishes and tone - gloss vs. matte

01-05-2010, 07:22 AM
There used to be some old threads discussing the effect of gloss and matte finishes on tone. At this time it appears that they are old enough that they still haven't been added to the new site change and so aren't available for reading (at least I can't find them in the archives).

What are people's thoughts about finishes? Does one finish affect tone more than another? What differences (if any) do you hear between finishes?


01-05-2010, 08:11 AM
in my experience so far, the satin sounds louder and more woody, and the gloss is tempered and maybe more crystalline. I have yet to own two ukes from the same maker in both, but that's my impression.

A few years ago I removed the finish from an old guitar, I scraped pounds of lacquer off of it. I refinished it with a lighter shellac, and the sound came alive. But it's a little out of control, too.

For ukes I think I prefer the gloss - it seems to give the sound more delicacy, sounds more Oriental. And the extra mass seems to change the playability, my satin ukes seem to be loud and poppy while the gloss are restrained and let me control the dynamics a little better.

01-05-2010, 08:04 PM
Clayton explained the differences well. Normally, satin finishes are completed with less overall coatings than gloss. While a good finish is cut back between applications, the additional applications of gloss types usually have them come out a few thousandths thicker. Our pikake and gloss models are near identical, but there is a noticeable difference in sound, inline with what clayton described.

01-06-2010, 05:40 AM
Thank you both for your responses. Very educational.

I like the description of a gloss uke sounding "crystalline". To me that description carries a sense of individual notes being clear and having sustain - even when strummed as a chord.

01-06-2010, 09:22 AM
Any thoughts on using a french polish finish on a uke? I know that on concert guitars a french polish finish runs up the cost considerably. I've also read that while a french polish is a bit more fragile than other finishes, it is much easier to repair an area that has been damaged. Some think it results in a better sounding instrument(whatever better sounding means.) I'm curious to hear comments from anyone with experience on this subject.

01-06-2010, 09:50 AM
♫ Where have all the luthiers gone Oooo Oooo... ♫

Rick Turner
01-06-2010, 12:53 PM
Well, what Paul said!

Yes, we can do satin finishes with less material going onto the wood, especially if we're doing an open pored satin where we basically go with a couple of sealer coats of Waterlox tung oil and then shoot one or two coats of polyurethane satin lacquer and that's it. The gloss finishes we do in polyester are still thin...probably well under .008", but that's thicker than the satin which is about .002".

French polish is great...if you don't mind fragile.

It's not so much about the material or the look; it's about the finish thickness and perhaps a bit about it's flexibility.

But I'll tell you, nothing protects as well as gloss polyester. I do not worry about my koa Compass Rose tenor under any half way reasonable circumstances. I put it directly on tables at Uke Club meetings, I take it with me everywhere when I travel, I loan it out, etc., and there is hardly a visible scratch on it after three years of fairly rough usage. It sounds fine, too...

01-06-2010, 10:18 PM
I have a related question - if I have a satin uke and want to change it to gloss lacquer myself, is the satin a good base coat or should it be stripped? The satin uke I'm thinking of almost looks like bare wood. (I have done lacquer finshes before on mandolins and banjos).