Re-lacquering Instruments

By Super User

Will your instrument look brand new again if you have it re-lacquered?

The quick answer is "no". Simply spraying a fresh coat of lacquer to an instrument that has worn, faded, surface corrosion, small dents or missing lacquer, will not bring back to that like-new shiny gold finish.

To understand why, we need to take a look at what lacquer really is why we use it, and how it works.

The truth is this, when you look at a new shinny lacquered musical instrument, you are not actually looking at the lacquer....... but rather you are looking through the lacquer at the symetery and quality of the metal underneath.

Lacquer itself is just a clear transparent coating applied to the polished finsh of the raw metal of an instrument. Sometimes the lacquer is lightly tinted to produce a deep reflective coloured finish, but we'll get to that later...

The shine is actually the polished raw metal.

Other finishes such as scuffed, brushed or satin are all done to the metal before the lacquer is applied.  Without a protective covering, a raw polished finish would tarnish quickly, with fingerprints, oxidation and grime. Quality lacquer not only protects the finish but will also assist the the prevention of metal corrosion and pitting.

Think of a layer of "contact" stuck onto a textbook to protect the cardbook covering. By itself, the book cover would collect dirt and wear out. The sticky clear contact protects the book cover, but doesn't actually change the appearance of the book cover.

When the contact wears through from use, the real cover of the book doesn't have that layer of protection, and will be damaged through use.

Now here's the thing... putting another layer of contact on the book won't fix the damage, but it will stop it from getting worse.

The same applies to lacquer on an instrument. If the lacquer is applied when the raw metal underneath is new, and buffed to a shiny clean finish, then the instrument will look shiny and clean. If the lacquer wears through, then the raw metal will tarnish and wear.

If another layer of lacquer is sprayed on to a worn dirty finish, then the finish will still be tarnished and worn, achieving nothing.

So how do you get a new finish with lacquer?

The answer is in the preparation. In the same way that the book has to have the cover repaired before the contact is re-applied, the instrument has to have the raw finish repaired, dents taken out and the finish buffed to a shiny finish, before the lacquer can be re-applied.

If the time is taken to refinish the raw metal underneath the lacquer, then only then can the lacquer be resprayed to protect the new finish and restore the shiny finish that you are after.

Going back to tint finishes... if a light tint of red, green, or black is added to the lacquer, then a coloured finish can be obtained. But the shine and clean appearance is still due to the preparation of the raw metal underneath.

Relacquering a surfaced damaged instrument is no easy job. It is a complex procedure and requires years of skill and craftmanship to achieve a perfect finish.  Unfortunately this is no magic "dip-it" formula, but if you know of it I'm all ears. We'll talk about the dipping myths in another article.