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Varnish Technique
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Translating cultures
Wood's appearance
Tsumura book review
Ramirez book review
Zero-fret and saddle inquiry
Sustainable rainforests?
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American hand-built guitar
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Haselbacher Varnish Finish

I first met luthier Frank Haselbacher in the mid-70's, while I was buying rosewood on the docks of Brooklyn, N.Y. While picking through piles of dusty planks at the William Marshall Ltd. warehouse in a rough neighborhood--aptly called Red Hook--I met a friendly, middle-aged gentleman, with whom I struck up a conversation. Later, he invited me out to his car to show me his classical guitar. It was a fine beauty, crafted in the strictly tradition Torres/Hauser style. It had that deep, rich, dark glow of a perfectly-applied oil varnish finish, and that indefinable, mystical quality that surrounds the instruments of a master builder. Inside, through the soundhole, a printed label read "AUGUSTINE," and was signed "Frank Haselbacher." He explained that he was the disciple of, and succesor to the late Albert Augustine, who was active in New York during the early fifties, and was the only one who could use the famous maker's label on his guitars. Manuel Velazquez and Frank Haselbacher are recognized by Torres-biographer Jose Romanillos as the foremost exponents of the Torres/Hauser legacy in the United States. Haselbacher worked in his Connecticut studio until he died about twelve years ago. Before he died, I was able to obtain Haselbacher's finish schedule for his beautiful varnish finish, reprinted from my notes below:

1. Apply shellac wash coat: Cut the shellac mixture back with alcohol till very thin, so that it doesn't build. Apply with brush very gently, avoiding any scrubbing action in order to avoid bleeding: "Purple rosewood is the worst."

2. Apply paste wood filler and allow to dry for two full days before proceding.

3. Apply shellac undercoat: Thin out a 3 lb. cut of shellac (that is, 3 lbs. shellac flake for one gallon of alcohol) to a 1:1 ratio with alcohol.

4. Apply first varnish overcoat: Frank used Behlen Rockhard Varnish "straight out of the can." Wait three hours before applying to adjacent surfaces. Then, wait 48 hours for everything to dry before proceding. Clean brushes with Naptha.

5. Scuff all surfaces with 320 dry no-fil paper or 400 wet silicon- carbide paper. Blow off or vacuum all particles, then clean with tack rag.

6. Apply subsequent varnish overcoats: follow 4. and 5. The instrument should, at the end, have the following: BODY: Five coats; level completely; finish with one or two final coats FACE: Three coats; level completely; finish with one final coat

7. Final levelling and polishing: level by wet sanding all surfaces with 600 wet silicon-carbide paper, "rub the sheets together first." Follow with FFF pumice, rottenstone and water, and finally paste wax.