I'm trying to get leads to find a Luthier who is good with French Polish. I wanted to have my best Classical guitar's Top Refinished. Looking for Luthiers in the Northern California area.

thanks for any info,

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I am not sure how far north you are, but near San Francisco, Kenny Hill comes to mind. Also, the guys at Guitar Solo, the classical guitar store in S. F. would know who's who. Or you could drop by Healdsburg Guitar Festival in Santa Rosa the middle of next month and meet a few.
If Chris Berkov is still working and doing French polish, he's among the very best. Google his name to see what you can find.
Chris, what is the motivaton for having the top refinished? Does it have a bunch of nail marks and other scars that you'd like to get rid of or is the finish just worn in places? If it's an investment level guitar, work with the luthier to make sure that the most conservative approach is used. Sanding back to the wood should be the very last straw just from the standpoint of preserving the original luthier's tone objectives. It does take quite a bit of sanding on a top to remove just 0.1mm of wood thickness but that much can definitely change the response of the guitar. Who made the guitar originally?

Oh yea, and make sure he knows what he's doing with regard to color matching. There are all different shades of shellac. Additionally, aging of the wood can make color matching a nightmare if the finish is dealt with in limited areas.

Hello Bob,

I bought this guitar from Benz in Fallon Nevada, It is a lovely guitar and the tone I am happy with. But the French Polish is so thin on the top. Originally The whole guitar was French Polished. I performed on it about 3 times ( 5 hours ) and the polish on the back was coming off. I took it back to Benz to have him fix it, he had the guitar for a week. I got it back and the touch up looked very bad. I performed on it again and the finish was coming off, I mean you could feel the wood grains. Well, I did not want to waste anymore time and I took it to a Luthier that works on my other guitars and had him Lacquer the sides & back. ( He doesn't do French Polish ) and I don't have to worry about the back anymore. He also mentioned that the top finish is really to thin. Someone told me to take it back Benz, but after that incident with the back, I really don't want to. I think he's a great builder but needs to refine his French Polish. So with that said, I just want someone to do a good job as this is my favorite guitar at the moment.

I know Benz. I met him at the last Guild of American Luthiers convention. If you are in the San Francisco Bay area, then the right guy to deal with it would be Alan Perlmann in San Francisco. If you're farther north, there's Brian Burns in Fort Bragg north of Mendocino. I would be glad to do the work for you but this certainly isn't the kind of weather that I'd want to be shipping a guitar in.


Where is your workshop located? I'm north of Sacramento. I would just have to check my schedule and see when I can visit you.

It would be a long drive, Chris. I'm up in Gig Harbor, WA, near Tacoma. I've looked over the membership roster for the Northern California Association of Luthiers and I didn't see anyone in your area that I knew well enough to recommend. Time-wise, it probably would be best to just shoot down to SF and visit Perlmann. Are you in the Chico or Marysville areas? (I lived in the SF Bay area for 30 years)

Thanks Bob,

For some reason I thought you were in CA. I'm near Marysville. I will try to get a hold of Perlmann.


When it comes to French Polishing some of the very best proponents of this art are not luthiers!!! They, French polishers!!! Some of them might not lower themselves to work on a world-class guitar but some might really like to. Just because it's a guitar doesn't mean a luthier will do a better job. I don't doubt a luthier will do a better neck-reset than a French polisher. But, a luthier who finishes this way may spend 15%-20% (or whatever the figure is) of their total time on finishing. A French polisher could well donate 100% of his or her time to this skill. If it is a really nice concert instrument then I would at least consider, at least for a few seconds, the possibility of employing an established French polisher. Those who work on finishing high-end violins, violas, cellos and double basses might not be too shabby either!!! They are luthiers.....just not necessarily guitar orientated ones. Just a thought.

Best regards............

David, that's an interresting thought. The standards and practices of individuals that French polish furniture or members of the violin family are very different from those luthiers who French polish their instruments. I've seen a number of violins and cellos that have been French polished on their corpi and the net result was deliberately manipulated to look more like the more customary oil varnish finishes. That is, they were relatively rough, not very shiney at all, and pretty uneven. Not what the owner of a fine classical guitar is looking for in a finish.

As for those folks that do French polish on furniture, again the standards and practices are different because it's being done in the context of restoring a period piece that is not expected to have an absolutely perfect glossy like glass surface. I'd much prefer to put my faith and guitar in the hands of someone who relies on their guitar finishing skills for a livelihood.

If you fancy a drive to Washington state, Eugene Clark has a very good reputation when it comes to french polishing of classical guitars. May be a bit far, but those who have spent 3-4 days with him in a dedicated teaching experience swear by his expertise. I believe he's in Tacoma. you no doubt could make conact with him at the upcoming Healdsburg show.


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