Collings Varnish Finish Guitars Vs. Laquer

June 29, 2017 2 min read

Collings offers a varnish finish on it's acoustic guitars and If you have ever had the chance to play one, then you know what I am talking about. It is amazing. Every instrument that Collings builds is an exceptional instrument, but when you get the varnish finish option, it turns it into something unworldly. 

Collings first started offering varnish finishes on their mandolins back in 2004. In 2005 Collings introduced this option on their acoustic guitars. The reviews for their varnish finish guitars have been off the charts and I agree. We have a Collings D1A Varnish in stock, and every time I pick it up, it just blows me away. The tone is big and complex. The guitar plays with an amazing sensativity and power. Heavy handed flatpicking just booms out without breaking up at all while it is still incredibly responsive to lighter touch playing.

Varnish goes on much thinner than laquer and is a softer and more flexible finish material. This allows the top of the guitar to vibrate more freely, thus giving the guitar a more resonant and "broken in" tone. Basically, it sounds like a vintage guitar. Unlike lacquer, the process for applying varnish is not conducive to "finish touch-ups", meaning the builder cannot control minor imperfections such as small pinholes, bubbles, or sinking. While Collings takes great pride in their exceptional standards for fit and finish, it is very challenging to apply and buff varnish to the level of cosmetic "perfection" consistent with their lacquer finish instruments. The varnish finish has a beautiful, rich luster, and resembles the color of a well aged vintage guitar (without the finish checking) and gives a much more yellow hue.

A varnish finish is not as hard as lacquer so some argue it is not as protective to the guitar as a lacquer finish. This can be true on brand new instruments, but the varnish will cure over time, giving the finish much more durability. The finish will continue to harden as the instrument ages, though new varnish instruments can be more vulnerable to light scratches and imprinting. By its very nature, varnish can shrink, wrinkle, and/or dull over time and is not likely to maintain a "new" appearance as well as lacquer instruments. With that said, the varnish finish allows the instrument to vibrate more freely and can produce a more responsive instrument with a greater depth of tone.

Why Does a Varnish Finish Cost So Much?

A Collings varnish finish on a guitar is not an inexpensive add on. The varnish finish option costs an additional $2000. Why so much? The process of Varnish adds approximately 8-10 weeks to production time. The added option price is for added labor and produciton time.

Ask us more questions about the varnish finish Collings uses on their guitars in the comments space below and we will be sure to get back to you with an answer.


Leave a comment