Guitar Finishes

Types of Guitar Finishes

There are numerous different types of lacquers and oil finishes that are utilized for electric and acoustic guitars, but generally speaking they can be lumped into two categories: Gloss and Satin.


Gloss finishes are as the name implies, the glossy or shiny ones. A gloss finish is shiny and bright. Gloss finishes are almost sticky in that when you're moving your hand up and down the neck there is considerable friction generated, making a gloss neck a bit more difficult to play. As far as the body is concerned, gloss finishes are certainly pretty to look at, but the gloss coat actually acts as a dampening agent to the vibrations produced when the strings are strummed.

Satin Finish

Satin finishes give the instrument a matte appearance, but the wood is still smooth and finished, to the touch. Satin finishes are usually treated with Tung oil to protect the wood and to detail the grain. One can actually feel the pores of the wood on a satin finish. On a guitar, an acoustic guitar especially, a satin or oil finish generally promotes a more woody, naturally woody tone while a gloss finish brings out the brightness in the instrument. If you are looking for sustain and tone go for the satin finish.

Finish Maintenance

Gloss maintenance: Clean a gloss or satin finish instrument using either the Ken Smith Pro Formula Polish or pick up the Dunlop System 65 Guitar Maintenance Kit. It is safe to use carnauba or paste waxes on gloss instruments. Oil or satin maintenance: Generally speaking, an oil finish won't need a lot of maintenance. Keep it clean by wiping it down after every use. Every once in a while you may want to polish an oil finish instrument with the Ken Smith classic wax polish. This same product is used on the fret board.