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Finish Checking or Crazing


mistafeeze
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Good morning all! I have a couple of Gibson acoustics and 1 of them is my beloved J45 that I just received. While shopping for it during the past 6 mos or so, I've noticed that many, if not most, of the used ones have checking issues. I think they can be pretty cool looking and I've seen some that are almost in a pattern like bear claw in spruce, but it certainly is not. I've read in these forums that Gibson's build quality or craftsmanship isn't the highest and I'm wondering if these finish issues are just chronic to Gibson with their processes or materials.

 

I really don't care too much about appearance since my 45 plays and sounds wonderful, but I'm curious because my other Gibson acoustic is starting to check and it's been a case queen for most of it's life with zero exposure to the elements outside. The other high quality acoustics I have do not have this problem and they are older than my 2 Gibsons (99 & 98).

 

Surely, someone else has noticed this about Gibsons as well...thanks for the feedback and comments!

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Gibson finishes its guitars (elec & acoustic) with nitrocellulose lacquer. One drawback is that it's not as flexible as poly, so when temperature and humidity cause the wood to expand and contract, the nitro finish will crack - know as checking or crazing. This is not considered a problem when it appears on old instruments. However, if it is seen on a guitar of recent manufacture, it would be a sign the owner was not careful about the environmental changes (temperature/humidity) the instrument has been subjected to.

 

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Just acquired a 2 yr old J-45 TV. I have 4 Martins. I live in the Rockies, and the air here is typically very dry - semi-arid. I dutifully keep a couple of humidifiers in each case, with drop-in Planet Waves humidifiers in the guitars, and I have a large room humidifier going almost 24/7. Hygrometer in the room struggles to maintain maybe 32-34%. How can one guard against the "checking" that the Gibson is prone to? Love the J-45, it is so fun, but would like to keep it looking as good as its Martin bretheren. Do you keep hygrometers in each case?

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...it's been a case queen for most of it's life with zero exposure to the elements outside...

This might actually have contributed to the crazing developing in the first place.

 

I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination but I noticed something similar with my 1995 Les Paul R0. It was bought, used, in about 2006(?) and was in absolutely mint condition. It had been part of a collection and had been kept in a glass display case for the first twelve years of it's life. A year or so after I bought it I noticed it had acquired quite a few lacquer cracks - checking - which it certainly hadn't had when I bought it. Thereafter, year-on-year, the checking has continued to spread.

 

I made enquiries in several areas as to the likely reason for this phenomenon and the change from being taken from a constant-controlled 'housing' to the 'real world' environment seems to have kick-started the proccess. Apparently the Nitro finish Gibson's Historic Division were using at the time it was made was changeable and the compound used between about '94 and '97 seems more susceptible to crazing than other formulae.

 

I could, of course, be wrong! But I have 4 LPs which all sit within a couple of metres of each other in the same room and the '95 R0 is the only one which has any checking at all. And, by now, it has quite a bit...

 

Here are a couple of snaps I took last summer;

 

lo-resIMG_1777.jpg

 

lo-resIMG_1779.jpg

 

P.

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Gibson finishes its guitars (elec & acoustic) with nitrocellulose lacquer. One drawback is that it's not as flexible as poly, so when temperature and humidity cause the wood to expand and contract, the nitro finish will crack - know as checking or crazing. This is not considered a problem when it appears on old instruments. However, if it is seen on a guitar of recent manufacture, it would be a sign the owner was not careful about the environmental changes (temperature/humidity) the instrument has been subjected to.

 

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What BigKahune says.

 

We accept and expect lacquer checking in an older guitar (say, 20 years older or more) just because the chances are that it has been exposed to a lot of environmental cycling over the years. In a "younger" guitar it is disappointing, as it implies that the guitar may not have been properly cared for.

 

Lacquer checking is not inevitable, nor will it necessarily be consistent over any instrument. For example, I have a '47 L-7 with fairly extreme checking on the headstock face, but only moderate checking elsewhere. I have a '68 ES 335-12 with no checking at all on the headstock, and only minimal checking on the body. Until last year, my '48 J-45 had a natural nitro top finish that I sprayed in 1970. It had absolutely no crazing after more than 40 years.

 

I personally doubt that this is a manufacturing flaw except in extreme cases of nearly-new instruments that have always been cared for. Of course, it's virtually impossible to guarantee the "always cared for" part, unless you picked up the guitar at the Gibson factory and transported it home in a carefully-controlled environment. Even a single shipping incident of exposure to extreme changes in temperature and/or humidity could start the checking process.

 

The bottom line is that on an older guitar that you otherwise love, you just live with it. If it bothers you on a newer guitar, don't buy it.

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There are many reasons why lacquer will check and crack, but IMHO this should not happen on newer guitars even up to 10 years old unless there was a problem in the manufacturing process. You would expect to see cracks & checks on vintage guitars - pre-1980 or earlier, but certainly not on anything built in the last 10 years.

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I have young children in my home and we live in Kansas where it can get bone dry in the winter. I have a whole house steam humidifier by Honeywell, but it can barely keep the house at 30%. And it's kind of inconsistent depending on the number of vents in the room, etc. So when it's really dry, I keep guitars in the case and a hygrometer as well. Just a cheap digital plastic one from Wal-mart for less than $10, but I understand the quality and accuracy is quite inconsistent in these cheap versions. Nonetheless, I put a lightly damp sponge in a perforated ziplock bag in the case and monitor it. Needs to be redampened every week or so. Its tough to control the humidity in the case as well - it can get too humid. I've see it go as high as 50%.

 

For the guitars that I like to play regularly and not mess with cases, I have a separate room that has its own humidifier on top of the whole house humidifier. I'm able to control humidity in that room much better, but it requires me filling the water almost daily.

 

None of my guitars are taken out of the home and everything is pretty much climate controlled, but I've bought everything used so I do not know the care from the previous owner(s) unfortunately.

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IME checking is far more likely the result of a rapid change in temperature, not humidity & often associated with taking a guitar from a warm place to a cold one quickly.

 

It can happen to vintage Martins, I speak from personal experience.

 

Checking is common on many older Gibsons due to where they were played & is not a big deal as far as guitar integrity is concerned.

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  • 8 years later...
3 hours ago, Stirmy said:

My 1965 Epiphone casino shows "crazing" on the front only, running verically, is this just age? and will it devalue the Guitar?

Norm

Unless the finish starts to chip off, it won't have any negative impact on value, especially since you would expect finish crazing on a guitar that is now 55 years old.

Norm, it's normal. Rest easy.

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  • 7 months later...

Whoa, there certainly has been an upswing in the number of back from the dead threads lately.  Kinda fun though.

As usual j45nick nails it - the checking is caused by the fact lacquer has greater thermal expansion than wood hence the cracking.

Oddly, finish checking and crazing while there is less noticeable on Gibsons such as my 1920 L3 which was finished with spirit varnish.  Prior to 1925 all stains were done with water based aniline dyes applied directly on the wood with a sealer applied over it.  Gibson's going with nitro was more than likely the result of it being easer to apply and thus less time consuming and cheaper. 

It will be interesting to see how the finish on my Fairbanks Roy Smeck ages as it is an old school aniline dye applied directly to the wood under a shellac sealer with one thin coat of nitro over the whole thing.

 

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