With staining complete, a coat of vinyl sealer is applied to the shell to provide a barrier between the stain and lacquer. After another round of light sanding, the shell moves on to lacquer application.
Gretsch uses a nitrocellulose lacquer rather than the more conventional polyurethane. “It truly is the ’instrument lacquer,’” explains Cooper. “It continues to dry over time, forever. So the lacquer continues to get harder and harder and, yes, eventually it will crack — that’s just the nature of the beast. But with nitrocellulose the drum sound will mellow over time.”
Rather than taint the purity of the lacquer with additives to regulate the drying process in varying states of humidity, Gretsch simply heats the nitrocellulose to 150 degrees. “The problem with additives is eventually about 35-percent of your lacquer is additives and you don’t get as good a coat,” explains Cooper. “Plus, every time the humidity levels changed we’d have to recalculate our mix. By heating it we get more lacquer on the drum with less evaporation.”
One coat of lacquer, overnight drying, another coat of lacquer, then hand sanding with 240-grit, usually handled by Lorena Ortuno (pictured). Then repeat that process two to four more times for each shell, ending up with six to ten coats of lacquer, which actually ends up becoming one thick coat, explains Cooper. “Nitrocellulose reacts with itself, so instead of having six ’plies’ of lacquer after you spray six coats, you have one solid coat, because each layer reacts with the next. And with all the sanding between coats, the lacquer is getting perfectly round, like the drum.” Lacquer completed, the shell now gets Silver Sealer applied to its inside. The application and composition of the sealer are kept secret, but Cooper assures us it’s more than just bells and whistles. “The Silver Sealer has been the same since the mid-’50s. I’m not sure why they started using it, but it does have an effect on the sound of the drum because of its reflective principles. It’s just another Gretsch nuance.”