My main interest is acoustics and playability. I prefer to let the pureness of essential design, shape and sound speak for themselves. See Who Is This Guy? for more on this.
My finish process replicates the soft patina of hand rubbed oil furniture, but with just enough finish to protect the wood from the oils and dirt on your hands, but keep the tone pure:
2 coats Crystalac water based sanding sealer, sanded to 240 then 320
2 coats Crystalac water based grain filler, sanded to 320
4 coats Crystalac hi solids water based gloss, sanded 320 then 400
4 coats Satin nitro cellulose lacquer
Most necks are quartersawn curly walnut oiled with Tru-Oil gunstock oil for the feel, which is great as it can be steel wooled or even even sanded down if heavily scratched, and re-oiled. Some neck woods such as fiddleback maple or cherry require under coats of Crystalac to protect the wood from getting dirty from hand oils.
The current standard in boutique lutherie is a very high gloss perfect finish. That’s not my aesthetic, and feel that the (generally epoxy grain fill) preparation necessary to achieve a flawless finish adversely affects the tone. However, if that is your preference the finish is done by the best nitro finisher on the west coast who does many of the finest handmade guitars.
In my opinion, the thick poly finishes by many of the factory manufacturers are intended to project the instrument from heavy abuse, and are good at it, but do dull the tone.
The same goes for inlay - there is amazing craftsmanship out there these days with incredible marketry and scrimshaw. Inlay on the peghead is the preferred location as it does not interfere with the tonal response. Some find the change of material from wood to inlaid markers on the fretboard to result in a difference of feel between the materials, especially with large square markets. My markers are moved to the edge of the fretboard so they are easily seen, and have just a small paua dot as a small highlight, which is repeated elsewhere on the instrument, but very minimally. If inlay is extensively done on the top, the reinforcement necessary behind it can have a negative tonal affect.
One of the finest inlay artists in the world is Harvey Leach. If you're interested in owning a fine piece of inlay, go to the best: