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Is Nitro Worth The Extra Cost vs a Poly Finish on a Guitar Body ?

Terry McInturff

40th Anniversary of guitar building!
Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
6,863
What does the OP mean by "Poly"?
Is it:
Polyester
Polyurethane
Acrylic Urethane
or other 2 part cat finish?

The finish can indeed have an effect upon the guitar, but this is limited to the film thickness, assuming that we are talking about a hard finish that resides on top of the wood.

Other than that it is important to realize the plusses and minuses of any finish choice, as there are compromises involved with each.
 

sitedrifter

I Come
Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
2,584
A crappy nitro job can feel like a thick poly paint job. A high quality poly paint job can feel like a good nitro paint job.

Poly holds up much better but I like the feel of a good nitro paint job like on my J200.
 

JB6464

Member
Messages
3,530
So far I have narrowed down to these 3 bodies to consider .
Fender American 60's Strat Nitro $499
Fender MIM 60's Strat Poly finish $249
Warmoth custom build Strat Polyurethane finish $400

Finish will be the Candy Apple Red finish you see on Fender guitars with a satin vintage tinted Maple neck .
 
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JB6464

Member
Messages
3,530
What does the OP mean by "Poly"?
Is it:
Polyester
Polyurethane
Acrylic Urethane
or other 2 part cat finish?

The finish can indeed have an effect upon the guitar, but this is limited to the film thickness, assuming that we are talking about a hard finish that resides on top of the wood.

Other than that it is important to realize the plusses and minuses of any finish choice, as there are compromises involved with each.
Not sure what OEM Fender Poly finish is , but the Warmoth I believe is Polyurethane .
 

JWhite

Member
Messages
226
Nitro feels better in my hand. Poly feels like plastic and doesn’t inspire me. IMHO
 

Jarick

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
7,847
So far I have narrowed down to these 3 bodies to consider .
Fender American 60's Strat Niro $499
Fender MIM 60's Strat poly finish $249
Warmoth custom build Strat Poly finish $400

Finish will be the Candy Apple Red finish you see on Fender guitars with a satin vintage tinted Maple neck .
I have a 20 year old Fender Strat in CAR with a Poly finish. That's exactly what I think of when I think of poly not aging well...It has a few chips and dings/dents otherwise it looks brand new. I know the finish has darkened a touch though as I changed the tuners and the neck is a little lighter underneath.

IMO I would go with the American 60's Fender body and I wouldn't worry about poly vs nitro on the neck. I have a satin poly maple neck on my PRS that I love the feel of.
 

Jayyj

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
7,286
I much prefer the look of nitro over poly, particularly when we're talking inch thick factory poly finishes. Nitro somehow looks softer and yet more lustrous than poly, and I love the way looks when it ages. I think it's a conditioning thing - I've been a fan of vintage guitars since my mid teens, so as soon as I see a heavily crazed nitro finish I feel like I'm solid ground! Beyond that I don't believe in any difference in sound or old wive's tales about the wood breathing.

There's no tonal difference. Despite what people on the internet say, nitro doesn't "breathe". Nitro is nowhere near as durable as poly, but that's also why nitro ages the way it does, which a lot of people like. I'm not really a big fan of nitro, especially on the back of the neck. I've had far too many problems with sticky nitro, I think something about my sweat/body chemistry just doesn't react well with it. I really don't think it's worth paying extra for what is, ultimately, an inferior finish, but that's just my 2 cents. Besides, the nitro being used today isn't the same as it used to be, you just can't get the same stuff Fender and Gibson were using in the 50s.
A guy I know makes acoustics with aged nitro finishes and we've talked a lot about this. He buys enough lacquer to be able to specify how the batch is made, and he goes into it in some depth with the supplier to get something that behaves exactly like nitro did in the 30s through 60s. He thinks they get pretty close, but apparently they seem utterly bewildered as to what he thinks he's doing with it.

'I need you to mix some lacquer without these ingredients'
'But you need those, they stop the lacquer cracking'.
'Yeah, I'm aiming for an old looking finish'.
'Er, ok. But you know it'll crack as it ages though?'
'I'm intending it to crack, that's the point!'
'Ok, we can make it but you'll have to waive the warranty, because we can't guarantee it won't crack'
'But that's what... Ok, never mind, I'll risk it!'
 

Ron Kirn

Platinum Supporting Member
Vendor
Messages
6,708
No specific type of paint affords any sonic advantage in the construction.... However, since anything you do to a guitar alters it's voice... you have to respect that variable... but since you cannot tell what the paint has done until the guitar its completed, and the paint does not bring a specific sonic advantage, one cannot simply choose a type of finish to sculpt the final voice of the guitar..

However, since so much of a "relationship" with a guitar is psychological, the number one priority in choosing one is getting what you originally wanted. Never allow someone "sell" you on something other than what your original "dream" was .. do so and you will be wondering if ya made the right call for the life of that guitar, for the "short" life...

Therefore choose the finish based on the way you will be using the guitar.. if you're play professionally, and are less than careful, go with something more durable.

rk
 
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Terry McInturff

40th Anniversary of guitar building!
Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
6,863
I truly LOVE an expertly done nitro finish. But an important challenge is the fact (IMO) there's no "one can, one brand" clear gloss nitro that I like much. No one product that performs similarly to the older Nikolas, etc brands from the glory days.
 

toddincharlotte

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,781
I truly LOVE an expertly done nitro finish. But an important challenge is the fact (IMO) there's no "one can, one brand" clear gloss nitro that I like much. No one product that performs similarly to the older Nikolas, etc brands from the glory days.
I agree with Terry on this. I think the "old" Nitro was what people really loved and while there may be modern day companies spraying nitro well, my personal experience with nitro on guitars made over the last 15 years has been hit or miss. Specifically, the necks on several Gibsons I've owned get gummy. I wipe them down, I keep them clean. Seems no matter what I do, my left hand reacts with nitro. So much so that I'm considering knocking down the finish on a Les Paul neck I own that I know will be a forever guitar. Love, love, love everything about the guitar except the gummy.
 

Gclef

Member
Messages
2,312
I have had and played both extensively.

My vote goes to poly.

I like my guitars to look as new as possible. I also dont like sticky finishes.
Poly works for me. Gloss bodies and satin necks.

The satin finish is my favorite for necks. I love the almost burnished feel they get after years of play!
 

mistermikev

Member
Messages
354
my 2 cents... I won't go out on a limb and tell you that poly sounds bad... I have plenty of poly guitars and they are def good enough for many great players. that said... I did a really thick poly finish on a guitar once -solid mahog. that thing sounded unbearably bright for about the first 6 months I had it. It has mellowed quite a bit over time. doesn't make sense to me because I would think the poly would get brighter as it hardened. perhaps certain freq were being subdued and that led me to hear the brightness more... don't know. just saying I think there is something to the sound of a finish and it def changes over time. Seems to me to be within the realm of things you can compensate for in pickup choice.
my fav sounding guitar has a very thin nitro finish. Fully admitting possibility that that is coincidence... but I'll go with what seems to work for me.
 

9fingers

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
7,406
"Nitro" is basically an outdated finish that is prone to cracking with weather changes, can get sticky with certain sweats, can react with stands, hangers, and even guitar straps and case parts, wears poorly, can react with many chemicals including bug spray, is not nearly as water resistant as modern finishes, and is very toxic to apply. What's not to love?
It was the only game in town on the older guitars our heroes all played, hence the attraction. Nitro will not make me play like Page, Clapton, etc. (I have played since the 60s and owned plenty of "nitro" finished guitars).

I don't drive old rusted out Detroit iron cars from the 50s or 60s. I'll take modern innovation any day.
So, a well done, not super thick durable modern finish for me any day. I would not even consider a new guitar/part with nitro even if it cost less.

Others obviously have different preferences. Variety keeps life interesting.
 

Jabby92

Member
Messages
3,415
Nitro is much easier to repair and refinish but poly is definitely a lot more durable. I like a poly finish if its applied more 'thin' and not coated on really thick. Also you can get different grades of poly.. polyester and polyurethane are noticeably different from what I have looked at.
 

joemiracle220

Member
Messages
822
I domt know if it makes a difference... I mean if you had two identical telecasters ...they would sound slightly different...poly or nitro.. Just due to the slight variation in the density of the wood... I would think the type of finish used has even less of an effect... But I'm no expert.

I like nitro for how it ages ... But I own and love both.
 

Terry McInturff

40th Anniversary of guitar building!
Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
6,863
I agree with Terry on this. I think the "old" Nitro was what people really loved and while there may be modern day companies spraying nitro well, my personal experience with nitro on guitars made over the last 15 years has been hit or miss. Specifically, the necks on several Gibsons I've owned get gummy. I wipe them down, I keep them clean. Seems no matter what I do, my left hand reacts with nitro. So much so that I'm considering knocking down the finish on a Les Paul neck I own that I know will be a forever guitar. Love, love, love everything about the guitar except the gummy.
Don't get me wrong, there is a method for replicating the characteristics of the older nitrocellulose lacquers using modern materials, but this is not what you would find on a production made guitar. Finish chemistry is fascinating!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 

McShred

Member
Messages
2,899
no one can hear the difference, anyone that says they can is fooling themselves.

With that said, nitro does wear differently. It settles in to the finish as it off gasses, it wears much more easily, checks, etc.. Poly or the more modern thin urethane finishes will look new a long, long, time.

It really boils down to looks. Do you want your guitar to look shiny and new for as long as possible, or do you want something that will look vintage more quickly?

I tend to spec nitro on vintage spec strats & teles, and opt for urethane on more modern color/spec guitars
 

David Garner

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
5,754
Actually, nitro wears worse. Poly will stay looking new for MUCH longer than nitro.

But when "worse" is what people find beautiful, I guess "better" is in the eye of the beholder. :)
Granted. But I have a 1996 poly finished guitar and a 1993 nitro finished guitar. The 93 has more visible wear, sure, but it looks natural. The 1996 just looks beat up.
 




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