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

Messages
23,951
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.
I hear that. Here's what I take away:

Most guys mean, all of those. If they even know the difference, sometimes.

I like to call these "Catalyzed" finishes. And yet, some of today's "nitro" is not strictly just a drying finish. Chemical reactions have taken place there, that can't be undone with mostly harmless solvents.

+

Anyway, I am here to say I like a solvent based finish, because I can get better results when I polish it or repair it. And I like the feel of the "lacquer" finish. Less inanimate - more like the touch of human skin.

+

If there's a difference in tone, it is strictly through the back door. So to speak. I enjoy the experience of playing the nitro finish guitar more; and I maybe put a little more heart and soul into what I am playing. Even if the difference is small, it is maybe because I care a little bit more about what I am playing -- when I play lacquer.
 

derekd

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
43,544
I prefer nitro bodies and oil finished necks. Not a huge fan of poly but it certainly is a durable finish.

I'm pretty careful with my instruments so nitro works well for me.
 

mattmccloskey

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
5,716
When people say Nitro ‘wears nicer’, it means that it usually ages more uniformly.
As the guitar ages, it’s common for us to pick up nicks, dents, and scratches, and some dulling of nickel on hardware. This can happen to lacquer or catalyzed finished guitars.

With a nitro finished guitar, as those inevitable nicks, dents, scratches and hardware oxidation occur, the finish will also typically fade and yellow a bit, maybe check a little bit, and dull in terms of gloss. This is aesthetically preferable to many people, as the whole guitar looks older.

In contrast, most 2k clear coats remain water clear, high gloss, with no checking, minimal shrinking, and very resistant to light scratches and scuffs.
This can make for a guitar with dulled hardware, random chips or dents, while still having an otherwise showroom new finish.
It’s completely cosmetic, but for some that looks sort of incongruous. Kind of like having some rips and tears in a pair of jeans that are also still stiff and dark blue.
 
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RichSZ

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,966
One of these days I want so see a video of a nitro-finished guitar breathing. I've heard on the internets that nitro allows wood to breathe but have never confirmed it nor experienced it.
 

panther_king

Member
Messages
1,790
One of these days I want so see a video of a nitro-finished guitar breathing. I've heard on the internets that nitro allows wood to breathe but have never confirmed it nor experienced it.
It's an interesting argument. It's akin to asking how much air gets through a glass door vs a wood door, without asking if air can even pass through either door in the first place.
 

rawkguitarist

Member
Messages
11,058
I don't know if its worth it... all I know is when you get a brand new custom guitar it smells *awesome* for about a month.

Yup it "relic's" quicker and feels cool when that happens. Like a nice worn in T-shirt or jeans.

I could be wrong but I *think* poly finishes are more expensive or more difficult for small companies to do. Which could explain why most luthiers us nitro.
 

Benz2112

Memba?
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
5,623
If it is an aesthetic thing that you get caught up on, then get the nitro finished guitar. I am kind of a sucker for used guitars with wear, because when it isnt being sold as an upgrade, it actually lowers resale value, and I like worn nitro finishes. If you want the guitar to look like the day you got it, then get the poly.
 

MKB

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
8,437
I HATE HATE HATE thick poly, but can tolerate thin poly, and even like it in some cases. Most any nitro, thin or thick, is OK with me.

IMHO the big problem with folks hating poly is how thickly it is applied on some guitars. That dipped in plastic look is a big turn off.
 

Tony Done

Member
Messages
6,633
I prefer nitro, but it isn't that big a deal. If I had money to burn, I would specify nitro, otherwise not.

Something that really drew my attention to the benefits of nitro was some Blade guitars in my mate's shop. They had a thin nitro finish, and he kept them in a group on the racks, where they really stood out compared to the mostly poly-finished examples hanging around them. The candy apple red was so bright it was almost fluoro.
 
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120db

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
114
I have both nitro and poly finished electric guitars, I prefer nitro just because I like the way it looks, feels, and ages, I doubt that the finish has much effect on the tonal properties of an electric. If I was building a guitar I would spend the extra money to go nitro.

Now when it comes to an acoustic guitar I'll insist on nitro.
 
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Terry McInturff

40th Anniversary of guitar building!
Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
6,972
I can't seem to resist contributing to this topic!

Regarding "Nitro let's the wood breathe"....that is an incorrect statement.

To begin, wood does not "breathe".

Wood is a hygroscopic material, meaning that it absorbs/gives off moisture relative to it's ambient environment.
Now, if there's anything that a guitar maker wants to avoid, it is his/her carefully dried wood gaining moisture content...or losing it excessively.

If we build with woods that are of 6% moisture content, we definitely want to keep it that way if at all possible.

Any hard, monolithic finish film will provide a good-to-excellent moisture barrier, and that is what we want.
What we want is to prevent H2O molecules from passing through the finish film and to this end, a proper nitro finish and a catalyzed finish are both effective. When the finish is damaged or worn away this barrier obviously becomes less and less effective.

Again, wood does not "breathe"....and we wouldn't want it to.
 

Husky

Member
Messages
12,099
I'm starting to piece together a new Strat build and wondering if a Nitro finish is really worth the higher cost verses a Poly finish .
I've never owned a Nitro finished Strat or Tele body so I really don't know if it's all talk with Nitro because it's the old school way or can you really hear the difference compared to a Poly finish .
It will not have a Relic beat up finish look other than aging the hardware and Antiquity pickups so it doesn't look so bling bling new .
What would you guys go with and is it worth the extra cost for Nitro ?
Why is nitro more expensive? Polyester is harder to do.
 

Husky

Member
Messages
12,099
Id like nothing more than an Olson and at 40K it’s still polyester.
I have both nitro and poly finished electric guitars, I prefer nitro just because I like the way it looks, feels, and ages, I doubt that the finish has much effect on the tonal properties of an electric. If I was building a guitar I would spend the extra money to go nitro.

Now when it comes to an acoustic guitar I'll insist on nitro.
 

jsboswell

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,441
Acoustics: I have a Julius Borges finished in Nitro (shows a few checks and swirls after 15 years). I have a Dudenbostel finished in varnish with a French polish (looked really "old" within a couple years). I had an Olson with a polyester finish (looked brand new the day I sold it). All very different finish materials, but all phenomenal guitars because the finishes were expertly applied and very thin.

Electrics: All of my current stable is finished in nitro - again, all expertly applied and very thin. I have on order a custom Suhr that will be my only non-nitro electric guitar. I eagerly await its completion, and I can't but believe - given John's standards - that it will be a wonderful instrument as well.

My take-home: It's less about the finish material itself than it is about the skill of the finisher and the thickness of the final finish in terms of how the instrument sounds and performs. The biggest determinant is how you want to guitar to look/age over time. Varnish ages very quickly. Nitro ages at a medium pace. Poly-type stays new looking.
 

KGWagner

Member
Messages
3,243
rawkguitarist >> I could be wrong but I *think* poly finishes are more expensive or more difficult for small companies to do. Which could explain why most luthiers us nitro.
It's mostly true. A catalyzed poly finish costs more for the material than nitro, but it's a helluva lot less work to get good results. When you shoot catalyzed finish, it comes out looking more or less like wet glass, and it cures that way. You can shoot it and be more or less done. Nitro, on the other hand, requires a lotta finish sanding/buffing/polishing to get the same kind of finish. So, from a time/labor point of view, poly ends up cheaper, even though the raw material is more expensive.

However, you really have to be set up for it. Good sprayer, good makeup air, clean booth, ventilation, etc. You're not going to shoot that stuff in your back yard or the garage and get good results. First, it's toxic as hell. Second, it doesn't dry/cure nearly instantly like nitro so you can have a real contaminant problem, and finally, it doesn't want to sand/polish like nitro. Stuff is extra durable. But, with nitro, almost none of those situations exist. Nowhere near as toxic, dries almost coming out of the gun, and tolerates working after the fact quite well, so mistakes can be easily rectified. Downside is, it looks terrible unless you spend a lotta time finish sanding/buffing/polishing. For the DIY guys, that's fine. They don't the wage/insurance/tax/time issues OEMs do.
 
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Robboman

Member
Messages
231
I thought this all had to do with 'relic' guitars. Poly don't relic. It used to be obvious that poly was superior. Assuming you want to keep your guitar looking like new.

Before SRV was big, NO ONE 'wanted' fades, scratches or checking. Those were defects. Dealers complained about having to discount new guitars that got scratched bumping around on the retail floor. So CBS Fender switched to much tougher Polyester around 67-68 and everyone rejoiced. Polyurethane in 83, even stronger.

I could be wrong but I don't think you could even buy a nitro-finished Fender in the 70's or 80's. As I recall, they only went back to nitro to execute this crazy idea of making a new guitar look like an old beat up one, ala the Relic. I think it was only after SRV and Relics that nitro became a thing players were even aware of, let alone demanding enough that it became an option again.
 

m@2

Member
Messages
5,071
I don't mind Poly on certain guitars... but as others have stated, it's often applied too thick and has that "dipped" look and feel.
Given the option, I'll choose nitro every time because I think it feels better, but no difference in tone from my perspective.
 




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