ProGuitarShop

Nitro vs. Poly

December 16, 2011

A guitar’s finish, despite being the last in the building chain, is never an afterthought.  It’s the final step to make a guitar or break it.  After all the parts are set in place and measured to exacting specifications it gets completed.  We analyze every detail of our instrument to make sure what we want to hear comes out and the finish is no exception. Through the years there have been many different options yet the major players have stayed nitrocellulose lacquer, polyurethane and polyester.  Each type of course has their camp of devotees that will swear by one or the other, but in a market of changing needs and changing climate both finish types are striving to be the best, and if done correctly these finishes can rival each other on any guitar.

 

Nitro

Nitro FinishTo get a basic understanding of finishes and how they work we start with Nitrocellulose Lacquer. Nitro has been the mainstay for decades since it was first developed in the 1920s.  Nitro blended with paint extremely well, which made it an easy way for early car companies like Ford to start introducing new color options to their stale black and grey lines.

Nitrocellulose is a solvent-based lacquer in which resin (a clear plant based substance, in most cases cotton) is combined with sulfuric and nitric acids in a process called nitration.  This is the same process used to create explosives like nitroglycerine and trinitrotoluene, or TNT. This is why nitro can be a very dangerous finish to work with, as it is highly flammable.  Once the lacquer is applied the solvents (chemicals that are able to dissolve another substance) dissolve into the air leaving the resin behind to be sanded and buffed to a high gloss.  When nitro first came out it was much faster drying than other options, but today poly has taken the crown for faster finish dry time.

If you are strumming on your new guitar with a nitro finish and you smell that heavenly sweet smell, you are whiffing the solvents as the final evaporation process takes place.  Cherish it; it won’t last forever.  For those of you who haven’t set foot in a nitro booth to experience the aromatic pleasure of highly explosive substances disguised as ice cream topping, I pity you.  On the flip side it is exactly these chemicals that make nitro hard on the environment.

Aside from its olfactory appeal and beautiful gloss nitro is also great finish because it cooperates with other material and substances well.  I mentioned before that it was very useful to blend with colors on cars, and the same holds true for guitars.  Nitro never cures like poly finishes do.  If the solvents that evaporated are reintroduced the layers of finish can be combined making it a very easy finish to repair.  Along similar lines, it blends well with pore fillers, sealers, sprays, and buffing products. Flexibility is key for an instrument’s resonance and because nitro never completely hardens, it is less rigid and constricting as other finishes.

The same things that make it great make it less durable.  It is softer and can be worn away by materials that react with the resin like a solvent does, such as rubbers on a guitar stand.  You may have seen guitars with tacky part of the neck or where the arm rests on the body, this is because it reacts to chemicals and oils much more readily than hardened finishes.  Many players consider this a badge of honor on their guitar, a sign of the hours devoted to their instrument.  The highly scratched and worn relic look that is popular right now is a display of nitrocellulose’s imperfections.  Temperature changes lead to checking (small cracks in the finish from the wood underneath contracting and expanding).

Growing old gracefully and showing everyone where it came from, a nitro-finished guitar doesn’t hide.  The Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) that solvent based lacquers give off may eventually make them a thing of the past, as they are hard on the environment and hard on the respiratory systems of those applying the finish.

Very elaborate and expensive ventilation systems must be maintained to comply with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and work place safety regulations, if it is even allowed at all.  Many guitar manufacturers locate their facilities in states with lenient air quality laws for this exact reason. Combining the high cost of ventilation systems and the health risks of nitrocellulose could be the biggest reason we have seen a push for non-solvent based finishes like polyurethane and polyester.

 

Poly

Though they have been used as far back as the late 1960s on guitars, in the past few decades polyurethane and polyester finishes have become very popular because they have bypassed many of the complications of nitro finishes as well introducing their own assets such as durability and brilliant gloss.  The resin is synthetic and it leaves almost zero solvents in its wake as it cures.  Low VOC, which the EPA loves. Chains of polymers (linked molecular units that may be natural or synthetic) are activated by catalyzing chemicals, much in the same way solvents are used in nitrocellulose finishes.  The finish left behind is completely hardened and cannot be broken down by solvents.  I like to think of it like Jell-O.  The hot water is the catalyst that breaks down the chemical bonds of the ingredients and reunites them in a new bond that is hardened, all the while not releasing chemical in the process. This is why poly finishes are so durable and resistant to cracks, scratches and overall dulling of its gloss.  If you want your guitar to polish up to a new guitar shine for as long as you own it, then a poly finish is probably for you. Unlike an old nitro guitar showing its age, poly guitars are sipping from the fountain of youth.

VOC are on the EPA’s radar and as necessary regulations continue to be instated to protect our environment manufacturers will have to look very hard at polymer based finishes.  Since there are no chemicals emitted to cause health or environmental problems, these finishes, though more costly by the pound than nitrocellulose, save manufacturers a lot of overhead.  Bypassing the need for extraordinarily expensive ventilation systems only strengthens the case for an already clean and quick drying finish.  In a market of mass production guitar overseas and domestically, the ability to cure a finish in a matter of minutes, and send them on their way is a must.  Currently major acoustic and electric guitar companies are employing hand held UV lamps to cure polyester finishes in mere seconds.  In this situation the UV light is the activating agent to start curing process.  Although it takes seconds now, this process took many years of trial and error to develop.  In printing this method was used to catalyze a reaction when exposed to UV light, by putting a photoiniator into the resins.  This method also allows for a much thinner finish, which brings us back to the ultimate purpose of this dissection, the tone.

Tone

A thick finish, regardless of its composition, can stifle Tone. No matter what process it goes through, the one constant that holds true is that the finish must be thin to maintain resonance.  Nitro finishes are almost always thinner than a poly finish due the blending of layers and the method used to apply it. Perhaps this is why purists and tone junkies love them. The fact of the matter is, the more layers you put on the more you stifle the tone, especially in acoustics, where the voice of the guitar is all in the wood.  Many guitars have amazingly thick poly finishes that leave a solid body with very little acoustic resonance, which absolutely translates when plugged in.  This is the reputation that poly finishes have.  You never get a second chance to make a first impression, but luckily for poly finishes new advances that allow for a thinner skin will win players over.  Also, do not be fooled by matte finishes.  In many cases these finishes are not necessary thinner than their glossy counterparts, but have an additive to render a different sheen level.  Poly finishes can be lively and resonant if done correctly just as a circuit board can be dynamic and durable.

Nitro is not an unbreakable chemical bond like polyester and polyurethane.  Nitro is not a cocoon, permanent and unmoving, wrapped tightly over your guitar’s body.  Nitro is evaporating and leaving your guitar always.  You notice this with every check and scratch.  You notice this especially on a spruce top guitar where the finish has sunk into the grain lines.  The wood under your finish is dead and has been since the day it met its first and last chainsaw.  However, it is still moving, expanding, contracting, and vibrating.  A finish that gives way under the strength and movement of this wood is displaying its ability to let your guitar ring out and sustain.   You will find nitro finishes with this ability and you will find good poly finishes with this ability.

All finishes, whether poly or nitro have some effect on the vibration in the guitar wood and the translation throughout the instrument.  While this effect is subtle, it does exist.  While this may not be detrimental to the heavily saturated rock guitarist, it certainly could be to jazz or blues player that relies on resonance and dynamics instead of all out distortion and it does have a noticeable effect on acoustic guitars.  With the modern techniques of applying poly, the finishes are getting thinner and thinner allowing this resonance to come through more and more.  While nitro is still there and going strong in the boutique guitar market, its days are probably numbered in production due to the environmental cost.  Which is for you?  That is for you to decide.  If you like off the wall colors and that are durable and don’t fade, go poly.  If you’re more into a classic aesthetic and want your years of playing and road-wear to show, then a nitro finish is the way to go.  Either way, don’t to let either one discourage you from getting the instrument you love.  If you pick up a guitar and it sounds good, plays well, and has the look you want, go for it.  Over-analyzing every detail will drive you mad and remember tone is in the fingers not the finish.

By Guest Contributor: Gavin Wahl-Stephens

 

Comments

  1. Matt says:

    Great article, thanks Gavin.

    Is having a poly finish the reason Hendrix’s guitar didn’t burn well? Surely he was expecting a nitro ‘WOOOOOFF!!!!’ when he lit it up?

    ;o)

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 10:23 am
  2. Paul says:

    Great article Gavin… Thanks so much for the insight. Really informative and really fun to read.

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 10:27 am
  3. Abbacus says:

    Aside from all the advantages and disadvantages, I still just like the way Nitro feels.

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 10:35 am
  4. Bram says:

    Experts believe that the secret ingredient of a stradivarius is the finish,
    however I’m not buying it that it would have any effect on the tone of a solid body electric instrument.
    Anyway, a bad finish still makes your guitar look like a piece of plastic, and is especially cumbersome on the neck, because it makes it sticky

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 10:37 am
  5. greg d says:

    Great info and right on. Id like to state that if you have a guitar stand with rubber or vynal as protection take it outside and stomp it and toss it in the trash..Import company’s don’t give a rats ass about your custom or vintage guitar leaning up against their $ 4.00 stand. They shouldn’t be allowed to sell them. Vynal does chemically eat lacquer.  Im just sayin !!

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 11:21 am
  6. Rod says:

    As wood ages, it continues to dry out internally as the saps crystallize.  It simply does not do this as well when encapsulated in impervious finishes like poly as it does with a finish that “breathes” like Nitro. Poly has the advantage when it comes to durability, colorfastness and stability.  Nitro is more easily repaired and allows the guitar to age more gracefully.  I absolutely prefer Nitro because of its more organic feel and rich look that Poly can’t match.  Just my opinion, but I don’t think Stradivarius instruments or classic Gibsons and early Fenders would have acquired their legendary tonality and appeal if they had been coated in plastic!

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 11:36 am
  7. elvis costanza says:

    I have many guitars, and two of the most resonant are my Japanese Fenders with poly finishes!

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 11:41 am
  8. Hollis says:

    Great articale ...as always

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm
  9. Hollis says:

    *article

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm
  10. Jesse says:

    Great article Gavin! What are your thoughts on a water based finish? Considering the fact that nitro will have to go away sometime, do you think the current nitro giants will switch to poly? Or go water based?

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 12:09 pm
  11. Javier says:

    If the poly is hard then I don’t understand why should it remove or dampen
    vibration form the wood, it should add its own mass to the whole vibrating
    instrument like the hardware parts and therefore add resonance, shouldn’t it?

    May be not the kind os ressonance tha metal or woods but hey, the nut on the
    holy grail 59 Les Paul was synthetic and its an essential part of the instrument.

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 12:10 pm
  12. Anne Onimos says:

    Thanks for this.

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 12:30 pm
  13. Fletch says:

    The truth is, anything slathered on in thick layers will have a detrimental effect. However, properly applied poly finish will have no different effect than a nitro finish. My guitar tech (a very famous and well known authority) built a guitar “breaking” all the “sacred” rules of guitar building, among them using a poly finish. The instrument sounds great, looks fantastic and proves the point that poly vs. nitro, on well crafted instruments, makes zero difference in the sound, whether Rock, Blues or Jazz. You may disagree, that’s fine. But until you’ve actually worked with a guitar using a properly applied poly finish, you can’t actually say true or false on the claim that nitro is better. I personally prefer nitro, not because of the tone differences, which are irrelevant, but the aesthetic differences over time.

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 12:30 pm
  14. Blaine says:

    Thanks Gavin for a great detailed explanation.  Having finished guitars in both nitro, poly and urethane finishes myself, I found your explanation really good.  But keep in mind lacquer cracks for 2 reasons with age - the movement of the wood and most importantly the flash off over years of the solvent which leaves a very britlle lacquer skin that flecks off - thus the relic look, along with the cracks vertical to the grain as well.  My personal opinion is always go with lacquer - it consists mostly of solvent - so you are left with a nice thin lacquer finish that doesn’t inhibit and over time enhances the tone - its literaly alwasy leaving the instrument.  A compassionate tribute to the wood.  The problem with poly and urethanes is they are high solids - meaning very little solvent so most of the finish goes directly on the guitar and is hi-build.  Thus plastic look and feel.  This is a definite non-tone enhancer - but, a big plus for the guitar mfg’s as its easier to sand and polish without sand through.  Less labor, less craft.  Thus this can be easily moved to China - and guess what - they don’t care if they are pumping poly and urethane’s up the finsih room stacks. Poly finishes use and require for cleanup solvents like MEK and other nasty health hazard and flammable solvents.  The exposure of the worker is a much greater health hazard and the VOC’s going out the finish room stacks are also of greater risk to the planet.  So, my vote is always go with lacquer - for no other reason than the sweet smell of a lacquer finish and the sympathetic nature to the instrument.  To answer Bram’s question - yes it is the finish on a Stradivarious that makes the difference - keep in mind this is a french polish technique applying varnish by hand a layer at a time and leaves a very thin finish that will add tone to the instrument due to working it into the very pores of the wood. Try burnishing a material and you’ll understand the process better - though burnishing is an extreme example that can be performed on most any natural material.  Its as close to being at one with the material a finish can become. You literally are working it into the material and creating heat by sheer pressure and elbow grease.  Yes, when there are no short cuts and you become one with the material - its takes on a new dimension - that’s why they call it a “labor of love”.

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm
  15. stven says:

    As side effect of nitro slow curing is that it make the neck stickier for a several months after finishing.  Finger ease or similar products can help during these intial months.

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm
  16. Perry says:

    What he said!

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 12:55 pm
  17. Bunn says:

    My Poly Squier with waaaay dead strings resonates acoustically way louder than my Nitro Tele with fresh ones .....still Wood is Wood and every piece is different ! Thanks for the write up

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 12:56 pm
  18. Dale says:

    Very enjoyable read. I did learn something, as I believe that is why my 2011 Firebird V smells so good when I open the case. It must be the nitro finish. Gorgeous finish and has that sweet lovely aroma!

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm
  19. kenstee says:

    You really need to be careful if you have a nitro finish and use a guitar stand with that foam rubber padding. It can discolor the guitar as it reacts with the nitro finish. Before you buy a stand make sure it all the components are compatible with nitro finishes. Most of the cheaper ones (and some more expensive ones) aren’t. They usually have a hang tag or label with a warning not to use it with an instrument with a nitro finish.

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 2:04 pm
  20. Mike says:

    I guess spilling beer on a nitro finish wouldn’t be too cool either. Better drink bottled water at my next gig.

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm
  21. iain says:

    My first experience with Nitro finishes was the Mosrite, and I believe my ‘64 Fender Jaguar also had a Nitro finish.  I have experienced nothing since that provides that mile-deep sunburst, mirror-like finish.  It does have its drawbacks on older instruments if not cared for with Nitro in mind:  Checking and long cracks, among them.

    Thanks for the great article!

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 2:49 pm
  22. Mojave Johnson says:

    Good article, but nitrocellulose lacquer has been around a lot longer that 90 years.  In fact, the nitrocellulose lacquer that Gibson developed way back when was loosely based on the nitrocellulose lacquer that Antonio Stradivari developed over 300 years ago.

    For us vintage guitar collectors, we often get to smell the leftovers of the nitro that rubbed off in the original hard shell cases.  It’s one of my favorite things about finding and playing those vintage pieces.

    Unlike poly finishes, nitrocellulose lacquer penetrates the wood and allows it to breathe and resonate more freely.

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm
  23. Greg Lockhart says:

    Though a guitarist I started out as a violinist, and still play classical off and on. Not that anything is wrong in the post refering to fine Cremonis’e Instruments The “finish” theory has undergone much revison and a far more truthful one.

    Peer reveiwed science has shown the wood mercant’s that supplied the cremona makers (Tarisio etc) brought wood from regions that had been affected by the “little ice age” Cremonese wood properties as most tested samples have been of significantly higher median density than those found elsewere. (the tiny bubbles inside the wood)
    This has shown to be a the true reason for the tonal superiorty of the works of Stradivari and Guarneri. True, a gloppy poly would ruin there tone, but barely any of the original finishs remain, and as of 1994 only 60% of the original instruments are even intact. Food for thought G L

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm
  24. OLERAudio says:

    Not to be a prude, but describing a circuit board as “dynamic” sounds silly.

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm
  25. David says:

    Great write.  The UV curing is the wave of the future.  Is something to watch for.  The wood is everything.  Finish can let it work or kill it.  I tried a hand rubbed tongue oil.  Durable, wood is very resonate, good finish, wood loves it.  Great light finish.  Give it a try!  the harder your rub/burnish, the more gloss.  Wear places tend to shine more, can retreat anytime you want.  You can have whatever sheen you want anytime you want.

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 3:57 pm
  26. Rob Norris says:

    Great article Gavin & Andy!
    This is a subject that has a lot of controversy to it among many players in the know.
    I myself am a finisher (and play guitar) and have sprayed everything but 2 pt poly & polyester.
    A friend of mine is the outside finish consultant to PRS Guitars in Maryland (I live in VA) and does’t understand the love many have of a nitrocellulose finish as compared to a more stable catalyzed lacquer finish.
    This will be a good article to share with local luthiers (guitar techs & builders)as well as others confused about this topic!

    Rob

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 8:55 pm
  27. Bill S says:

    Nitro finished guitars are supposed to be kept in their case (when not in use) to protect the finish and wood from humidity changes. Unless you like checked finishes. My first parts’acaster was finished in nitro and in its year of aging gets more and more twang to it. Its a joy to age with it

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 11:26 pm
  28. Frank Spero says:

    i like to finish my guitars in stain it leaves the wood bare for that woody tone my favorite is butterscotch on a light one piece tele body preferabley with a killer grain

    posted on December 16, 2011 at 11:38 pm
  29. JOHN LEE says:

    I tend to shrink and crack as I age too. Am I Nitro? The guitar stand problem has always been trouble. Guitars that has hung in a store awhile tend to get marks where they hang up at the headstock. Move them often seems to help. If you have problems with this your not practicing enuff. HA, gotcha. I do finishing and I love the smell of Nitro in the morning. EPA can go sniff more glue. they ruin it for everyone. They Need to be shut down.

    posted on December 17, 2011 at 12:09 am
  30. Frank R. says:

    Great article! Lots of info for pro and novices as well. One of my favorite hotel/couch guitars is a parts-o-caster that I sprayed with 5 coats of flat (satin) lacquer. I put a sticker on it to cover a flaw (the body was a “second”) and you can see the sticker buckle in the winter when the body shrinks in the drier air, and stretch when the NJ humid summer arrives! Having sprayed lacquer, I love the smell too, however, I would definately recommend wearing a respirator if you do it more than a couple times a year! We lost Bob D’Aquisto to a disease that may have been caused or aggravated by exposure to
    finish solvents.
    Rob Norris (and Gavin and Andy): would love to hear more about catalyzed lacquers too!
    Sadly, I’m sure we’ll see the day that the EPA shuts downs lacquer spray booths for ever..
    can you say ‘bootleg guitar finishers’?
    Happy Holidays everyone!

    posted on December 17, 2011 at 2:23 am
  31. Stephen C says:

    Just a small correction regarding violin finishes.  There are two broad categories of varnish used on viol/violin-family instruments: spirit and oil. 

    Spirit varnishes consist of a resin dissolved in a carrier solvent, usually alcohol; the solvent flashes off, leaving a thin layer of resin behind. 

    Oil varnishes, on the other hand, contain resins dissolved in partly-oxidized polymerizable oils, such as linseed oil; they have a small amount of solvent (such as turpentine) added to permit brushing.  The chemical activity in applied oil varnishes is complex, but generally involves continued polymerization of the oils, some evaporation of solvents and lighter volatiles, and gradual formation of a continuous film of resin. 

    Both types of varnish are applied over a “ground,” which may contain organic materials (egg white, casein), resins (mastic), minerals (synthetic compounds or naturally-occuring), and possibly color agents (dyes, pigments, etc.).

    I’ve worked with these materials, and I like the results, but I seriously doubt that they could be used commercial guitar production of any scale—they are hard to make consistently, application is labor-intensive and requires some skill, and they take a long time to cure or dry properly.  They are also somewhat fragile.

    For a thin finish that breathes, moves, and looks amazing, I prefer French polish; it’s basically just high-grade shellac and alcohol.  Once you get the hang of applying it, it’s kind of fun.  There are VOCs, yes (ethyl and methyl alcohol), but nothing nearly as nasty as xylene, toluene, MEK, or nitrocellulose.  And although a French polish finish is not damage-resistant (or moisture resistant, unless you complicate things with polymerizing oils), it’s really easy to touch up.  Again, it’s not cost-effective for industrial production.

    posted on December 17, 2011 at 7:49 am
  32. Bill Stickers says:

    What about Shellac?
    Me and my stepdad use French polishing on our instruments. It gave a Strat of mine sustain the likes of no Strat should have xP not in the Les Paul league though.

    Beetles for your Beatles. It’s a good thing.

    posted on December 17, 2011 at 1:22 pm
  33. Steve says:

    Eddie Van Halen used to use Krylon spray paint and colored vinyl friction tape on his guitars, yet I never heard any complaints about the sound of his axes.

    Don’t sweat the petty things, and don’t pet the sweaty things…

    posted on December 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm
  34. patrick says:

    Stevie Ray Vaughan is one artist who where the finish one his instrument didn’t matter one bit…TONE is the hands, ears and mind of the individual player. SRV had some of the best tones in history…

    posted on December 17, 2011 at 11:05 pm
  35. Paul says:

    I am preparing to build by 2nd guitar kit and attempt a much more complex finish. I am collecting materials to attempt a multi colored dye burst as stains tend to be all dark wood colors. I want to try a poly finish but am terrified of getting it too thick or streaking runs, never been good at spray and I do not have a high tech spray gun.

    My first kit I used Dark Walnut Danish Oil Stain and a paste wax seal. Seems to work really well and that guitar remains probably the best Strat I have had. I have others guitars w mohogany bodies and necks, maple tops, maple necks, ebony. My kit has an ebony fingerboard which has become my fav from former blond maples. A Strat w Ebony is rather unique and I have worked extensively on the neck shim and setup and modified the single coils w base plates,9 option switching, additional grounding and shielding. It is not as pretty as my custom jobs but it drips tone. I am not fond of “dog hammered” guitar worn off finishing which makes me leery of Nitro. I want my guitar to look decent and last for many years. I keep mine in cases when not being used. I loved SRV but man that guitar was shit looking. I never thought it looked cool. Now Blackmore’s sunbursts that stuck me on that color for ages, that looked major cool and quality.

    I do think resonance on an electric is a very minute quality in general, acoustic instruments are all about the wood. My worst wood guitars seem to sound better than the more exotic. I had a natural koa wood tung oil sealed guitar which has to be the thinnest breathable finish of all, beautiful wood grain and pretty but nowhere near the tones of my relatively inexpensive kit.  An electric from my years is more about the pickups, wiring, shielding, and most importantly the setup. What matters is the set of the neck and proper shimming to a bolt on. Strats never sound right to me unless tuned to Eb.

    This was an interesting article and informative but really made me more terrified towards the final finish stage.

    posted on December 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm
  36. Jordan Grunow says:

    I have a “Tribute” G&L. It has a noticeably thick poly finish on it. I put a three barrel brass bridge on it and a Fender no load tone pot. This thick finished guitar roars w/ authority. I have wondered if stripping it would make it better sounding… I have a couple w/ no finish at all…they all do something well… I do like nitro for it’s nostalgic appeal.

    posted on December 19, 2011 at 10:49 am
  37. Blaine says:

    Allot of views on this subject including my own a couple days ago.  But, the bottom line is start with the wood.  Its the basis of what will be the guitar tone. The older the wood the better and make sure its dried properly.  This is where it begins and makes the differnece between good tone and great tone.  As pointed out by Mr. Lockhart old growth woods are denser and slow growth produced stability.  Unfortunatly kids - it was all cut up down years ago - so, to meet demand we must use fast growing species. 

    One reason its imossible to create a stradavarious again is the woods no longer exist.  Just look at an old Martin and count the growth rings in the Spruce top.

    Last word on the fisihing question - Fender used nitro and acrylic lacquers and more imortantly a product called Fullerplast to speed up the production process.  For more detailed info on the history of Fender finishes go to this link.  http://home.provide.net/~cfh/fenderc.html

    posted on December 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm
  38. Todd says:

    I’ve owned a slew of instruments over the years and although I prefer nitro over poly (for tone and feel), I’ve recently been converted to an oil finish player. A friend of mine who has started a guitar brand called Vibrance Guitars uses oil finishes on all of his builds and quite frankly it blows poly’s and nitro’s out of the water for me (YMMV). Durable, better (i.e. more acoustically transparent) tone than nitro, very organic feeling, and it really brings out the natural beauty of the woods being used. And it’s very easy (and affordable) to maintain. Again, YMMV and I’m not here to diss on poly’s or nitro’s, but hand-rubbed oil finishes seem like an entirely different category. Also, in seeing the ‘writing on the wall’ for nitro finishes for environmental concerns, oil finishes are a nice ‘green’ alternative and may eventually become the new ‘holy grail’ of high-end finishes.

    Great article and great discussions all around! I love PGS!

    posted on December 27, 2011 at 4:37 pm
  39. James says:

    The majority of the tone is NOT in the hands. 

    If tone was ‘mostly’ in the hands, then one would be able to make a Squire Strat and 10w Line6 Spider sound ‘mostly’ like a 1959 Les Paul through a 70’s point-to-point Marshall Superlead.  The fact is that the tone of these two equipment setups is very different. 

    The truth is that tone comes mostly from the instrument/equipment and very little from the hands; style and technique is in the hands, but the tonal platform is dictated by the instrument/equipment.

    I’m actually shocked that the writer ended with a statement that invalidated everything he stated above with regard to how different finishes affect tone.

    posted on August 31, 2012 at 7:16 am
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