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Do poly finish basses age?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by light blue bass, Sep 10, 2020.

  1. Do you get any aging on poly basses or is it just nitro finishes that do that.
    Ruknrole likes this.
  2. JimmyThunder

    JimmyThunder Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2008
    New Hampshire
    Poly will age for sure, but not in the same way vintage nitro does.
    I have a white poly telecaster I've owned since '93, and the color has changed over time, particularly noticeable in certain spots. But no matter how long I beat the snot out of it it will never look like one of SRV's strats.
    arbiterusa, LoTone, BassmanM and 3 others like this.
  3. godofthunder59

    godofthunder59 God of Thunder and Rock and Roll Supporting Member

    Feb 19, 2006
    Rochester NY USA
    Endorsing Cataldo Basses, Whirlwind products, Thunderbucker pickups
    Definitely not like nitro but they do age. Early 70's Fender poly finishes would chip easily, even come off in large sections, problems with adhesion in the finishing process. My '76 Ibanez Destroyer looks almost brand new except for the odd chip here and there.
    LoTone and light blue bass like this.
  4. Any pictures?
  5. Keith Guitars

    Keith Guitars Commercial User

    Aug 25, 2004
    Woodstock, NY
    Builder: Martin Keith Guitars
    "Poly" can refer to either polyester or polyurethane, and within those there are further differences (pre-catalyzed, post-catalyzed, etc.).
    So there's no blanket rule that can apply to non-nitrocellulose finishes.

    Nitrocellulose is brittle, and the 'checking' (the small, "shattered" cracking that people love) usually is the result of expansion/contraction of the finish at a different rate as the substrate wood. This is often due to rapid temperature changes - in fact, some guys "relic" their guitars by using freeze spray to rapidly cool the lacquer, causing it to shrink quickly and fracture.

    Polymer finishes are not as brittle as nitrocellulose and are generally less likely to fracture in the same way.
    This is one of their big advantages. Despite the lore, nitro does not "breathe", nor does the wood underneath it.
    It does expand and contract with changes in environmental conditions, as do all solids (aluminum, for example).
    But this is not "breathing", and it has nothing to do with the fact that the wood was once a living tree.

    Nitro lacquer is just as much a plastic as the other finishes - it's not meaningfully different from celluloid, which is the same plastic used for old bindings and pickguards. If it's too thick, it will choke up an instrument just as badly as the old '70s "bowling ball" urethanes.
    It's also very reactive to rubbers, alcohols, sweat chemistry etc. It takes skill to apply and a long time to dry.
    There is categorically nothing magical about it - and I can say from direct experience that there is no performance advantage to nitro over properly applied polyester. Honestly, the only thing lacquer has going for it IMO is that it fails in a visually appealing way (i.e. the fine 'checking' that has become synonymous with "vintage mojo"). But that is still a failure of the finish, no matter how "cool" it may look.

    I use polyester on my instruments. It is thin, chemically inert, flexible, and durable. It can be easily touched up and it is a very effective vapor barrier.
    I'll use nitro if one of my clients requests it, but I usually recommend against it.

  6. Lesfunk

    Lesfunk Supporting Member

    Short answer is yes. They do
  7. Two words: sanding sealer (emphasis on "sealer")
    Marihino likes this.
  8. alembicbones


    Nov 10, 2000
    Seattle, WA
    Everything and everyone ages, it's just the way of the universe. I know I am.

    With regards to poly vs. nitro, I guess it's what important to you. My 2003 Alembic has a Poly finish. It basically still looks new in 2020. To me, I like that. If a worn look is what you want, poly probably shouldn't be your first choice for a finish.

    ctmullins likes this.
  9. Vinny_G


    Dec 1, 2011
    Do poly finish basses age?

    No, poly finishes are the only things with McDonald's hamburgers and the Kardashian family (and maybe Keith Richards) that don't take the ravages of time. They were there at the beginning of the universe and will be there at the end of time. :)

  10. Volker Kirstein

    Volker Kirstein Blippy the Wonder Slug Supporting Member

    Poly will fade/age given enough time and UV light.

    Poly will wear through given enough use.

    Poly can become brittle in some circumstances, and break off in great chunks. I've seen instruments with gaping holes in the finish, usually on the bottom edge, usually caused by an impact.
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2020
  11. Ruknrole

    Ruknrole I’ve got bass face! Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2018
    Here's a 15 year old MIM body with poly finish.
    Besides the usual scratches, swirls and dings it looks brand new to me. My arm will probably wear out before this finish does.

    Last edited: Sep 11, 2020
    JoshS and lfmn16 like this.
  12. msb


    Jul 3, 2002
    Halifax,N,S. Canada
    Well worn poly 72 .

    Bluesbob, HaphAsSard, Ghastly and 2 others like this.
  13. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Yes. If you play 10 hours a day for 50 years, it will age nicely.

    I have two 30 year old Fender Strats. One was my main instrument for 10 years, it got lots of playing, gigging time. They both look about like new.
    Old man and Smoove-Groove like this.
  14. Samatza


    Apr 15, 2019
    In my opinion a lot of finishes tend to yellow a little over time, colors will fade a little over time too.
    I'm almost sure that my bass finished in polyester is a darker shade 25 years later and my Tune in the avatar has noticeably gone from a pearl white to having a sort of more aged/yellowish look to the finish.

    When we took the neck off you could tell that the unexposed parts were still the original white pearl.
  15. My, 97 MIJ '75 RI. Jazz had a thick poly coat. Sunburst finish. It wouldn't wear at all. Looked brand new after 23 years. So I took a heat gun to it, down to natural finish and a clear coat of nitro. I love it even more now.
  16. I think some of the older Poly finishes have a kind of nitro coating on top that reacts to UV-light.
    Tthe headstocks were shot with lacquer, simply because it didn't mess with the decal, and the urethane did.. So it is yellowing and get that cracks Nitro gets (at least on my 75 P and my 78 Jazz). My former olympic white 78 Jazz has yellowed in a drastic well known way because of the Nitro .
    You don't get that typical wear where the arm rests on Jazz or P basses. Poly rather comes down in large portions, you can nearly remove the finish in large pieces with your fingernails once a portion of it came down. As others have written, there seems to be a difference between the early poly and the poly that is used today.
    I'm willing to be corrected!
  17. IMG_9162.jpg

    My 2014 nitro '64 Jazz looks like this after 6 years of being played about 8-10 hours a week.
    I have a CIJ Fender '65 Jazz in Poly since 1998 and it got much more playing hours since then and it doesn't show any wear comparable to the '64 ofter just 6 years. Not one of my other poly basses do show this kind of wear, not even after more than 40 years, just some dents and scars, were the instrument was dropped.
  18. Here’s a Carvin SB5000 which I bought used a couple of years ago. Don’t know how old it is but at least 5 years. I originally assumed the white finish had darkened over time, but when I take the pickguard off it’s actually darker underneath. Huh.

    More relevant to the OP, in my experience if you chip a poly finish it usually looks bad. Not like those cool aged nitro finishes. Maybe because the rest of it is so perfect (no checking etc) so any imperfections really stand out.

    light blue bass likes this.
  19. Ggaa


    Nov 26, 2018
    Had an Olympic white P that after a few years could pass for an opaque blonde. Also wore the poly off with my forearm.
    light blue bass likes this.
  20. radapaw


    Mar 22, 2000
    wow, I've never seen non-nitro naturally wear out that 'well'. must play nice!
    Ghastly likes this.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Jan 18, 2021

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