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Is nitrocellulose the only finish that will "relic" naturally?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by spc, Sep 3, 2005.

  1. spc


    Apr 10, 2004
    South of Boston
    I like the relic look of beat fenders, but it doesn't seem like the finish on my j basses will ever wear out. My friend has a reissue strat and it's wearing out on high traffic spots (forearm, etc.).
    Is nitro the way to go?

    If anybody wants to discuss, I'm also wondering if it sounds better...

  2. spc


    Apr 10, 2004
    South of Boston
  3. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD

    Feb 20, 2005
    Seweracuse, NY
    Poly basses 'relic' too. Think of all those fender instruments from the late 60's and the 70's. They get the same arm wear and checking...it just takes more time and more playing. My 1973 Fender has crazy cool weather checking.
  4. dpmasunder


    Apr 30, 2005
    I'd say a nitro finish is the only one that will relic in a nitro finish way, if you get my drift. And because of it's delicate nature it's going to be far easier to get that look with it.
  5. :meh:
    If by relic you mean , "Yellow"?
    Nitrocellulose will quickly yellow due to minimul UV screeners.
    Next up on the clear food chain would be Acrylic Lacquers.
    They have stronger UV screeners and are able to resist yellowing a little longer.
    Nitro is very brittle when dry. Acrylics are somewhat more flexible and hold up better to perspiration than Nitro.
    I am not a chemist so I can't ramble on about their DNA, I just used to use the stuff a lot and know how they fair over time.
    The, "checking" or "cracking" some refer to is usually due to the coating losing flexability and or being exposed to UV light over a long period of time.
    After a point in time the finish will dry out and be totally unprotected and start to breakdown.
    Todays Urethane finishes are designed to last years without failure due to the high quality of UV ingredients and Isosyonate hardners.
    Sound wise,
    I guess it's all opinion!
    I have refinished a lot of instruments and haven't really noticed a change in tone or sound.
    It's the age old argument.
    Fender for instance, I read they use a Polyester......If that stiffled the tone I think they would hear it and use something else.
    Their Custom Shop uses Nitro.....
    It could be due to the perception of the old feel and look that customers want. Who knows?
    That's what make this all so interesting.
  6. rbrown13

    rbrown13 supporting member

    Sep 9, 2005
    bakersfield ca,
    hi guys, I have been refinishing guitars and basses for about ten years now and in my opinion nitro is the only way to go, the poly finishes that are being used today just kill the natural vibe of the wood, for example I bought a black lakland 55-02 and the poly on was so thick it took two dats of stripping and sanding to get down to the wood and when it was all done I found the most beautiful two piece matched ash body i have ever seen, I shot a sand sealer and then I did trans aged white that I mix myself, then I did 8 coats of nitro wet sanding from 600 grit to 2000 grit between each coat, not only does it look fabulous now but it totaly changed the sound of the bass, it just vibes now that it's not incased in plastic. nitro is a wood pulp based laquer and therfore it allows the wood to act like wood and breath.
  7. IMO, yes nitro really is the only thing you can use to get that vintage 50s Fender look. Natural relic check patterns on those guitars (50s Gibsons as well) have a unique aspect, the nitro generally cracks along the grain of the wood. Any cracks that run across the grain are generally rather short, and intersect only 2 or 3 longer along-grain cracks. Back then, the nitro finishes were very thin.

    More modern poly finishes are way too thick to ever do that, it will never happen. Yeah it will wear in high-traffic spots, and if that's what you're looking for, then it can be done. But getting that vintage-looking nitro check is an art in itself.
  8. spc


    Apr 10, 2004
    South of Boston
    Good stuff, everyone...
  9. what about good ol' shellac applied in the classic French polish technique?

    I've seen some GORGEOUS french polish stuff...and I'm sure that this stuff would relic over time, and leaves a wonderful vibe to the wood...isn't this what the old luthier masters used to use?
  10. vintager


    Jan 29, 2005
    i second shellac, french polishing is the peak.. and nice thing is that if you still ( in 'relicincg' process ) want to add some cracks or want to add some yellow shade, you can shot some layers of clear nitro over it.
  11. Phil Mailloux

    Phil Mailloux

    Mar 25, 2005
    Brisbane, Australia
    Builder: Mailloux Basses
    Shellac is one of the thinnest finishes. It's pretty much like an oil finish, in other words it doesn't protect your instruments from dents like lacquers do.
    So yes the instrument will "relic" because anything that happens to the bass (scratches, nicks, dents, normal wear and tear) will happen VERY easily to the instrument.
    But no it won't "relic" in the real term of the word because what you're really looking for is the cracks and checks you only get with nitro.

    If you shoot layers of nitro over then what you're really doing is a nitro finish on your instrument with a sealer of shellac under it. That's hardly a french polish finish.
  12. vintager


    Jan 29, 2005

    True, i shouldn't write it all together. I just wanted to say i really like french polishing and on the other hand if someone tries it and then realises that more nitro-ish look would be better, shellac works like a fine sealer / under-coat for nitro.
  13. badsneakers

    badsneakers Supporting Member

    May 31, 2004
    so where would I buy nitro to finish a bass with? If I was going to do a natural finish what would I use to "seal" the wood first, and can you spray the nitro on like I would a urethane?
  14. Phil Mailloux

    Phil Mailloux

    Mar 25, 2005
    Brisbane, Australia
    Builder: Mailloux Basses

    You can buy the supplies there and also read reranch 101 to find all answers to your questions.
  15. badsneakers

    badsneakers Supporting Member

    May 31, 2004
    thank you
  16. Nino Valenti

    Nino Valenti Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 2, 2001
    Staten Island NYC
    Builder: Valenti Basses
    I disagree with your opinion. At Sadowsky Guitars, we built a bunch of basses using Nitro (couple of P's and J's)and I didn't hear any difference between the Nitro basses and Poly basses with the same p/u's. I also played all the basses in passive and active mode. But this is just my opinion. :) YMMV.