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Poly vs. Nitro... the Great Debate!

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Gbass75, Oct 29, 2013.

  1. Okay... so, I know this topic has been touched on before; but, a quick search (using the somewhat disappointing TB app) has not led to a specific enough discussion of the subject... so, here it goes...

    I'm primarily a Fender Precision bass guy; with a Ric 4001v63 thrown in for good measure... though, I know this conversation is not exclusive to Fender instruments. That being said...

    Oftentimes, when reading P-Bass related threads, the talk of "Poly vs. Nitro" comes up. I have a few thoughts... but, I know there are LOTS of opinions out there in TalkBass Land. So, please share...

    What's your take on the "Poly vs. Nitro" debate? What are the big differences between the two? The pros and cons? What do you play and why? Was it a conscious decision? What was your choice based on? Affect upon tone? Purely aesthetic?

    AND... discuss!
  2. I'm not a technical dude. Thats my disclaimer......

    I just had my 65 P bass refinished in Nitro.
    It was important to me that it was in "era-correct" paint.

    Its my understanding, that the instrument "breathes" better in nitro, because it goes on thinner.

    Most people have no idea how thick a coat of poly is.

    When you see an old Fender, thats worn. Thats probably nitro.
    Poly would never wear like that

    I'm sure that ramble was of very little help

  3. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass **** Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    For me there's no big debate, I judge a finish on looks. I can appreciate a thick poly finish on a 70's Fender as well as an early 60's nitro. How well the bass plays and how much I'm willing/able to spend are big factors.
    MrRobert likes this.
  4. 2cooltoolz

    2cooltoolz Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2009
    Lake Conroe, TX
    Three of my four Fender basses have nitro finishes, and I still suck.

    Go figure. :help:

    Okay...within my limitations. A nitrocellulose bass feels like wood. Peace, love, flowers. The polyurething finish is beautiful and shiny, and for many years, to me, absolutely the shizz. But it feels plastic, synthetic, and inorganic. (But it's still shiny and pretty).

    Tonewise...how would I know? I can't even tune without a big buck digital tuner. :bassist:
  5. megafiddle


    May 25, 2011
    If it's gloss, the difference is about $500.

  6. bassbenj


    Aug 11, 2009
    I have no nitro basses, but I do own a nice Gibson Les Paul in nitro. No question it feels like wood. Peace, love flowers. But it's all look and feel I really don't think it does anything for tone. And yes, poly does seem plastic, synthetic and inorganic. But I love that look too.

    But the problem for me is that my LP has painted neck and the nitro there for me is very sticky! I've tried all sorts of things to slick it up but not much success. Lots of discussion on that effect online, but few conclusions. The conclusion that I've come to believe is that it is genetic. Some people suffer the sticky nitro syndrome and some don't. I do. It does get getter and better as the nitro ages, though.
  7. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    To my knowledge, there is no significant tonal difference between an instrument with a nitrocellulose finish and one with a polyurethane finish. I'm sure there are those who will disagree, but that's my current take on it.

    Since I have a real "thing" for shiny, glossy white & black instruments, I'm happy to go with poly. For one thing, the bright white finish doesn't yellow like nitro does, but stays nice and bright! :cool:

  8. M

    I've had 2 poly basses for 22 years, and look the same as the day I bought them. My 69 P, however, looks 40+ years old.
  9. Mvilmany


    Mar 13, 2013
    Upstate NY
    Nitro feels better, to me.

    However, I'd take a tung oil based finish over either.
  10. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Full disclosure, I'm a certified Fender technician working in a music store that carries Fender, Yamaha, and Ibanez products among others.
    I play poly finished instruments because that's whats in my price range.

    Feel aside, it's easier to drop-fill a ding in a nitro finish than in a poly finish. The poly finish will always look like it was repaired somehow, the nitro won't with careful color matching because it dissolves in to the old finish.

    There are always exceptions, and I've seen some guys do amazing work with an airbrush under poly to match wood grain, but those guys are rare. Something to consider when purchasing, anyway.
  11. Man, finish would be the LAST thing I would think about regarding the tonality of an instrument. The current 'thin poly' finishes are beautiful, they don't chip or check, and would have zero impact on the tone.

    There are quite a few guys who have refinished their nitro FBasses (that company really had some issues with their nitro finishes a while back... checking like crazy), and not a one noticed any tonal difference.

    As much into gear and minutia as I am, sometimes we need to just pick a color we like and play:p
  12. huckleberry1


    Jul 1, 2013
    Mesquite, Texas
    I'm paying on a Fender P-Bass 5with a nitro finish, brand new for $850 with the hard case- American, sun-burst, string thru, high mass bridge & has serious tone & I don't mind nitro one bit.
  13. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    My take? Who gives a rat's ass? I'll play a bass that's good, and I'd rather not play one that's bad. Finish is pretty immaterial.
  14. mr.mow


    Feb 11, 2009
    Endorsing Artist: BBE/G&L Basses
    Oh fck it must be Wednesday..
  15. Nitro smells better.
  16. georgestrings

    georgestrings Banned

    Nov 5, 2005
    Waxing and buffing fixes that right up for me...

    - georgestrings
  17. If the sound-difference between poly and nitro would be so big - no basses or guitars would be laquered at all - but with oil finish.

  18. Webtroll

    Webtroll Rolling for initiative

    Apr 23, 2006
    Austin, TX
    Partial to nitro due to the feel, ease to maintain, and the natural way it wears.
  19. Mosfed


    Apr 21, 2013
    Chamonix Mont-Blanc
    Partner - CCP Pedals
    For me it's only about feel and how it ages. I don't pretend to believe that I can hear a difference between the two. But I like the feel of nitro - especially on a neck much more than poly or urethane. And I do like it when an old Nitro bass begins to finish check and age.

    With that said - I get the attraction of poly as the bass will look the same in 40 years as it does when it is brand new.
  20. Back in the day, when a lot of Korean-made instruments were shipping with that "guitar-under-glass" look, I stripped a couple of guitars and a bass, and refinished with thin, wipe-on finishes.

    Stripping catalyzed polyester was an absolute nightmare, but both guitars "woke up" quite noticeably, giving them a more complex tone. The bass, not so much.

    Fast forward a couple of decades, and guitars and basses are getting thinner finishes in new formulations. PRS is using a synthetic sealer under nitro top coats, and there are urethane-based products out there that mimic wipe-on oils. My matte-finished Dingwall has some sort of witches brew that looks and feels like hand-rubbed oil, yet it gives every impression that it's going to wear like iron.

    The best reference test I know of right now, is to take one of the thin-film Fenders like a Roadworn, and compare it to a VM Squier with the thick gloss finish. Played acoustically, all the Roadworns I've sampled have felt and sounded a bit livelier and more resonant. The difference is about on par with new vs gently worn-in strings, so it's noticeable, but not earth-shaking.

    All that to say that unless an instrument is encased in a thick plastic straightjacket, I doubt that anyone is going to hear a major difference.

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