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Poly vs. Nitro... the Great Debate!

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

  1. Mosfed


    Apr 21, 2013
    Chamonix Mont-Blanc
    Partner - CCP Pedals
    I am not sure that is a great comparison. I would hope that a Road Worn would sound better than a Squier. A better comparison might be between a Road Worn and an American Special.
  2. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Valid reasons for choosing one finish over another: look, feel, durability.

    Notice that tone ain't in there.
  3. Mojo-Man


    Feb 11, 2003

    I prefer Nitro because they applied less of it.
    Poly finishes were much thicker.
    And Nitro did not smell as much.
  4. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    If it sounds good, it is good.

    Most of my better sounding basses have nitro finishes, but not all of them.
  5. lossfizzle


    Jul 8, 2013
    All of my basses past, save for a T-40 and an oil-finish Foundation, have been finished in poly. I have, and have owned, numerous guitars (acoustic AND electric) in nitro, poly, shellac / FP, and oil.

    Based on experience there, any tonal advantage theoretically offered by a nitro or shellac finish is far outweighed, at least to me, by poly's durability. I especially feel this is true with electric solidbodies. The electronics make much more of a difference in the sound of the instrument than the type of body wood, and finish is even less of a factor.

    And personally, I vastly prefer the feel of gloss poly, especially as a neck / fretboard finish. My hands don't sweat at all, and I can tolerate just about any type of finish / lack thereof on a neck - except nitro-finished necks, which are always stupidly sticky for me, even with very thin finishes.
  6. Neek


    Nov 26, 2008
    South Florida
    I have read that nitro paint can sometimes react with the foam on guitar stands and hangers. I haven't experienced any issues with my nitro finished instruments, but that is because since discovering that information I cover the foam padding with a towel before placing the instrument on the stand.

    I have never had any issues or worried about any of my poly finished instruments. They take a beating and look/sound great.

  7. YIKES!!! Anyone else ever hear of such a thing?!?
  8. Bongolation


    Nov 9, 2001
    No Bogus Endorsements
    All you need to know, right here.
  9. When talking about Fenders, there isn't a thing like "true nitro". Back in the sixties, the bodies were prepped using a material called Fullerplast, which was brushed on fairly thickly, and sealed the woodgrains and smoothed it out. So underneath that nice nitro burst... Lays a thick layer of plastic. And some colors weren't nitro, but lucite (metallic finishes).

    And nitro + guitar stands... Not a nice marriage:

  10. pbassnut

    pbassnut Supporting Member

    Sep 27, 2004
    Falls Church, VA
    If it sounds good, it is good.


    I have a few nitro finished basses and the rest are some other kind of finish (not knowledgeable enough to discern what they are). My nitro finished basses sound good, but are not necessarily my best sounding basses. I think there are a lot of other contributing factors involved and think it's more about thin versus thick finishes. I once had a '77 Precision that had a very thick finish and I think it had a negative impact on the tone. My experience with nitro finishes are that they chip if you just look at them funny ... not very durable. If you're into the relic thing and want to DIY just by playing ... nitro is what you want. Nitro can also be a little bit sticky as a neck finish. It all comes down to what is most important to you ... there are no "right" answers.
  11. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    I hear, and feel, more of a difference between super-thick poly coats and the newer thin ones than between think poly and nitro.

    So for me it's more about the thickness of whatever the coating is than what it's made of.

    A thick poly coated instrument is basically going to sound exactly the same for it's whole life, as long as that coating stays on. Thinner coatings, nitro and oil, will allow the wood of the instrument to be affected by environmental factors like humidity, which over time could change how it sounds, for better or worse.
  12. elBandito


    Dec 3, 2008
    Rotten Apple
    polyester or urethane?
  13. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Instruments that are identical in every way can still sound different due to the variable nature of wood.

    Point being: the only way to possibly show that finish can impact tone would be to refinish an instrument from nitro to poly. And even then, you'd have to demonstrate that all other factors were identical, including strings, playing technique, ambient acoustics, torque of the neck bolts (if applicable), yadda yadda.

    You'd also have to show that the refinishing process was not responsible for any change in tone. This might sound silly, but the idea that finish type will impact tone in a way that's detectable by the human ear also seems silly to me.
  14. georgestrings

    georgestrings Banned

    Nov 5, 2005
    *Some* stands - for example, I have never had any problems with my nitro finishes and Hercules stands...

    - georgestrings
  15. WretchedExcess


    Jul 29, 2013

    It happened to me with a brand-new $5000 Gibson LP. The instruction booklet specifically warns you about contacting the nitro finish with several different types of materials.

    I leaned it up against a leather chair and left it there for a few hours, with the back of the neck in contact with the edge of the chair. When I picked it up the leather had reacted with the nitro finish and melted it at the contact point. As I pulled the guitar off of the leather there was a thumb-sized imprint, dead center on the back of the neck. I buffed it by hand to no avail, I couldn't make the defect in the finish go away. It really bothered me, because I didn't like having such a palpable irregularity right in the middle of the back of the neck.

    I thought about sending the guitar off to have the neck refinished, but I just kept on playing it instead. Because nitro is a "fluid" finish, the process of playing the guitar allowed the defect to "reform". With enough playing it eventually it blended back into the rest of the finish and smoothed out. I'm thinking that lots of playing was the equivalent of a slow-buffing process that made the defect disappear so it's not even noticeable any more. Reacting with the oils and sweat from my hand might have helped.

    I was lucky that the defect was on the back of the neck, where I was able to make it play out. If the finish had been on the front or the side of the body I would have had to have had it refinished at considerable expense. That was with a flametop Historic LP. They use a pretty thick clear nitro finish on the 'bursts, several layers.


    I just bought a Highway 1 Jazz Bass with the matte nitro body finish. It has some finish damage where the original owner left a guitar strap in contact with the body's nitro finish while it was being stored in the gig bag. The body reacted to the plastic strap, and fused to it. It looks like the strap had to be peeled off of the guitar, and it left a trail of what looks like popped micro-bubbles in the outline of a strap. It's on the backside of the guitar, so I don't worry about it.

    I get the impression that the Fender nitro finish isn't as good as Gibson's. It doesn't seem as thick, and the finish isn't full-thickness nitro like it is on a Gibson. The strap contact went through the nitro, down to the finish underneath. It looks like the Fender's nitro beauty is only skin deep and you could buff right through it to the next layer beneath it. On a Gibson the nitro finish is real... it goes all the way down to the wood beneath it.

    I don't worry too much about the tone of a finish on a Fender, because Fenders don't have real nitro finishes anyway, only the top coat.

    If you don't want to worry about ruining the finish on your guitar, then get poly. Nitro is a PITA, and on a Fender it's only there for the look and feel. Not worth it IMO.
  16. 1+
  17. headband

    headband Supporting Member

    Oct 18, 2013
    Lake Havasu City
    The best sounding bass I own is a '69 Fender Jazz bass with poly finish. I have a 64 CS Fender Jazz in Nitro, and it is a great bass, but can't beat the '69? How do I measure this? Audience feedback. Every time I play my '69 I have people come up and ask me what is different - and why my bass sounds so incredible that night? Lol - both sound great, but the poly bass always wins. And it's finish has worn beautifully - she's a keeper.
  18. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars

    PRS does not use any nitro at all. They use a thin automotive urethane finish

    A properly cured finish should have no smell at all. Nitro would be more prone to having an odor after its cured than poly.
  19. hennessybass

    hennessybass Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2008
    Houston, TX
    Yes. I have a NOS CS 64 Jazz bass that is done in Nitro and this happened to it.

    I bought it from a friend who had it as a studio bass. The first part of its life was spent sitting in one of those big guitar racks that holds 8 guitars in a studio. It absorbed the color from sitting on the black foam. It didn't bother me as I got a great deal on a great bass. And now, after 3+ years of it being my #1, the white nitro finish has started to yellow, and on the tummy and arm cuts it is actually starting to take on a kind of pink hue. Just a little bit of checking here and there on the bass... and lots of sweat and grime. I should probably give it a wipe down at some point:bag:
  20. chadds


    Mar 18, 2000
    I have furniture that has so little poly applied that you can feel the grain yet it is moisture resistant.

    As far as basses are concerned I do have to say a good one is a good one and a bad one is a bad one.

    However. The thickly poly coated Fenders that arrived in the '70s were very different in feel and sound from the 50s-late '60s. If it isn't one thing it's another. :) (Emily Latella) :)

    The finish was so thick it felt like your bass was encased in plastic and was now a paperweight. If this contributed to the weak sound who knows? That much plastic has an obvious different acoustic volume than the same bass with nitro. The vibrations into our hands are greatly diminished. Do the strings vibrate freely ? YMMV.

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