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Poly vs. Nitro... the Great Debate!

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

  1. georgestrings

    georgestrings Banned

    Nov 5, 2005
    Not really - it looks more like an opinionated blog than a factual resource with documented research to back up it's assertions...

    I suppose an experiment could be done - taking both poly'd and nitro'd bodies, weighing them precisely - then exposing them to an extremely damp environment(outdoors in the fall or spring), then doing the same with a warm, dry environment(sauna) - and measuring any weight changes...

    Truthfully, this argument has been done several times here before - I don't know how you thought this time was going to produce any different results...

    - georgestrings

  2. Jeez... lighten up, man.

    I never thought the conversation would produce "different results." I was just interested in what the community had to say. What I WASN'T interested in was someone somewhat rudely putting down the very notion of having the discussion.

    I don't know if it's what you intended, but (to me) that response read as being pretty arrogant.

    You know... it's pretentious responses from some folks in the TB community that make me wonder why I even bother with this forum, sometimes. It's a real buzzkill... just as I'm really beginning to enjoy what I'm reading, and am feeling like starting a new thread or two... It comes back to the "bass snobbery" mentioned in a previous thread.

    Damn... I'm bummed.
  3. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    As in real life, the internet is full of cool people and a-holes. The only difference with the a-holes on the net is they're a lot more brave because there's nobody around to take a swing at them. Once you put that into perspective, then the internet becomes a fun place again.
  4. georgestrings

    georgestrings Banned

    Nov 5, 2005
    If that's all it takes to bum you out, you might want to lighten up yourself - just sayin'...

    - georgestrings
  5. jason the fox

    jason the fox Often rocks and rarely rolls.

    Jul 2, 2013
    Nova Scotia, Canada
    Acoustic, with a resonating top that's essential for sound production? Ok, maybe nitrocellulose.

    Everything else? Whatever. No difference in sound or tone. It's just a matter of durability and sometimes the look.
  6. Guitalia


    Jun 7, 2008
    Baltimore, MD
    Never came across any complaints about the tone of Dan Armstrong basses; that's a fairly thick plastic finish.
  7. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    A better test would be to put them both in a very hot and dry climate and let them sit about a year.
  8. Chef

    Chef Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    May 23, 2004
    Columbia MO
    Staff Reviewer; Bass Gear Magazine
    -nitro may well "breathe" better, but, properly dried wood doesn't need that.
    -poly can be laid on just as thin as nitro by competent finishers like Pat Wilkens. complete non-issue.

    I'd bet you a case of your favorite beverage you couldn't reliably pick the nitro bass out in a double blind sample of nitro vs poly with two otherwise identical spec'd basses.
    Hopkins likes this.
  9. jason the fox

    jason the fox Often rocks and rarely rolls.

    Jul 2, 2013
    Nova Scotia, Canada


    This sums it up.
  10. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Here is my <2c experience.

    The point of the finish on a wood instrument is to look cool and to allow the wood to age naturally by reacting to the environment and generally drying out over time. The latter requires that the finish be permeable to water molecules.

    Nitro finishes have always been thin and done a good job in the water permeability aspect. They are a little fragile and get worn; which can be good or bad depending on a player's prefs.

    Thin poly coats are more durable and do just fine in the permeability area. Polymers have a density close to 1.0; so, the poly coats are not significantly higher density than nitro. Early Alembic poly coats, ca '74 - '76 were good early examples.

    However, Fender starting in about '72 started putting absurdly thick polymer finishes on their basses, especially the clear coats. Alembic likewise turned to thicker coats. So, there are a whole bunch of instruments made from '72 - '82 where the plastic coating is so thick that they develop massive cracks and the bodies do not age well because the coating keeps the moisture in the wood.

    Thereafter, most builders got the finish thickness sorted out (with a few notable exceptions), and current high end builders generally use nice thin poly finishes which work quite well. Of course nitro is still around and also works quite well.

    Anyhow, the key with either is getting the thickness right. Other than that, the differences are pretty minor; with all due respect to individual prefs.
  11. headband

    headband Supporting Member

    Oct 18, 2013
    Lake Havasu City
    I've always wondered what year Fender started to apply the thick poly coats. My '69 jazz finish is pretty thin, and really, it looks very good when sitting next to my '64 Custom Shop jazz, both sunburst. Can you tell a difference? Sure, but it is very subtle and not sure I could tell you that one looks better than the other. And the '69 has killer tone and playability.
  12. Ok another angle:-

    If you were to paint a classic car with two pack poly top coat and another with nitro and then tap the wing of each - would there be a discernible variance in resonance??

    I somehow doubt it - but I know which wing would wear out and fall to bits first. That is one of the reasons modern cars last longer.

    Guitars are painted with car paint generally.

    I've never understood this debate but am happy to concede a nitro painted worn elderly guitar is a nice looking object - however rather like cars a nice shiny new one is also a thing to set the pulse racing - at least mine anyway!!!
  13. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

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

    The point of a finish is to protect the wood from soaking up sweat and funk and looking terrible in a few weeks. This is especially true with a wood like maple, which turns grey and nasty looking very quickly without a protective finish. This as well as it has to look good. Wood should be dry before building even starts or you will have an unstable instrument.
  14. georgestrings

    georgestrings Banned

    Nov 5, 2005
    Maybe - I just mentioned both test environments because you brought up the posibility of a finish that's perceived to "breathe" to allow moisture to travel both in or out of wood... Taking sizeable pieces of the same wood plank, then applying the different finishes to each piece before the test would probably remove another variable...

    I would say that such an experiment would put that particular issue to rest - everything else on that subject(aging/drying out) is merely conjecture...

    - georgestrings
  15. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Well, the guys that say wood breaths, always refer to it drying out over the years and becoming lighter and more resonant. So by putting them in a constant low humidity high temp environment would prove or disprove that claim.
  16. xk49w


    Apr 13, 2008
    The stuff is just car paint isn't it? If nitro were water permeable, why didn't cars rust under the paint?
  17. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    If the same poly finishes we have now were around a hundred years ago we wouldn't be having this conversation. Nitro and varnish were used because that was available. The reason they don't use nitro on automobiles anymore is because for all intents and purposes, urethane is a better finish. As far as guitars go, some people like nitro for the soul reason that it isn't as good of a finish, and they like the look of its flaws.
  18. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2005
    Syracuse NY
    Endorsing artist: Dingwall Guitars
    The 'thick' coats came later. But they did switch to Poly in 1968. They were just spraying it thinner. :) Except for headstocks which remained nitro sprayed until sometime in the mid 70's. That's why often the face of the headstock is darker than the back of the neck.
  19. Yeah... yeah, I suppose so. Sorry, George... everyone.

    Had a rough day, yesterday (and today ain't much better).

    My apologies.
  20. The other thing which intrigues me is if nitro allows more moisture to evaporate out if the bass body than poly, surely it would be the same the other way round? I.e a nitro finished bass in a humid or dew laden environment would take up moisture into the body whereas a poly finished one wouldn't? Thus what is this 'drying out' process about?

    All sounds a bit iffy to me - I think the allure of nitro must surely just be an aesthetic or perception thing rather than having any great scientific basis???

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