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Poly vs. Nitro... the Great Debate!

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

  1. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Sure, that's a baseline from a structural stability point of view. However, the microstructure of wood from a Materials Science perspective is relatively complex. That microstructure continues to evolve in ways that may not be significant from a dimensional consideration, but are significant from a resonance perspective; and musicians notice it. Look at classical string instruments. The pro orchestral players aren't paying 5 and 6 figures for 18th and 19th century instruments because they have "mojo." There is a little more to it; and that relates to aging in the wood microstructure.

    To be sure, an electric instrument relies more on electronics. But, when a player really starts paying attention to details, acoustic resonance can still be a consideration. Of course, there are threads debating such importance. I don't intend to go into that here. I will say that at one time in the past I ground off the 1/8" (edit: probably more like 1/16") thick coating on a Fender P bass and replaced it with a thin lacquer finish. Over the first Michigan winter that body lost about 15% of its weight and became significantly louder acoustically. Whether or not that matters to a player is a preference. I am just voicing some views based on past experiences.
  2. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2005
    Syracuse NY
    Endorsing artist: Dingwall Guitars
    Here's a Fender ad from the late 70's featuring it's "Thick Skin" poly finish. :D


  3. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    If I were manufacturing instruments today, I'd probably opt for a thin Poly finish. On paper, that's just a superior formula for maximum protection of the wood.

    I believe that the bad rap comes from the fact that there have been many examples of thickly-applied, glopped-on Poly finishes hiding multi-piece bodies of green "mongrel" wood. I don't think Poly is inherently bad, it's just been linked to unfortunate examples of mis-use and over-application on less-than stellar instruments.

    Not sure about the body "breathing" stuff. As soon as the finish wore off in a spot, then the bass re-absorbs moisture? I'd bet not.
  4. georgestrings

    georgestrings Banned

    Nov 5, 2005
    No prob - here's hoping things get better for you...

    - georgestrings
  5. What percentage of the weight loss was down to the removal of the finish? I'm guessing a hefty chunk of your 15%? And the noticeably increased resonance can be had simply from changing strings - unless measured it could be psychocematic?

    You are right that the structure of wood is complex and alters over time - but the question is does nitro finish make any difference over poly.........I'm very dubious!!
  6. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    Excellent points.
  7. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    1) No, even the "tap tone" on the body was way different at the end of the winter. It was an unplanned "experiment." Basically a beater project I just happened to leave on the shelf. Anyhow, the weight loss from the wood was noticeable. That was about 1991 and it was a ca. '72 body.

    2) I agree with you. I believe the limiting aspect is the rate of transport of water through the finish coating. Characteristic times ought to vary with the square of the coating thickness; which means the thickness has a big effect. Most polymers have similar transport rates for water; so, I doubt poly vs nitro would have measurable differences at similar thicknesses.
  8. Was looking at cheap basses this week, with an eye to finding a beater for a backup.

    Some of the new Indonesian Squier VM's have gone to thick poly on the necks, similar to the CV series. Assuming that Cortech is still building for both Ibanez and Squier, it was an eye opener: all the Ibanez (very thin poly) had vicious fret sprout, vs none of the Squiers.
  9. Poly is more durable. But when it does get damaged, it looks broken. Somehow beat up nitro looks better than beat up poly.

    Im not sure what's on my PRS but it it so hard to keep looking clean. It really shows finger marks and smudges. My Musicman somehow hides finger smudges better.
  10. PJRL


    Mar 27, 2010
    greenfield center NY
    This helps explain why two seemingly identical instruments will never sound the same, I bet a lot of us have noticed this.

    I like the look and feel of nytro better, to me it has a nicer softer look. Sort of like Chrome VS Nickel, I like the look of Nichel better to.
  11. Pattycakes


    Jun 22, 2013
    i totally get why some people go to great lengths to keep their instruments looking as good as the day it was bought, but that just isn't for me.

    to me, a bass that looks like it's been on the road for 30 years is so much cooler than one in pristine condition. it's like it has a story to tell. you can tell it's been played and loved, like a worn out teddy bear after a toddler becomes too old to carry it around everywhere.

    so! i prefer nitro. that being said, both my fender basses are poly and i love them dearly.
  12. headband

    headband Supporting Member

    Oct 18, 2013
    Lake Havasu City
    I have always taken reasonable care of my instruments - I've paid good money for them and I want them to last! But anyway, as they get used, they do see the wear and tear of gigging. Most have some nicks in the headstock, and others here and there. I do like to see a bass that has aged well, and shows it. I don't really get into one that looks like it has been abused, but that is just me. My '69 I think has a poly finish (not sure?) and has worn beautifully over the 44 years that I've owned it. The finish is now dull, with a few small worn through areas on the edges, the neck finish has worn through a bit and overall it looks it's age but still looks good. And she sounds like no other - 44 years and still my main bass. Resonant as can be and has that 60's tone in spades. I've played a lot of basses over the years (and own quite a few) and have never played a better sounding bass. Since I own about 4 sunburst jazz basses the audience doesn't really know which one I'm playing, but when I play the '69 I usually have people come up and ask me "why do you sound so clear, so good tonight?" haha. I have tried to retire her a couple of time over fear of damage but she keeps coming back. Long story but my point is that I think she is poly and she has "it". So I don't care about the finish, I just care about the tone. The wear will come if you use your bass like I do.
  13. xaxxat

    xaxxat Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2008
    Fullerplast is the elephant in the room...
  14. Gaolee

    Gaolee Official leathers tester and crash dummy

    Bedliner, all the way, baby!

    Actually, sometimes I like poly better, sometimes I like nitro better. Some nitro finishes are sticky. Some are great. Some poly finishes are sticky. Some are great. I don't know what makes them the way they are, but I can certainly feel it in my hands. As far as the body and body wood are concerned, I'm in the wood doesn't matter camp when it comes to amplified solid body instruments. Make it hollow and it matters more. Make it an acoustic instrument, and it matters a whole lot. Then it starts to make a difference, although I'm not sure I know how much difference yet.
  15. deeptubes


    Feb 21, 2011
    Virginia Beach
    I have both. Prefer poly for the durability. I'd rather have a 40 year old bass that looks 10, than a 10 year old bass that looks 40.
  16. Bassmunnky


    Jul 3, 2004
    New York and Philadelphia
    Endorsing Artist: Ernie Ball MusicMan Guitars
    Love them both for all kinds of reasons.

    However, anyone who is claiming "wood breathes better through nitro" can't back that up with any kind of science. Ever. Last we checked, guitars don't inhale.

    And as previously stated "fullerplast is the elephant in the room"
  17. type of finish (nitro or poly) does not effect sound.

    thickness of finish regardless of type I believe does.

    nitro is just usually thinner, poly that is put on just as thin will sound the same. Its just rarely actually applied in a thin coat.

    but in terms of looks, nitro is much nicer, the colours have more depth and character than poly which is often over glossed.

    Go take a look of some 50s cars that have had 15 or so coats of nitro paint. The depth is insane.
  18. Beltdrive


    Jul 16, 2008
    I wonder if people back in the 50s sat around and talked about how nitro was killing the sound of their instruments?
  19. R&B

    R&B Both kinds of music: Rhythm AND Blues! Supporting Member

    I love the smell of nitro in the morning. It smells like...history. :bag:

    Seriously, when I open the case of a nitro-finished reissue bass, the pungent aroma really adds to the mystique. I suppose maybe there could be some subtle influence on resonance or some such. But mainly the beauty and fragility of nitro encourages me to be extra-careful to avoid dings. The unfortunate result is that my nitro basses spend more time in their cases than they should. The poly instruments get played more.
  20. Absolutely - and in the same vein if somehow the wood dries out by breathing better through nitro, then conversely it presumably is more susceptible to absorbing dampness from sweaty player's arms - this would mean there must have been some basses and guitars with well and truly saturated wood around back in the 60s!!!!!

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