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Poly vs. Nitro... the Great Debate!

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

  1. WoodyG3


    May 6, 2003
    Colorado, USA
    LOL. Okay, I don''t know if gases can pass through poly or nitro better, but everyone knows what is meant by "breathe" in this case. Wine does not inhale or exhale, yet we all know what is meant by "letting the wine breathe." So, a scientific test COULD determine if, for instance, a piece of wood put in a very dry environment would dry out faster with a nitro or poly finish.

    For Fender instruments, this is certainly a good point. Check this link out:


    This article mentions that moisture and gases might pass in or out of the wood through screw holes or paint fractures. Seems to me that control cavities and pickup routes would be the more obvious spot, but whatever. ;)
  2. guitars finished in poly have screw holes too.
  3. WoodyG3


    May 6, 2003
    Colorado, USA
    I don't think you got the point. All Fender guitars have a base coat of fullerplast, whether they have nitro or poly finish.
  4. I don't. The assumption seems to be that moisture always passes outward thru whatever finish, as if the finish acts like a one-way valve.

    Does it pass back into the guitar on rainy days? What about guitars that live in humid climes, do they gain weight over time?

    Is it me, or does this "solid body guitars breathe" stuff just sound like more guitar mythology?
  5. Jungy


    Jun 9, 2011
    My 1981 G&L is Nitro lacquer and does not feel anymore natural to me than my Poly basses. Seems pretty thick too which might have something to do with it.
  6. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    If a $1,000 power cable improves the sound of your amp, then yeah, finish type will most definitely affect the sound of your instrument.
    Munjibunga likes this.
  7. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
    LOL...great post. As for me I prefer nitro but really it does not matter. I also had basses with no finish beside oil and they had a different tone but nothing to jump thru flaming hoops about.

    To me finish is one of the least important things about a bass, there are other factors more important to get my sound.
  8. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Well, anyone who thinks that wood does NOT interact with moisture in the air is taking to much advantage of the relaxed cannabis laws. Are we REALLY going to have to debate that?

    As to how moisture passes through a given finish, that is science, but not rocket science. The transport rate is determined by the permeability of water molecules through the coating. There are well known material properties responsible for this behavior, "arithmetic" to describe it; and whether or not we know the specific properties for individual coatings, we do know things like how the rates depend on thickness.
    See, for example:

    So, if you want to dip coat your P Bass body in a 0.25" thick epoxy coating because it will be more bar proof, then have at it. But, it will isolate the wood from the moisture in the air.

    Of course, there are some that don't believe in Science; but let's not go there.

    As to how wood microstructure evolves over time; that is a really interesting Materials Science topic that unfortunately has not had enough funding to support the required research to sort it all out. Wood microstructure is VERY complicated and diverse. It is an inherently composite material. Water content is most definitely known to have a strong influence on it's mechanical properties.

    Professional players in both Classical and Popular musics have treasured older wooden stringed instruments for a long time, like 100's of years. If you connect the dots that this preference is purely because of mojo; then OK. Like I said some people don't believe in Science.

    I choose to trust Science. I also trust my experience with older instruments and various finishes. I prefer the thinner finishes.:D
  9. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Also, FYI, nitrocellulose and polyurethane are both synthetic macromolecules; what we generally refer to as "plastics." There is nothing more "wood" about either one of them. As to performance, I would have to assume water transport rates are pretty similar until someone actually measures it. As to "feel," each to their own. I can't tell much difference between the poly coating on my Sadowsky vs the nitro coating on my Fender J.
  10. 4andnomore


    Nov 14, 2008
  11. While that may isolate the instrument from the moisture in the air, is it not also containing the mosture which is already present :ninja: .

    It really comes down to - do these small changes in mass and elasticity, and the general microstructure have an impact which is measuarable, on say the resonance, and if so, is it measurable by the human ear.

    As for classical instruments, much of that will be down to prestige and mojo. Hard to tell if the aging of the wood has had an impact as we can't directly compare how they sound now to how they sounded 100+ years ago.

    IMO the differences between cuts of wood is going to be more significant, by a long way, than an aging instrument which is maintained within reason. Even then, especially with electric instruments, the tolerance range of the electronics is going to be the biggest source of error range on the instrument itself (between like for like at least).
  12. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2005
    Syracuse NY
    Endorsing artist: Dingwall Guitars
    THAT is a great article, and it dispels a whole lot of vintage guitar voodoo.

  13. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Of course! Diffusion goes or does not go both ways. Locking in the moisture level essentially holds any related evolution in microstructure to whatever the related state is.

    It may be surprising, but the microstructure is directly related to the mechanical properties, and significant changes would certainly be detectable by a trained ear.

    Interesting point. The Materials Research Society, where I use to present a lot of papers, actually ran a symposium on the Materials Science of Musical Instruments. There was a fascinating presentation from (IIRC) a professor at MIT on flexural characteristics of fine, like Guarneri, violins. She presented actual measurements on instruments IIRC. I used to have links to her web site but have lost them through computer changes etc over the years. IIRC her finding were that the carving and wood orientation was part of the thing, but she was not able to exactly reproduce the same flexural characteristics with newer wood nominally cut and carved the same way. of course, it is a complicated experiment to try to perform. I will try to find the links.

    Sure, but its like bicycles. Do you need that aero frame? For most, no. But, for an enthusiast trying to eek out every possible performance factor, the answer might be yes. The classical folks sweat over their varnishes even more than what you see in this discussion. Is the finish a big deal? Depends on your discrimination capability.
  14. WoodyG3


    May 6, 2003
    Colorado, USA
    Do you know anyone who only inhales and never exhales? ;) Of course it has to be a two way process, otherwise why would we ever need a truss rod adjustment due to changes in season and humidity levels? Has anyone noticed painted wood doors that stick when the weather is wet, but work fine in dry weather? Wood swells when moisture content is increased, and shrinks when it is dried.

    I'm sure the word "breathes" could be replaced with a more accurate term, but I think that most of us can understand what it means just fine. :)
  15. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2005
    Syracuse NY
    Endorsing artist: Dingwall Guitars
    I had an old guitar that only exhaled, and it was an inch or two thinner than when it was made. I had to throw it away. Boy I miss that 1954 Stratocaster.
  16. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
    LOL..yea what if a Bass stopped breathing? What should you do? :rolleyes:
  17. My vote is for Nitro because of how easily it wears. It lets Bill Nash make a bass that looks old and beat-up and still play like a dream.

    Attached Files:

  18. That's my point, and why I posed the rhetorical questions.

    So, again, why is the kneejerk assumption that solidbody guitars only release moisture over time? At what point in the environment does this allegedly important process reverse itself?

    I would maintain that all this talk about transfer of gasses is so negligible as to be immeasurable, and has no discernible impact on solidbody electric guitars. Neither in sound nor weight changes.

    There is no Science to "believe in" here, because no one is conducting scientific experiments. Just conjecture, hypothesis and exaggeration. There is no such thing as "0.25 inch thick" poly finish. Not on any guitar, on any planet.

    Any comparison to classical acoustic instruments is irrelevant here. Edit: Same goes for "wine".
  19. headband

    headband Supporting Member

    Oct 18, 2013
    Lake Havasu City
    I have always thought that part of the attraction of old basses is the old wood. Wood is made up of cells that were once living - it makes sense to me that the cell structure would change over time. I do know that I owned a 120 year old home at one time, and during some remodeling the carpenters were complaining that it was almost impossible to get a nail in to the old 2x4's in the house. Whether or not they were always that hard I can't say, but I think not. How this relates to sound I can't say, but I think it is an area that needs more study.

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