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Poly vs. Nitro... the Great Debate!

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


  1. darkinners

    darkinners

    Oct 4, 2006
    Poly is much harder and thicker and shinier.
    Nitro is pain in the ass if you want to keep your bass looks new over decades(some consider this is an advantage tho)

    I have both and I honestly don't care. as long as the bass/guitar plays and sounds great.
    I don't care if it finished with toilet paper.
     
  2. Mojo-Man

    Mojo-Man

    Feb 11, 2003
    Poly tends to add a little more weight to bass.
    But as quote says, If bass plays and sounds great. I don't care.

     
  3. jason the fox

    jason the fox Often rocks and rarely rolls.

    Jul 2, 2013
    Nova Scotia, Canada
    Zero difference in discernible tone. It comes down to feel, look, durability, etc.

    And no matter what anyone says, the wood does not have to breath. It's dead.

    If someone can "hear" nitrocellulose vs polyurethane, then they are a witch and should be put on trial as such.
     
    phishaholik and Gaolee like this.
  4. GIBrat51

    GIBrat51 Innocent as the day is long Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    Lost Wages, Nevada
    Honestly? For me, other than the finish being whatever's period-correct for that particular instrument, it really, truly, doesn't matter. And sometimes, depending on the circumstances, I'll be happy with the bass even if it's not "correct". Since I'm a lefty, and like "vintage" stuff, I often have to just take what I can get. I have basses with all kinds of finishes; nitro, poly, oil, enamel auto paint, acrylic.. and I don't think my Danos even have a "finish" - just bare naked Masonite. I'm happy with all of them, and don't worry about how they're finished; I just play them...:)
     
  5. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    My $0.019:

    Fender used nitro for the early instruments. The coatings were thin and did permit the permeation of moisture into and out of the wood depending on humidity and the age/(kiln)dryness of the wood. Wood actually has a pretty complex microstructure, which noticeably can change (and improve) with age. My 1962 Jazz Bass now has almost zero response to humidity swings in either body or neck, such that tuning almost never varies. Almost like the wood structure has locked down and become much less hydrophilic.

    Then CBS took over, and by the early 70's they were using some kind of crosslinked resin based coatings which tended to be much thicker than required. I know they are crosslinked because you have to grind them off vs dissolving them. No practical solvent dissolves them. And Way thick. Those coatings did not let moisture go in and out of the wood, and my experience was that they actually slowed the aging process in the wood.

    People are going to tell me that properly kiln dried wood is already stable yada yada. Whatever. I neither have evidence that CBS Fender used properly kiln dried wood, nor any data, such as cross sectional micrographs of dried vs aged wood; so, let's please not go there. I am referring to CBS Fender wood here.

    Because of those changes made by CBS, nitro acquired a big following.

    Fast forward to current bass production; and now it really depends on the luthier and coating technology they are using. I know by experience that the poly coats Sadowsky is using are so thin, that no player is going to be able to tell the difference in weight to nitro. The densities of both coatings are close to 1.0 and the weight of the coating is simply proportional to the thickness that gets applied. poly coatings are actually a good bit less brittle and have better wear characteristics vs nitro, while still being permeable to moisture. I would not hesitate for a moment to have a bass built with a proper poly coating.

    BTW, when we say "poly" we are actually referring to polyester and polyurethane finishes. I have no idea what the breakdown is between those two in terms of popularity, durability, wear, toughness, etc etc; but they will certainly have similar densities.

    FWIW
     
  6. MobileHolmes

    MobileHolmes I used to be BassoP

    Nov 4, 2006
    Iowa
    There are other variables besides finish type, but a few thoughts.
    1. On average, nitro seems to be thinner, which may help with resonance (but this matters much less than pickups, preamp, shirt color, etc)
    2. You can spray a pretty thin poly finish (e.g. warmoth) that should be pretty much the same as nitro in this regard. On the other hand, I've seen some insanely thick poly finishes, especially on cheap guitars, but even on fenders from certain eras.
    3. I have heard the same thing about nitro letting wood breath that other people have mentioned, but I've never seen anything to back it up.
    4. Aesthetically, I prefer the way nitro ages, but that isn't a functional thing.
     
  7. Gaolee

    Gaolee Official leathers tester and crash dummy

    Nitro is what you put into your drag racer to make more horsepower. Poly wants a cracker. That's the difference.
     
    Fuzzbass, Mark4 and Matt O like this.
  8. GIBrat51

    GIBrat51 Innocent as the day is long Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    Lost Wages, Nevada
    Given that wood "breathes" because it's porous; if nitrocellulose lacquer does indeed allow air and moisture to pass through, then the contention that "nitro let's your bass breath" would be true - more or less. However... who sprays paint (of any kind) directly onto a piece of wood that they expect to sell to someone? Nobody I know of; certainly no companies that make basses to sell. They use wood sealers of some kind - Fender has always used a good one called Fullerplast - , that seals the pores very well, but still lets the grain show through. But, if you seal the pores in the wood so the paint doesn't soak in, then - you guessed it - neither will the air/moisture, and the wood can't breathe. But, it makes a nice urban myth, anyway...:)
     
    Fuzzbass likes this.
  9. Mark4

    Mark4

    Oct 21, 2007
    My theory is that sometimes you can feel the wood resonating more with nitro, which gives the impression of a difference in tone that isn't actually there. Something felt by the player, rather than heard by the listener.
     
  10. MrRobert

    MrRobert

    Jul 7, 2011
    Costa Mesa, CA
    I prefer nitro, but can live with poly... only if it's poly on an old instrument though. If I'm buying new or used of recent manufacture, it has to be nitro. I just like the look and (more importantly) feel of a nitro finish. I do like that it won't look brand new in 40 years too.
     
    MobileHolmes likes this.
  11. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Connecticut
    If you want it to looknice down the road - poly.

    If you are hoping for an eventual distresseeclook - nitro.

    My Lull is Poly.
     
  12. 4andnomore

    4andnomore

    Nov 14, 2008
    No difference in tone, especially with today's thin coat finishes e.g. Fender and Warmth.
     
  13. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    I took my Fender American Deluxe Jazz FMT V in to Marty Bell for refinishing today. While I was there, he sanded off a large area of the top in about two minutes. The polyester didn't seem all that thick to me. Anyway, I prefer the durability of polyester. I don't think there's a big difference in tone between that and nitrocellulose (except in the minds of those with the "golden ear"). At any rate, when I buy a bass, I buy it only if it sounds good. If it's got a polyester finish and sounds good, that's just an inherent part of the package. I don't know what "breathing" through a finish is, but I'd be very surprised if there were any scientific basis for such a phenomenon. It sounds like some kind of marketing mumbo-jumbo. I can, however see the point of era-correct paint on a bass that's being restored.
     
  14. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    Like an ounce?
     
  15. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
     
  16. On the body I really don't care much as long as it has something. im not really into the worn look myself. But I do like the oil/wax finish on neck of my stingray 5 a lot, and I like the glossy finish on my ray34cafl fretless. For some reason Im not big on glossy necks with fretted basses (other basses I've had and enjoyed included warwick thumb nt5, thumb bo5, corvette FNA, and corvette standard, and conklin gt-7. None of them had a glossy finish on the neck. But for Fretless I do like gloss, maybe it's because it helps my thumb stay planted on the back of the neck. I don't know. Just seems to be what I prefer.
     
  17. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

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

    I seal every instrument I make with the exact same urethane clear that is used for the final coat. I don't use any sort of wood sealer.

    20130107_164411_zps8863709e.
     
  18. GIBrat51

    GIBrat51 Innocent as the day is long Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    Lost Wages, Nevada
    Well, OK; now I know of one person...;)
     
  19. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Connecticut
    He's still sealing, just with a different substance.
     

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