Types of Bass finishes

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by addicted, Sep 20, 2016.

  1. addicted


    May 23, 2012
    Okay, so I have been wondering this for quite some time? How many types of bass finishes are there? and what are their differences?

    There are Satin finish, Gloss finish, Matte finish, Nitrocellulose finish, polyurethane finish, Lacquer finish, Transparent finish, etc.

    I can understand the differences of some of the obvious ones like gloss vs matte finish. But those stuff like satin finish and matte finish does not seem to have a difference. I googled 'satin finish bass' and I am presented with a range of bass from matte-look Warwick Corvette to Sadowsky's metallic-look Satin bass.

    Would be glad if anybody can chime in and tell me the differences.
  2. Malak the Mad

    Malak the Mad Over the River and through the Looking Glass Supporting Member

    Visually speaking, "matte" and "satin" are basically the same and are the opposites of "gloss/glossy". The former isn't supposed to be very visually reflective and the later should be quite shiny. When it comes to tactile sensation, a gloss finish should be very smooth to the touch, while matte/satin coatings have a discernible "tooth" or roughness to them.
    DiabolusInMusic likes this.
  3. addicted


    May 23, 2012
    What about transparent finish and the nitrocellulose finish that Fender is famous of?
  4. Malak the Mad

    Malak the Mad Over the River and through the Looking Glass Supporting Member

    "Transparent" means exactly that…transparent, aka the opposite of "opaque". Light goes in and comes back out allowing you to see what's through it. To get a little visually-technical, anything that lets in some light is "translucent". Here's some examples…
    • Lake Placid Blue = opaque
    • Natural = transparent
    • White Blonde (where you can just make out hints of the wood's grain) = translucent
    I don't know much about nitrocellulose lacquers, except for their reputation as being thinner, more prone to wear.
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  5. MobileHolmes

    MobileHolmes I used to be BassoP

    Nov 4, 2006
    Nitrocellulouse is a type of lacquer (I believe some of the fender custom colors were actually acrylic lacquer, which is chemically a little different, but functionally fairly similar). Generally speaking, it doesn't seem to be as durable as poly (both polyurethane and polyester) finishes that are what most manufacturers use these days.

    As mentioned Satin vs Gloss is all about about how shiny or dull the finish is. Also, you can have these in poly or nitro (and satin can also be tung oil)

    Sonically, it doesn't make much difference if the finish is reasonably thin. Ive seen some absurdly thick finishes on some 80s/90s guitars (you don't see it until they are chipped) and to me those instruments tend to sound sort of lifeless (though it could be any number of factors, or all in my head). But it seems like most manufacturers are better about this today than they were. I've got a couple warmoth bodies that they finised, and where I have dinged them, the paint seems to be about as thin as you could apply it (and more recent other guitars I've seen seem to be better on this.

    So, largely, the question is about looks and feel. I tend to like nitro because it wears like an old guitar "should," which is of course purely subjective. It gets weather checking (little cracks), yellows, fades, rubs off, etc. To me, being of a certain age, that looks more "natural" than poly finishes which will stay really glossy and still have chips and dings in them. Some people have a strong preference for gloss or satin necks, but I don't much care one way or the other.
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  6. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism

    When people refer to nitro/poly they are referring to the make of the finish. They are two different materials with different results. Nitro is fragile and never really dries while poly gets rock hard and is quite durable. Nitro is what used to be done so purists feel that is the best option. People feel it allows the wood to "breathe" more but I don't buy into that. You need to take precautions with nitro as far as temperature goes as well, it will check. Nitro will also yellow with age. Oil of all kinds would fall into this category. Oils are just rubbed on to protect the wood while poly/nitro is sprayed. Oil finishes feel more like natural wood than a paint job.

    Satin/matte and gloss are just styles of finish. Gloss means the finish is shiny and matte means it is dull. Satin means a gloss finish that has been buffed to look matte. Just because a finish is nitro or poly doesn't mean it will be gloss or satin/matte. You can finish/spray either option into a shiny or dull finish.

    Transparent just means you can see through the colour. It is the opposite of opaque/solid colours. Either kind is available with both nitro or poly.
    MobileHolmes likes this.
  7. Christine

    Christine Guest

    Aug 3, 2016
    There is another aspect with the gloss, matt, satin: a gloss lacquer is just the pure finish, whereas a matt finish has silica powder added to it to kill any surface shine, a satin finish has less silica added. A transparent finish is one that you can see through as used on say a cherry Gibson or a fender sunburst, so it's a lacquer with a little bit of soluble colour added to it'

    Nitro cellulose is an old style finish that has been around for years, it was used from the 1920s onward for spraying cars and furniture. It is breathable to an extent and will let the wood underneath breath. A polyurethane finish is a more modern alternative that is easy to spray and quick drying which lends itself to production line assembly. It is also less breathable than nitro, which can be seen as an advantage or disadvantage depending on your view, personally I like a ntro finish because it feels less grippy on my hands
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