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Would my bass really sound better with a nitro finish?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Busker, Mar 13, 2008.

  1. Busker


    Jan 22, 2007
    If the answer is yes, is there any real data to back that up? I mean, if poly seals the wood too much, would nitro be better? If so, why? Taking it to extremes, would a bass sound better with no finish at all?

    I can see that a nitro finish is good on acoustic instruments. Millions of good old acoustic guitars with nitro speaks volumes. But is the difference on a solidbody that noticeable?
  2. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I grow organic carrots and they are not for sale
    I am a fan of oil finish ... it lets more of the woody mid sound out of the bass ...

  3. knarleybass

    knarleybass Commercial User

    Apr 6, 2005
    Tustin, CA
    Owner of Ulyate Instruments
    There are a lot of theories, Some say that Nitro takes years to fully cure, and there is speculation that back in the day when the old guitars and basses were new they didn't sound as good as they do now.
    When companies like Fender and Gibson were shooting nitro, I doubt they were thinking about tone, I imagine that was what was available and reasonably priced.
  4. In theory possibly.

    In practice, no.
  5. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I grow organic carrots and they are not for sale
    no finish at all is bad for necks ... they will change humidity levels too quickly and they will s-curve or warp ...

    Although Paul McCartneys 60s 4001 bass got stripped to bare wood in the 70s and he used that bass for most of his work with the Wings, and that bass held up fine without a finish.

    But you really will be better off with a finish on the bass to protect the wood.

    I have 7 oil finished basses ... I like the feel and the look and the sound ... it is a good finish for a DIY project ...

  6. +1... the best 'data' on this is the FBass guys that have their basses refinished in thin, clear poly due to the nicking, checking and chipping of that soft Nitro finish. I have not heard of anyone saying their bass sounded different after this was done.
  7. BigMikeW

    BigMikeW Banned

    May 25, 2005
    Nashville, TN.
    Banned by TB Administration for refusal to account for funds
    Exactly. +1
  8. Dave Hill

    Dave Hill Supporting Member

    Jan 9, 2005
    Atlanta, GA
    Yeah, but Mr. F himself has said that he's tried different finishes, and he seems to think there is a difference.
  9. BigMikeW

    BigMikeW Banned

    May 25, 2005
    Nashville, TN.
    Banned by TB Administration for refusal to account for funds
    I'd love to meet the guy who can actually listen to a live or studio recording and tell me which is nitro and which is Poly! :rolleyes: NOT going to happen.
  10. If anyone can reliably tell any sonic difference between the same bass in a nitro vs. poly finish in a blind test I'll eat my damn hat.
  11. :smug: Vinnie Fodera says that a couple inches of extra string length after the nut results in tighter B string tension, and Mike Tobias claims that a thin top veneer changes the tone of his instruments. Others claim a 34.5 scale is better than a 34 or 35:cool:

    A lot of this, IMO, is a combination of marketing, misattribution of tonal differences across instruments that are due to a combination of many things, and, maybe, just maybe a small touch of truth that would only be noticed in the most pure, isolated solo playing situations.
  12. fullrangebass


    May 7, 2005
    Maybe the effect is obvious if you bang the bass. If the finish is harder it takes more force to produce the same nick on the bass, resulting in a louder bang through the amp:p:p:p

    Joking aside, I am not able to tell any difference
  13. BigMikeW

    BigMikeW Banned

    May 25, 2005
    Nashville, TN.
    Banned by TB Administration for refusal to account for funds
    I love it! LMAO!

    BTW, no one can tell the difference. If they say they can pick each out, they are lying.
  14. herndonbassist

    herndonbassist Low Down Thumper Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Herndon, VA - NoVa
    Amen to that! I have been watching several of these threads on the diff between nitro and poly.... I honestly can't believe that anyone's going to be able to tell sonically which is which...

  15. Marcury

    Marcury High and Low

    Aug 19, 2007
    Mid Hudson Valley, NY
    Just like Audiophile cables and the like, there probably are some folks with oscilloscope ears who can hear the difference. But once it's in the mix, I'll bet even they can't tell.
  16. lpdeluxe

    lpdeluxe Still rockin'

    Nov 22, 2004
    Deep E Texas
    I think you could amend your first sentence to read "...there probably are some folks who think they have oscilloscope ears who think they can hear the difference."

    No evidence has EVER been presented, just self-serving anecdotes.
  17. I though this debate already was settled? What matters the most are the clay dots. They sound better than any finish in the world.

    Does your bass have clay dots?
  18. Marcury

    Marcury High and Low

    Aug 19, 2007
    Mid Hudson Valley, NY
    Nah, I do believe that there are people with highly sensitive senses, so there probably are a very small number of people in the world who can hear extremely minor tonal variations, just not most who claim to.
  19. CrazyArcher


    Aug 5, 2004
    Hehe I agree. Peeps worshiping nitro finishes assume them to be superior only because old instruments were done that way. Yeah, it's pretty much similar to audiofools' point of view on stuff: lots of unbased assumptions.
  20. lpdeluxe

    lpdeluxe Still rockin'

    Nov 22, 2004
    Deep E Texas
    After posting a minute ago, I've been thinking about this whole phenomenon of supposedly superior finishes, cables, and whatnot.

    Here are some rules for weeding out the real from the fanciful:

    Rule One: superiority is not automatic just because something is "the way they used to do it."

    Case in point: nitro finishes were sprayed on basses in the early days because there wasn't much else out there. Nitro buffed up to a nice gloss, was reasonably easy to handle (before environmental laws) and provided protection for the wood in the knockabout world. Nitro is also toxic, and, once you start conforming to environmental standards, is not at all easy to handle! It takes time for it to cure, and wasn't foolproof as a finish: there are a great many early Fenders that were factory refinished before they ever left the plant because of finish flaws that couldn't be fixed or hidden otherwise. Fender later incorporated poly finishes in various incarnations, and that proved to be faster and less prone to problems to apply and cure (important for a factory, after all) and more durable than nitro. The early poly finishes were not great, but the industry has had decades to perfect it, and current finishes are quite nice, even in offshore instruments.

    What if someone did some sort of scientific test to prove what difference the finish made on a bass? (I'm betting there would be none found, at all.) And what if there were a difference, and poly sounded better (whatever that means)?

    No, no, no, poly can't be better because nitro is...well, old, and poly is, you guessed it, new.

    Rule Two: something isn't better just because somebody gives you a complicated explanation of why it is.

    Case in point: cable marketing. If you read the ads for "exotic" cables you are quickly exposed to BS that would make politicians blush. Despite all the junk science circulated about the "skin effect" and the copper strands that somehow bring out more lows or shimmery highs, guess what? Cable technology is about the oldest and best understood of all electrical gear and none of the flights of fancy as applied to the laws of physics in the ads have any connection to reality.

    To apply this to nitro finishes: Fender says in their marketing that nitro allows the wood to "breathe." Do what now? Dead wood, that didn't breathe when it was part of a tree, now that it's been kiln dried and carved into a bass and painted has to "breathe?" I don't think so. Fender must have hired one of the persons who write the ads for cosmetics in the women's magazines.

    Rule Three: unusual materials used in the construction of something may or may not be better.

    Case in point: practically anything that's non-structural that uses "titanium" or "platinum" or "oxygen-free copper." I read a paper in which the signal propagation properties of different metals were compared. The result? The purest silver rated just slightly above aluminum...and the difference was so small that you would need miles of cable for anything to be audible in the form of delay. At the time, I had a pair of 30-ft mic cables linking my mixer to the headphone amp in my studio, and I had been reading some BS about how you had to have "precisely" the same length signal path for L and R or you would hear artifacts...so I calculated the difference between an 8' cable on one side and a 40' cable on the other. It came out to something like 4 nanoseconds. In other words, indistinguishable by anything other than sophisticated instrumentation. Of course, if you told someone who thought he had superb ears about this, he would immediately claim to be able to hear it...but if you asked him to listen to a difference without identifying the issue, he would hear not a thing.

    Back in my graduate school days, I was a student of the budding folklore department. It was rather eye-opening to be exposed to all the ways that people fool themselves, and others, just for the mundane pleasure of not being bored with the way things are.

    So don't bother to refinish you bass in nitro -- or, if you do, don't tell me about it.

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