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Nitrocellulose vs Polyurethane??

Discussion in 'Telecaster Discussion Forum' started by Jared Purdy, Feb 12, 2013.

  1. Jared Purdy

    Jared Purdy Friend of Leo's

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    I've been doing a bit of reading on these two finishing techniques, both of which continue to be used by Fender (and likely other manufacturers), and I can't say I've come across any hard conclusions about them. The nitorcellulose allows the finish to wear, in the road worn look, where as in 30 years, a guitar with a polyurethane finish will look more of less the same as it did the day it was purcahsed (there are obviously limitations to this).

    So I guess I have a couple of questions: Is one inherantly "better" than the other, and will the finish on a modern guitar, manufactured by todays' process and finished in polyurethane actually hold up after, say 20 or 30 years, or will it yellow, chip, etc? And, if nitro is the chosen finish for so many Fender models, why do they continue to finish many of their guitars, including the Standard and even some CS models in poly?? Cheers.
     
  2. Vintagebrit

    Vintagebrit Tele-Holic

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    I understand the move to Poly is an environmental one, but my AVRI '57 Strat in Nitro just smelled lovely and is supposed to sound better. It did sound wonderful but never did a comparison though.
     
  3. purpletele

    purpletele Friend of Leo's

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    If you want your guitar to stay brand new looking for longest, go with poly. There are examples of seriously aged poly, but it's definitely not as soft as nitro.

    Beyond that, it gets a little ethereal.
     
  4. otterhound

    otterhound Poster Extraordinaire

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    Nitro is more easily repaired .
     
  5. FredDairy

    FredDairy Friend of Leo's

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    The guitar is wood and it was alive at one time so I'd rather that wood be exposed more and be allowed to breath. I never really cared much about that aspect of nitro until I started playing Martin acoustics. Sure a major part of the electric guitar's tone is what you hear through the amp and I'm not going to argue whether or not nitro sounds better. But I prefer it because I'd rather the wood breath a bit. Does it make a difference? To me yeah.
     
  6. Revv23

    Revv23 Friend of Leo's

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    For me nitro looks and feels better. And if my guitar wears a bit then so be it. Its also supposed to effect the sound but to what effect no body can scientifically say.

    Imo nitro should be used unless you want your guitar to look like its bee dipped in plastic.

    Sent from my iPhone using TDPRI
     
  7. Fernandomania

    Fernandomania Tele-Afflicted

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    The wood is dead and therefore doesn't breathe.
     
  8. FredDairy

    FredDairy Friend of Leo's

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    Have you ever played a worn in opened up Martin?
    How about a new Martin? One humidified the other dried?
     
  9. Fernandomania

    Fernandomania Tele-Afflicted

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    Acoustic is to electic as apple is to orange.

    Yes, I've played all kinds of different acoustics. However, there are so many variables that affect tone and it's completely different on an electric.

    If you like nitro better, that's fine. If somebody likes poly better, that's fine. But the impact either one has on the tone of a solid body electric is minimal at best and highly debatable. I have both types of finish and, in my view, the differences are more of aesthetics and feel.
     
  10. Revv23

    Revv23 Friend of Leo's

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    Nevermind.
     
  11. Camplain

    Camplain Tele-Holic

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    You mean there's more than one kind of finish?!?!?! :eek: who knew... lol... OK, seriously, I've got both poly and nitro guitars... I like nitro best, but not because those guitars sound any better than the poly models I've got... I just like the way nitro feels, smells, and wears... It's how the old ones were made, and that carries a certain cool factor to me.

    I think one being better than the other is very subjective, if you want a guitar that looks brand new for years and years then poly is better, if you want to see the time you've spent with the guitar reflected in fretboard and body wear then nitro is better...

    You'll hear that the wood will breathe and continue to dry and age with nitro. I think this is true with acoustics, I can look closely at my Martin and easily believe the finish is so thin that it's letting the wood breathe some, but on most electrics there is going to be an undercoat of some kind (often poly) under the nitro anyway, so to me, even though I love nitro, I think with most electrics, any advantages of nitro beyond the way it wears and feels just don't exist....

    in fact, there are plenty of people who, due to body chemestry or other reasons, don't get along with nitro at all, they'll find the necks sticky, or the finish too hard to care for, cuz you can't just hang a nitro guitar on any old guitar stand, or put it on any surface, for example, if you lay a beautiful nitro guitar on a pleather couch overnight, you may not like what you find in the morning.

    Anyway, I just rambled a lot to say... IMHO one isn't any better than the other, just depends on what you like.

    Edit: oh wow, this thread got busy in a hurry, when I started typing there were like two posts :lol:
     
  12. FredDairy

    FredDairy Friend of Leo's

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    I kind of made that point in my original post didn't I? My preference for nitro has little to do with tone, but that I'd rather the wood be exposed to "air".
     
  13. Jared Purdy

    Jared Purdy Friend of Leo's

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    Interesting comments, some of them I came across while researching this last night. Such as, I was not aware (until last night) how toxic the nitro process is. In fact, if you give a new guitar with nitro the smell test, you'd swear you could eat it! Not that I'd want to have a gulp of poly etiher, but it seems to be more environnmentlly friendly, though that is not the reason it is being used as it has been used on guitars as far back as the early 60's at least, and probably longer.

    As for accoustic guitars, I can understand the reasons behind the use of nitro on them, as they are hollow and only one side of the wood is fnished, which acts as a sealant and not only protects the outside of the guitar but also helps to channel the sound through the sound hole. But I might ask, so can't you just use a thinner coat of poly on an accoustic?

    As for electrics, most of the info I read shot down the notion that solid body electric guitars "breath", the way an accoustic guitar does, owing to the thickness of the solid body. So that begs the question: why use nitro? I can see from a cosmetic standpoint, as some people really like that worn look, and like nature to take it's course with the instrument. But the defence seems to pretty well end there.

    I checked out a couple of guitars last week (all Fenders) and I would not have known which ones were poly and which ones were nitro were it not for the smell (the sales staff didn't even know. Mind you, I didn't ask either but you'd think that if you're about to plunk down over $2000 for an instrument the sales staff would give you all of the details on the instrument. Not.). Anyways, I digress, both finishes had what looked to be very thin, high gloss finshes, not at all plasticy. With both you could see the grain (this was on three colour sun burst models), though as it was apparent with further inspection, the nitro showed more grain and was definitely thinner. I only started digging into this as I bought a CS Strat, and as it turns out, it has a polyurethane finish on it, though I did not know it at the time, as all I could see was the incredible grain of the ash body, and truth be told, it didn't "feel" any different than any of the other guitars that I picked up, and didn't feel any different (in terms of finish) than my other guitars when I got it home.

    Dispite the evidence, there seems to be very clear camps on this, and once again, I find myself asking what's all the fuss? I should point out, that for the most part, I am one of those guys who likes to keep his instruments in near pristine condition, though I'm not overly anal about it.
     
  14. Jared Purdy

    Jared Purdy Friend of Leo's

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    That would be my sentiment.
     
  15. wallis222

    wallis222 Tele-Afflicted

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    There is undoubtedly a difference between an old dried out guitar vs a new green wood instrument. Its an age old concept.
     
  16. Jack FFR1846

    Jack FFR1846 Tele-Afflicted

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    Neither is "better".

    If you want the finish to shrink, crack, wear, yellow, deteriorate, then do nitro. I use it as a clear top coat. It smells nice.

    If you want the finish to have the toughness of enamel with the ease of fixing it of lacquer but the cost of both times 5 in a vapor that will kill you, but will last until well after you're dead use urathane.

    If the wood is alive, then I need to bring in a priest to exercise the evil spirits. I like my guitars to have a finish on them. Prevents them from rotting.

    (I have used acrylic lacquer, acrylic enamel, water based urathane, 2 stage urathane, nitro, and other finishes that I don't even know what they are. I use what is appropriate for the job at hand. Asking which is better is like saying "ok, everyone in tdpri.....bring your wives and girlfriends here so we can decide which one is best). Like the question "does this make me look fat?", there is no answer where you can win.
     
  17. Jared Purdy

    Jared Purdy Friend of Leo's

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    That definitley needs to be qualified. With an accoustic instrument, yes, absolutely. With a solid body electric, that gets very murky. The wood that is used on new electrics is already aged, and in some cases, depending on the model and manufacturer, it could be aged considerably. Does it age further? Yes, definitely. However, a guitar coated in polyurethane also ages as the body is not hermanetically sealed: the cavities for the pots, the PUs and PU jack, and the routing for wiring all allow air into those areas of the body that have no finish on them, so in that sense, it dries from the inside out. Does that affect the tone as much as the oxidization process that happens to wires and electrical components? I highly doubt it, though I'd be interested in hearing from Wally, BiggerJohn or MuchXS on that.
     
  18. Middleman

    Middleman Friend of Leo's

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    I have both, I prefer Nitro. The Poly does age by the way, it hardens and chips. The sweat gets under the Poly surface at the frets and turns greenish along the fretwire. I would say the Poly is not a resonant nor as sustain prone. My examples are a 74 Tele Custom which is Poly and both a 60th Anniversary Telecaster & 2008 American Dlx Strat which are Nitro. Although initially a bit sticky, the nitro necks have a nice feel after 6 months.
     
  19. Fernandomania

    Fernandomania Tele-Afflicted

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    Not really. In your original post you said the following:

    So at first you're not saying whether it has an impact or not but rahter that you're not going to argue that point. But then you go on to say:

    So if it doesn't have to do with tone, why does it make a difference to you?

    Look, I'm not trying to have an argument over personal opinions. Everybody is free to have their own opinions. In my opinion, it's a matter of personal preference that has nothing to do with tone. Whatever finish people prefer, they should go with that. At least Fender gives us options.
     
  20. unccivil

    unccivil Tele-Meister

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    I think it's presumptuous to assume you know what anyone else can or cannot hear. Can I recognize any tonal differences between nitro and poly on an electric?...nope...but I'm not going to presume that I know whether others can or not.

    To each his own...i prefer nitro for the softer feel of it....and the matte look when it's not buffed to a gloss.
     
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