Thick Plastic Finishes on Guitars is a Buzzkill

StephenDeBoard

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Think of this as an open letter to guitar manufacturers. Hopefully someone will listen. Major guitar manufacturers suffer from Dead Guitar Syndrome.

Every once in a while I like to cruise into my local Guitar Center, Sam Ash or other music store to check out the new arrivals and used guitars. I’m always curious how the new electric guitars compare to what I already own. After another trip to Guitar Center over the weekend I feel I have to speak up. I’ve noticed a trend since about 2014 or so that put me off from buying a new guitar in this current era. Why does every guitar I try out to play feel like the potential resonance of the instrument is suffocated under thick, unnecessary plastic coating? It used to just happen on entry level guitars but now I’m finding this same treatment on every level. I picked up a Fender Player Series Telecaster hoping it would rival my very modest partscaster Telecaster I built over the 2020 lockdown. This flagship Fender guitar should destroy my homemade creation but it sadly it does not. The Fender is a lost cause before it can even get in the game. I pluck the low E string and it sounds like a dull thud. It feels like a dud to play. It is actually set up well and I know the wood and electronics are great. Still, if I experience no joy while playing a guitar, why would I want to buy it? Why would I even want to be a guitar player? Isn’t the joy you get from playing guitar the reason to play guitar in the first place? I bet this experience is subconsciously responsible for many new players giving up too early.

This DGS (Dead Guitar Syndrome) happened with every guitar I played from Fender, Gretsch, Epiphone, Ibanez, LTD and even Guitar Center’s Mitchell brand. I couldn’t get to the Gibsons since they were too high for me to reach without assistance but from my experience Gibson does not suffocate their guitars. However, Gibson owned Epiphone does with the Epiphone Worn series being an exception. In this environmentally conscious time we are living in, shouldn’t major guitar manufacturers want to use less plastic rather than more plastic? Doesn’t it also cost less to add less finish to a guitar? I want just enough coating to protect the wood. I have a suspicion that much of the love poured out on vintage guitars from the 1950s and 1960s is because these guitars were built with the optimum balance of finish and resonance.

With the technology available today guitar manufacturers should be churning out the best guitars ever made in history. This is not what I’m finding. My two favorite and best playing factory guitars were both built in 2011 and both have just enough finish to create a balance of full resonance while the wood is also being fully protected. One is a Gretsch DSV Duo Jet finished with nitrocellulose and the other is an Epiphone Casino 50th Anniversary model finished with polyurethane. My best Strat is a custom creation from a friend of mine and is based on a 1963 with a relic’d thin nitrocellulose finish. It’s such a good Strat that one of my friends borrowed it for about 3 years to use on various recordings until he bought his own Fender Custom Shop with, you guessed it, a similar thin nitro finish. I’ve realized through all of my experience that the old debate of nitro vs poly finish isn’t nearly as important as getting the balance of thickness vs resonance right on a guitar, acoustic or electric. I really believe that more people would play and continue to play guitar if the guitars they played spoke to them and actually felt and responded like vibrant musical instruments. I really believe that guitar sales would also continue to increase as a result. Everything in life is about balance.
 
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loopfinding

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i have no problem with poly fenders, and own two, at one point four. the epi's, squiers and similar just feel icky - the sound is not the deciding factor here, plenty of nitro dogs.

wish the necks on my 20 year old nitro gibsons were as nice feeling as my fenders. they get gross real fast despite living in fresh air and being played almost every day.
 

421JAM

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I swapped out the stock body on my Muddy Waters Tele with a MJT body, and I could feel a difference. The MJT body physically vibrates in a subtle, but noticeable way. The original body did not do that. I don’t know if this has any effect on the sound, but it makes the guitar more enjoyable to play, and as a result, my playing probably sounds better.
 

willietheweirdo

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I'm not convinced the finish is what you're hearing...

One time I played a guitar that had a 1/2" thick slab of wood GLUED to the top of the body... still sounded great. Another time I played a guitar with a .09" thick slab of plastic screwed onto the top, same story.

FWIW, I have never played a guitar at GC that didn't have disgusting strings...

FWIW, laminate guitars made out of skateboard decks (mostly glue) and solid lucite guitars can sound just fine.

Not saying you aren't experiencing what you're experiencing; just that it might not be the finish...
 

telemnemonics

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Skip the whole hunt for handling guitars giving you a buzz, that has nothing at all to do with using them as tools for making music.

Or don't?
But separate the instrument as prized possession for ogling and fondling; from the primary function of musical instruments.

The whole love of resonance in solid body electrics is about playing unplugged on the couch.
Very much the opposite of what they are made for.
 

Killing Floor

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Everyone has different preferences. Personally I LOVE (LOVE) that my 34 year old MusicMan looks as good as the day I bought it except for a few small dings. I can't speak for others.
But part of the reason is nitro finishing costs a crappe tonne more than poly and its application is regulated in some locations which affects the willingness of some manufacturers to use it.
There's no right or wrong. Just like some people say they can hear the difference between an Energizer and a Duracell battery, some people say they can hear a difference in the paint of a guitar. Simplest solution is to play natural/unfinished guitars because while we can debate whether someone can name a finish without looking, one thing is for certain, any finish affects the wood more than no finish.
As for me, I have stood in front of stacks for most of my life. The cicadas in my head like either way.
That said, all wood guitars are unique. Any 2 of your identical Duo Jets will be different due to dozens of chemical and environmental factors throughout the life and processing of the wood, the finish is just another part of that process.
 

StephenDeBoard

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Paragraphs are our friends.

I feel like I just time warped back 20 years. “Guitars have to breathe, man!”
Fair enough. I just edited and divided it up into paragraphs. For the record this is not a nitro vs poly issue. It's the thick vs thin finish issue.
 

Jared Purdy

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Think of this as an open letter to guitar manufacturers. Hopefully someone will listen. Major guitar manufacturers suffer from Dead Guitar Syndrome.

Every once in a while I like to cruise into my local Guitar Center, Sam Ash or other music store to check out the new arrivals and used guitars. I’m always curious how the new electric guitars compare to what I already own. After another trip to Guitar Center over the weekend I feel I have to speak up. I’ve noticed a trend since about 2014 or so that put me off from buying a new guitar in this current era. Why does every guitar I try out to play feel like the potential resonance of the instrument is suffocated under thick, unnecessary plastic coating? It used to just happen on entry level guitars but now I’m finding this same treatment on every level. I picked up a Fender Player Series Telecaster hoping it would rival my very modest partscaster Telecaster I built over the 2020 lockdown. This flagship Fender guitar should destroy my homemade creation but it sadly it does not. The Fender is a lost cause before it can even get in the game. I pluck the low E string and it sounds like a dull thud. It feels like a dud to play. It is actually set up well and I know the wood and electronics are great. Still, if I experience no joy while playing a guitar, why would I want to buy it? Why would I even want to be a guitar player? Isn’t the joy you get from playing guitar the reason to play guitar in the first place? I bet this experience is subconsciously responsible for many new players giving up too early.

This DGS (Dead Guitar Syndrome) happened with every guitar I played from Fender, Gretsch, Epiphone, Ibanez, LTD and even Guitar Center’s Mitchell brand. I couldn’t get to the Gibsons since they were too high for me to reach without assistance but from my experience Gibson does not suffocate their guitars. However, Gibson owned Epiphone does with the Epiphone Worn series being an exception. In this environmentally conscious time we are living in, shouldn’t major guitar manufacturers want to use less plastic rather than more plastic? Doesn’t it also cost less to add less finish to a guitar? I want just enough coating to protect the wood. I have a suspicion that much of the love poured out on vintage guitars from the 1950s and 1960s is because these guitars were built with the optimum balance of finish and resonance.

With the technology available today guitar manufacturers should be churning out the best guitars ever made in history. This is not what I’m finding. My two favorite and best playing factory guitars were both built in 2011 and both have just enough finish to create a balance of full resonance while the wood is also being fully protected. One is a Gretsch DSV Duo Jet finished with nitrocellulose and the other is an Epiphone Casino 50th Anniversary model finished with polyurethane. My best Strat is a custom creation from a friend of mine and is based on a 1963 with a relic’d thin nitrocellulose finish. It’s such a good Strat that one of my friends borrowed it for about 3 years to use on various recordings until he bought his own Fender Custom Shop with, you guessed it, a similar thin nitro finish. I’ve realized through all of my experience that the old debate of nitro vs poly finish isn’t nearly as important as getting the balance of thickness vs resonance right on a guitar, acoustic or electric. I really believe that more people would play and continue to play guitar if the guitars they played spoke to them and actually felt and responded like vibrant musical instruments. I really believe that guitar sales would also continue to increase as a result. Everything in life is about balance.

I've never noticed the problem that you speak of with current issue Custom Shop, either Fender or Gibson, or a run of the mill, high end Martin. Hell, even Martin's standard series are excellent and don't suffer the least from what you're referring to. They all use nitro. Man, if I sneezed hard enough on my 2019 R9 or my 2011 Martin OM28 Marquis, I'd blow the finish right off of them!

Maybe you're just picking up the low end riff raff? Speak to Mark Bishop at marksguitarloft.com about this malaise, maybe he can set you straight.
 
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StephenDeBoard

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Don't you hold the guitar against your body, with your forearm resting on it? Wouldn't that deaden any vibrations much more than a hard, cured finish? Drummers "choke" cymbals with their hands very effectively - how is that any different?
Dull feeling and sounding guitars are just not fun to play.
 

telemnemonics

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IMO, a thin finish of any type is a sign of craftsmanship. Caking the stuff on so you never have to worry about burn through is just a way to save money with less rejects.
That's probably mostly true but also some players want a more durable finish where we have the option of thin skin finishes too which wear and age faster.
With all the thin skin guitar shopping options though, how are players upset that there are also thicker finishes on the rest of the million guitars for sale?

If you want cheap guitars then you choose from those products.
Thin skin finishes are more labor intensive so more expensive and generally not Chinese cheap.
Lots of US made Fenders run well over $1000 for the basic models, then much higher for specialty thin skin models.
So maybe the complaint is about the cost of labor in the US?
Plenty of us are fine with non specialty finishes, which to keep costs down are the thicker catalyzed modern finishes.
 




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