Why Do So Many People Want Nitrocellulose Lacquer On Elecric Guitars

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BillDLBillDL Frets: 175
Can somebody please help me to understand why so many people these days crave Nitrocellulose lacquer finishes on electric guitar bodies and necks as opposed to Polyurethane or Polyester?

I think most would acknowledge that the tougher and much more resilent "poly" finishes are more resistant to being "melted" by solvents leaching from things like foam rubber on guitar stands and hangers, things inadvertantly left in contact with them in a case, spillages of certain liquids and overspray droplets from air fresheners and insect spray, etc, etc, etc.  I have had this in the past.

It is also true that poly necks can be made in satin finishes that many find less sticky than full gloss, so there is still an element of versatility when using poly.

Personally I find that a poorly finished "nitro" guitar can look every bit as bad as a poorly finished poly one, and I think that a good poly finish looks just as good as a well executed nitro one.

I'm sure nitro is generally applied more thinly on guitars than production line poly coatings, but I'm talking about electric guitars here and body vibration is not going to be affected to any discernible extent by the type of lacquer used on it and the thickness of that lacquer.

So why is it that nitro finishes are touted as being the holy grail when it comes to brand new custom made guitars?

Do they look better as they start to age, or is it that they begin to age quicker and look older than they actually are?
Is this something to do with a warmer feel in the hand from nitro as opposed to a cold plasticky feel from poly?

Have I opened up a can of worms?  If I haven't already, my disclaimer below might do so.

I have to come clean here and say right upfront that I don't see any sense in artificially "relicing" a brand new guitar.  I as the owner and player would always know it was artificial wear, and trying to impress people by having a guitar that looks vintage isn't something that interests me.  I do like the rounded feel of the fingerboard edges of a well played neck, but I don't actually like the feel of lacquer worn through to the wood on the back of the neck or on the playing surface of a lacquered fingerboard.  This is not to say that I don't like the look of a vintage guitar that has acquired real wear over its lifetime, but rather that if I buy a newly made guitar I don't want it to be masquerading as a vintage.
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Comments

  • punchesjudypunchesjudy Frets: 649
    I like how it feels and I like how it wears. Can’t say I’m a fan of relics. 

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  • chris78chris78 Frets: 4887
    I like how they age, but also how they smell
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  • BillDLBillDL Frets: 175
    I have to agree about the smell.  It takes me back to repainting our bicycles, making model planes, and so on when I was a kid.
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  • BloodEagleBloodEagle Frets: 5121
    It feels much nicer than any poly finish and generally when you do bash your guitar it doesn’t look too bad, whereas with poly it looks really naff and plasticky 
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  • tony99tony99 Frets: 4988
    it's basically the terminology; people can be seduced by language

    nitro is a manly word; it conjures up images of fast cars and rocket fuel

    poly is a girl's name
    Bollocks you don't know Bono !!
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  • BillDLBillDL Frets: 175
    That's actually quite true about dings looking worse on poly where it cracks like glass instead of denting with the wood.  By the same logic it is obviously easier to steam out a ding on nitro because the lacquer has some flexibility.  Doing touch ups is probably easier because the new lacquer softens the old and it blends easier.  Touch ups on poly need either superglue drop-filled and then levelled and polished, or application of the lacquer in stages so it finds its way under and into the cracks, but this is still achievable.
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  • People tend to like how it ages.

    I personally don't like nitro all that much - it's reactive, which is a pain in the bum. However, it's easy to apply as layers "melt" together. It's also easily repaired. 

    "poly" is a very broad range of finishes, but they get a bad rep because they're often very heavily applied. That's a manufacturer choice rather than mandatory though. 
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  • SlopeSoarerSlopeSoarer Frets: 454
    Nitrocellulose, I like the feel and the way it wears, whereas I dislike the way polyurethane damages and can feel thick.
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  • Andy79Andy79 Frets: 706
    I just don’t like super thick glossy finishes whatever they are made of, usually poly
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  • brojanglesbrojangles Frets: 251
    I think people associate poly with the dipped in plastic look of old Squiers and cheaper Fenders. I hate artificial wear but don't mind the easy chipping of the thin nitro on my more expensive Fender. I also think it's one of those things that no one gave a toss about until the internet let the guitar business really get into small differences in order to upcharge middle-aged hobbyists with disposable income to spare. 
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  • SlopeSoarerSlopeSoarer Frets: 454
    If so many people prefer nitrocellulose why don't we see it offered more often?
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  • thegummythegummy Frets: 4178
    BillDL said:


    Do they look better as they start to age, or is it that they begin to age quicker and look older than they actually are?
    That's it in a nutshell.

    Poly is more resilient but when it does get dinged it looks like a chip of plastic has came out.

    Whereas nitro is more prone to signs of wear but looks a lot better when it does.
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  • thegummythegummy Frets: 4178
    edited October 13
    If so many people prefer nitrocellulose why don't we see it offered more often?
    I think it's more expensive to apply in the first place and the fact that it is less resilient possibly leads to more spoiled stock.

    And of course there's the habit of guitar companies of holding back on features to artificially add value to more expensive models.
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 57446
    I generally dislike nitrocellulose. I don't like the soft and often slightly sticky feel, the tendency to mark if you look at it wrong or the need to avoid contact with various other substances.

    I'm not a huge fan of polyester either, it can be applied thinly if you want but it always has a tendency to crack and chip in a more 'glassy' way. My favourite finish by far is thinly-applied polyurethane - it's tough enough to resist normal playing wear but when it eventually does, it's like nitro in that it ages in a nice way.

    There is no such thing as "poly" - there are several varieties of polyurethane alone, let alone other non-nitro finishes, some of which start with the letters p o l y. Nitrocellulose is also a polymer ;).

    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone." - Walt Kowalski

    "Just because I don't care, doesn't mean I don't understand." - Homer Simpson

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  • thegummythegummy Frets: 4178
    ICBM said:

    I'm not a huge fan of polyester either
    What about Poly Styreen?
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 57446
    thegummy said:

    That's it in a nutshell.

    Poly is more resilient but when it does get dinged it looks like a chip of plastic has came out.

    Whereas nitro is more prone to signs of wear but looks a lot better when it does.
    Which of these is "poly" and which is nitro?





    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone." - Walt Kowalski

    "Just because I don't care, doesn't mean I don't understand." - Homer Simpson

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  • thegummythegummy Frets: 4178
    ICBM said:

    Which of these is "poly" and which is nitro?
    I don't like the look of any of them but I was just giving Bill the reason why so many people want nitro, I don't have any myself.
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  • but but but, nitrocellulose gives you all the toanz!
    The Bigsby was the first successful design of what is now called a whammy bar or tremolo arm, although vibrato is the technically correct term for the musical effect it produces. In standard usage, tremolo is a rapid fluctuation of the volume of a note, while vibrato is a fluctuation in pitch. The origin of this nonstandard usage of the term by electric guitarists is attributed to Leo Fender, who also used the term “vibrato” to refer to what is really a tremolo effect.
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  • Bennyboy-UKBennyboy-UK Frets: 871
    edited October 13
    I go here for info - Stike who runs Rowyco Customs does fantastic work and some of the best metal-flake finishes I’ve ever seen as well as really fantastic vintagey finishing. I got to know him through the Hamer community.

    Here’s a section off his website that links from his FAQ section discussing his experience in different finishes - it’s good info.

    http://www.rowycokustoms.com/RK_nitropoly.html 

    Check out his work as well there’s a great gallery

    I’ve got guitars finished in both and they are all well done - so personally I don’t care what they are finished in.
    I'm always looking for interesting USA Hamers for sale. At the moment I'm looking for Virtuoso, Watson, SS2, Vintage S, Vanguard, Centaura HH/2HB, Vector. Drop me a message.
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 57446
    thegummy said:

    I don't like the look of any of them but I was just giving Bill the reason why so many people want nitro, I don't have any myself.
    My point is that the pictures show that the reason is wrong . Despite many people believing it to be so...

    Clue - one of them is nitro, two are "poly".

    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone." - Walt Kowalski

    "Just because I don't care, doesn't mean I don't understand." - Homer Simpson

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