Why Do So Many People Want Nitrocellulose Lacquer On Elecric Guitars

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  • v12catv12cat Frets: 24
    edited October 13
    ICBM said:
    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 .
    I've tried to delve a bit deeper into this as I've sprayed a fair bit of cellulose paint in the past and wondered how it differed from what is being described as  'Nitro' here.  

    In doing so it brought up this interesting piece which seems to back up your points well.

    https://www.luthiertalk.com/threads/the-plain-truth-about-nitrocellulose-finishes.239/

    I have a 2001 Squire P-bass which exhibits the ultra thick 'plastic broken off' finish damage!! My 2021 Player Tele finish looks much more refined.

    Out of interest, what would a 1987 RG550 be painted with? It's dings look similar to but thinner than the P-Bass.
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  • monquixotemonquixote Frets: 14297
    thegummy said:
    ICBM said:

    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".
    I would genuinely be interested in any example pics of a poly finish with nice looking damage the way vintage guitars and relics look if you have any.
    This is mine and that's genuine wear 

    It's a 1980 The Strat which I assume being 1980 isn't Nitro, but it does look cool.

    http://corvusguitarworks.com/images/misc/monq_strat_refret2.jpg
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  • LastMantraLastMantra Frets: 1942
    Same with nickel vs chrome. 
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  • TINMAN82TINMAN82 Frets: 1554
    edited October 14
    thegummy said:
    ICBM said:

    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".
    I would genuinely be interested in any example pics of a poly finish with nice looking damage the way vintage guitars and relics look if you have any.
    This is mine and that's genuine wear 

    It's a 1980 The Strat which I assume being 1980 isn't Nitro, but it does look cool.

    http://corvusguitarworks.com/images/misc/monq_strat_refret2.jpg
    Firstly, that looks awesome! Presumably an aged LPB…does it have a matching headstock?

    Internet rumour suggests the 1980 The Strat run were nitro, which is certainly how yours looks. Apparently 22k gold plated metal parts too!
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  • Why do people always assume that anyone with a nitro finished relic guitar is either posing or trying to pass it off as a vintage guitar?  It's an aesthetic choice the buyer makes at the time of purchase. I've never known anyone playing a relic down at the Dog & Dart claim their Strat is a genuine 1954 model.
    'My spirit animal is Bagpuss'
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 58102
    OK, for anyone who hasn't guessed from the reason I posted the pics ;), all the examples I posted above are polyurethane, except for the red flame maple one which is nitro.

    Red with worn edge - 1967 Rickenbacker 450
    Flame maple back with scuffs - 2008 Gibson Dove
    Maple fingerboard - 1984 Aria RS Standard
    Red with worn rear and scratches - 1973 Rickenbacker 4001
    Sunburst with chips - Aria again
    Checked metallic blue - 1972 Fender Mustang Bass

    An Ibanez RG will be polyester. 'The Strat' could be nitro, but I think more likely to be acrylic - LPB was never nitro even in the 60s.

    "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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  • monquixotemonquixote Frets: 14297
    TINMAN82 said:
    thegummy said:
    ICBM said:

    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".
    I would genuinely be interested in any example pics of a poly finish with nice looking damage the way vintage guitars and relics look if you have any.
    This is mine and that's genuine wear 

    It's a 1980 The Strat which I assume being 1980 isn't Nitro, but it does look cool.

    http://corvusguitarworks.com/images/misc/monq_strat_refret2.jpg
    Firstly, that looks awesome! Presumably an aged LPB…does it have a matching headstock?

    Internet rumour suggests the 1980 The Strat run were nitro, which is certainly how yours looks. Apparently 22k gold plated metal parts too!

    Yes and yes

    Interesting. I've always thought it looked like nitro but assumed it wasn't because of the year.

    It did indeed used to have gold hardware.
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  • crunchmancrunchman Frets: 8105
    BillDL said:

    ...

    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.

    ...

    I haven't done it myself, but I've heard several stories about people stripping off thick gloopy finishes and the sound of the guitar improved.
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  • GoldenEraGuitarsGoldenEraGuitars Frets: 7115
    tFB Trader
    The majority of vintage fender custom colours were GM paints. 

    The majority (if not all) of the metallics were acrylic base coats, early fender experiments included not using any white primer under the metallics and not clear coating over them either. Both proved to be a waste as it was cheaper to primer with white then use base coat. And not clear coating over the acrylic didn’t allow the metallics to “pop”. Both were aimed to save money of course. However, clear nitrocellulose was used over the top hence the yellowing/browning affect. 

    The major difference between poly-ester/poly-urethane finishes and single pack lacquer finishes is the former will not continue to dry up and gas out over time. They cure within weeks (usually chemically hardened fully at 6 weeks). Single pack cellulose will always get thinner, more brittle and wear 10 times quicker than any product that uses a body and hardener. 

    Spray ANY material thin enough and you’ll get similar traits to nitrocellulose… chipping, checking, dings etc. But it usually takes longer to wear through. 

    Most small builders are happy to use nitrocellulose and other single pack lacquers and paints because they’re easy to apply, easy to repair and are very easily accessible. 

    No one should be trying to convince anyone about the pros and cons of different finishes on a guitar. I enjoy both urethane and nitrocellulose in equal measures. If you believe that all the tone is in the finish of your guitar then you have read to many guitar forums, there are too many variables. 

    A thick cellulose finish will wear just as badly as a thick urethane finish. The chips will look like meteor craters, it’s unlike to craze and you might even notice the weight. 

    I would say for most people, the preconceived issue behind a urethane finish is that it’ll be very thick while a nitrocellulose finish will be thin. But again, that’s another fallacy. 

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  • guitars4youguitars4you Frets: 9462
    tFB Trader
    I think a large part of a negative towards poly based finishes is due to the likes of Fender during the 70's - That era has so much to answer for due to a poor overall build quality 

    Take the 3 bolt neck - On its own it is not an issue - Tom Anderson moved to a 2 bolt neck - The 3 bolt on its own is not an issue - It is just that it is part of an era that gave us over weight models, with poor contours, poor body/neck joins and of a course a thick finish that was applied with a yard brush - Even the truss rod adjustment, at the easy end of the neck to get to, was a good move - Just needed to be recessed, as per later models, not sticking out like an erection 

    Equally nitro is often associated with a golden era of guitar building during the 50's and 60's , certainly regarding electric guitars - Hence the desire for such a finish today by so many 

    In principle a modern based poly finished, be it polyester, or polyurethane can be as good + as effective and desirable as nitro - I believe one principle that many builders agree with is that the finish should be thin - Be it satin or gloss - And that was the big failing in the 70's, which as I said earlier is responsible for so much bad news, that still lives with us today 
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  • TINMAN82TINMAN82 Frets: 1554
    I think a large part of a negative towards poly based finishes is due to the likes of Fender during the 70's - That era has so much to answer for due to a poor overall build quality 

    Take the 3 bolt neck - On its own it is not an issue - Tom Anderson moved to a 2 bolt neck - The 3 bolt on its own is not an issue - It is just that it is part of an era that gave us over weight models, with poor contours, poor body/neck joins and of a course a thick finish that was applied with a yard brush - Even the truss rod adjustment, at the easy end of the neck to get to, was a good move - Just needed to be recessed, as per later models, not sticking out like an erection 

    Equally nitro is often associated with a golden era of guitar building during the 50's and 60's , certainly regarding electric guitars - Hence the desire for such a finish today by so many 

    In principle a modern based poly finished, be it polyester, or polyurethane can be as good + as effective and desirable as nitro - I believe one principle that many builders agree with is that the finish should be thin - Be it satin or gloss - And that was the big failing in the 70's, which as I said earlier is responsible for so much bad news, that still lives with us today 
    I respectfully disagree. I think it’s far less to do with quality (modern or as perceived in decades past) and much more to do with imagery and association with guitar heros.

    We’re so used to seeing images of SRV, Rory Gallagher, John Frusciante, Mike Mcready et al rocking distressed nitro Fenders. That imagery is reinforced by all the cool custom shop advertising copy. And the modern players rocking those. It’s the whole roadworn, smoky bar, whisky blues aesthetic that these relic Fenders invoke.

    It’s all about aesthetics. No one is petitioning for a relic Silver Sky, despite it basically looking and functioning like a strat.
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  • Winny_PoohWinny_Pooh Frets: 5629
    My understanding is that cheap guitars are coated with thicker 'poly' finishes that go on easier and so doing reduce the need to grain fill and level/polish as much. (Same as some disgusting looking American standard fenders from the 90's)
    So you end up with thick plastickly looking stuff that is there for the cost/time benefit. By contrast the finish on my EBMM looks way better as its applied thinner and with more care. 
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  • maharg101maharg101 Frets: 162
    edited October 14
    crunchman said:
    BillDL said:

    ...

    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.

    ...

    I haven't done it myself, but I've heard several stories about people stripping off thick gloopy finishes and the sound of the guitar improved.
    This is absolutely the case. I recently removed a thick gloopy poly-whatever finish from a MIM 70s RI natural ash strat. The finish had completely lost adherence to the guitar in places, resulting in loose areas where the finish bubbled up, and sounded hollow when you tapped it. See the size of the piece that I removed intact from the front of the guitar at the foot of this picture ! There must have been over a pound of crap on the guitar. I had it refinished with a very thin coat of nitro. The guitar sounds a lot better acoustically, sustains _much_ better (this is what I consider "resonance" to be about..) and feels much nicer to the touch. I can't talk to the effect of thin poly vs thin nitro, but thick gloopy finishes wreck the guitar in my experience.


    This one goes to eleven

    Trading feedback here
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 58102
    crunchman said:

    I haven't done it myself, but I've heard several stories about people stripping off thick gloopy finishes and the sound of the guitar improved.
    Yes, more than once. A thick finish definitely does deaden the body resonance - but it’s the thickness which is the problem, not the type of finish.

    What you need is a thin, fairly hard finish, but not so hard it cracks when dented.

    It’s just that nitro is easy to do that with and more difficult to make thick - whereas some of the two-pack finishes are not only easy to make thick, it’s easier to then quickly polish to a high gloss because there’s no risk of going through it, which is why it’s associated with cheap guitars generally.

    "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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  • munckeemunckee Frets: 8541
    edited October 14
    @icbm my 76 strat's finish is worn.  I know the chap I bought it from who said he never touched it in terms of relicing but it was played to death by his friend who had it before him.  I would have thought it was poly but he suggested it was acrylic.

    There certainly seems to be a solid clearcoat under the paint, is it likely to be acrylic over poly?

    https://i.imgur.com/Pd6bFci.jpg ;

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  • guitars4youguitars4you Frets: 9462
    tFB Trader
    TINMAN82 said:
    I think a large part of a negative towards poly based finishes is due to the likes of Fender during the 70's - That era has so much to answer for due to a poor overall build quality 

    Take the 3 bolt neck - On its own it is not an issue - Tom Anderson moved to a 2 bolt neck - The 3 bolt on its own is not an issue - It is just that it is part of an era that gave us over weight models, with poor contours, poor body/neck joins and of a course a thick finish that was applied with a yard brush - Even the truss rod adjustment, at the easy end of the neck to get to, was a good move - Just needed to be recessed, as per later models, not sticking out like an erection 

    Equally nitro is often associated with a golden era of guitar building during the 50's and 60's , certainly regarding electric guitars - Hence the desire for such a finish today by so many 

    In principle a modern based poly finished, be it polyester, or polyurethane can be as good + as effective and desirable as nitro - I believe one principle that many builders agree with is that the finish should be thin - Be it satin or gloss - And that was the big failing in the 70's, which as I said earlier is responsible for so much bad news, that still lives with us today 
    I respectfully disagree. I think it’s far less to do with quality (modern or as perceived in decades past) and much more to do with imagery and association with guitar heros.

    We’re so used to seeing images of SRV, Rory Gallagher, John Frusciante, Mike Mcready et al rocking distressed nitro Fenders. That imagery is reinforced by all the cool custom shop advertising copy. And the modern players rocking those. It’s the whole roadworn, smoky bar, whisky blues aesthetic that these relic Fenders invoke.

    It’s all about aesthetics. No one is petitioning for a relic Silver Sky, despite it basically looking and functioning like a strat.
    I agree and disagree - I can live in both camps - I sell, own, like an aged finish on a vintage based Fender - Agree that there is some desirable smokey old school mojo about such a finish - And an NOS finish looks to pure and Snow White on such an old school guitar IMO

    But equally a modern boutique/custom built Suhr, Anderson, PRS looks like it should have a new finish - For what ever reason that maybe - Be it gloss or satin - I have 2 PRS guitars, one gloss 1 satin - My Feline is satin 

    My key point above was not in favour of poly or nitro - But more about that the bad reputation for poly started with a poor era for Fender and this IMO still lingers today - Yet funnily enough I've just acquired a 77 black Strat that has been played on a regular basis for many years and has all of that that aged mojo with no shortage of character 
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  • guitars4youguitars4you Frets: 9462
    tFB Trader
    Off topic a touch - I hate gloss paint at home on the wood work - I use satinwood - Not sure what chemical make up is in the paint - I dare say @SteveRobinson and/or @GoldenEraGuitars might shed some light on this 

    My point is that on my bath room door, where often a damp towel might be hanging, that the finish has naturally distressed over the last 2/3 years since I last painted it - It looks so effective and can imagine it looking nice on a good old Tele reissue
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  • TINMAN82TINMAN82 Frets: 1554
    TINMAN82 said:
    I think a large part of a negative towards poly based finishes is due to the likes of Fender during the 70's - That era has so much to answer for due to a poor overall build quality 

    Take the 3 bolt neck - On its own it is not an issue - Tom Anderson moved to a 2 bolt neck - The 3 bolt on its own is not an issue - It is just that it is part of an era that gave us over weight models, with poor contours, poor body/neck joins and of a course a thick finish that was applied with a yard brush - Even the truss rod adjustment, at the easy end of the neck to get to, was a good move - Just needed to be recessed, as per later models, not sticking out like an erection 

    Equally nitro is often associated with a golden era of guitar building during the 50's and 60's , certainly regarding electric guitars - Hence the desire for such a finish today by so many 

    In principle a modern based poly finished, be it polyester, or polyurethane can be as good + as effective and desirable as nitro - I believe one principle that many builders agree with is that the finish should be thin - Be it satin or gloss - And that was the big failing in the 70's, which as I said earlier is responsible for so much bad news, that still lives with us today 
    I respectfully disagree. I think it’s far less to do with quality (modern or as perceived in decades past) and much more to do with imagery and association with guitar heros.

    We’re so used to seeing images of SRV, Rory Gallagher, John Frusciante, Mike Mcready et al rocking distressed nitro Fenders. That imagery is reinforced by all the cool custom shop advertising copy. And the modern players rocking those. It’s the whole roadworn, smoky bar, whisky blues aesthetic that these relic Fenders invoke.

    It’s all about aesthetics. No one is petitioning for a relic Silver Sky, despite it basically looking and functioning like a strat.
    I agree and disagree - I can live in both camps - I sell, own, like an aged finish on a vintage based Fender - Agree that there is some desirable smokey old school mojo about such a finish - And an NOS finish looks to pure and Snow White on such an old school guitar IMO

    But equally a modern boutique/custom built Suhr, Anderson, PRS looks like it should have a new finish - For what ever reason that maybe - Be it gloss or satin - I have 2 PRS guitars, one gloss 1 satin - My Feline is satin 

    My key point above was not in favour of poly or nitro - But more about that the bad reputation for poly started with a poor era for Fender and this IMO still lingers today - Yet funnily enough I've just acquired a 77 black Strat that has been played on a regular basis for many years and has all of that that aged mojo with no shortage of character 
    I agree with all of that. I just don’t think a significant proportion of us are opting for a nitro finished guitar specifically because they think it’s built, setup, fettled to a higher standard.

    They might go custom shop for perceived increased quality and get nitro in the bargain but that’s slightly different.

    That was my point about the Silver Sky too…no one thinks it would be made better we’re it nitro. And the imagery doesn’t require it as no blues-rock hero’s from the 70s played a distressed nitro PRS (obviously). 

    If poly Fenders were a quality concern per se they wouldn’t sell the flagship American ranges.
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  • guitars4youguitars4you Frets: 9462
    tFB Trader
    ICBM said:
    crunchman said:

    I haven't done it myself, but I've heard several stories about people stripping off thick gloopy finishes and the sound of the guitar improved.
    Yes, more than once. A thick finish definitely does deaden the body resonance - but it’s the thickness which is the problem, not the type of finish.

    What you need is a thin, fairly hard finish, but not so hard it cracks when dented.

    It’s just that nitro is easy to do that with and more difficult to make thick - whereas some of the two-pack finishes are not only easy to make thick, it’s easier to then quickly polish to a high gloss because there’s no risk of going through it, which is why it’s associated with cheap guitars generally.
    Not sure of the finer make up of the finish - But I recall going to a guitar show, late 70's I believe, but it was when the Kramer 450G models had just been released, with the aluminium neck - The point is, the salesman was showing us how tough this new gloss finish was, and actually put a lit cigarette against the finish then eventually stubbed it out on the finish - To show how tough it was and won't mark 
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  • SPECTRUM001SPECTRUM001 Frets: 861
    munckee said:
    @icbm my 76 strat's finish is worn.  I know the chap I bought it from who said he never touched it in terms of relicing but it was played to death by his friend who had it before him.  I would have thought it was poly but he suggested it was acrylic.

    There certainly seems to be a solid clearcoat under the paint, is it likely to be acrylic over poly?

    https://i.imgur.com/Pd6bFci.jpg ;


    And the same on my 78 PB - that is 100% natural wear. Although I was told it is very thin "poly" (I do not know which variant) that flakes rather than grades down. The headstock front is nitro and has matured in colour more than the back.

    I fully agree with @ICBM about finish thickness being a major factor. Personally I do prefer nitro as it feels more organic, however my PB has aged in a different but similarly pleasing way.




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