Effect of paint on sound


Senior member
I built an alder strat style warmoth that sounds fantastic (see it in action here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=6w8WDAXlM58 ) with a maple/kingwood neck.  I finished it in tru-oil with a light coat of Minwax Poly Matte.  It sounds so much better than "stock" guitars that I have played (with identical pickups), and I think the lack of paint/finish may help it sustain and resonate.  I am interested in assembling a painted Warmoth strat, and my question is how will the resonance, sustain, and brightness compare to my tru-oiled strat style?  Does the paint kill the sound a little bit? I have a humbucker in my current one and want to put vintage single coils in my new one - can the paint actually help the sound with single coils?  I still plan on finishing the neck myself the same way (tru-oil and a touch of poly).

Thanks for any input!

- TS
First, all pieces of wood, be they alder, mahoghany, whatever, are NOT created equal. If you have access to a megastore like GuitarCenter go and try playing several different guitars of the exact same model and you may be amazed at the tonal variations you can find with the same model/finish/pickups/etc.

In general, the quality of wood of whatever species that you get from Warmoth is more select and of higher quality than that of Fender for example, who must come up with wood to ship a million alder guitars a year. The resonant quality of the wood itself used is probably the most important criteria involved here.

As to finishes, I've tried to do some research on this, but empoirical data is hard to come, generally you can state:

1.) The thicker the finish (of any type), the more "deadening" effect that it may have on the resonant qualities of the wood.
2.) The relative elasticity of the dried finish may have a corollary effect, e.g., the less "brittle" the finish the "brighter" the sound, or less "deadened".

I will go out on a limb here and postulate that in general, most DIY finishes of all types tend to be less thickly applied than most "factory finishes", and that that in conjunction with the fact that you are starting out with a better quality piece of wood both contribute to the better sound.

To really get to the bottom of this you would need to take the same body, apply and strip different finishes to it and acoustically record the differentiation, and although I have the gear to do so at work, I don't have THAT much free time....
If you're going to do such research, you'll have to also take into account your amount of human body fat. That's right, your fitness plays a role in your guitar tone.

Most people stand up when they play and the guitar body itself rests against your torso. The body may be pressed tight against a wide, flat and absorbing surface, or it could be lightly touching the six pack ab muscles of a younger, smaller player. Just like you've heard by touching your electric guitar to a kitchen table and strumming, there is also an affect from the actual body of the player. So, if you're large, I wouldn't worry about how thick your paint is.   :icon_thumright:

Did you know that your finger bones resonate at different frequencies?  :laughing7:  ...OK, I made that part up    :laughing7:
So your telling me i need a bowflex body for the best tone, can warmoth license with bowflex and start making bowflex copies ( better than the original of course)

Let me narrow down the question a bit (thanks for the responses, by the way!).  I plan on buying a WARMOTH body - maybe painted, maybe not.  All things being equal, does the WARMOTH paint have a negative effect, or any effect, on tone versus tru-oil / thin coat of poly?  I know the large manufacturers slap that paint on, but how does Warmoth compare?  Thanks in advance,

I'll let you know when I get the spalted maple top on alder body I have on order, can readily compare it to a flame maple on alder build I did a light nitro finish on, spalted maple comes from Warmoth only with their factory poly finish.
Theoretically... if one were young and thin, but the guitar rested not against a six pack and pecs, but a skinny body and bones..

I bet that should sound AWESOME, bone resonates nicely
Well heres my experience, I too was concerned about, getting a Warmoth (poly) finish or shipping it to get a Nitro job..(about 400bucks,finish alone and a wait as well, at least where I felt comfortable doing it).........I of course wanted what everyone wants the best tone with the best finish, blah,blah,blah......

After lots of internet research and talking with the Warmoth guys, I opted to go with a Warmoth finish and take my chances........long story short, it looked spectacular and the tone of my guitar is astounding.....would it be better with say a Nitro or a wipe on finish, micro tonally probably, all things being equal, but honestly this is the best sounding guitar I have ever owned or played, it resonates wonderfully and I cannot complain one bit, not justifiably at least.

I say this to anyone who isn't sure and dosn't have alot of serious experience and criteria...........If your not a Blues Tone Snob, or don't know what that means, don't sweat it, your worrying about such fine details, that you probably couldn't tell the difference in a blind test of the different finishes............keep in mind, every piece of wood is going to be different tonally, regardless of the details. :) 
Hey beast, you rock man, you always give people good in depth answers.  I am casting my vote for you for forum member of the week.

Thats hilarious Alfang,  :laughing7:  Its true I like to shoot my mouth off about guitars, but keep in mind I was into sales for along,long time......so ..........do take my opinions with a grain of salt,.......as anyone in sales will tell ya its half truth and half B.S...........though I do try to give the best answer or opinion I can with my limited knowledge, ....its really for my own benefit more than anyone else as its like they say you sometimes learn more educating than you do studying.........so ...........but thanks for the vote hahahahahaha..........really though Im just glad if anything said is of use to someone somewhere, as there are alot of guys on here that have really educated me and then some so..... :icon_thumright:
I do my own finish because it is much cheaper for me to do that, including buying all the equipments and stuff... I mean its 250 (average) to get Warmoth to do the finish for me, and that gets taxed by customs as well. In order to reduce my profile by making the package look small and worthless, therefore customs will less likely to look at it and say "aha, we can hit this one for huge tax!" I try to reduce overall cost on each package. I only spent about 150-200 dollars on spray equipments and I did 3-4 guitars so far, so the savings is definitely there. I do like Warmoth finish though, I think it looks spectacular, I have had finished Warmoth bodies before. I don't think finish material matters much, if nitro were as thick as what Fender applied poly today is, then it would sound like crap. However it is hard to get a thick layer of nitro because nitro shrinks so over time it will become thin.

If you are looking for relics it MUST be nitro... poly does not age the same way as nitro and any attempt to relic poly will make it look very contrived and ugly (please refer to ebay belt sander job for examples..) I have seen CBS era strats that are finished in poly and sorry to say, I won't use poly again.
jackthehack said:
1.) The thicker the finish (of any type), the more "deadening" effect that it may have on the resonant qualities of the wood.
2.) The relative elasticity of the dried finish may have a corollary effect, e.g., the less "brittle" the finish the "brighter" the sound, or less "deadened".

For the sake of some insight..... I humbly reserve the right to disagree with the above - as the occasion fits.

There are several sciences at play in cases such as this, regarding the finish altering the tone of the guitar.

It has been observed that the neck wood is the most important tone shaper, disregarding the pickups themselves.  So pickups being equal, the neck is the make/break of tone, followed next ( but a good ways behind) by the body. 

In some cases, a laminate (the finish) applied to a substrate (the wood) can actually make it less able to vibrate.  Wood that is less able to vibrate will not accept - and therefore attenuate - the vibration energy from the strings.  Such is the case with some Eastern made Fender guitars that used a very soft inner wood, and a thick polyester finish.  The finish itself was a structural member of the guitar.

However, any laminate is going to stiffen the substrate.  Thats what laminates do, its their nature.  Unfinished wood will be more resonant than any finished wood.  Will it matter much?  Well yes, on a violin, on an acoustic guitar.... On a solid body?  Not a hill of beans worth anything, in my experience.

There is some hype: light bodies=better sounding.  Not true to the point of being Gospel.  Older guitars, which were made from lighter woods (as Greg pointed out, they dont continue to "dry" and lighten with age) are guitars that we think of as better sounding, but was it the wood?  Was it simply aging?  The finish?  The construction technique?  The pickups? A little bit of all of them?  Some brain magic too?  That is, would they survive a double blind test?  Many simply would not.  I think a big part of "old=better" is that things were just made better than the cookie cutter garbage you get handed to you from assembly line-to-big box store of today. 

There is some hype that "thin finish" = better sounding.  Not true to the point of being Gospel either.  Since old finishes were lacquer, and lacquer continues to shrink with age.... and get thinner... were these finishes the same or nearly the same thickness as todays applied lacquers?  Very well could have been thicker.....  Thick poly finish bad?  Maybe not, as the sciences of vibrating bodies covered in laminates points out to us.

Think of this - styrofoam, plain old styrofoam, has been laminated and made into aircraft, without the addition of reinforcing glass fibre (or carbon fibre) layers.  Based on a central beam, some little bit of strutting... wings have been fashioned out of simply foam and epoxy.  The epoxy laminate (granted some "special" epoxy) is stiff, and acts in conjunction with the substrate (the foam) and makes one heck of a good wing for strength and weight and vibration resistance etc etc....   

Don't get caught up in the hype.  Trust your ears.  Go with "the wood" to give you some good tones, especially that all important neck wood.  I've been there, I've played with it over and over again, and have been able to come to no other conclusion than - neck controls bright or dark, pickups being equal.  The body... yes too, especilly thinline vs solid.  But on solid vs solid, the neck is king in tone shaping.
I agree the neck really is the tone of the guitar more than any other factor save the pickups, Yngwie J. Malmsteen swears to this and he owns at least 350  Fender Strats so as far as experience and a tone monster extraordinaire there it is.