Why poo poo the poly?

chuck7

Senior member
Messages
319
I've noticed that a lot of people here, in particular people with a lot of experience, don't care for urethane finishes.  I don't understand why.  This may be because I have misunderstood the reasoning, so let me lay out what I think I know. 

Nitro Laquer is what was used on guitars in the beginning. 
Nitro Laquer is still used on highend custom guitars
Nitro takes longer to dry
Nitro produces a softer finish than Poly that can be damaged more easily
Nitro is very workable in that flaws or damage can be sanded and buffed, or patched (at least on non-metallics)

Poly drys faster
Poly can produce just as thin of a finish as laquer
Poly can be sanded and buffed as well
Poly probably cannot be patch fixes as easily
Poly is avalible in a much wider verity of colors
Poly is used on lower priced guitars, but is also used by Warmoth.

Based on that information, if it is correct, I just can't see what the big advantage of Nitro laquer is, beyond the fact that "thats the way Leo did it".  I certainty understand wanting a vintage type finish, but at the same time, there are other considerations. 

So like the subject says, why poo poo the poly?  :icon_tongue:



 

DocNrock

Senior member
Messages
4,295
Since I know absolutely zero about this topic, and would like to do some of my own finishes in the future, I'll be following this thread with interest.  Thanks for posting it.
 

m4rk0

Senior member
Messages
5,383
I know that Warmoth's Poly finish is quite thin,
but if you ever tried to strip per example a fender (from the 80s onward) you will notice that it is almost as if the wood is covered with a quarter inch of plastic.. it just feels a bit unnatural like that.

other than that.. I have no idea  :dontknow:

oh, and a nitro finish relics nicer.. the thicker poly finishes won't really wear, they will just scratch and lose chunks of plactic when you drop em
 

chuck7

Senior member
Messages
319
True, Poly can go on thicker.  I still don't think it would be thick enough to affect the tone.  From what I have read, anything up to a 1/4 veneer wont actually alter the tone of the underlying wood, so I can't see a thich-ish poly finish affecting the tone. 

I can see what you mean by it possibly being a feel thing though.  I haven't personally owned a guitar with a nitro finish, so I can't say. 

As for ware, I kinda think the fact that it doesn't ware down is a good thing.  True, it can chip, but it generally takes a pretty good knock to do that, and I don't know that it scratches any more than a Nitro finish wood.  As long as the scratch doesn't go all the way through the clear, you can always buff it out, just as you would with Nitro. 
 

stubhead

Senior member
Messages
4,669
Bravo! Hoo-Ray! etc.

Companies like Music Man, Ibanez, Schecter and others that are very concerned about putting out a durable, reliable wood product that sounds and looks great use polyurethane on their high-end pro and custom instruments. Finishes can be, of course, as thin or as thick as you choose to put on, regardless of the goo used. Trying to equate the tonefulness of goo slapped on a board to whatever Stradivarius used in 1492, or whatever goo was cheap and convenient back in the caveman wood-finishing 50's, is pure marketing, nothing more. I'm glad the science of finishing has advanced - in my cantankerous dotage here, I'm actually going out of my way to avoid purchasing anything marketed as producing "vintage tone", I just want good tone. :headbang:

"Vintage" tone can just as easily be the "Theme from Bonanza", "Theme from Hawaii 5-0", "Theme from Green Acres" or The New Vaudeville Band's "Winchester Cathedral", you know...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xmV-261o1U&feature=related

(To the best of my knowledge, that little Atkins lick in the New Vaudeville Band's "Winchester Cathedral" was the American recording debut of guitarist Mahavishnu John McLaughlin - his style changed somewhat over the years, maybe he scored a nitro-finished guitar :icon_biggrin:)

(Stradivarius would've loved polyurethane....) :hello2:
 

dudesweet157

Senior member
Messages
647
If you had ever played a guitar that was finished in nitrocellulose, you wouldn't be asking this question.  A well broken in, nitro finished guitar feels like nothing else and is really hard to describe.  Poly feels like plastic whereas nitro feels really organic.  It's hard to explain.

BTW, on guitars with highly figured woods, I like poly as it keeps them looking immaculate.  On guitars that have rather plain woods/finishes, I like nitro because it ages and takes on a really beautiful patina over the years. 
 

dudesweet157

Senior member
Messages
647
Also, I think the whole finish being part of the tone equation is a load of crap.  I've played guitars with poly finishes that blew away their nitro finished counterparts.  Tone is about the sum of the quality of the parts, and the finish you use isn't going to matter when it's painted on a turd piece of wood with crappy pickups installed.
 

-CB-

Senior member
Messages
5,427
Actually, in the right conditions, nitro will dry faster, which is why it was originally used.  The speed of production was greater.  For the rapid dry, you need low humidity, high temperature, UV chamber...low atmospheric pressure works well too, but I dont think they use that.  Most metallics CAN be fixed, as its the clear coats over them that get damaged (usually).  Thats very fixable.

The poly finishes for a DIYer can actually be harder to do, require more equipment, and be more troublesome.  Nitro for a DIY'er is easy... since its very predictable.
 

TonyFlyingSquirrel

Senior member
Messages
4,274
I guess I must be spoiled, the finish on my TFS6 is Catalyst Acrylic, very thin, very hard, & very ding-resistant.  After nearly 12 years & 400+ gigs, it's still in great shape.
 

rahimiiii

Senior member
Messages
311
I use nitro because it's easy to obtain, cheap (5 bucks for a 1 liter can... can you get cheaper than that???) and easy to use. Nitro is somewhat forgiving in its application since you can usually fix runs and sags by letting it dry and sanding a bit since nitro melts into each other. Poly doesn't and any imperfection is there forever so it may be a steeper learning curve. Poly is also more expensive and a little harder to get, at least for DIY'ers since big companies buys it in enough quantities that they are actually cheap. Poly is also more toxic, requiring more protections as well as a relatively dustless place to spray as well as dry since they dry a little slowly to the touch which means more time for insects and dusts to embed itself in the finish. For a home shop you really don't want to be spraying poly because you don't want to be killing your neighbor's cat!

Actually to be honest I do kinda hate nitro but it's the only thing I can use realistically because Poly doesn't clean out of spray equipments once it cured and that means lots of cleaning between coats... I mean nitro takes forever to cure, and not to mention it shrinks forever which means something shiny today will have grains and pits showing a few months from now (even on Alder I can see grains showing on solid finishes) but then again poly doesn't age so well and doesn't look good when aged.
 

-CB-

Senior member
Messages
5,427
I did a Gibson LP top - on the Faded standard model.  Maple... just clear coated it.  And after two years now, it has started to show the grain.

Then again - all of my Warmoth poly finish bodies show grain ... and I can photograph that if need be!~
 

chuck7

Senior member
Messages
319
True, Poly is more toxic, and yes, you do need a some what cleaner environment to spray it.  You can correct flaws though.  You just have to stop at that layer, let it dry, and then wet sand.  Now if you don't notice the run until you are into the next stage, ya, you are screwed. 

All that said, I can see why Poly finishes may not be ideal for a DIY'er who does not have the proper equipment/location.  My question is really more from the stand point of the finish in general.  There just seems to be a general dislike for Poly, even when applied by major manufacturers. 

I think what I have gotten from the responses in this thread is that Poly is a perfectly good finish.  The only reasons I see for preferring nitro is:

1.  You want it to "relic" over time
2.  You prefer the "feel".

I can accept that.  Personally, I am perfectly happy with the feel of Poly, and I don't really want my guitars to "relic" with use.  So I think Poly is the finish for me :)
 

Mr Real Nice

Senior member
Messages
208
I've read a lot on both finishes in preparation for my first project and I decided to go with poly purely because I don't want to wait forever for the nitro/lacquer to cure.  Also, with products like 2k Primer Filler, 2k Aero-Max Clear, and Dupont Chromabase paint, everything's in an nice aerosol can and I don't foresee much hassle.  (fingers crossed)
 

Denis119

New member
Messages
21
Poly paint dries like a plastic coat(specially in your lungs) and as such is very durable. Removing poly off a guitar can be quite fun. So much fun that if you strip one coat of poly you probally won't do another.  But if you want a good durable paint for your car/guitar poly is great. Lacquer takes a long time to cure but looks cool when it wears and a DIY'r can spray it with mimimal equipment.

Here are some pluses and minus' for paints.
Pluses
Poly; Very durable,  doesn't usually require extensive color sanding(or any) lasts for ever, paint today, ready tomorrow, easy for the novice to shoot.
Lacquer; Restoration, will wear, requires minimimal equipment(spray cans). thinner coat doesn't affect guitar tone. 

Negatives;
Poly; Hard to remove, toxic, highly suggested equipment; compressor, paint gun, outside breathable air source. will not wear.
Lacquer; Labor intensive, cure time(May be up to a year) color sanding-complicated

For me it all comes down to; if its a restoration or you want a old look-lacquer. other than that it builders choice and the equipment you have. I happen to prefer lacquer. I think almost anyone can shoot poly but lacquer is a skill.
 

-CB-

Senior member
Messages
5,427
I think there's more skill involved with the poly/epoxy paints.. as far as application goes.

The thing with poly/epoxy paints and finishes is... chips, dings, scrapes... all easy things to fix with nitro years down the road, are not really so fixable in the poly world.
 

Denis119

New member
Messages
21
I was refering to the actual shooting process. With poly shoot a light pass(tack coat).. wait a bit.. shoot a wet pass.. and your pretty much done. With lacquer the works just starts after you shoot. Poly will cover a surface better than lacquer. So for the rookie thats a plus. Rookies often hurry through prep. But poly is not very forgiving for mistakes. So definate minus there.
  Then again you really should have more equipment for poly. A lot of people just wing it. Put a rag over their face and shoot. Bad idea. Poly can be bad stuff. (Isocycranates?)  As an ex professional painter.. If I was shooting for production.. poly.. just one item and I had a lot of time-lacquer.

 

Orpheo

Senior member
Messages
2,771
Denis119 said:
Poly paint dries like a plastic coat(specially in your lungs) and as such is very durable. Removing poly off a guitar can be quite fun. So much fun that if you strip one coat of poly you probally won't do another.  But if you want a good durable paint for your car/guitar poly is great. Lacquer takes a long time to cure but looks cool when it wears and a DIY'r can spray it with mimimal equipment.

Here are some pluses and minus' for paints.
Pluses
Poly; Very durable,  doesn't usually require extensive color sanding(or any) lasts for ever, paint today, ready tomorrow, easy for the novice to shoot.
Lacquer; Restoration, will wear, requires minimimal equipment(spray cans). thinner coat doesn't affect guitar tone. 

Negatives;
Poly; Hard to remove, toxic, highly suggested equipment; compressor, paint gun, outside breathable air source. will not wear.
Lacquer; Labor intensive, cure time(May be up to a year) color sanding-complicated

For me it all comes down to; if its a restoration or you want a old look-lacquer. other than that it builders choice and the equipment you have. I happen to prefer lacquer. I think almost anyone can shoot poly but lacquer is a skill.

indeed. my warmoths are finished in poly, and some in nitro, and I dont feel any difference. as long as poly is sprayed very THIN, I see no problem, except, ofcourse, if you want to have it aged/reliced. that just wont happen.
 

Ted

Senior member
Messages
526
chuck7 said:
I've noticed that a lot of people here, in particular people with a lot of experience, don't care for urethane finishes.  I don't understand why.  This may be because I have misunderstood the reasoning, so let me lay out what I think I know. 

Nitro Laquer is what was used on guitars in the beginning. 
Nitro Laquer is still used on highend custom guitars
Nitro takes longer to dry
Nitro produces a softer finish than Poly that can be damaged more easily
Nitro is very workable in that flaws or damage can be sanded and buffed, or patched (at least on non-metallics)

Poly drys faster
Poly can produce just as thin of a finish as laquer
Poly can be sanded and buffed as well
Poly probably cannot be patch fixes as easily
Poly is avalible in a much wider verity of colors
Poly is used on lower priced guitars, but is also used by Warmoth.

Based on that information, if it is correct, I just can't see what the big advantage of Nitro laquer is, beyond the fact that "thats the way Leo did it".  I certainty understand wanting a vintage type finish, but at the same time, there are other considerations. 

So like the subject says, why poo poo the poly?  :icon_tongue:


When faced with a question like this, the answer is there. Yes, just ask yourself...what would Eric Johnson do?
 

jimh

Senior member
Messages
1,344
Ted said:

When faced with a question like this, the answer is there. Yes, just ask yourself...what would Eric Johnson do?

Change the batteries.....Obviously.... C'mon Ted, we discussed this with Willy
 

Graffiti62

Senior member
Messages
654
I'm doing up a Tele, and it is going to be done with laquer. The biggest reason I'm going with it is due to an old Jon Kosmoski (the guy behind House of Kolor) trick--spray on laquer really, REALLY wet, and then wetsand the bejeesus out of it--do this about four times, and you'll get a finish that'll hurt your eyes if your color is bright enough. Plus, you'll have a shine that'll hold through really well.

Poly is good for something that needs to be sealed permanately in time, like an oil-based finish or something that will see a lot of abuse (like if you build a guitar for a kid).

Its six of one, half a dozen of the other I guess.
 
Top