Nitro vs Poly, Is It Relevant Any More?

dirocyn

Most Honored Senior Member
Jan 20, 2018
6,571
Murfreesboro, TN
Zombie thread or not, it’s actually still a relevant topic. I started a thread sort of about this last week and lots of people messaged me with questions about fender nitro finishes.

Not so much nitro vs poly but more about what fender models actually don’t use the poly sealer. There’s very little in the production models that use just nitro sealer and nitro top coat.
Even back in the day, they used Fullerplast on all the ash bodies. That stuff is essentially a polyurethane lacquer. Then they'd put nitro on top.

Using a polyurethane sealer with nitrocellulouse on top is not exactly a new technique.
 

Intune

Senior Stratmaster
Jan 14, 2021
4,464
Edmonton, Alberta
Even back in the day, they used Fullerplast on all the ash bodies. That stuff is essentially a polyurethane lacquer. Then they'd put nitro on top.

Using a polyurethane sealer with nitrocellulouse on top is not exactly a new technique.

This is exactly why everyone gets so confused. Yes back in the day it was a lacquer based plastic. Key word is lacquer.

Now I have in front of me a 80’s reissue 57 strat. With a thick plastic polyurethane sealer that I could skate down the street on. It’s bomb proof. You could not do the same with a guitar with fullerplast plastic sealer and nitro. You would have chunks of wood missing.

That fullerplast you can probably burn through with paint stripper to bare wood. You cannot do that with whatever plastic they use today or since at least the 70’s. Its just not the same thing. Fullerplast and modern polyurethane is not the same thing.

The whole reason people buy into nitro is because it will wear and age like the old ones. Yes the top coat will but that thick polyurethane will not. You can completely wear off the finish to any AVRI since the 80’s. You’ll be left with a 70’s looking natural finish fender. Thick clear plastic.

So a 62 AVRI will look nothing like a actual 62 strat, 40 years from now.
 

Guy Incognito

Senior Stratmaster
May 14, 2019
3,865
Here and now
I'm beginning to get back into Strats and Teles for the first time in around 10 years or so. I have been focusing on acoustics and Les Pauls the past few years, but I'm ready to get back into the Fender game.

As I look around, all of my main players have a Nitro finish. Is this something that people still look for these days? I really like the idea of guitars aging gracefully, and I just don't think that you get the same aging process with poly.

I really want to get a new Strat or Tele, but I also feel like I "need" Nitro. However, the Vintera series looks like killer bang for the buck, but am I being ridiculous in my desire for getting something Nitro?

Heck, I can get two Mexican guitars for the price of one American with Nitro...
My only problem with Poly is that it simply doesn't age while everything else does.

Eventually if the guitar gets gigged a lot it'll likely have scratches, dents and chips but the rest will still be Shiney. It's an odd look. Of course I don't let Poly stop me from buying a guitar I want but I still like Nitro better.
 

Fenderbaum

Senior Stratmaster
Aug 11, 2020
1,208
Bergen, Norway
This again... Ok

Nitro
- Thin, more authentic looking
- Want your guitar to age? Get Nitro
-can be reliced
- Easy touch up repairs


Poly
- more resistant
- cant be reliced (for a good result)
- Looks more plastic-y if applied heavy

Some prefer the feel of nitro than poly on necks.
 

dspellman

Strat-O-Master
Mar 24, 2013
843
Los Angeles
Not until the 90s, and only because legislation forced them to. The solvents were contributing to the hole in the ozone layer and are highly toxic / carcinogenic, I believe.

The finish was as good as the sprayers applying it.

When acrylic paint was introduced in the mid 90s, anyone who lived near the seaside could tell you how birdsh#t would etch the paint. That's why they started using a solvent based clearcoat over the top.
Naw, most auto manufacturers dropped nitrocellulose paint in the late '50's or early '60's. It chalked, chipped, discolored (ambered) and it transmitted surface imperfections to the surface of the paint. This last, by the way, is one of the reasons that guitarists thought the paint was thin and/or shrinking -- they could see grain on the surface of the paint after a couple of years. Hot rodders who boasted of putting 30 coats of "hand-rubbed lacquer" on their cars were finding that surface imperfections (transitions from bondo to steel, for example) were transmitted to the surface of the paint, which required them to re-sand the finishes to get them back to their original gloss. The Peterson Museum in Los Angeles has documentation on the difference between the original colors and the current condition of a lot of their classic cars. Modern paints are self-leveling, which means that they can be applied and the gloss just won't quit.

Solvents are, indeed, one reason the paint is mostly outlawed these days. VOCs are a potent atmospheric contaminant, but workers are subject to its toxicity (nervous systems, liver) and carcinogenic properties. Gibson was grandfathered in by friendly local politicians and is allowed to continue using the stuff. But other manufacturers, such as Taylor, spray a much thinner coat of polyester that's dry within 24 hours and ready for sanding. Their application is near 100% solids, and through the use of a robotic arm and fixture, they can spray a coat of paint that's not only thinner, but is also more even than any human with a spray gun can accomplish.

One other detail: nitrocellulose begins to deteriorate almost from the day it's applied. It outgasses nitric acid (and some sulfuric acid), which attacks pickup coil wire and any other metal surfaces. The old Byrdland pick guards are cellulose, and if the guitar was left in the case, could deteriorate to almost a chalky substance, and would attack pickups, strings, hardware. One of the ways that Gibson LP experts confirmed age on 'original' 59 bursts was to examine the shrinkage and distortion of the tuner knobs and the condition of the plastic (nitrocellulose) inlays, which also distort and turn brownish/greenish.
 

Jimbo99

Senior Stratmaster
Jun 5, 2021
2,189
Palm Coast, FL
I will say the one thing I love about the Monoprice Telecasters, the poly is thin and while I won't say it feels like Nitro, it doesn't take much effort to sand thru the poly & past the thin paint. Would be easier to remove & refinish in whatever was the next finish. The buttercream blonde Tele had a blemish & I thought I could repair it. I smeared some epoxy on it and I think it would've worked better if I hadn't gotten too greedy to sand it perfectly level. Went too thin for the patched spot and the repair came off. It's on the bottom of the guitar so it really matters less than it would anywhere else that I could see it. Amyway, great sounding guitar, it was $ 80 new. I kept it because it was a heavier tank of a slab, felt & sounded Les Paul-like, at the price point it was like getting an $ 80 preowned Tele. This was the little blemish before the fix attempt, I should've left it alone. That poly was really thin, I went thru the poly & yellow, down to the Basswood pretty easy. My goal was to get a harder epoxy to stick to the blemish. Good intentions that didn't turn out that way in the end.
 

Attachments

  • IMAG0747.jpg
    IMAG0747.jpg
    43.7 KB · Views: 6

folkplayer

Strat-Talk Member
Nov 11, 2016
38
Nashville, TN
I only play nitro guitars. I just hate the feeling of poly and hate the way it ages. It truly looks awful when it comes off in chunks. Can’t stand the stuff. I play guitars finished by MJT and their nitro is fantastic.
 

Snaked Strat

Strat-Talk Member
Mar 17, 2022
70
Australia
I'm beginning to get back into Strats and Teles for the first time in around 10 years or so. I have been focusing on acoustics and Les Pauls the past few years, but I'm ready to get back into the Fender game.

As I look around, all of my main players have a Nitro finish. Is this something that people still look for these days? I really like the idea of guitars aging gracefully, and I just don't think that you get the same aging process with poly.

I really want to get a new Strat or Tele, but I also feel like I "need" Nitro. However, the Vintera series looks like killer bang for the buck, but am I being ridiculous in my desire for getting something Nitro?

Heck, I can get two Mexican guitars for the price of one American with Nitro...

I never thought it had any importance or relevance :)
 

Intune

Senior Stratmaster
Jan 14, 2021
4,464
Edmonton, Alberta
I only play nitro guitars. I just hate the feeling of poly and hate the way it ages. It truly looks awful when it comes off in chunks. Can’t stand the stuff. I play guitars finished by MJT and their nitro is fantastic.

For me it’s not that I can’t stand it I just like any fender that’s pre cbs. Anything from 1965 and older. I can’t afford one and if I could I don’t think I’d want actual vintage. So vintage reissues or custom shop reissues.

There’s very little reissues out there that will actually wear like the 50’s and early 60’s fenders. The AV series, Wildwood Thin Skins and custom shop reissues. That’s pretty much it. Everything else has a thick poly base coat with nitro top coat. Kind of defeats the purpose of spending the cash on a nitro guitar doesn’t it? Why pay that much when it will only look and feel like half of the reissue it’s supposed to be.
 

Wound_Up

You can call me Duane 😁
Silver Member
Jan 23, 2020
4,427
NW LA
Nitro is easier to damage, and easier to repair. If you want the guitar to look aged though, are invisible repairs a requirement?

All poly is not created equal. First of all, there’s polyester vs polyurethane. Second, finish thickness can vary a lot depending on the process used.

Personally, I don’t like a thick finish, but thin poly is fine.

Yep. And Fender currently offers guitars with polyester and polyurethane finishes.
 

Handsome McClane

Senior Stratmaster
Sep 6, 2020
1,669
Sacramento
I've got a couple of nitro finished guitars, the rest are poly, but I've never really cared what the finish is on a guitar. Never knew it was something that anyone cared about until I came to these online forums.

From purely an appearance standpoint I've always preferred super glossy, shiny new-looking guitars, so I guess I like thick poly.
 

Intune

Senior Stratmaster
Jan 14, 2021
4,464
Edmonton, Alberta
And people often say “poly” without understanding the difference.

True. Then there’s people who confuse fullerplast, polyester and polyurethane as being all the same. That’s why this debate on nitro/poly never ends. So much misinformation out there. Which is understandable when Fender themselves changes wording every few years with their finishes
 

Wound_Up

You can call me Duane 😁
Silver Member
Jan 23, 2020
4,427
NW LA
And people often say “poly” without understanding the difference.

I've noticed that, also. When I learned that Fender offers guitars with either kind, still, I started trying to differentiate between the 2 when I talk about them. I try not to use the generalized "poly" and instead use the entire name. I also usually try to get others who use it generically to specify whether they're speaking about one or the other instead of just using poly like 9/10 people
 

golfnut

Strat-Talker
Feb 14, 2018
269
Canada
Nitro vs Poly!? Couldn't care less.
Generally I don't care either. I know that my 2 Fender custom shop guitars are nitro and my Les Paul Standard 50's is nitro. I prefer the finish on the Fenders as they are thin with the wood grain raised and coming through (So is the nitro finish on my MIM roadworn tele) and My Les Paul is a higher gloss thicker finish, which I don't prefer. But the Gibson standard line was as high up the chain as I was willing to go as I only added it to my collection for variety. Would have loved a Murphy lab R8 but didn't want to spend that much coin.
 


Top