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It seems that anywhere you look regarding the topic of guitar finishes you will inevitably run into arguments debating the merits of nitrocellulose lacquer versus just about anything else which is usually lumped into one lone category simply referred to as "poly". I have ZERO interest in furthering that debate BUT since
Rowyco Kustoms offers both nitro. and "poly" finishes - I feel I can impartially describe the differences between the two. As a finisher and a player I strongly feel there is no perfect finish. They all have different characteristics that depending on the owner could be viewed as an asset or a liability.

Most, if not all of the beloved vintage guitars from the 50ís and 60ís were finished with nitro. Most lacquers have a slightly lower level of gloss than itís chemically cross linked counterparts. Itís usually slightly amber out of the can instead of water clear which can soften some colors. This is generally a good thing when youíre talking bursts but as it ages and yellows further it can change an opaque color to a totally different shade. Nitro. is not the most durable finish which attributes to the patina and wear it can develop over time. It can also be very disagreeable with certain guitar stands/hangers, colognes, bug spray, stickers or sometimes even sweat. There are some who love the way nitro. dulls, yellows, and checks but back when these guitars were just considered "used" those characteristics were not as revered by some and finish manufacturers in turn ďfixedĒ these issues. Lacquers were made clearer, more flexible, the solids content increased and in turn doesnít age exactly like the old stuff. Now Iím not claiming to have a secret stash of NOS lacquer or a proprietary recipe to mix my own old school nitro because I donít but there are lacquers available that are closer to what was used back then, they just arenít used by the companies who have customers complaining about sticky necks.

Okay, I put ďpolyĒ in quotes because itís come to be a somewhat (if not outright) derogatory catch-all term for any finish that isnít nitrocellulose lacquer. Doesnít matter if itís polyester, acrylic urethane, polyurethane enamel, UV curable acrylite, epoxy - itís "poly" and itísĒ badĒ. Well, like I said earlier there is NO perfect finish and I certainly donít think non nitro finishes are bad. They can be poorly applied but then again so can nitro. Most of these finishes are water clear and stay that way. Some folks may want a white guitar to stay white or silver metal flake guitar to maintain its "bling" factor. These finishes maintain their gloss and since they fully cure much faster than lacquer they usually keep that ďnewĒ look whereas lacquer can shrink back (deteriorate) over time allowing the grain of the wood to telegraph through the finish. Not necessarily a bad thing, just a matter of personal preference.

The most common complaint about non nitro finishes is that itís too thick. Well it certainly can be applied thick and all those import guitars out there prove as much but with a little bit of care it can be applied as thinly as a good lacquer finish. In my years of production work my ďpolyĒ finishes averaged .009"-.012" give or take. Another misconception is that a nitro finish is automatically thin. This is not always case. Iíve stripped and re-sprayed a few factory nitro finishes that were easily double the thickness of the "poly" jobs I shoot. Just because someone sticks the words ďthin skinĒ in front of nitro. doesnít mean all nitro. finishes are thin.

In actuality I usually use a few different products for a "poly" finish. Typically I start with UV curable sealer which allows me to level sand it the same day if need be. Epoxy and conventionally cured polyester sealers need more time to fully cure before they should be sanded. This step is followed by the color coat which is a very low solids (thin) acrylic urethane. This is followed by a few coats either a UV curable gloss topcoat or a clear acrylic urethane.

Another option is a mix. Using a catalyzed sealer underneath nitrocellulose is nothing new, ever heard of Fullerplast? Itís the sealer Fender used from the early days and for many years after, it is NOT nitro. Using a catalyzed sealer is good for folks who like the look of lacquer (and it does look good) but donít want it to shrink back much and have the wood grain telegraph through the finish. Once again this is not right or wrong, I just want to accommodate preferences on an individual basis.

ďDoesnít nitro give you better tone?"
Easily one of the most hotly debated topics of guitar making. The notion that nitro is unequivocally the only true finish for guitars has been bandied about for so long now that it seems to have become a ďfactĒ. Itís funny how many people I talk to that have to have nitro. but when I tell them it could check and will yellow over time they reply ďOh I didnít know, I donít want thatĒ. There are a lot of great sounding vintage guitars and most vintage guitars have nitrocellulose lacquer (AKA nitro) finishes so therefore nitro. automatically makes a guitar sound better. Well there seem to be a lot of people that believe that, Iím not one of them and there are plenty of world class luithers/builders that agree. The general consensus is that all things being equal the chemical makeup of the finish does not affect the overall tone, the film thickness of the finish does. As Iíve stated above ďpolyĒ finishes can be sprayed (and are) as thinly a properly applied nitrocellulose finish. Nitro does not ďbreathĒ and like other non nitro. finishes it is also a plastic. I feel I can safely theorize that Leo Fender didnít specify nitro. because he thought it made the guitars sound better. He used it because thatís all they had then. If he had access to the finishes that are available today you can bet your butt he would have used them and the only nitro. folks would be talking about would be drag bikes. That said I donít dislike nitro. (well except for sanding it) and I understand that some like the way it feels, looks, and itís reparability-I am more than happy to spray it for you.

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