Opinions on the nitrocellulose lacquer Gretsch uses

audept

Senior Gretsch-Talker
Platinum Member
Dec 1, 2010
30,164
Sydney, Australia
Hi all! This will be my first post on the forum.

I'm curious about what people think about the nitro lacquer Gretsch uses. Does it feel a lot different than the poly they usually use? The nitro is applied on top of a coat of poly right?

I had a 6119 with poly finish and I didn't like the way it felt at all, it was really hard and kinda uninspiring. I unfortunatley don't have the opportunity to try one out so I'm curious what your thoughts are.

Thanks!
Welcome to the forum, @fabian1137 !
swedish welcome mat.jpg
 

Gretschzilla

Gretschie
Apr 20, 2021
181
Saint Paul, MN USA
I too have never been happy with Gretsch Lacquer finished necks on the last two falcons and SSL that I owned. I have very VERY dry hands, and I'm in California and yet the necks would end up feeling slightly sticky over time. I'd have to hit them w 0000g stainless steel just to be able to play them without getting miffed. Ultimately I sold them and always grumbled to myself that someday I'd get a custom shop gretsch that had a nitro lacquered body w a satin poly neck. Because I loooove my 99' SSU w a well worn poly neck, but wish it wasnt covered in bomb proof poly from hell. But... then I got the Gretsch Setzer SMOKE, oh Lordy.. its "semi-gloss" lacquer and it feels like my old 56' Gib ES-150. They cracked the code, or whatever that means... you know what I'm saying. :)
I concur. The Smoke is silky smooth and looks good. It’s weird how it feels old and new at the same time.
 

dspellman

Gretschie
Jul 4, 2020
415
Los Angeles
Key word, "idiot." Respect the power.

So I'll keep both my good smelling guitars and my car.
I noted your age and assumed some maturity went with it <G>. In my case, not so much, unfortunately.

I have an old ('67) Lamborghini that I've owned since 1983. A Weber-carbed V12 is cool in so many ways, but I have to keep remembering that it's a *real* '67 and not just something that *looks* like a '67. Lest I be driving down the road and notice that one of the wire wheels is passing me.

Nitrocellulose lacquer is polarizing at one level ("I like the feel, I like how my guitar looks when it's old"), but objectively it's just not a very good paint.
 

Ricochet

Senior Gretsch-Talker
Gold Supporting Member
Nov 13, 2009
22,736
Monkey Island
I have an old ('67) Lamborghini that I've owned since 1983.

Nitrocellulose lacquer is polarizing at one level ("I like the feel, I like how my guitar looks when it's old"), but objectively it's just not a very good paint.
Pics of the Lambo please.

I think I heard Stephen Stern profess in an interview the guys at the Gretsch CS actually preferred to use Poly(assuming Urethane not Poly-ester).
 

FiveAces

Gretschie
Mar 1, 2009
289
San Diego, CA
I don't get it.... The ol' nitro vs poly comparisons over the years just seems to never go away. I mean, I think the laquer used years ago had more to do with the availabilty of that kind of paint being used by all the car manufactures (therefore, it was commonly available) and nothing to do with thin finishes, allowing the wood to breathe, etc., or the best choice for guitar finishes (we've all heard the discussions)... especially when we're talking about electric guitars.
Poly finishes can be thin, dull or glossy, or anything else if the guitar manufactures decide to do it and create a market hype for them. I frankly have dealt with both finishes and it never has dictated my decision of preference. The guitar is the whole package and that's what I judge. ......just sayin' ....
 

G5422T

Country Gent
May 24, 2012
4,225
usa
I noted your age and assumed some maturity went with it <G>. In my case, not so much, unfortunately.

I have an old ('67) Lamborghini that I've owned since 1983. A Weber-carbed V12 is cool in so many ways, but I have to keep remembering that it's a *real* '67 and not just something that *looks* like a '67. Lest I be driving down the road and notice that one of the wire wheels is passing me.

Nitrocellulose lacquer is polarizing at one level ("I like the feel, I like how my guitar looks when it's old"), but objectively it's just not a very good paint.

V12 and Webers. Heavenly smooth, and then that sound.

Pics please.
 

sgarnett

Country Gent
Apr 14, 2020
1,038
Kentucky
I agree that the Smoke’s nitro finish is very nice, and an occasional wipe with Virtuoso polish is helping keep it nice so far.

Some people like nitro BECAUSE it is fragile and will soon look awful (oops, I mean aged).

Personally, I like a thinly sprayed poly finish, because I DO NOT want my guitars to age quickly. Keeping nitro looking new is more work, and may reduce playing time/opportunities.

That said, I don’t like thick dipped-looking poly finishes any more than anyone else.

Also, modern nitro just ain’t what it used to be, and what it used to be wasn’t that great. The Smoke lacquer seems great. I don’t want to know what they are using in Japan. However, the modern lacquers used in the US by Fender and Gibson seem very soft and sticky.

In a nutshell, I think many prefer nitro simply because it is such a mediocre finish that doesn’t hold up well.
 
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sgarnett

Country Gent
Apr 14, 2020
1,038
Kentucky
Hmmm

So long as it’s orange I don’t care what they paint it with and. nobody ever died because of the paint on their guitar. A life in rock and roll……now that’s hazardous to health !!
Well, a luthier friend suffered debilitating CNS damage from years of VOC inhalation.
 

sgarnett

Country Gent
Apr 14, 2020
1,038
Kentucky
I used real nitro on model airplanes back in the day, and I’ve used a lot of VOC solvents in automotive work, but neither were my day-to-day job.
 

Highroller

Country Gent
Jun 11, 2015
2,202
Portland, OR
Mmm, nitro vs poly. Soundwise - and I'm talking bodies, not necks - I think it can make a difference on acoustic guitars far more than on electrics, but like a lot of things, it's really sort of a matter of personal choice.
 

Ricochet

Senior Gretsch-Talker
Gold Supporting Member
Nov 13, 2009
22,736
Monkey Island
Well, a luthier friend suffered debilitating CNS damage from years of VOC inhalation.

Paint fumes are no fun. We had a bit of a ruckus 2 years ago when our guberment admitted culpability in neglecting to warn of the dangers of Chromium-6, an anti-rust coating used in the paint of military vehicles and aeroplanes. Hundreds of personal have been affected with alarming amounts of stomach cancer and/or lung cancer cases.

Interesting sidenote. The new and improved paint formula they currently use contains twice the amount of Chromium-6. 🙈
 

fabian1137

Electromatic
Jul 26, 2022
37
Sweden
Aside from the fact that nitrocellulose lacquer checks, chalks, chips, discolors, reacts with some materials and chemicals, fails to protect the guitar, transmits imperfections from the underlying surface, etc., you mean?
Thanks, now I know why you think it's a "crap" finish.
 

fabian1137

Electromatic
Jul 26, 2022
37
Sweden
I don't get it.... The ol' nitro vs poly comparisons over the years just seems to never go away. I mean, I think the laquer used years ago had more to do with the availabilty of that kind of paint being used by all the car manufactures (therefore, it was commonly available) and nothing to do with thin finishes, allowing the wood to breathe, etc., or the best choice for guitar finishes (we've all heard the discussions)... especially when we're talking about electric guitars.
Poly finishes can be thin, dull or glossy, or anything else if the guitar manufactures decide to do it and create a market hype for them. I frankly have dealt with both finishes and it never has dictated my decision of preference. The guitar is the whole package and that's what I judge. ......just sayin' ....
Yup I'm with you 100%, if the guitar is great and you bond with it why care what finish is on it? I was just curious about what people thought about the specific nitro Gretsch uses since like you say, no finish is alike and especially nitro that nowadays have a lot more plasticizers in them.
 

AZBrahma

Synchromatic
Dec 18, 2020
730
Arizona
I can (and DO) do without nitrocellulose lacquer on guitars. It's a crap finish, IMHO and I'm definitely not a fan.

The thing about nitro finishes is that they have incredible variability in properties and qualities across different formulas. Gibson black nitro, at least about 8 or 10 years ago, looks like it was dipped and felt pretty awful to my hands. Gibson in general uses a lacquer I don't love. Fender's standard nitro formulation feels insanely sticky on the back of necks, something I don't experience with other brands. I have 8 custom shop Schecters, 4 finished in nitro and 4 in poly. I literally cannot tell the difference. They look the same, there is no odor (they are always out of the case though), the sheen is the same, they feel exactly the same, even the thumb 'squeak' test is the same. About the only differences is that the necks of the nitro guitars went from satin to glossy faster (though they are never even remotely sticky), the way chips and checks look if and when they occur, and what is written on the build card.

I don't have a preference one way or the other, but nitro isn't nitro. Its formulations and quality are all over the map. For the most part, poly is poly. It varies much less.
 

dspellman

Gretschie
Jul 4, 2020
415
Los Angeles
Mmm, nitro vs poly. Soundwise - and I'm talking bodies, not necks - I think it can make a difference on acoustic guitars far more than on electrics, but like a lot of things, it's really sort of a matter of personal choice.
I haven't had enough acoustics to really compare two identical guitars with different finishes.

I have an old ('67) Martin D35 that's almost certainly lacquer, a newish Taylor 814ce that's (I believe) a UV catalyzed polyester applied via robot arm and fixture, and a cheap Yamaha that's probably polywhatever. And then there's the ancient Epiphone Emperor (1939) that was redone in French Polish back in the late '60's. They all sound significantly different (construction, materials, size, etc.), so who knows how much of those differences can be attributable to finish?
 

dspellman

Gretschie
Jul 4, 2020
415
Los Angeles
V12 and Webers. Heavenly smooth, and then that sound.

Pics please.
I need to get some. I bought it in '83 for $13K, drove it for a bit and then handed it to some folks to get a paint job done, got the wire wheels rebuilt (Borranis) and had some upholstery work done (originally pig hide (!)). At some point in the last decade, my wife asked me what it was worth (it takes up "her" spot in the garage), so I referred her to a couple of the auction evaluation sites. Next thing I know, it's buried in packing blankets and a car cover and empty cardboard boxes and you can't even tell it's a car.

It's a 400GT. Only about one or two of them cross the auction block per year. In 2014 prices shot up because Lamborghini was having an anniversary and they started looking around for the original cars (350GTs, 400GTS look similar to each other). They weren't all that appealing back in the '60's, and a bunch of them hit the crusher (or were otherwise destroyed) over the years, and they just didn't make all that many of them in the first place (250?). Suddenly prices went up drastically and have floated there ever since. It's a pretty big ask to find any 400GT for under $400K these days, and one went for $850K. The survivors have largely disappeared into collections and museums.

It's definitely a hot-rod sound on this one. Four "silencers" but they don't do much. It's got way more growl than something like a Mercedes V12. Six double-barrel Webers, four overhead cams, five-speed transmission, disk brakes almost makes it seem modern. New they had 320 bhp, mine's been dynoed at 360, and the cars are surprisingly light weight.
 


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