Opinions on the nitrocellulose lacquer Gretsch uses

loudnlousy

Gretschified
Gold Supporting Member
Oct 18, 2015
12,713
Germany
@TV the Wired Turtle posted that the finish on his laquered Gretsch guitars felt quite sticky.
I had the chance to compare the "modern" laquer of Gretsch to the laquer used by Gibson.
Gibson`s is even more sticky and much softer. You could indent it with your thumbnail, easily.

So both surfaces are not ideal.
Strangely pre 80ies Gretsch or Gibson nitro finishes feel totally different. Maybe they use a different formular or there are substances that "fumed out" during time.
 

AZBrahma

Synchromatic
Dec 18, 2020
730
Arizona
@TV the Wired Turtle posted that the finish on his laquered Gretsch guitars felt quite sticky.
I had the chance to compare the "modern" laquer of Gretsch to the laquer used by Gibson.
Gibson`s is even more sticky and much softer. You could indent it with your thumbnail, easily.

So both surfaces are not ideal.
Strangely pre 80ies Gretsch or Gibson nitro finishes feel totally different. Maybe they use a different formular or there are substances that "fumed out" during time.

Nitro, especially the 'sticky' plasticized formulations, out gas for years. When the guitar spends its non-playing time in the case, it goes on forever. That is the sweet smell. Eventually it will harden and thin as the solvents and additives disperse, but it can take a very long time. So it may be (and probably is) a different formulation, but also just the passage of time. What witchcraft companies like Schecter are doing that makes new nitro feel like old, hard, thin nitro....I have no idea. It works though.
 

Uncle Daddy

Friend of Fred
Jan 19, 2012
5,923
Maldon UK
Modern auto paints can be cellulose; I finish my relics using stuff from the local spares shop. It actually dries really fast- it needs to in a body shop so it can be finished off.

Latest acquisition- the cracking occurs with heat/cold applications , but it doesn't do it normally or it would fall off a car panel. P1020250.JPG
P1020251.JPG
 

Highroller

Country Gent
Jun 11, 2015
2,202
Portland, OR
I haven't had enough acoustics to really compare two identical guitars with different finishes ... who knows how much of those differences can be attributable to finish?

Yeah, it's really hard to know sometimes. There's so many things that affect a guitar's tone.

I drop by the Acoustic Guitar Forum on a regular basis, where guys that play $5000 Martins, Collings and Taylors are a dime a dozen. And a lot of those guys swear by Nitro finishes for acoustics. Claim that poly finishes deaden the sound. Especially if it's a thick coating.

Which in my own experience, does seem to be a valid claim. I've always assumed my modest collection of mid-range acoustics (including my Rancher Jumbo) are poly finishes, and compared to my one higher end Gibson (which I can say with 100% certainty is done in Nitrocellulose Lacquer) they do seem less "alive".

Which isn't even to say they sound "bad" - just different. But that Gibson - wow! You can really feel the top moving while you're playing it! Presumably, that's the result of that thin hand-sprayed nitro finish.

Anyway, acoustics aren't electrics and whatever finish you like on an electric is what you like. Personal choice, imho.
 

loudnlousy

Gretschified
Gold Supporting Member
Oct 18, 2015
12,713
Germany
I heard that many higher-quality acoustics are finished with shellac or ancient resin-compositions.
 

afire

Friend of Fred
Feb 12, 2009
5,968
Where the action is!
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?
With one exception, I've never had a problem with any of those properties in the maybe 40 +/- lacquer finished guitars I've owned. Some of them are even positives in my mind. The exception is reacting with some materials. That you really do have to be careful about and it is irritating.
I can only think of one poly finished guitar I've ever owned, a PRS Custom, and I did have a problem with that finish. I was young and a bit careless and that guitar got its share of dings. And the dings show up milky white. This was years ago but I'm pretty sure I took it to a shop and was told that there's really nothing you can do about it. I'd much rather ding a more fragile and repairable lacquer finish than a poly finish that turns white. Or maybe I was misinformed.
The clear coat they use on the nitro stuff is super flaky, that I don’t like. But the rest of the nitro finish is gorgeous.
This is the one thing that gives me pause. I once saw a used SSL at the local GC, and the clear on the back of it was completely flaking off. There was about a 6" bare circle and you could have probably peeled the rest off by hand. When the Custom Shop gets to my build, I'm definitely going to talk to them about that and make sure that's not going to be an issue.
I heard that many higher-quality acoustics are finished with shellac or ancient resin-compositions.
I think way back in the day (1910s, 1920s), Gibson finishes were varnish applied by French polishing. There are some boutique builders out there who offer this.
 

TobyB

Electromatic
Nov 22, 2021
87
UK
There's LOADS of mythology out there to read about finishes effecting the sound of instruments... including speculation about Stradivarius violins... the bottom line is probably that any significance is minimal to the point of trivial or irrelevant... but the story probably reflects a time when good quality instruments were finished differently from the cheap'n'cheerful, and people were hearing with their eyes and fingertips...
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,696
Tucson
I tend to favor poly finishes. Some older poly finishes appeared to be pretty thick, and I can understand why someone would dislike them, but newer poly guitars tend to have thinner finishes. I don’t have any acoustic guitars, so I can’t weigh in on that aspect of the subject.
 

BohemianLikeMe

Synchromatic
Apr 18, 2020
805
Prague, CZ
Thank you! I recently got very interested in Gretsch guitars but the Gretsch used market in Sweden is unfortunately completely dead, I hope something nice pops up sooner than later so I can have one in my arsenal once again.
I feel you. But check out the classified sites outside of Sweden. I got my 6120-1959 LTV from a Hungarian music store that was shifting inventory during Covid for a huge deal.

This is the one thing that gives me pause. I once saw a used SSL at the local GC, and the clear on the back of it was completely flaking off. There was about a 6" bare circle and you could have probably peeled the rest off by hand. When the Custom Shop gets to my build, I'm definitely going to talk to them about that and make sure that's not going to be an issue.
Yeah, I want to talk to my tech next time I bring the old girl in for service about getting some of the super flaky spots touched up, but I'm not sure what's exactly going on with that clear coat and it gives me a bit of a pause.
 

Vlad the Inhaler

Electromatic
Jun 28, 2022
54
hell
the way nitro often reactes with plating on hardware can end up looking VERY UGLY and nasty, much prefer the look and feel of poly coated instruments xxx
 

dspellman

Gretschie
Jul 4, 2020
415
Los Angeles
I think way back in the day (1910s, 1920s), Gibson finishes were varnish applied by French polishing. There are some boutique builders out there who offer this.
I'm no expert on the French Polish finish, but I think there may be a difference between varnish and French Polish. I have exactly one guitar that's finished in French Polish, but that one's been done in shellac. I have a friend with varnished string instruments (old cello and viola)...
 

TV the Wired Turtle

Gretschified
Jul 25, 2009
14,707
Sandy Eggo
Nitro, especially the 'sticky' plasticized formulations, out gas for years. When the guitar spends its non-playing time in the case, it goes on forever. That is the sweet smell. Eventually it will harden and thin as the solvents and additives disperse, but it can take a very long time. So it may be (and probably is) a different formulation, but also just the passage of time. What witchcraft companies like Schecter are doing that makes new nitro feel like old, hard, thin nitro....I have no idea. It works though.

I have no idea why any guitar would sit in a case. Also dont discount most of the case's smell is the glue used to affix the liner. :)
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,696
Tucson
I have no idea why any guitar would sit in a case. Also dont discount most of the case's smell is the glue used to affix the liner. :)
I agree, 100%. I hang my guitars on slat-wall, just like a music store, but I do not keep my guitars in cases. I use hardshell cases to transport them, but that is it.
 

Ricochet

Senior Gretsch-Talker
Gold Supporting Member
Nov 13, 2009
22,736
Monkey Island
We have earthquakes. I don’t keep any guitars on the walls. I have racks that will hold 15 guitars, the rest is in cases. Not that it will much help if the whole house ever collapses, but for the moment I’ll keep them dust free.
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,696
Tucson
We have earthquakes. I don’t keep any guitars on the walls. I have racks that will hold 15 guitars, the rest is in cases. Not that it will much help if the whole house ever collapses, but for the moment I’ll keep them dust free.
Only 15? :)
 

afire

Friend of Fred
Feb 12, 2009
5,968
Where the action is!
I'm no expert on the French Polish finish, but I think there may be a difference between varnish and French Polish. I have exactly one guitar that's finished in French Polish, but that one's been done in shellac. I have a friend with varnished string instruments (old cello and viola)...
I've just read that French polishing is usually a method applying varnish. But I'm sure you could French polish shellac too. I just looked it up and they're pretty much the same thing. They're both resin in a solvent. The difference is that varnish uses resin secreted by trees while shellac uses resin secreted by insects.
 

dspellman

Gretschie
Jul 4, 2020
415
Los Angeles
I've just read that French polishing is usually a method applying varnish. But I'm sure you could French polish shellac too. I just looked it up and they're pretty much the same thing. They're both resin in a solvent. The difference is that varnish uses resin secreted by trees while shellac uses resin secreted by insects.
That's unusual. Most of my research says that shellac is used. Here's something: https://theartoflutherie.com/french-polish-shellac/
The guy who did my guitar used "button shellac", real pumice as a grain filler, Everclear as the alcohol (solvent) and a couple of different oils (olive oil, walnut oil) and did it all with pieces of cheesecloth. I still have these materials sitting around waiting to start a fire (Ack!) and available in case the finish is damaged. It's actually pretty easy to fix moderate damage (French polish is susceptible to alcohol and moisture damage). It may be one of the thinnest finishes (far thinner than lacquer) to use for acoustic instruments while producing a gorgeous gloss and a really deep finish visually. Obviously a lot more time and labor consuming than simply hosing the instrument down with lacquer or a more modern coating.
 

loudnlousy

Gretschified
Gold Supporting Member
Oct 18, 2015
12,713
Germany
I tend to favor poly finishes. Some older poly finishes appeared to be pretty thick, and I can understand why someone would dislike them, but newer poly guitars tend to have thinner finishes. I don’t have any acoustic guitars, so I can’t weigh in on that aspect of the subject.
As I wrote elsewhere here I got an early eighties Tokai Strat in CAR. The poly-finish is incredibly thin. It aged so gracefully that I first thought it was nitro.
If applied nicely poly has has lot of advantages over nitro, imho.
 

Synchro

The artist formerly known as: Synchro
Staff member
Jun 2, 2008
26,696
Tucson
As I wrote elsewhere here I got an early eighties Tokai Strat in CAR. The poly-finish is incredibly thin. It aged so gracefully that I first thought it was nitro.
If applied nicely poly has has lot of advantages over nitro, imho.
I would agree. I have quite a number of poly finished guitars, and all of them are pretty decent. None have that dipped like a candied apple look.
 


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