Rationale for nitro over cellulose vs. poly?

Discussion in 'Electric Instruments' started by Would’e?, May 1, 2021.

  1. Would’e?

    Would’e? New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2021
    Messages:
    15
    Likes Received:
    15
    Do we have it anywhere from the horse’s mouth (read: Paul) the reason for the switch from durable poly to gloopy, fragile, yellowing nitro? I realize the inquiry begs the question for some, but after 40 years of playing, I truly think tone is 70% amp, 25% pickups, 4% fingers, 1% everything else — including finish) Is there a rational reason that PRS has stopped using a more durable and protective finish other than the “better tone” argument of myth? Is PRS sucking up to Gibson suckers and sacrificing proven durability to a bygone technology of negligible import on the altar of marketing? I’m prepared for an onslaught of those nitro cultists who might deem me a philistine.
     
  2. docteurseb

    docteurseb New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2018
    Messages:
    974
    Likes Received:
    3,285
    Couple points:
    - PRS « nitro » is very resistant to cracking and yellowing if you’re talking about the one most typically found on their USA models since 2020 and most Private Stocks
    - it is definitely much clearer/transparent than their poly. Is that enough of an advantage over durability ? anyone needs to see/decide for him/herself.
    - it is a lot easier to touch up/repair for minor accidents than poly is
     
    bodia likes this.
  3. RallyFanatic

    RallyFanatic Perpetual musical mid-life crisis

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2013
    Messages:
    479
    Likes Received:
    1,133
    They made the change in 2020 because the new finish was ‘thinner, harder and clearer’. It’s not really like a flash coat that will wear out after a couple birthdays (unless we’re talking the S2 satin nitro which is different all together).

    Personally I prefer the feel of good nitro. Poly just feels plastic-y to me. I believe most manufacturers abandoned nitro for poly because of costs, but it is all the retro rage these days.
     
  4. RickP

    RickP Established 1960, Still Not Dead

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2019
    Messages:
    3,497
    Likes Received:
    10,022
    The first thing to consider is that what the internet considers as truth and myth, including your and my opinion of it, is completely beside the point. Paul has shown repeatedly that he is willing to go with, against, and sideways over the grain of conventional wisdom and opinion with just one thing in mind: a better guitar. When he does something, whether I agree with it or not (and there have been both), I have seen enough in 15-ish years of playing PRS guitars to believe that he thinks it betters the instrument.

    If the quality of a guitar wasn’t an integral part of the magic of creating music, there wouldn’t be virtuosic writers and players who are known for playing a particular guitar. Of course the guitar is a big part of the sound. Not as big as the person playing it, but it’s the only part they’re touching!

    There are quite a few videos where Paul talks about finish type and thickness affecting the tone, and why they have changed to one or the other over time. One from 2013 talking about the V12 finish (IIRC) is here:



    Obviously there’s been more changes to the finish, but the concept of changing it because in the opinion of Paul Reed Smith and his luthiers it makes a better, more resonant guitar is apparent. Nothing would be easier and cheaper than never changing. They change to evolve. Not every choice is golden, but their popularity says they have a winning percentage at the plate. Paul has no reason to “suck up” to a guitar company that has a reputation for sketchy quality in this day and age, although they are hopefully on an upswing there now.

    There are more, and more recent, videos on the current finishes and why they use them. But the end reason is always the same: to improve.

    I, like you apparently, did my first paying gigs back in the 1970s. I was a dedicated Gibson guy. Then played Carvins, Fenders, EBMMs, Yamahas over the years and still own many. But for a lot of years now, it’s been PRS. For me, it matters. By every indication I’ve seen, it matters to Paul. I’m not onboard with everything he thinks, but I’m certainly on board with the passion that takes him there. YMMV, as they say, and there are always going to be other guitar makers who “make it your way.” That’s a plus for us. I wouldn’t infer the man has bad motives for it, because there’s no basis to go down that road.
     
    grausch, SinSir, El Fenix and 8 others like this.
  5. Would’e?

    Would’e? New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2021
    Messages:
    15
    Likes Received:
    15
    I appreciate your thoughtful reply RickP.
     
    bodia and RickP like this.
  6. RickP

    RickP Established 1960, Still Not Dead

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2019
    Messages:
    3,497
    Likes Received:
    10,022
    I hope it’s helpful. The good thing is there are lots of options out there. Probably never been a better time to be a guitarist!
     
    markd21 and Tonart like this.
  7. Xtcclassic

    Xtcclassic New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2021
    Messages:
    53
    Likes Received:
    83
    This is one of the main reasons I like nitro. When poly gets dinged, it looks worse than a similar ding on a nitro finish, and it’s pretty much there forever. Whereas with nitro, it’s more easily repairable, at least with smaller dings. And nitro just ages better when it does collect dings and scratches. Another thing, poly seals the wood up and it doesn’t age like it does with a nitro finish which allows the wood to breathe. And I don’t like the feel of poly as much, I associate it with cheaper guitars. Not knocking anyone who prefers poly, but I’ll take nitro over poly every time given the choice.
     
    El Fenix and RickP like this.
  8. Tonart

    Tonart Tone of the Art......or is that backwards?

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2018
    Messages:
    2,471
    Likes Received:
    8,942
    Great observation. After years of paying attention to the sound of various electric guitars, I would that say apart from resonance and sustain, the ability of a guitar’s body to affect the very vibration of the metal string, in a pronounced but pleasant musical way, in effect imparting its own sonic characteristic - that is what makes a great electric guitar. That is what made the vintage revered 50’s guitars great, IMO.

    For me, when a guitar achieves that effect, nothing can ever substitute it, be it in the pure physical sense or in terms of value. Not amps, not pickups, electronics nor fingers. That’s what makes me love guitars, electric or acoustic. There’s a certain sophistication and mystique to it, almost an art form you could say. :)

    I also believe that to be the ultimate aim of any serious guitar maker.
     
    #8 Tonart, May 1, 2021
    Last edited: May 1, 2021
  9. Tone-y

    Tone-y New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2018
    Messages:
    983
    Likes Received:
    1,852
    Of course there are several different finishes that you're covering here.
    You have the "pf09" nitro that has appeared on some limited editions and private stocks over the years (since 2009).
    You have the new "cracking" nitro finish on some limited editions and private stocks. This is much more like old style vintage nitro.
    And then you have the new CAB nitro finish which is what they are putting on core models instead of the old V12 poly. This is a hybrid finish rather than pure nitro and doesn't suffer from those old nitro issues.
     
    bodia and RickP like this.
  10. jak3af3r

    jak3af3r Jake

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2018
    Messages:
    683
    Likes Received:
    1,738
    Topcoat doesn't matter when you still have to lay down a sealer coat under it.
     
  11. bodia

    bodia Authorities said.....best leave it.....unsolved

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2015
    Messages:
    26,786
    Likes Received:
    46,681
    Great post, Rick. You nailed it.
     
    Tonart and RickP like this.
  12. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2012
    Messages:
    27,100
    Likes Received:
    30,630
    I spend my working life in the studio. That doesn't make me an expert by any means, but I do have...opinions. ;)

    I find that the guitars with the nitro finish please my ear more. That doesn't mean they're any better than the ones with poly, just that they're slightly different. The problem for the science fans, of course, is that there are other ongoing PRS upgrades to hardware, etc., that may play a role beyond the nitro.

    Still, I have 4 Private Stock guitars and one of the 2020 Wood Library models (all with nitro) dating back to 2013, and I honestly think they're the nicest sounding guitars I've ever owned out of the 35-40 PRSes I've had since 1991.

    It certainly isn't a matter of me claiming I can hear any better than anyone else, but many years of studio work have me convinced PRS is heading in the right direction (for my tastes) with the nitro finishes.

    I did not believe that nitro was any better sounding than anything else until I got my first PS with nitro. Then I 'got it'. In fact, I as a guy who formerly played Gibson (and I still have a 1965 SG Special), I was worried about sticky, gloopy nitro finishes. I needn't have been worried at all.

    PRS' recent nitro finishes aren't sticky, and I see no issues with the finishes on my guitars. I do keep them cased when not in use for a variety of reasons.

    I would also note that Collings use a nitro-over-poly basecoat finish, and my experience with their acoustics was also a factor in convincing me to try nitro. My PRS PS acoustic cured me of my Collings addiction. ;)
     
    #12 LSchefman, May 1, 2021
    Last edited: May 1, 2021
    El Fenix, Aahzz, Tonart and 3 others like this.
  13. Would’e?

    Would’e? New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2021
    Messages:
    15
    Likes Received:
    15
    Back to playing devil’s advocate a bit: I’m seeing ridiculous things like (woo) the wood “breathing” better with a nitro finish. Just like I know there is no such thing as “god,” I know this is magical thinking. These are all different plastics. I know the finish doesn’t affect tone in any significant way. Maybe I was being slightly disingenuous. Does Paul believe this happy horseschidt? And yes, fixing a nitro ding from breathing hard on the guitar is easer than fixing a poly ding, but breathing hard on the guitar is also not likely to cause a ding on a poly finished guitar in the first place. Yes, I know I am deliberately trying to push buttons here and employing hyperbole, but my opinion is fairly clear that the primary concern with any finish is hardness and durability. I guess I am honestly annoyed at what I perceive as a marketing-driven shift toward using an inferior finish vs. one that provides the only benefit a finish can and should provide.
     
    #13 Would’e?, May 2, 2021
    Last edited: May 2, 2021
  14. RC Mike

    RC Mike New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2020
    Messages:
    183
    Likes Received:
    493
    I know very little about finishes. I know very little about tone. What I do see is there’s been a seeming dissatisfaction with the old poly finish for at least 15 years. V12, pf09 (or whatever that was), PS nitro, thin nitro, and the new nitro over CAB.

    None of that can be cheap to develop or implement. Changing production methods introduces equipment, training, and environmental/facilities expenses. It introduces delays into a company that has significant production backlogs and difficulties in keeping up with demand.

    In other words, there has to have been pretty good reason for trying to implement new finish processes. Those might be driven by business reasons. Maybe the desire to produce a better product. In any event, it can’t be easy or cheap to make such changes.
     
    Geo408, bodia, El Fenix and 1 other person like this.
  15. shimmilou

    shimmilou Established in 1963

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2018
    Messages:
    2,499
    Likes Received:
    4,168
    It must suck to be as miserable as you seem to be.
     
    AjCalderon, bodia, LSchefman and 3 others like this.
  16. RickP

    RickP Established 1960, Still Not Dead

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2019
    Messages:
    3,497
    Likes Received:
    10,022
    I covered all that in the first post. Buy what you think works.
    [​IMG]
     
    #16 RickP, May 2, 2021
    Last edited: May 2, 2021
  17. andy474x

    andy474x Knows the Drill

    Joined:
    May 4, 2012
    Messages:
    4,141
    Likes Received:
    3,880
    It's been a bit since my chem degree days, but this is the gist of CAB (Cellulose Acetate Butyrate):

    "CAB is often used in coating formulations where low application viscosities at relatively high solid content are required. When added to coating formulations, it improves many coating properties like hardness, leveling, solvent resistance, clarity and gloss while it reduces dry-to-touch time, cratering, orange-peel and blocking. Due to CABs superior properties, it finds many uses in coatings including metal and wood coatings."

    So, before we get all hung up on the "nitro" in the nitro over CAB formulation, I assume the CAB part, from a production perspective, is a good material to use. Basically sounds like they can get a dense, hard, thin layer with quick dry time and good appearance.

    Add to that, it's been successfully used on PS guitars for quite a while now, so I don't think this is a whimsical change purely for marketing purposes. Not saying it doesn't help, but it's a tested finish that has proved its merits, so not sure what there is to complain about.
     
  18. Tonart

    Tonart Tone of the Art......or is that backwards?

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2018
    Messages:
    2,471
    Likes Received:
    8,942
    You appear to already have a firm and good answer to your own question. That being the case, might as well just stick with it, instead of asking anew.
     
    bodia, RickP and Aahzz like this.
  19. Faded

    Faded Friend of the Devil

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2012
    Messages:
    219
    Likes Received:
    208

    You’re wrong.

    The primary purpose of a finish isn’t durability and hardness. If that were the case we should just encase the instruments in concrete. I’m sorry for “employing hyperbole”, but it’s only to demonstrate the wrongness of your opinion.
     
    AjCalderon, shimmilou and bodia like this.
  20. LSchefman

    LSchefman Hears Tones

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2012
    Messages:
    27,100
    Likes Received:
    30,630
    You're certainly entitled to your opinion, and at one time I would have agreed with you. Yes, they're plastics, nitro being an early form of plastic. However, plastics have different properties, need to be molded with different material thicknesses, different flexibility, some weigh more than others, etc. In the form of paint, some produce a thicker coating, some a thinner one, simply as a result of their formulation.

    For example, polyethylene and styrene are both plastics. Yet they have different properties. Polyethylene is rubbery and flexible, styrene is hard and brittle. If you tap on a piece of styrene you get a different sound than you get if you tap on polyethylene. Guitars vibrate, and this vibration is transmitted to the strings, which is why different guitars sound different from one another. Perhaps encasing a guitar in polyethylene would sound different from encasing one in styrene (rhetorical question, though it makes sense to me that polyethylene might dampen vibrations a bit).

    However, the proof is in the tone of the guitars. If you can hear the difference, great, if not, also great. I think there's a difference. One that I can think of is that nitro can be sprayed thinner.

    As for your claim of it just being hype, Paul Smith claimed as far back as 1992-93 with the Artist II (one of which I owned) that a thinner finish resulted in a better sounding instrument. The Artist II came with a thinner finish. Paul's been consistent about this. Nitro is a thinner coating than poly.

    The good news for you is that you have the freedom to do whatever you want, and vote with your wallet. No one's forcing PRS' current product on you.
     
    Tom Bradovich, Mozzi, SinSir and 5 others like this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice