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Nitro vs Poly Guitar Finishes: Pros and Cons

Nitro vs Poly Guitar Finishes- Pros and Cons
Nitro vs Poly. Which is better? In the guitar world, the finish debate continues. Guitar Bomb looks at the Pros and Cons of each

Nitro vs Poly Guitar Finishes: Pros and Cons. In the world of guitars, the debate over nitro and poly finishes continues to spark discussions among enthusiasts. In this article, we’ll compare nitrocellulose, polyurethane, and polyester finishes, discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

The Quick Answer

Polyurethane guitar finishes offer durability and resistance to fading, chips, and scratches, making them a popular choice. Nitro finishes, on the other hand, are associated with high-end and vintage guitars, known for their unique characteristics. Let’s delve deeper into these finishes.

Nitrocellulose Finishes

Nitrocellulose Finishes

Nitrocellulose finishes have a rich history and were commonly used in the ’50s and ’60s by iconic guitar manufacturers like Fender and Gibson.

Today, they are still found on high-end guitars, especially those from Gibson. Nitro finishes are labor-intensive, involving multiple layers applied over several days and a final buffing to achieve a glossy or satin appearance.

– Ideal for achieving a “relic” look.
– Easier to repair if damaged.

– Prone to chipping and scratching.
– Labor-intensive application process.


Poly Finishes

There are two types of “poly” finishes: polyurethane and polyester. Both are easier to apply than nitro finishes, making them more common on modern guitars.

Polyurethane finishes are used on premium guitars, while more affordable options, like Mexican Fender guitars, typically feature polyester finishes.

– Resistant to fading and scratches.
– Durability over time.

– Challenging to repair if damaged.
– Can feel “plasticy” with a very thick finish.

Gibson Custom Shop Kirk Hammett Greeny

Does the Finish Affect the Tone?

Some argue that nitro finishes, being thinner and softer, make the guitar more “breathable” and potentially affect tone positively.

However, the tonal differences are often too subtle for most players to notice. Modern poly finishes are carefully applied, making them a competitive choice tonally.

Nitro vs Poly Guitar Finishes

Look and Feel

Poly finishes are slightly glossier and maintain their shine longer than nitro finishes, which are prone to fading.

While some players criticize poly finishes for feeling “plasticy,” this difference is more noticeable in cheaper guitars due to manufacturing quality rather than the finish type.

1977 vs 2022

Guitar Bomb Conclusion

Your choice of guitar finish depends on your preferences and priorities. If you value an aged or relic appearance and don’t mind the occasional cosmetic imperfection, nitrocellulose may be your choice. If durability and resistance to wear are essential, polyurethane or polyester finishes offer a practical solution.

Which Guitars Use Poly and Nitro Finishes?
– Polyester Finish: Fender Mexican
– Polyurethane Finish: Fender American, Squier
– Nitrocellulose Finish: Gibson, Fender Custom Shop

Whatever your preferred guitar finish, Guitar Bomb would recommend the Dunlop Maintenance Kit to keep it in good condition.

If you’re in the market for a new guitar, check out our Best Guitars 2023  for our Top 5 new electric guitars to help you make the best choice for your playing style and preferences.


This article contains affiliate links to Thomann that help finance the running costs of GuitarBomb.  If you buy something through these links, we will receive a small commission. Don’t worry as you pay the exact same price, and it costs you no extra to use these affiliate links for your purchases.

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