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Finish on guitar body and fretboard

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(@peu239)
Active Member
Joined: 10 years ago
Posts: 8
Topic starter  

Hello guys,

I have a Am. Standard stratocaster. The finish on its body is polyurethane, and I read somewhere it won't wear out like nitrocellulose, and won't let the guitar "breath" like nitro. I started to wonder if the finish alters the sound or not, if it would sound better with nitro.

The same goes to the maple fretboard, it is also finished with poly (I think) and can't wear out. I've seen maple fretboards that are finished with satin or nitro, I'm not sure.. and those can wear out. Is there any difference in sound?

Thank you, every opinion will be helpful!!


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(@s1120)
Prominent Member
Joined: 13 years ago
Posts: 849
 

Will it sound diferent? Yes... better??? thats up to your ear.

Paul B


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(@peu239)
Active Member
Joined: 10 years ago
Posts: 8
Topic starter  

Hmm, but how does it affect? It's brighter, less sustain, or what?


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(@greybeard)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 5899
 

Here's a piece by Ron Kirn ( http://www.ronkirn.com/quest.htm ).

It just about sums up my feeling on the subject.

Final thought: Cars used to be painted in nitro. No-one ever came up with the idea that a car would sound different if it were painted in something other than nitro, did they?

I started with nothing - and I've still got most of it left.
Did you know that the word "gullible" is not in any dictionary?
Greybeard's Pages
My Articles & Reviews on GN


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(@minorkey)
Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 196
 

I think a lot will depend on tone wood used, size of guitar, and whether solid or laminate.

If I go blind guide me. If I go deaf shoot me
http://mymusictree.blogspot.co.uk


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(@peu239)
Active Member
Joined: 10 years ago
Posts: 8
Topic starter  

Hello everyone, thanks for the answers.
greybeard, great article about guitar. Looks like the finish doesn't make A LOT of difference, but makes a little...


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(@peu239)
Active Member
Joined: 10 years ago
Posts: 8
Topic starter  

But what does your final thought have to do with the discussion? Cars aren't supposed to sound like anything, unlike guitars...


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(@minorkey)
Estimable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 196
 

Are we talking acoustic here or electric, cos the finish wouldnt make any difference on an electric!

If I go blind guide me. If I go deaf shoot me
http://mymusictree.blogspot.co.uk


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(@chris-c)
Famed Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 3460
 

HI,

I believe that the article Greybeard linked to is exactly right. For the vast majority of us, any difference is too small to detect in a genuine blind test. I've actually conducted blind tests on aspects of various instruments with a friend in his music shop, and the results were exactly as reported with the speakers in that article. If the tests are truly 'blind' then differences that you swear you can hear somehow just evaporate...

My own feeling (and please do feel free to disagree) is that the order of importance for the sound goes roughly like this:

  • 1. The player's fingers. The touch, timing and talent of the player is No 1 in the chain. B.B. KIng will sound like B.B. KIng no matter what guitar he has (within reasonable limits) . I won't. I'll only ever get to be a pale imitation. I do however do a fair job of sounding like myself, for better or worse.

    2. The effects in the chain. A small tweak of a knob on an effects pedal can make more difference than any number of layers of finish.

    3. The amp itself. Different amps really do have noticeably different characters.

    4. The pickups. Even I can hear the difference when I swap out pickups or change from bridge to neck, etc. It can be subtle or reasonably obvious, but it's clearly there.

    5. The construction of the guitar. Depending on how big a difference (i.e solid versus hollow or semi-hollow) this can move up the list. But in reality you often don't get to make direct comparisons as the pickups will also usually be different too.

    6. The wood used. Now were getting into argument territory. Yes, I could pick the difference between a cheap plywood acoustic versus a decent solid wood one. But between two guitars from the same maker that were only one step apart in the price chain? Maybe, maybe not.

    7. Finish. No, I can't tell any difference at all. Perhaps some can, but I can't. However, if you think a red guitar sounds better than a blue one, then it can actually have a psychological effect and loop back to point 1 - your fingers. I have a couple of black guitars that I really like the look of, and I do feel that I get into a better playing mood when I'm using them than if they were resprayed some sickly colour I disliked. Emotional states do affect music. So if you think the finish makes a difference, then it might just do so, but via your brain and fingers.

  • So what would your list look like? Similar or different?

    Cheers,

    Chris


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    (@greybeard)
    Illustrious Member
    Joined: 19 years ago
    Posts: 5899
     

    I agree with Chris, although I'd add strings somewhere between 3 and 5 on his list. New/worn, brand, gauge, coated/uncoated - they all play a greater part than the finish in terms of tone.

    I started with nothing - and I've still got most of it left.
    Did you know that the word "gullible" is not in any dictionary?
    Greybeard's Pages
    My Articles & Reviews on GN


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    (@imalone)
    Reputable Member
    Joined: 12 years ago
    Posts: 267
     

    From a physics point of view there is reason to think finish might make a difference, more to an acoustic that anything with magnetic pickups (the effect on the string vibration is going to be minimal, but exactly how the top vibrates is going to depend on surface effects and this is a big part of what you hear from an acoustic, the electrical path is much more important). However the difference is going to be one between lacquer and a thick layer of rubber, the exact difference between thin layers of hard material will be small. And I'll leave it to those with experience of listening to these difference (Chris) to tell you whether it's inaudible.

    Different finish on the fingerboard though is possibly another thing altogether?


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    (@peu239)
    Active Member
    Joined: 10 years ago
    Posts: 8
    Topic starter  

    Thanks everyone for the answer. I love the sound of my guitar, and it's finished in poly. But I'm a bit crazy, so sometimes I start to think if I could sound even better if some things were different, like the finish, wood, etc...


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    (@citizennoir)
    Noble Member
    Joined: 15 years ago
    Posts: 1248
     

    Hey, everyone (%

    Well, while I haven't been contributing much around here lately, I still check in from time-to-time.
    I have to say that what I've been reading here the last few months is absolutely astounding!
    It would seem - from what I've gathered - that only acoustic guitars benefit from changes in materials and construction....
    Electric guitars? They must ALL sound the same. The only thing that can affect their tone is who plays them (and of course a change of strings ).

    Not to pick on you, Chris - But we've all heard that saying: B.B. King (enter favorite tone player here), would sound like B.B. King no matter what guitar he played.

    Well, his signature playing STYLE may be detectable to some of you no matter what - But his tone?
    Most of you are probably familiar with his latest tone - that shrill sound he's got going on. He gets that from his ES-355 thru a Lab series SS amp.
    Take a listen to his stuff from the 60's - when he played an ES-335/345 thru a Fender Twin Reverb or Super (Tube amps).
    Not quite the same TONE, aye? Same STYLE, sure.

    Maybe that dif is down the the amps more than the guitar - Okay.

    How about a guitar player like Clapton. Well known for playing Strats.
    Does, Bell Bottom Blues sound like Tales of Brave Ulysses?

    Sure they were different amps too. In one he plays a Marshall, in the other a Tweed Fender. Marshall's were based on a Fender Tweed, though.

    It couldn't be that in one song he plays a Gibson and in the other a Strat?

    I think you're all missing it, badly. It's like trying to figure out what ONE thing makes a set of pups sound different from another.... It's not ONE thing, it's how 'the whole' works together that makes the difference. Just like vitamins. They can be isolated, but some are not much good without the whole matrix from the natural setting they came in.

    Guitars are a lot like that. I have two Strats. They both look like Strats. They both sound like Strats. Do they sound the same?
    Not even close! How can that be!? My fingers play both of them, with the same lead into the same amp.... That must make them sound the same - right?
    Well, aside from maybe the lead plug-in, there isn't one thing on either guitar that's the same.
    So, does one sound different from the other cos of the finish? The woods? The bridge? The nut? The tone pots? The wiring?
    The tuning machines? The neck joint? The different neck profiles? The frets? The age difference? The construction?

    Nah - Must be cos I have different strings on them. That and the pups are different. Those are the only things that make a difference on electrics after all. lol

    Chris wrote:
    "Finish. No, I can't tell any difference at all. Perhaps some can, but I can't. However, if you think a red guitar sounds better than a blue one, then it can actually have a psychological effect and loop back to point 1 - your fingers. I have a couple of black guitars that I really like the look of, and I do feel that I get into a better playing mood when I'm using them than if they were resprayed some sickly colour I disliked. Emotional states do affect music. So if you think the finish makes a difference, then it might just do so, but via your brain and fingers."

    I think that's very true. I personally don't care for candy apple red Strats. I think if I played one, I might not be as excited and my playing would suffer greatly. But even deeper than that, playing a guitar is something that you can physically FEEL. Touch cannot be understated in your happiness with a guitar. Have you ever felt the difference between a poly finished guitar (plastic) and a vintage guitar with a nitro finish (natural)? Have you ever felt a nitro finish guitar buzz wildly and vibrate with life in your hands? Have you ever felt a poly finished guitar fizzle out? How about the way nitro wears out and the patina that it acquires over time....? Quite a thing of beauty (%
    And that translates to a better emotional state when playing.

    About blind tests - I have a pretty good ear for tone. Every single time I heard a song and said to myself: That's a Mapleboard Strat! I was 100% right after following up on it and finding out what was played. Does that mean I can tell WHENEVER I hear one? No. But when they make their signature sound, I can tell, without question. So, tell me again how the only difference in an electric are the pups?

    I must stress that HEARING a guitar being played and PLAYING one that you hear are two different things. So blind tests are a difficult thing to be sure. Like I said, playing a guitar involves FEELING and TOUCH. You don't have those to rely on when just listening. To go with the car bit - Watching a top fuel dragster fly down the 1/4 mile is exciting, no doubt.... But quite a bit different from being the one who pilots it! Regardless of what it was painted with!

    I can say that my 71 Strat has greater sustain and the notes bloom and decay so sweetly it's unbelievable (In comparison to my 88 MIA). Would I know that JUST from listening? Probably not. I know that cos I can tie it in with the way the 71 resonates in my hands when that particular phenomenon is occurring.

    Well, I've rambled on too long now, I'm sure. Sorry if I ruffled any feathers (Not picking on you either, Greybeard )

    Good seeing you all again (%

    Ken

    "The man who has begun to live more seriously within
    begins to live more simply without"
    -Ernest Hemingway

    "A genuine individual is an outright nuisance in a factory"
    -Orson Welles


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    (@trguitar)
    Famed Member
    Joined: 15 years ago
    Posts: 3711
     

    Everything will make a difference. The question is does it matter to you and if so what one do you like better? This is where the matter of taste comes in.

    How processesed or distorted is your tone? Thats gonna make it harder to tell differences.

    The air temperature and humidity affect the sound. Sound waves will travel differenty through different mediums, an extreme example being through water.

    To me and with my amp tone, I don't notice any difference with nitro or poly. I do find nitro can feel more sticky to me. (Someone once posted this is due to it not being cured yet but it's a 20 year old guitar and still feels tacky to me when I sweat) Now the board, that is more the wood than the finish to me. Here is where we are back to the players fingers and feel. Harder boards feel and play different so I sound a little different on them. Rosewood boards are oiled and not sealed so that is different and harder woods have to effect the tone as well. Again the question, how much and does it matter to you. To me the feel difference is a bigger issue than the sound difference.

    "Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard,
    grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em."
    -- The Webb Wilder Credo --


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    (@chris-c)
    Famed Member
    Joined: 16 years ago
    Posts: 3460
     

    Hi Ken,

    What took you so long? I thought you'd be the first to post on this topic! :D
    Not to pick on you, Chris - But we've all heard that saying: B.B. King (enter favorite tone player here), would sound like B.B. King no matter what guitar he played.

    Well, his signature playing STYLE may be detectable to some of you no matter what - But his tone?
    Most of you are probably familiar with his latest tone - that shrill sound he's got going on. He gets that from his ES-355 thru a Lab series SS amp.
    Take a listen to his stuff from the 60's - when he played an ES-335/345 thru a Fender Twin Reverb or Super (Tube amps).
    Not quite the same TONE, aye? Same STYLE, sure.

    Good points there. I think the word STYLE is really a key one when it comes to what we hear, and how we hear it.

    I do believe the old saying that “Tone is in the fingers” is substantially true though, but it doesn't imply that an artist can only have one tone - or one style for that matter. It just says that it's a crucially important factor in the overall impact. You can choose to change your style and sound just as you can swap guitars.

    A good example of what I mean happened to me yesterday. My son and I were doing the weekly shopping. The supermarket plays music but reasonably softly. We were concentrating on our lists and if somebody had jumped out from behind the baked beans with a clipboard and offered me $1,000 for every song that I could name that they'd played since since I entered the store, I would have scored zero dollars. Nothing at all had got onto my musical radar.

    But then my ears heard two or three notes and instantly switched the brain across to the music. In quick succession, the brain said "Allman Brothers! Dickey Betts! Ramblin' Man!" At no point did it think about whether it was a Strat, a Tele or a Les Paul, what the strings or pickups were, or whatever. If you gave me the track now and offered me another $1,000 I couldn't tell you what guitar he was playing if you gave me all day to listen. Some people could probably tell you with a good degree of accuracy, but I can't. I certainly couldn't tell you what strings or finish if you gave me a hundred years to think about it. Some of the best known guitars are quite versatile, and can produce a fair range of sounds and styles. It's not uncommon to read that an artist used a different guitar on a recording to the one we're familiar with seeing them play on stage.

    I'm not saying that woods make no difference, or that any other aspect has no effect. What I am saying is that there is an order of importance, and that some things make a much bigger difference than others. Some people, with a special interest in certain aspects would be able to hear differences that I can't, but I'm pretty certain that most people are nearer to my end of the deal.
    So, tell me again how the only difference in an electric are the pups?

    We can't tell you again, because nobody said that in the first place. What was said was that pickups can make a bigger difference than, for instance the finish, or the wood on the neck. That's not that hard to demonstrate in a real life test. Pickups can make a huge and very obvious difference, even to the relatively cloth-eared listener.

    I think that my mistake in the list above was not to include the music itself, right alongside the artist and his or her signature sound and style. If something comes on the radio, what do I recognise first? Assume it's not something I know well. For me, it will go something like this -

  • 1.Genre. I'll think blues, jazz, metal, reggae, country, ballad. pop or whatever.
    2. Artist style. I might think that it sounds like Mark Knopfler, or Sinatra, Fats Waller, Dave Brubeck, Billy Joel, or whoever. It might be an instrumental sound and style or a vocal one.
    3. Arrangement. I might then become more aware of the composition of the band - big or small, what instruments, etc.
    4. Instruments themselves. I may start to think about the sound of a particular instrument and wonder about how it was put together.
  • I have a thing called an Eleven Rack which produces a massive range of tones and effects. It's not just a piece of software, it's a decent sized box of electronic hardware wizardry that can model a huge range of amps and pedals. We could argue about how accurate it is, but it's power and versatility is beyond dispute. If I plug in my MIA Strat it does sound different from, say, the semi hollow Hagstrom Viking II with humbuckers rather than single coils. No question about that. I can hear the difference between the pickup positions on the Strat too. But these differences are blown away in significance by rolling the knobs on the rack around. I can go from light, clean and airy to viciously dirty and distorted with a couple of clicks. Some of the effects can make an acoustic folk guitar sound like a metal monster. Compared to that, the finish on the body is completely insignificant. A heavy duty effects chain can wipe out almost anything below it.

    If the noise coming out of the speaker(s) sounds 'folky' then I'll probably start playing in that style. If it sounds distorted and 'metally' then I'm likely to lay into the guitar in a very different style and tempo, regardless of what instrument is actually in my hands. The good thing is that they're all fun.

    Cheers,

    Chris


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