#1
A bit over two years ago I bought a Fender American Standard Strat in a sunburst finish. A month or so later I bought a MIM Fender Strat with a wood pattern finish. It's not real wood, although it looks like it, and I don't think it's a laminate. I think the wood grain may actually be painted on underneath a clear coat.

A couple of months ago I bought a Gibson Les Paul Traditional in honeyburst.

The MIM Strat has been my practice guitar, and so has the most miles. It's the one that gets bumped against things and generally handled a little more roughly. I baby all of my things, though--guitars, car, guns, knives--so nothing ever really gets dinged.

What amazes me is that the MIM Strat has only a couple of very, very fine scratches in the finish. I have to look with a magnifier and a flashlight to see them. The American Standard has fine scratches all over, and the Les Paul already has some fine scratches. No need for a magnifier to see them.

If Fender could find a clear coat to use on the MIM Strat that doesn't scratch, why not use it on everything else? And why wouldn't Gibson find something similar?
#2
Gibson uses nitrocellulose lacquer finishes because it’s what they’ve used historically, and Gibson’s marketing generally positions the company as carrying on some traditional building techniques. It’s also an easy way for Gibson to sell guitars to cork-sniffers. Especially since many of the boutique builders competing with Gibson on the high end don’t mess with nitro because it’s highly flammable, toxic, and a good finish can take longer than building the guitar.

FWIW, Fender does use nitro finishes on some of the MIA guitars in the vintage and relic lines.
#3
Carmakers stopped using Nitrocellulose lacquer back in the '50's. Gibson and Fender bought their paints from the same suppliers (Duco by Dupont, etc.) and in fact, some colors are identical on some Fender and Gibson (and Cadillacs and Chevies) guitars because of it. But Gibson in particular kept using nitrocellulose, while most other guitars have moved to more modern finishes. Nitro truly is a crap finish in terms of protecting the guitar or maintaining its looks. But as JPNYC pointed out, Gibson Marketing has literally painted Gibson into a corner by pushing it as a "traditional" finish and pandering to the nostalgia of older buyers.
#4
I have noticed the same thing. The more expensive the guitar is, the thinner and more easily scratched is the finish.

What seems to be the common explanation is that the cheaper guitars are sealed in a very thick layer of polyurethane/polyester finish while the more expensive are made with more expensive and thinner coats of finish, thus making the guitar resonate better as it is less finish on the wood.

It can be all marketing, I can't say that the MIM Standards I've played necessarily were worse guitars than my American Standard. And by all means, I would prefer a more durable laquer on my Gibson Les Paul, but it is the way it is.

About the MIM Standard Sunburst though, I believe they use around 5-7 pieces of wood for the body, and then they use a very thin veneer on top and back. (I learned this from someone who went to a factory tour in Ensenada, and posted pictures on the internet.)

To sum it all up, I have found that features in the guitar world, they are many times viewed as such only because of opinions and marketing to a certain image of the perfect guitar - which in terms of Gibson and Fender often is their 1950's output. A conservative industry, this one.

Features is what the buyer believes is a feature. To me personally, I don't see a finish that will wear through in 5 years of playing as a feature, but some do because that is how it was in the 1950's.

EDIT: And don't forget "relics"... People pay $$$ for worn guitars.
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Last edited by HomerSGR at Aug 17, 2014,
#5
"nitro" lacquer finishes tend to be very thin. when they take a ding, it looks like a ding.

"poly" finishes are typically much thicker and can withstand a lot of abuse. when they do take a ding, it looks like cracked glass. this is why your MIM strat holds up better than the pricey guitars with nitro finishes.

here's pieces of a thick poly finish once it's stripped from a guitar.
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Last edited by gregs1020 at Aug 17, 2014,
#6
The MIM Strat is the woodgrain finish. I can't find a seam in the finish or a break in the pattern anywhere, so I don't think it's a veneer or a laminate. I think the finish is painted on.

The gloss on the MIM Strat is every bit as nice as on the American Standard or the Gibson. I really find it hard to believe that the composition of a clear coat would affect the sound of a guitar to the point where even a trained ear could tell the difference.

The Gibson is beautiful, and the traditional aspect of their guitars is great, but there's some areas where I think they should consider change. Take the "vintage" style input plate. It's plastic. Weeks after I bought the guitar new, the plate cracked. I bought a brand new Gibson plate and it cracked the first time I unplugged the guitar.

I did a search for "Gibson input plate cracked" and found tons of forum posts about the problem. This problem goes back to the 1950's, but the plate is still the vintage style. So, for over sixty years, the input plates on the higher-end Les Paul's have been cracking, and Gibson apparently views this as a feature and not a defect. What would be so terrible about having a plate that's plastic on the outside but has a metal core or a metal backing plate?
#7
Quote by gregs1020
"nitro" lacquer finishes tend to be very thin. when they take a ding, it looks like a ding.

"poly" finishes are typically much thicker and can withstand a lot of abuse. when they do take a ding, it looks like cracked glass. this is why your MIM strat holds up better than the pricey guitars with nitro finishes.

here's pieces of a thick poly finish once it's stripped from a guitar.


Not a very accurate generality, in my experience.

Depending on the model, the day, the worker, Gibson can lay on the nitro very thick.
Here's a thick nitro finish stripped from a Gibson R7:



Part of the reason for the "thin" mythology is that nitro isn't self-leveling.
On a car, on a guitar, on a piece of industrial machinery, a lacquer coating (even one 30 coats thick) will begin to transmit the topology of whatever it was painted over to the surface of the paint. This made hotrod builders crazy; they'd find themselves having to sand the car again a couple of years after they painted it to smooth the paint. When guitar players saw the wood grain appearing on the surface of the paint, they assumed the paint was thin. Nope. But that's how mythology starts.

"Poly" isn't an accurate term -- people use that name for anything NON-nitro.

I had some yahoo look at my 1939 Epiphone Emperor (which was refinished in a French Polish in 1969) last year, glance at the name on the headstock and ask if it was a nitro finish. It's very glossy, and he sniffed, "Sorry, but I really hate those cheap poly finishes." He made two assumptions -- one that it was a Chinese Epiphone of some kind (rather than the most expensive US-made Epiphone of its time and one that gave Gibson fits) and that it must be poly because it was un-nitro.

Gibson itself has used non-nitro paints on its guitars, following Fender's lead in using acrylic paint colors for the Firebird series guitars. But even Gibson called the metallic versions of the acrylic paints "poly" to distinguish the color from Fender's "metallic" designation. In almost every case, guitar paints are car paints.




There are a wide variety of "polywhatever" (polyester, polyurethane...) paints being used. Some of the first poly paint jobs were laid on very thick, and ever since them, mythology has ALL non-nitro paint jobs being very thick. Many of the modern paints are self-leveling and actually fill surface irregularities, and lend themselves easily to a gloss. That can give them the appearance of a thicker finish.

But modern finishing methods, especially those used by folks like Taylor (which uses a computer-driven robotic fixture and spray) actually lay down a thinner, more EVEN coat of finish than any human with a spray gun can do.



Since Taylor's reputation IS built on the tonal quality of their guitars, NOT loading them down with paint (while still providing excellent protection) is a priority.

Most modern car paint shops have gizmos that allow them to determine the actual film thickness of a paint job; I've used these on guitars with revealing and often surprising results. Gibson's finishes, for example, are all over the map, even within a single model of guitar. One car painter chuckled and said, "We could never get away with that."

Modern UV-catalyzed finishes can be dry to dry within a production environment in under 24 hours and ready for sanding. Nitro finishes can take up to 30 days. Gibson is well aware of modern finishing methods (and using them elsewhere), but can't use them on Gibson USA products for fear of offending the True Believers.
#8
Quote by dspellman
Not a very accurate generality, in my experience.

i don't doubt your experience. not for a second.

the TS was referring to a MIA fender and a MIM, both of which i've stripped down to wood.

i used "tend to" and "typically" to be sure not to over generalize, if that's even possible.



howevs, some MIM are a lacquer thin skin type of finish as well, i think the road worns are and a few other mim models.
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#9
On a car, on a guitar, on a piece of industrial machinery, a lacquer coating (even one 30 coats thick) will begin to transmit the topology of whatever it was painted over to the surface of the paint.


That I know of. When I restored cars, I'd spend as long as nine months block sanding primer-surfacer before ever applying the final color coat of lacquer. It was the only way to get a mirror finish that would last.
#10
Quote by gregs1020
i don't doubt your experience. not for a second.

the TS was referring to a MIA fender and a MIM, both of which i've stripped down to wood.

i used "tend to" and "typically" to be sure not to over generalize, if that's even possible.



howevs, some MIM are a lacquer thin skin type of finish as well, i think the road worns are and a few other mim models.


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#11
Quote by Monkeyleg
The MIM Strat is the woodgrain finish. I can't find a seam in the finish or a break in the pattern anywhere, so I don't think it's a veneer or a laminate. I think the finish is painted on.


That was exactly my point. The reason you don't find a seam is because they are all hidden under a very thin layer of veneer. One piece of veneer covering the front, and one piece covering the back.

Pic from the factory showing supposed body blanks for MIM Standard Series:

http://www.strat-talk.com/forum/attachments/stratocaster-discussion-forum/42900d1340230064-1998-made-mexico-fender-strat-solid-body-wood-type-alder-bodies-w-veneer-billet-form-fender-mim-factory-large.jpg

Another: http://lh6.ggpht.com/_5NbpJO8DJfM/RU_mQ7kjABI/AAAAAAAAAQ0/2RNHJbjge2U/s800/IMG_5898.JPG
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Last edited by HomerSGR at Aug 17, 2014,
#12
dspellman's post should be a sticky.

The other myth is that nitro allows the wood to 'breathe'. No, no it doesn't. It is as effective a barrier to air and moisture as poly or any other car paint.
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#13
I'd like to add this is not only the case with the coating but also with the wood.

Cheaper laminate acoustics for example can take far more than a high end taylor made of several 1 ply woods.

This is because it seems to resonate better with less layers, but also makes it less rigid.

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#14
Thanks for the replies.

That was exactly my point. The reason you don't find a seam is because they are all hidden under a very thin layer of veneer.


Okay. How is it that the woodgrain patterns of the pieces of veneer all line up perfectly? I can't spot a break in the pattern anywhere.
#15
Quote by Monkeyleg
Thanks for the replies.

Okay. How is it that the woodgrain patterns of the pieces of veneer all line up perfectly? I can't spot a break in the pattern anywhere.


There shouldn't be a break in the pattern, should there? Where do you look?
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#16
HomerSGR, I guess I'm not understanding what you're saying. Are you saying that the veneer is one piece or two or more? I'm just trying to figure out how the guitar body could be covered with something that has a pattern, and not show a seam where the pattern meets.
#17
Is it a natural finish with just clear over it, or a burst or what. Pics would help. Im certain your guitar is "real wood". If its a natural clear they either did a great job grain matching or you got lucky and got a one piece body. It would be too time consuming for them to paint on a woodgrain.
#18
I found the seams. They did an excellent job of matching the grains, so there's no abrupt changes.

The grain pattern is too nice for a $650 guitar for it to be real. I would think it's a laminate of some kind. Under the pickguard it looks to be a plywood.
#19
Monkeyleg, correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that you're under the impression that the woodgrain pattern you seen on the top of the guitar is made by the finish. It is not. That's just the wood. The finish is transparent, and just provides a color palette that tints the wood. Nobody paints on woodgrain. That would just be a waste of time. Your guitar is probably a one-piece body, made entirely of Alder or Ash (quite possible, depending on the model), in which case the wood grain you're seeing is the actual grain of the Alder or Ash. If it's one of Fender's "Plus Top" models, then it's a thin layer of another kind of wood laid on top. Most likely maple, if it has a flame or quilt pattern to it. If that's the case, it's definitely still real wood. Just a relatively thin cut of it, laid on top of the body wood, and then glossed over.
#20
Quote by Monkeyleg
I found the seams. They did an excellent job of matching the grains, so there's no abrupt changes.

The grain pattern is too nice for a $650 guitar for it to be real. I would think it's a laminate of some kind. Under the pickguard it looks to be a plywood.


There are $225 guitars that have a 1/16th" layer of real flame maple over a mahogany body. There's really no reason to use a plywood underneath on a $650 guitar. And there's nothing "too good to be true" about it; that's just current guitar production.
#21
And there's nothing "too good to be true" about it; that's just current guitar production.


I guess. It's just that I spent $1100 on the American Standard and $2000 on the Les Paul. The $650 MIM Strat is the guitar I play the most, in part because it feels the best in my hands. It's not lacking for quality. I just figured they'd cut corners somewhere.

I'd looked at the American Deluxe in Amber, but I liked this one better for appearance. The Amber just looks orange to me rather than woodgrain.