Best Acoustic Guitar Finish

If you have done your research, knowing which guitar finish is best for your guitar is a highly debated one. In fact, there is so much information on the web regarding the two most discussed kinds of finishes; nitrocellulose finishes, or what is referred to as “poly” finishes. So which is best for you? Perhaps a quick look at the pros and cons of each will help you to decide.

Nitro Finish

For over 90 years nitrocellulose (also known as nitro) has been the finish of choice for high quality guitars which has led to it being considered to be the only “real” choice for a finish in many peoples’ minds.

Early luthiers found that after applying a coat of nitro to a guitar you had an instrument that not only sounded good (courtesy of high quality construction) but looked good as well and helped to keep it looking good for longer than if no finish was applied.

While it is a fact that nitro is incredibly durable as a finish, there are a number of myths that have developed around nitrocellulose which many people cling to as being solid fact but which, in fact, are not provable. The fact of nitro is that it is time proven as a guitar finish. As the guitar ages, the nitro finish (which is softer than polly finishes) tends to yellow in patches which gives a nitro finished guitar a decidedly lived in look, but one which is considered to be a sign of a high quality instrument.

Polly Finish

The term “polly” finish is actually a catch-all phrase for any finish that is not nitrocellulose. This can include polyester, polyurethane enamel, UV curable acrylite, acrylic urethane, epoxy; it doesn’t matter, they all get lumped together as “polly” finishes and are viewed by many seasoned guitarists as being “bad” when in fact, as finishes go, they are just as good as Nitro finishes.

In truth, polly finishes tend to be harder and more durable than nitro finishes. The finish lasts longer giving the guitar a higher level of protection for a longer period of time, and it gives the guitar a high gloss look that many find appealing.

The Big Debate

The biggest debate between nitro and polly finishes is whether or not the type of finish affects the sound and resonance of the guitar. When it comes right down to it, there is no proven difference in tone between a guitar treated with a nitro finish and a guitar treated with a polly finish, where the difference comes in is in the thickness of the coat.

Polly guitar finishes tend to be thicker than nitro finishes, and it is the thickness of the finish that can lead to the difference in how a guitar sounds, for the heavier the coating of finish, the less the wood of the guitar will be able to resonate and the duller the sound will be. But if you were to compare a light poly coating with a coating of nitro finish, chances are that unless you have been playing guitar for a very long time, you will notice no difference whatsoever in the tone of the guitar.

How Do You Choose?

When it comes right down to it, choosing a guitar finish is a matter of personal preference. If you are looking for optimum resonance and volume, then you will probably want to choose a nitro finish. If you are looking for durability and appearance, then a poly finish will be a good choice for you. Painted Guitar

Or, you could just paint or sticker your finish!...(just kidding)

More Buying Tips

Return from Guitar Finish to Best Acoustic Guitars HOME

Winter Clearance Sale on Guitars at Musicians Friend. Save up to 88% MSRP!

Custom Search


E-mail Address
First Name

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Play Acoustic Guitar Newsletter.

Acoustic Guitar Reviews

Guitar Buying Guide

Child Guitar Reviews