Just How Fragile Are Nitro Finishes?

Let’s be honest. Who doesn’t want a guitar that looks good? 

Sure, sound quality is of paramount importance, but an instrument with a nice finish is something nobody can say no to.  

A beautiful finish can upgrade the looks of your guitar. The good thing, you’ve got plenty to choose from! 

Shellac, Polyester, and the one we’ll discuss in this article: Nitrocellulose finish. 

Nitro finishes are first-class. But how fragile are they? 

The truth is nitro finishes are quite fragile. They aren’t the most robust option for a guitar paint. They crack and fog with temperature changes and skin contact. However, a fragile nitro doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a disadvantage. They have a unique look and some say they sound more open.

There are more details regarding nitro finishes and we are about to discuss them.

Keep on reading so you can see the why’s and how’s! 

Do nitro finishes damage easily?

Nitro finishes tend to damage relatively easily. They may crack and wear. 

What’s fascinating about this, is that many musicians believe this to be an advantage. 

Why? Because by purposely damaging the nitro, they recapture an older vintage style.

This process is known as “relicing” (or “road worn”) and makes your guitar look as if you were playing with it for decades. 

Of course, for musicians who want their six-string instruments to look brand new, relicing sounds like a nightmare. 

Most probably, a nitro-finished guitar will just damage on very specific parts. Especially parts that constantly rub certain materials or even the player’s skin. 

Do you want to know which materials affect nitro finishes? 

What does it take to damage a nitro finish? 

There are plenty of materials that could harm your nitro finish. 

Here are some of them: 

  • Leather 
  • Rubber 
  • Solvents (such as fingernail polishes or insect repellents) 

Bear in mind that prolonged contact with capos or guitar stands will damage your instrument as well. 

This won’t be a fact that you are willing to accept, but even sweat can damage the paint job of your guitar

Now your world is being torn apart. 

Why did I have to buy a nitro-finished guitar?” 

Why didn’t I buy one with a poly finish?” 

Why did I even buy a guitar???” 

Slow down, friend. There is a fair amount of steps you can take to prevent future regrets.   

How can I prevent my nitro finish from damaging? 

First of all, the wisest decision you can make to protect your nitro finish is simply to avoid contact with materials mentioned earlier in this article. 

Still, you’ll probably need more advice than just “keeping things away”. Especially since sweaty arms are an essential part of playing guitar.

Do not worry. We have a few of them! 

One thing you can do is to clean with unbleached cotton those parts where your guitar is touched. 

A Gibson soft cloth will do the work too.

We also have found on some forums that people recommend buying a Hercules wall hanger. They come with a “claw” that holds your instrument and accommodates the size of its neck

Lastly, the simplest, yet the most important step you can take: 

We encourage you to carefully place your guitar back into its case every time you finish playing. 

Seems obvious, I know. 

But never forget that the small actions are the ones that make things last in the long run.  

Will a damaged nitro finish affect my guitar’s integrity?

You might wonder whether or not a damaged nitro finish will condition your guitar. 

Relax! All in all, a worn nitro finish won’t affect your playing.  

Your guitar will look different, that’s all. 

However, it is important to notice that some musicians believe the contrary. 

More specifically, they believe that exposed wood can open up the tone of the guitar. 

Again, such an issue will cause a minimal difference in tone. 

Are poly finishes a bad alternative, then?

There’s a different choice for people who don’t want a nitrocellulose finish, and that’s the poly finish. 

They are, generally, way more durable. Thus, making them a superb alternative.  

What is more, they are easier to apply than nitro finishes. 

Nonetheless, the best characteristic to highlight is its resistance to cracks. This is important because the final result is risk reduction of paint cracking when exposed to expansion and contractions due to weather changes. 

Eventually, this reduction prevents any tone change, despite being minimal. 

To sum up, the short answer would be NO. Poly finishes are not a bad alternative at all. They are just a different, more glossy look, and to some players responsible for a duller sound.

Is there any benefit to having a nitro-finished guitar?

The benefits of nitro finishes are plenty. 

Starting with the fact that allows the wood to breathe. Resulting, as mentioned earlier, in some players claiming it to produce greater sustain and a more open sound. 

It is also relevant to mention its appeal. A nitro finish adds a gorgeous vintage color profile that will make you love your instrument even more.

Once again, a worn nitro-finished guitar looks marvelous too.

Check any Stevie Ray Vaughan picture on Google, for example. His Fender Stratocaster looked beaten up!

There were parts in which the nitro finish was gone, and you could spot the wood.

That guitar resembled a warrior full of scars.

Now, there’s no accounting for taste. Some people will just hate a guitar that has been treated like that.

As we usually say, the final answer is yours.

Do you like guitars with such an aesthetic? Do you prefer them nice and pretty?  


Here you have a quick summary of the main points in this article:

  • Nitro finishes are fragile, while poly finishes are more resistant
  • For many, fragile is not equal to poor quality
  • A nitro finish affects the sound of your guitar, but the difference is slight
  • It’s not impossible to protect a nitro-finished guitar from being damage

The majority will buy an instrument for the sake of playing. They will probably want to learn their favorite songs, and that’s it.

This is not bad at all.

However, we understand the importance of every single detail that a guitar provides. This includes its finish.

We sincerely hope this article has helped you make the final decision.