Modern Gretsch Guitars

Lacquer Finish vs. Poly Finish???


Hello all. I'm new to the forum and plan to buy a high-end Gretsch in the near future. Could anyone tell me if the Gretsch guitars with the lacquer finish are worth the extra cash. Secondly, I know that some of the USA line of Fender guitars that claim to have a lacquer finish are really finished with poly and then a thin coat of lacquer is applied over the poly. Is this the case with Gretsch or are they truely lacquer finished guitars.

Thanks everyone!


Well, for durability, you can't go wrong with the poly finish. It does not mark up or scratch as easy as the lacquer. My 2005 6120SSLVO is a definite lacquer finish. I had a scrape on the guitar (OUCH!!!)fixed. My guitar tech touched up the area no problem and now the scrape is hardly noticeable.I gig frequently with this guitar and any little ding shows. Some say that the lacquer makes the wood resonate and breathe better thus resulting in better tone.


Lacquer vs. poly == a load of crap. They used lacquer "back in the day" because that's what they had. They use lacquer today because of nostalgia and they can charge you more.

Maybe, on an acoustic guitar, I might buy it. But on an electric? Hogwash.


Please PLEASE do a search here and at the "Forum Archives" (available in the menu to the right) for terms discussions on this topic. We've done it to death, with much good technical information from guys who know finish inside and out – and much opinionating from the rest of us.

Yes, we have it on informed authority that there's a thin coat of poly on the Gretschs, with lacquer over that.

Whether a guitar is worth more for lacquer may be a personal decision, and it may be based on hard science (in which you passionately believe) or it may be based on religious conviction.

I can barely tell any difference in look between the two finishes on current, professionally done high-end instruments. If there's a difference in tone, we'll never know – because to figure that out you'd have to have the same guitar finished both ways. (Like, SAME. Not identical specs, identical GUITAR.) And that's an impossibility.

My own opinion, formed casually over 40 years of messing with hundreds of guitars, is that any difference in tone between the finishes is within the margin of difference between any two individual instruments. Nother words, I don't hear it, and I haven't heard a compelling "scientific" argument to support it.

I have many guitars of each type. For appearance, durability, and repairability, both have their strengths and weaknesses, so that seems a wash.

When buying, I notice the lacquer vs poly listing in a guitar's spec – but it has no impact on my buying decision.

Your convictions may differ, and your question is very much germane. If you're buying for 100% lacquerness, it's my understanding that pro-line Gretschs are protected with poly. (I can't speak for the few mondo-pricey American-made Pro Shop instruments.)


Well if I went with a lacquer finish it would be because of the "feel" and not for the "protection" or lack thereof or because of any difference in sound.


Lacquer used to be easier to blend in on repairs, back when most good guitars were finished with lacquer.

Nowadays if you can find a tech that knows how to repair your guitar's lacquer you can finance his retirement plan.

I will say that I love the checkered patina on my 35 year old natural finish L5, but you'll likely not get the same effect in 35 years on an Anniversary LTV model.

So I don't mind old lacquer guitars, but I loathe the sticky feel of the neck on new ones while they're still off-gassing. I instantly reach for the ScotchBrite pads and can of Finger Ease when I wind up with say, a NOS Nocaster, etc.

Been there: I don' like it.


Feel. Ah. There again, a two-edged sword in my experience. My beloved 335, over 30 years old, still gums up – as does a new Rick 620.

Most lacquer, of course, doesn't. No problem with a Gretsch 6120GA, which is lacquer. If it feels any different than poly Gretschs, it's so slight I'd have to concentrate on it.

But I'll grant that "feel" is one of the things (along with the character of the lustre "within" the finish) that may – at least some of the time – differ enough to matter between the two.

For that purpose, I suppose having an overcoat of lacquer would suffice?

Oh, and a pox on my manners – welcome to the forum! Some mythic resonance in the nick?


For the purposes of an electric guitar, I can't really justify the supposed benefits of lacquer over appropriately applied polyurethane (particularly the increase in cost). If high quality 'thin' polyurethane finishes were available in the 1950's, I'd imagine all the major manufacturers would have used it. I can imagine that Fender, Gibson, Gretsch and co would have preferred their products to continue looking like they came direct from the factory, rather than having finish checking/finish cracking/bare wood exposure, occur throughout the guitar's lifetime.

Maybe the 'vintage' guitar market would be a very different beast to what it is today, along with all the associated electric guitar superstitions....if polyurethane finishes were mastered in the 1950's.

Whatever you decide, you can't go wrong with a modern Gretsch guitar, regardless of finish. Polyurethane or nitro lacquer, you'll be grinning whenever you pick the guitar up and play.


Rickenbackers are supposedly some sort of conversion varnish (more like a car finish than like either the poly or the lacquer we're talking about here). But yes, they do get sticky. I had an '89 620 that had a sticky neck... in 2004! My '97 325v63, though, has never had sticky-neck syndrome, and the neck has never been altered (buffed, sanded, etc.).

I have to say that I like the lacquer on the top of my vintage burst Heritage H150CM (USA Kalamazoo -made LP clone). IMO the lacquer has a look (lustre, as said above) to it that the poly doesn't have. The rest of the guitar (back, sides, neck), though, could be poly for all I care. I own as well a poly finished Epiphone Elitist Casino (Terada factory serial number). It's an outstanding guitar, looks-wise and tone-wise, poly notwithstanding. The same goes for my G6119HT and my G6128T-1957. They're poly finished and they're great guitars.

I think one thing that hasn't been said is that alot of the bad rap poly gets is because of poorly applied, or too heavily applied poly finishes. You're not going to see a crap poly finish on a Japanese Gretsch.


too heavily applied poly finishes. You're not going to see a crap poly finish on a Japanese Gretsch.

You're sure not. You have to go to a PRS for that!

Rickenbackers are supposedly some sort of conversion varnish (more like a car finish than like either the poly or the lacquer we're talking about here).

Actually the polyurethane (many mers) used on guitars IS very much like a car finish. PRS uses automotive color and clear.

One of my Guild acoustics had a sticky neck several weeks ago and since I sanded and compounded it's doing well.


Also please keep in mind that you can't spray "real" lacquer over enamel because it will cause the finish to lift or try to turn it back into a liquid. The alternative is to use a cat lac that is very close to being an enamel.

If I ever decide to finish rebuilding my 12 string I'm going to use Waterlox Marine Sealer which is a wiping varnish.


Thanks everyone for the replies. It really helps to have informed people like you.
Well since the Gretsch guitars do in fact have a poly coating under the lacquer, and I won't be able to get the worn feel over time, I think I'll go for a poly Gretsch.


"lacquer smells better."

In particular, if you have a sweet tooth.


"too heavily applied poly finishes. You're not going to see a crap poly finish on a Japanese Gretsch.

You're sure not."

Seems to me that I remember many a post here carping about "plastic-encased" Gretsches.

(Doesn't allow the wood to breath/age/whatever, you know. Of course, the interiors of these guitars are unfinished).


The other day I failed to leave the case slightly open so my guitar could breath and it died. Tragically and ironic that just the day before I was going to drill some holes in it's case to prevent this tragedy. Please a moment of silence.:omg:


Not from me, lionel.

Plastic encasement is, of course, a fate worse than death, but I think the point has been made that it was a feature of early poly processes, still available in some segments of the market where it's appreciated.

My GAWD, Curt, I leave so MANY guitars locked in their cases, for such long periods of time. Finally I understand. Their gremlin setup and electronic problems aren't quality issues – they're a natural part of ... (choking) ... decomposition!

Oh the guitanity!


I'd advise taking the guitars OUT of their cases before drilling...


I do recall seeing many "plastic-looking" Gretches, including my newest ones. Perhaps they could include some fake crazing in the finish.


I saw some very plastic looking Gibson Les Paul Standards at the Musician's Friend outlet. They looked worse than any poly Gretsch that I have seen. I'm not sure what the deal was with them.


Proteus it is good to see that someone else on the planet earth has read the Iliad and the Odyssey and knows the epic story of Jason and the Argonauts. :

And now for the GPD Classics lesson of the day:

Nestor also known as King Nestor is a character in these epic stories. In the epic story of Jason and the Argonauts he accompanies Jason on Jason's quest to find the Golden Fleece

In the Iliad and the Odyssey, Nestor is portrayed as the wise, sage, Proteus-like, hero of the Greeks. having great wisdom, experiences, and well respected. For more information on this and other epic Greek and Roman stories go to your local library and check out the Loeb Classical Library series. I personally would suggest you check out Ovid's Love Stories.

Now, class, I would ask that you all open your Latin grammar books and you decline the noun, plectrum giving an English translation.

Pax Gretsch!



Alright, it looks like it's time for the bi-weekly debate on Poly versus Lacquer again; yippie! Let me see, where did we leave off; last time Proteus did a 'float test' submerging poly versus lacquer Gretsch's in water to see how they performed, and then there was also the Pete Townsend Patented Stage Smash Testing that was conducted, what will it be this time? Aerodynamics perhaps, how would Gretsch's, Poly versus Lacquer fly say from the top of a 10+ story building? Maybe fire retarding abilities, which would be more likely to survive? How about using them as ammunition in a trebuchet, which would clobber the enemy more effectively down range, Poly or the dreaded vintage Lacquer?!?

Seriously, Nestor welcome to the forum. There's way too much discussion on this topic already, just set aside about 2.5 days of time and use the Search function and read to your hearts content.


"Aerodynamics perhaps, how would Gretsch's, Poly versus Lacquer fly say from the top of a 10+ story building?"

You should float that concept past David Letterman. He has a penchant for tossing things off of buildings.:nice:


Do we have any engineers on the site? I'm trying to determine the size of air holes required for both a 16" and 17" body. What makes it a little more complicated is the respiration rate of lacquer vs. poly.

Thanks in advance.

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