Hello Everyone,

Q. Does anyone know what Brand of Nitrocellulose Martin Guitar use?

I want to do some touch up on the top of an OMCPA 1 Plus and want to use a lacquer that will not react with whatever brand Martin use.

I did contact Martin Guitars but they will not give me the brand.

I have some Behlen Stringed Instrument Lacquer but don't know what will happen.

This is a lovely guitar so don't want to ruin it!

Q. Are Nitro's basically the same / similar and is it possible to get some sort incompatibility problem.

Any help and advice would be very much appreciated.

Steve Burch


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As a rule, various brands of nitrocellulose lacquer are compatible.  Even with knowlege of the brand, you may not have access to the exact formulation provided to a large factory, so I think it's basically not worth the chase. . .

Dear Frank,

You are so very kind for getting back to me.

What happened to me was that I put some Clear Mylar .005" on the front of a new Martin for extra protection as the pick guard doesn't offer enough protection.

I used your wet method for which I am very thankful but in the process a few drops of water got up next to the bridge and raised the finish. If I had just left it alone it would have just gone back to normal,tried to push down the raised bits with a soft cloth. it now has some small depressions which I want spot fill and then Air Brush a few coats.

It is a tiny area but I feel ashamed that I didn't think more before I acted.

I really appreciate your advice as you are a legend in this field.

Just your 'Razor Blade Trick' has meant a lot to me.

I hope you stay happy and healthy for many years into the future.

Steve Burch


Hi Steve , Im Aussie too , I use Mirotone lacquer and dont have any trouble , I once tried Wattyl but never again .Maton and Cole Clark use Mirotone too .

Hi Len,

Thank you very much for your help.

Steve Burch

Hi Steve,

We use Durobond (North Sydney, Google them) for our guitars, , it's a straight nitro system including sanding sealer and premium thinners which I have got used to very well over the years - its designed as a musical instrument finishing lacquer and is a bit harder than the normal sticky stuff you see on Gibsons and furniture finishes (Wattly - never ever, Mirotone maybe) and buffs very well after it gasses out.   Not really answering yr question , just spreading the news out here in the antipodes.  Behlen should be fine.


Thank you very much for getting back to me Russell.

All the best.


Hi Steve,

 I find it a little unusual that a few drops of water are responsible for lifting nitro lacquer. I used mirotone for 30 yrs (not on instruments) & it is a good nitro lacq. BUT - after contracting bladder cancer last year I have switched to solely waterbased finishes now( & oil, shellac etc). I used Resene Aquaclear on the binding of the rare Aria I recently repaired - also to fill chips in lacquer when old binding removed - excellent result. I have used this on several dining tables with exc results. In my opinion waterbase finishes have finally overtaken nitro not just in safety but are more scratch resistant & durable. Nitro is now obsolete in my workshop.

 The skill you need to apply most finishes will only come from experience & trial & error - & advice form the great people on this site..

 Don't try & gain this exp on high grade instr. Buy a $10 guitar solely for practice & u won't feel bad about dropping it in the bin if things go wrong.

 After buffing the Aria you could not tell the difference in the finish.

 Shame on Martin guitars for not helping you to keep your pride & joy in original condition.



Hi Dean,

Thank you for your thoughts.

What happened is the side of the bridge got a few drops of water on it.

I think what happened is the bridge swelled ever so slightly causing the lacquer to raise and buckle. The lacquer didn't come away from the top. If I had just left it alone it would have been fine. (we live and learn no matter how old we get we still make mistakes).

I have had a response from Frank Ford and he has told me that the majority of Nitro's are compatible.

I certainly agree with you on the use of water based lacquer. It probably won't be long before there is a worldwide ban on Nitro.

I am sorry to hear of your health issues and hope that you get well again.

Steve Burch

Martin claims that they only use Nitrocellulose but they have used different variants.

I did a bridge R&R a few years ago on a 1993 D-93 to correct a lifting problem. When I was cleaning up the Spruce around the bridge margin, my chisel slipped a bit and peeled up a flake of finish about as large as my little fingernail. It seemed like it was not bonded well with the Spruce and it came up way to easily. I placed it where it should go and wicked lacquer thinner with retarder under it to stick it down. All it did was curl up. Then I applied some Butyl Cellosolve, also with no effect other than the bit of finish stayed soft and flexible.

At that point I was convinced that I was dealing with a Poly finish. I contacted Martin about it and was told that it is Nitrocellulose but had a cross-link additive. I ended up sticking the chip down and repairing the damage with CA that I leveled and buffed, the same way I  would patch small Poly repairs.

I later did a bridge R&R on a 98 D-18V and had very minor, tiny chip outs that I wanted to clean up. This would normally just take some drop fills with lacquer, level, buff, done. The finish was exhibiting similar qualities to the D-93 finish, resistant to lacquer thinner. The finish was not lifting anywhere and I went ahead with the lacquer drop fills, which stuck, leveled and buffed well. The imperfections where too tiny to see if bonding regular Nitro to the cross-linked stuff left any witness lines.

The 80's and earlier Martins that I have done touch up work on have all been regular Nitro finishes that could be dissolved with lacquer thinner or Butly Cellosolve and easily repaired. Any quality Nitrocellulous lacquer labeled as instrument finish should be fine for most of these lacquer repairs.

I'm pretty sure that Martin did/does not use the cross-link lacquer on all there models. I also have no idea of which years or if they are still using it currently. I do know that I don't like the cross-link stuff!

Hi Steve,

 here is how I used to repair nitro.

 I would never try & reattach chips etc. Rub back the area until no loose material visible. Quite often you will get a white mark where lacq separates from wood - this needs to be removed(sanded)Use 400 then 600 grit - dry. Airbrush several coats until hollow is filled - allow to dry thoroughly between coats or repair will "sink" over time as trapped solvents dissipate. After at least 24 hrs - preferably a few days, sand flush with 2000 grit wet. Hand rub or buff with 3M fastcut compound & finish with fine cut(swirl remover) if necessary. This method is only for full gloss finish.

 I have done quite a bit of testing of waterbase finish & when I dug my thumbnail heavily into finish & tried to scratch it the wood was dented but no scratching, whiting or separation of the lacquer. I did hot coffee cups straight out of the microwave oven& frozen - very wet beer glass(tests done over summer) - the test board stayed on my coffee table for about 3 months. Not a mark. WB can be sanded with paper or steel wool - no clogging & scratching that comes with paper.

 My health is currently good - 1 year clear. Thank you for your concern & my best wishes go to Frank & anyone who might be "under the weather" .



Dear Dean,

I am pleased to hear your health is good!

Thank you very much for your suggestions.

I have air brush this area and it has turned out very well.

I will still need to do a very fine sand and maybe a flash coat after that (around 3 weeks).

I have medium, fine and swirl remover.

Recently I experimented with using a tiny little felt buffing wheel on the minimum speed on a dremel to remove micro scratches and this works very well.

All the best.

Steve Burch


Hi Steve,

I can explain the finish raising. Martin pockets (routs) the bridge into the spruce which cuts into the end grain a bit. Water flows into that and raises the grain. Attempting a finish repair this close to the bridge is pretty dicey. 



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