What Makes a Guitar Sing?

Discussion in 'Guitar Building' started by Purelojik, Sep 1, 2014.

  1. Purelojik

    Purelojik New Member

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    Since i've started building, i've come to realize a lot of the hoopla that some companies have made regarding the various aspects in a guitar that contribute to tone. The age old debate revolves around the whole "does wood type play a huge role in the world of electric guitars and basses".

    I see the members of this forum making some particularly amazing guitars and i want to know what you guys aim to do to create the best sounding guitar.

    Personally I believe that a good tap tone can help me pick an appropriate set of pickups for a guitar. typically based on the dominant frequency i feel the wood has. sure any pickup with sound good in a guitar, but something that balances or complicments the guitars natural EQ, makes the guitar not only sound better, but FEEL better. I believe that in turn will make the player play better.

    The Walnut guitar i made had a HUGE midrange, I chose the SD Custom 5 because it was a bit lower on the mids andmore emphases on the lows and highs. the result was a HUGE sound and very responsive and spongy feel. You could really dig in to the guitar, and it made you want to make better music.
    It also could just be a buncha stuff i've come to believe lol but hey its fun to talk about.

    Alex
     
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  2. Adam

    Adam Well-Known Member

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    Pure conjecture and opinion here... Guitars should be stiff, the entire thing vibrating together as one unit. The best sounding guitars that I've made have been the stiffest guitars that also vibrate the most when a string is struck. That's why I do my bolt ons with inserts and Allen bolts, and why I try to make things as simple as possible, glue joint wise. Sure, I'll do a 5 piece neck, but IMO the less glue in a build the better it's going to be. Also, a thin finish is awesome.
     
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  3. Renkenstein

    Renkenstein Well-Known Member

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    I've thought about this a lot lately, esp now that I'm explaining process and mechanics of a guitar to all the laymen that comment on my stuff on Facebook.

    I'm really on the fence when it comes to tonewood vs pickups debate. Like Adam, I feel that the guitar vibrating as one unit is key.

    Frequencies can always be modified with pickups, or through an amp's EQ, but one thing you can never change is the sustain. If the guitar is doing it's job right, that note should ring as long as possible. I think the best target to aim for when building is getting sustain and a natural loudness to the guitar.

    Of all my store-bought guitars, the ones that resonate the most throughout the instrument are the ones that sound the best plugged in, and vice-versa.
     
  4. Ronsonic

    Ronsonic New Member

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    I'm going to agree with Adam on rigidity. There's a lot of different flavors in guitars, but the stiffer the thing is the more you can get from the string. And the more the guitar is made from one unit of wood the more pronounced the resonance of that wood. Get enough different materials trying to each do what it wants and the less clear a sonic picture.
     
  5. Heretic

    Heretic Well-Known Member

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    I think rigidity is pretty much key. Wobbly bodies and necks absorb too much energy from the strings, killing sustain.
     
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  6. The Hiryuu

    The Hiryuu New Member

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    Vocal cords.

    Seriously, though, stiffness seems to be the consensus.
     
  7. Knarbens

    Knarbens Well-Known Member

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    What do you mean with wobbly?
     
  8. tnt423

    tnt423 Member

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    I agree with the wobbly neck and body issue, if I can see the head flex when bending a string, its usually a tonally inferior guitar with low sustain. Wood matters hardness and thickness of finish matters, strings matter etc... Ultimately everything from the pick to the paper of the speaker cone matters to various degrees.
     
  9. Knarbens

    Knarbens Well-Known Member

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    Well, the Swamp Ash guitar I built sounds wunderfull as well and I'd says it's more of a wobbly kind of body wood? To me a great sound ain't a matter of sustain only. I agree with a stiff neck and a tight body joint though.
     
  10. Axeman270

    Axeman270 Member

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    question for Adam, you say that less glue is better, but that you also want stiffness.... I thought the whole point of laminated necks was to make them stiffer by gluing multiple pieces?
     
  11. Heretic

    Heretic Well-Known Member

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    I think what he's getting as is that people can go way overboard on neck laminations.

    For example:

    [​IMG]

    Personally, I think it's awesome, but I'm not a tonewood believer for basses. As my primary area of interest, research, and building is bass guitars, I really don't feel qualified to comment on how wood may affect the tone of a standard (read: non-bass) guitar. I defer to others on that count

    I know that low frequency resonance requires a great deal more energy than high frequency resonance. I also know that that resonance is the tendency for a material to oscillate at a greater-than-normal amplitude when vibrated at a specific frequency (or band of frequencies), and that such increased oscillation necessarily removes energy from the original vibrating energy source. In the case of a bass guitar, that original energy source would be the strings. Removing energy from the vibrating string necessarily reduces the amplitude of the string's vibration, resulting in short sustain. I think this is why acoustic basses have such quick decay (short sustain) compared to solid body electric basses. I think it is also why solid-body electric basses built with harder woods (northern ash, maple, bubinga, padauk, etc.) tend to exhibit greater sustain than those built with softer woods (swap ash, alder, basswood, mahogany, etc.).

    I *think* that a bass built to be as rigid as possible, to move and act like a single piece, gives the greatest sustain. But like Knarbens said, sustain isn't everything. I personally like a long-sustaining, harmonically rich bass tone that is slightly heavy on the warmth (read: lower frequencies). I like the mids to be scooped, the lows to growl, and the highs to sparkle. The easiest way to do that is to install an on-board EQ. I suppose it *might* be possible to dial back specific frequency bands (by resonating with them) and emphasize others (by reflecting them) by using specially tailored wood selections, but I don't think it really works that way. Even if it did, would you really want to? "Tone is not a building material" is the mantra of many bass builders I know. If I'm designing and building a bass for sale, I think it should be as transparent as possible to allow maximum expression to come through in the form of the player's strings and technique. If I build and sell a bass for someone and that bass' wood naturally attenuates a certain frequency band, no matter how narrow, I am inherently limiting the fitness of that bass for some particular purpose.

    It's easy to dial certain frequencies out with equalization. It's easy to mute strings so that notes decay quickly. It's not so easy to gain sustain or re-insert missing tones, no matter how many EQ stages you have.

    I *think* many of the same things can be said of standard (non-bass) solid-body electric guitars, but I do not have enough direct experience with guitars to make too confident an assertion on that count.
     
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  12. skyjerk

    skyjerk Member

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    I'm down on the side of stiffness/rigidity improving sustain. I think the wood matters too.
    combination of these two factors makes the sweetest sounds :)

    When I built my LP style guitar I broke with tradition and made it neck-through-body, 3 piece lamination, and added graphite stiffening rods as well.

    I wont have the hardware till next week, but based solely on flexing the neck (gently) and comparing that to my "real" LP neck (single piece, quartersawn, glued-in) it takes considerably more pressure to flex it, I'm excited to see what it can do. My Gibby LP (2014 traditional) has great sustain. I'm expecting more from my build :)
     
  13. Renkenstein

    Renkenstein Well-Known Member

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    Whaaaaa? You lost me dude. ;)

    That bass reminds me of CRAAAAB PEOPLE, CRAAAAB PEOPLE!
    crab people song - YouTube
     
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  14. KnightroExpress

    KnightroExpress Active Member

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    That reminds me of an Alembic bass. Just like Alembic, I appreciate the wood selections and craftsmanship, but it's a bit overdone for my personal taste.

    But yeah, back to the topic at hand... I'm a total amateur, but I can totally get behind the rigidity theory here.
     
  15. theMIDrange

    theMIDrange Member

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    I'm not quite jiving with the 'wobbly' idea. Or maybe there's a misunderstanding since Im not quite sure what that means. but ime, a singing guitar is a combo o the right bridge on a particular piece(s) o wood with the appropriate scale length. When you get these 3 things to jive, it will sing.

    I recently put a 25.5 maple on swamp ash with a wraparound lightening style bridge and she sings. I tried 3 necks and about 6 bridges until the right combo was hit on....and when I say bridge, that includes the posts and inserts since the material used works in combo with the actual bridge piece and overall I think the bridge with it's posts and inserts are almost as key as the wood the guitar is made with. Also the saddles need to be cut well and good setup really can help make a guitar sing. Also heavy tuners tends to bring a more singing sound compared to lighter.....
     
  16. otterhound

    otterhound New Member

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    When Les Paul was creating his design , he was trying to isolate the strings from everything else as much as possible in order to get as pure a sound from the string as possible .
    To each his own .
     
  17. Dave Locher

    Dave Locher Member

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    I love the feel of a heavy, stiff guitar but resonance affects sustain at least as much.
    I owned a 1962 SG Special with humbuckers installed. The mahogany neck was so thin and flexible the tune would change if you tilted the guitar. But it had a huge sound and great sustain! I could play just about any note and keep it going pretty much forever because the amp would vibrate the entire guitar, even at really low volume. It also sounded really sweet unplugged. I have owned dozens of guitars and played hundreds of them and not one had a richer sound or better sustain than that SG.
     
  18. theMIDrange

    theMIDrange Member

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    i had a '62 SG jr. super light weight. yes it was resonant, but to my ears, not nearly heavy enough to really have punch and tone. It all depends on your amp setup I'm sure I could have made it work, but I always end up with 8.5-9.5 lb guitars as a good mix o sustain and punch
     
  19. fumblefinger

    fumblefinger Member

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  20. TheCaffeinatedOne

    TheCaffeinatedOne New Member

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    A dreadnaught guitar built with mahogany back and sides will sound different from one built with Indian rosewood back and sides. Both can sound superb and both can sing. So it gets down to what does the player want to be playing. I believe whether an instrument "sings" is related far less to distinctions between materials choice and related more to competent design and tightness of build.

    To put it another way, the difference between a top made from No. 2 pine from a lumber yard and one made from finely quartered sitka spruce is obvious. But if the instrument is poorly designed or the build is incompetent, you'll never tell much of a difference because they will both sound poor. So the first threshold has to be the quality of design and build.

    At the other end of the spectrum, where an instrument is built with the highest of care, how much do the distinctions in tonewood really make? Well, they will make a big difference. But the difference will not be in whether the instrument sounds "good" but rather will be in the qualities of its voice - meaning that you can fine tune the nature of an instrument's performance through the choices in materials. Is that the same thing as changing whether an instrument "sings"? Perhaps. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? The answer is all of them, and it gets you nowhere.

    Taylor conducted an interesting experiment to demonstrate this point - that quality of build (and good design), not tonewood choice, will have the greatest effect on the sound of a guitar, with its famous Pallet Guitar. The instrument was literally built from hardwood pallets in the warehouse. They picked out wood from the pallets, cleaned and dried it and built a guitar with it. Here's what it looks like. Notice the Formica forklift inlay. Apparently it became popular so they made and sold a number of them. The point is that these guitars are excellent, fully functional and great sounding instruments. Some even have aluminum inlays in the original nail holes.

    Think of the use of exotic tonewoods as something extra in the instrument that can have an effect on its sound and its appearance - but not as a necessary component of a top flight guitar. The real challenge is in the build itself.

    [​IMG]

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    [​IMG]
     

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