The tone wood myth?

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Re: The tone wood myth?

Post by merlyn »

BigRedX wrote: Fri May 13, 2022 10:25 am Only if you can categorically prove that simply removing the plank and then replacing it makes zero difference to sound being produced. When you have done that 50+ times with no difference to the sound, I'll start to consider what a different plank will do.

Are you not in danger of starting the screw-it-together myth? The internet fills up with the effects of the torque used to tighten screws on tone? (It's probably happened already).

The next test is to see how the sound changes with different planks but cut from the same tree, before moving on to different planks from different trees of the same species grown in the same location, and finally different trees of the same species grown in different climactic conditions.

If you're inclined you could undertake that. For me my plank example was simply a thought experiment to demonstrate that wood has some effect on tone.

Once you have built up a data base of the variations all these tests produce, only then can we see if changing to a different species of wood makes a sonic difference that falls outside of this.

I'm not really looking at it as the species having a huge effect. It's the properties of the species. Wood for instruments is seasoned -- dried out -- so two planks of mahogany could have different properties and sound different.

Of course these test are only really meaningful if you are making lap steel guitars from a single piece of wood. Real-life solid guitar construction is far more complex and has far more variables.

A plank is a rough approximation of a through neck guitar.

My attitude to trying solid electric guitars is to view the instrument as a whole. Do I like the look/feel/playability/sound of the instrument? Yes or no? If yes consider buying, if no move on. There are so many instruments available these days with all sorts of combinations of materials and electronics its the only rational thing to do.

Can't disagree with that. Is choosing an instrument particularly rational though? I choose an instrument because I like it, and liking and disliking isn't rational.
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Re: The tone wood myth?

Post by BigRedX »

My reason for being able to replicate the same sound no matter how many times you assemble and disassemble the system is nothing to do with the torque myth (in fact I'd completely forgotten about that) but more to do with the fact that with the best will in the world most people are unlikely to be able the resemble something EXACTLY as it was before every single time, and the test needs to eliminate as many variable as possible - assembly error being one of them.

I don't deny that wood as some effect on the tone of a solid electric instrument, albeit fairly insignificant compared with the electrics and overall construction. What I have problem with is people who should know better ascribing absolute properties to the sound produced by wood based on tree description.

IMO a plank is nothing like a through-neck guitar. Almost all that I know of are made from multiple laminations of at least two different types of wood. A case of the total being greater than the sum of its components, and way too many variables for your plank to be meaningful comparison. I have however, played a bass that was made from one single continuous piece of wood (neck, fingerboard and body) with no joints. It was a remarkable looking instrument, but had no "life" to it either in feel or sound.

I agree there is nothing rational about liking or disliking any instrument of any type. All my guitars and basses have been selected first and foremost for their looks, secondly for their feel and playability and a very distant third for their sound. By the time they have been passed through my Helix multi-effects unit they all sound much the same and any noticeable variances can be compensated for by playing technique.
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Re: The tone wood myth?

Post by merlyn »

You're kidding? The torque myth isn't real is it? LMFAO

By a coincidence I moved some palettes earlier and looked at the wood thinking if it would make a good guitar. It wouldn't. It was a softwood, pine maybe, it was full of knots and had an open grain. Where there were screws in it some of the wood had split. Good luck with a guitar made out of that.

A lot of species of tree are out for making guitars. Guitar made out of yew = bow (the archery kind, not the violin kind).

I think some good points are :

-- players notice subtleties that listeners don't
-- every guitar is different
-- the proof of the pudding is in the playing. A guitar has to be tried out

Reframing the original question as "does a £2k guitar sound better?" the answer has to be it might, it might not, you'd have to try it, unless you're set on a toasted flamed maple AAA neck.
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Re: The tone wood myth?

Post by BobTheDog »

BigRedX wrote: Fri May 13, 2022 2:05 pm ...
All my guitars and basses have been selected first and foremost for their looks, secondly for their feel and playability and a very distant third for their sound. By the time they have been passed through my Helix multi-effects unit they all sound much the same and any noticeable variances can be compensated for by playing technique.
...

I absolutely agree with you. I'm exactly the same here.
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Re: The tone wood myth?

Post by Sam Spoons »

My priority is feel, all mine have been chosen or designed to feel right in my hands. Then they have to look right and sound right but looks are at least as important as sound in that I wouldn't buy or play a guitar that sounded great if it didn't look and feel good too.
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Re: The tone wood myth?

Post by ManFromGlass »

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Re: The tone wood myth?

Post by BigRedX »

I currently own a guitar and two basses that are made from cedar - technically a softwood. Admittedly they also have a carbon fibre shell, but the main body and neck core is cedar.

I've also owned a bass that was entirely aluminium except for two softwood fillets that were used to turn the T-profile beam used for the neck/fingerboard into something that had a similar profile to a typical guitar neck.

IMO so long as the wood has sufficient structural integrity to withstand the tensions of the strings (with any inclusions if necessary - aluminium/carbon fibre/resin) then it is suitable for making guitars.
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Re: The tone wood myth?

Post by merlyn »

As tonewoods go cedar, along with spruce is up there. They're both softwoods and are used for the tops of acoustic guitars.

The 'making a guitar out of a wardrobe' quote earlier may have been a reference to the nineteenth century guitar maker Torres who made classical guitars. His designs are the first examples of the classical guitar as we recognise it today. As with many mavericks his finances did not benefit from his contribution to the field, and he made guitars out of anything that was lying around. Except the tops.

His idea was that the back and sides don't really matter -- the sound (or this mystical term 'tone') came from the top and to demonstrate this made a guitar with papier-mâché back and sides, which apparently sounded great. This would suggest the Taylor blog linked earlier is at least in part exaggerating the importance of the back and sides.

So why aren't electric guitars made with spruce bodies? I imagine guitar makers think it's a waste of spruce.
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Re: The tone wood myth?

Post by SecretSam »

Spruce would be a good choice, but I believe Fender's original choice back in the fifties was based on price and availability. And guitarists do love 'vintage', whatever that means.

If I was going to try to prove that wood affected electric guitar tone, I would set up an experiment to prove or disprove the hypothesis that the duration of a string's vibration (maybe its half life), and its harmonic content, could be correlated with measurable mechanical properties of a beam of standardised size used to hold two standard hard edges across which the string was stretched. Weights on each end of the string provide standardised tension, and the beams would be of materials other than wood, so that mechanical properties are consistent throughout the beam.

If I could demonstrate correlation with properties such as hardness, coefficient of restitution, elasticity, and stiffness, then the concept could be held to be true for less consistent materials such as wood.

I'd still buy the guitars that just felt right, but the experiment should be worth a few YouTube views, for people who like that sort of thing.
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Re: The tone wood myth?

Post by Murray B »

Sam Spoons wrote: Sat May 14, 2022 11:12 pm My priority is feel, all mine have been chosen or designed to feel right in my hands. Then they have to look right and sound right but looks are at least as important as sound in that I wouldn't buy or play a guitar that sounded great if it didn't look and feel good too.

With you on this one Sam, for me it actually comes down to the neck profile, and the sound. So long as it isn't broken or twisted most guitars can be coaxed into playing well. Although I do discount some guitars on aesthetics as I couldn't see myself playing something pointy, with perhaps the exception of an Musicman Albert Lee. I really don't mind what wood it's made out of.
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Re: The tone wood myth?

Post by Sam Spoons »

Yes, neck profile is the most important to me too, slim C profile for preference. My main gig guitar is a bitsa Strat with a Korean Squire neck that is just sublime.
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Re: The tone wood myth?

Post by Johnsy »

In Europe at least, spruce is just about the least rare and least expensive wood available. You can go into B&Q and buy as much as you like right now (current supply issues notwithstanding). As dimensional timber, hundreds of thousands of cubic metres are used every year in the UK to frame houses. It's also the most commonly used pulpwood for paper making.

Spruce is not an especially good wood for solid guitar bodies since a) it's rather soft (dings easily), b) it doesn't machine terribly well (prone to tearout), and c) it's very 'thirsty' (worse still, it's unevenly thirsty, leading to a blotchy finish unless sealed very well). It's not unique in possessing any or all of these drawbacks, so it's not the worst wood you could use, but it's not especially good either.

The single characteristic that makes it great for acoustic tops - its exceptional stiffness-to-weight ratio - is irrelevant in a solid body.
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