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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 2:32 am 
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Koa
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All of the discussion regarding wood stiffness measurement in a recent thread got me thinking about "tonal goals". Do you folks shoot to make all of your guitars sound the same (or as similar as possible), or is it cool if they each sound unique?

I'm an engineer by trade and I enjoy trying to get my head around guitar theory...and I think developing your own philosophy on this is an integral part of building.    However, I think it's cool to leave a little magic in there...and I am fine with the idea that the guitars may sound unique...and occasionally I might (OK, will, have made(!), etc.) make a dud. I like to brace them up and then sand them till they sound right to me..and then string them up and see what happens. If I wanted uniformity of sound, I'd make them from something besides wood..!


What do you folks shoot for?

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 2:38 am 
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Brazilian Rosewood
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If you keep the same shape and species of wood, you are going to get a certain tonal response that is unique to the way you carve braces and thin the plates etc and so on.  Even if you try to copy exactly from another design you will still probably put your own imprint in some place that might matter.

That being said, I think that experimenting and trying to diversify or improve is the way to go. Keeps the process fun and less routinized. Just don't try to make huge leaps, you might loose control...

I am mostly traditionalist atm :)


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 3:14 am 
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Old Growth Brazilian
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That is a real loaded question. I do have a typical response that I strive for on any guitar I build. That said near every custom build client asks for specific response characteristics such as I would like the bass to be dominant or the treble to be bell like. So customer request play a part. I do have goals I strive to meet at top tuning. But to say that I build every specific size guitar to respond the same would be an over statement.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 7:42 am 
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Brazilian Rosewood
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We all try, I think, to achieve some measure of control, but, at the same time, we realize that 'perfect' control is an illusion. I have yet to make two 'identical' guitars, and until I can, I won't have any real idea of what's necessary to do so.

Let's face it, nobody has come up with a good way to describe tone. It's known that everybody uses terms like 'balance' and 'clarity' consistently, but also that your definition of those terms is probably different from mine. When a customer talks about the tone they want I have to interpret as best I can into my own terms, and hope I've got it right. Fortunately, usually it's possible to get 'close enough' to a verbally described tone to satisfy people. It's a real help, of course, to have something objective, like a spectrum chart made in known circumstances or a set of Chladni patterns, but that's not always avaiable.

As for what I'm going for:
There is a mezzo-soprano named Victoria Livengood who soloed with our local chorus a few times, before she went to the Met and we couldn't afford her any more. When, in the last part of Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius, she, as the Guardian Angel, sang 'Hallelujia and praise to His name!" her tone was so striking that, if she'd sung it twice, I'd have had to sit down. That's the tone I'm going for.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 9:05 am 
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Koa
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I look at it pretty similarly..I always think of the tone more as a voice.

How dependent is the tone in your guitars on getting a piece of wood with X stiffness? Is it adequate to get a run of the mill piece of sitka from Vendor X or is there a tonal benefit to paying the extra and getting a "pro grade" piece of wood?

I haven't had the opportunity to experiment with any higher grade soundboard woods and can't help but wonder about the differences...?

As always, thanks in advance for your thoughts.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 3:58 pm 
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I am getting ready to try AGAIN to build the "ultimate" guitar as a keeper for myself. I also am wondering if paying the tariff for a super premimum adi top is truly worth it. Some of the tops are priced at $200 or more. Is this money wasted on a almost beginner builder? This is my last set of Brazilian..... Sorry for the sort of thread hijack....... Mikey

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 4:04 pm 
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If I were almost a beginner, I'd be very hesitant to use my last set of Bz and a premium top.   I'm not almost a beginner, and I've got a fair amount of good Bz, and I still am very stingy with it.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 4:09 pm 
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Why oh why is it that a well thought out, mature, responsible answer is always less fun than the alternative?       Mikey

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 4:58 pm 
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Koa
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I do find that within a model style, my guitars have a fair uniformity of tone, given that backs and sides add a bit of a different spice to the tone.   I'm using fairly uniformly stiff wood, and I've stuck to a fairly consistent top bracing pattern.   I also graduate my tops which I think helps give them a nice punchy midrange. For the particular style in which I'm building now, I do think I've found my "voice"...not that they can't get better, but I'm feeling like I do understand this particular design fairly well now.   I would imagine that to be true for quite a few of the builders here.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 5:34 pm 
[QUOTE=mhammond]I also am wondering if paying the tariff for a super
premimum adi top is truly worth it. Some of the tops are priced at $200
or more. Is this money wasted on a almost beginner builder?[/QUOTE]



From my (limited) understanding the 'super premium adi' tops bought
from the right sources will tonally sound pretty similar to the $30
common grade tops.  The 'tariff' you might pay is basically for
aesthetics.  Learn from your mistakes now and save the premium
stuff for the builds down the road.



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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 1:01 am 
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Old Growth Brazilian Rosewood
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I have been hesitant to respond in this thread because "tone" is such a subjective word with many, many different meaning to everyone.  To me tone is as subjective as one's preferences in a mate.......

But..... being somewhat of a coward and more so an idiot I will share with you what I shoot for with each guitar and how I approach guitar building.

When I started building my single goal was to get good at building great sounding guitars.  The approach that was available to me at that time, and remains so, was to simply build as many of them as I can.  I figured that like anything else doing as much of it as possible is a great way to learn and improve.

I also decided to consider my first 10 mules and let each guitar build upon the successes of previous guitars and minimize or eliminate the things that I did not like in my previous guitars.  Beyond wood choices I sought to have variables in each guitar but not many of them so that I could have some opportunity to isolate a change and evaluate it's respective impact - for better or worse.

When I had built 10 guitars I decided that I needed to build 10 more.... 

Now, working on #16 I have many things that I am comfortable with in how I build and what I build.  I shoot for light weight, stiff, responsive guitars that are also loud, have warm, woody sounding mids, good highs, and tight bass.  Most recently I have been spending much more time on set-up, remembering the players, and following Rick's advice to get the basics including set-up down pat.  And I have been visiting David Collins every chance that he will stand having me around..... perhaps more....

I find that I can build two identical guitars but of different woods and they sound very different to me.  They don't sound very different to everyone though so I am not sure if what I hear is what is really happening.

My preference was to resist trying to reinvent the wheel so-to-speak and instead learn from what others have successfully accomplished and contributed to guitar building.  I do brace parabolically but I didn't invent that by any means.

I also waited until I had 14 successful guitars built before I whipped out the BRW and I am very happy that I did wait and very pleased with the results.  But this is not to say that anyone should do what I did - to each their own.

These days I have a level of confidence now in that I can produce a good sounding guitar.  My guitars all sound similar to each other beyond different body styles, sizes, and wood choices.  My bracing patterns are static but as many of us do each top is tuned individually for maximum ring.

If I learn of something that will help my guitars sound better I will try it out if it makes sense to do so.

But what I really wanted to relate here is that I kind of put a box around my goals and did not try anything radical or new.  And I am not against this thinking either but personally before I ever try to reinvent the guitar I think that it would be prudent to as fully as possible understand the guitar as it exists today.  How does one measure their successes and even define what success is without a comprehensive understanding of that which they seek to improve upon?

OK - ducking now.....



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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 7:08 am 
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Brazilian Rosewood
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I think it's possible to get a tone that a lot of folks will think of as 'good' out of almost any piece of wood. Each piece will present possibilities, and set limits, of course, depending on its properties, but you might be surprised at the sound you can get out of a floppy top with 'racing stripes'.

To me, the key to getting 'good' tone is making all the parts of the guitar so that they work together well. There are lots of good ways to do this; probably about twice as many as there are people making guitars.

If you're trying to get a _particular_ tone, then you should probably use the piece of wood that will get you closest to that. It ought to be possible to make a decent Bluegrass Dread out of maple with a WRC top, but why fight it if you could start with Red spruce and mahogany or rosewood and make a better one?


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 8:51 am 
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Koa
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Alan, I have one of those floppy tops you were speaking about. I’ll have to ask you later where I can get some of those "racing strips".


I guess I’m in the,” it’s cool if they each sound unique” camp.
I started building acoustics to make myself a guitar that was an inspiration to play.
20 guitars later, I have found each one has some interesting tone or playability aspect that the others don’t seem to have. Or, as much of anyway..

The tone is always a surprise every time I string up another new one.
Sometimes it is a surprise when I put new strings on an older one.
It’s real hard to tell what is changing, the wood in the guitars, my ears or both.
I like the uniqueness of tone. They should all be different. That way, any great player will require several guitars, from several builders, in order to perform a great sounding gig.

Wade



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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 1:15 pm 
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The sages on this site casually say that you need to build 200 guitars before you can hope to predictably build a great guitar. I'm coming up on my 60th birthday, at 6 guitars a year I probably won't make it. I need a short cut.....any ideas?    Mikey

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 1:26 pm 
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Koa
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Design Standardization, Good Jigs, and CNC. That's my plan anyhow...!

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 1:28 pm 
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Koa
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I don't think you need to make 200 guitars, but you'd probably better specialize in a style to get good.   I've made so many different types of guitars and basses that the numbers don't really mean much anymore, but I started pretty young and I'm older than you are now.   I think if you hone in on a particular model, you should be able to nail it pretty soon, especially with all the help there is out there like this very forum.   If I'd had this kind of thing in my early days, I'd have had a major leg up.   As it was it was learn while you earn, and I was really lucky.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 6:29 pm 
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[QUOTE=mhammond] The sages on this site casually say that you need to build 200 guitars before you can hope to predictably build a great guitar.[/QUOTE]

I wonder if Torres knew that. He only managed to make a mere 155 instruments in his lifetime.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2008 12:14 am 
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Old Growth Brazilian Rosewood
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[QUOTE=Arnt] [QUOTE=mhammond] The sages on this site casually say that you need to build 200 guitars before you can hope to predictably build a great guitar.[/QUOTE]



I wonder if Torres knew that. He only managed to make a mere 155 instruments in his lifetime.[/QUOTE]

Yeah what a slacker......


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2008 6:42 am 
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Brazilian Rosewood
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The more control you have over your process the faster you can home in on things. Jigs and fixtures help with the 'craft' end of it. To get real control over the tone you need to understand the wood and how it produces sound. There are a lot of different ways to get this sort of understanding. If you pay attention to the way things feel and sound you'll learn a useful amount in your first few guitars without even thinking about it. If you think about it you won't need 200 guitars to get there. If you have somebody who can show you what things are supposed to feel and sound like, you'll progress faster. I think that you can learn even quicker by finding out some of the measurement techniques, such as acoustic and deflection testing, that enable you to exchange objective information with other builders, but that's my particular hobby horse.

That said, it still takes a bit of time, no matter how you do it. If nothing else, you need to get the gestalt of the thing in your head, so you know why making the top thicker back at the beginning of the process has the effect it does at the end.


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2008 9:09 am 
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Koa
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There are builders, like Torres, who have the big breakthrough, whether that's luck or genius.   Also he was not as obsessive about fit and finish and zoot wood details as modern luthiers have to be.


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2008 3:26 pm 
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Koa
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Wouldn't that be lucky, to be a genius??

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 13, 2008 12:11 pm 
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Brazilian Rosewood
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I wonder if genius is over rated. I seem to recall somebody saying that, when they looked closely, they found that the thing that set off the musical 'geniuses' was none other than practice time. 10,000 hours of practice, and you're a prodigy, making it more a matter of determination than almost anything else.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 13, 2008 1:07 pm 
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Koa
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"What they call talent is nothing but the capacity for doing continuous work in the right way.” -- Winslow Homer

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 13, 2008 1:32 pm 
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Koa
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Well de Torres didn't have much "practice time" if he only built that many instruments! He seems to have hit it pretty quickly in his career, too.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 13, 2008 4:03 pm 
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I've always thought that genius was having the good sense to only pour all your effort into endeavors towards which you were already naturally talented.

I've seen children not old enough to have played guitar as long as I have who are already better than I'll ever be at it. They were the ones who picked it up and their first random guesses just had their fingers landing in the right place. That person's always out there, or at least possible.

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