An experiment in the impact of tone woods

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by Jim Soloway, Feb 28, 2015.

  1. Jim Soloway

    Jim Soloway Supporting Member

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    I've been doing some experiments with stereo recording. I recorded the same passage with all three of my guitars and I tried to keep the conditions other than the guitar as constant as I was able. the three guitars were my blue Soloway Gosling tuned to standard pitch and my two custom long scale Heritage H575's.

    I'll leave out the Gosling from this post since it's both a different construction and a different tuning but the two H575's a very similar other than the woods. They both have a 25.5" scale length, the same mahogany neck with the same large profile. The same DiMarzio 36th Anniversary pickup set as close to the same distance from the strings as I'm able. There are two obvious differences between these two guitars: the body woods and the body thickness. One has a spruce top with mahogany sides and back and the other has a maple top, sides and back. The spruce/mahogany body as 2 1/4" at the rims while the all maple body is 2 3/4".

    The recording setup was identical for both guitars. They were plugged into a TC Electronics Arena reverb (an OEM HOF near look-alike) with stereo outputs from the Arena pedal to the two inputs on my Focusrite Scarlett 212 interface/pre-amp. All sets were as close to identical as I could get and there was no other processing on either track. What you hear is exactly what was recorded.

    Here's the mahogany/spruce H575
    [soundcloud]https://soundcloud.com/jim-soloway/stereo-reverb-test-2-with-the-archtop[/soundcloud]

    And here's the maple H575
    [soundcloud]https://soundcloud.com/jim-soloway/stereo-reverb-test-3-h575-maple[/soundcloud]
     
  2. GregProulx1

    GregProulx1 Supporting Member

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    They both sound beautiful, but my preference is the Maple by a large margin. Thanks for posting this!
     
  3. Saul Koll

    Saul Koll Member

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    Very interesting, thanks Jim.
     
  4. Scott Naylor

    Scott Naylor Supporting Member

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    Yes, thanks so much for the care and attention you put into that comparison! And continuing to fight the good fight of bringing the truth to the people.
     
  5. thiscalltoarms

    thiscalltoarms more gadgets than Batman. Gold Supporting Member

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    They sound quite distinct to me. The maple is much brighter, clearer mids, and the lows are tighter and more focused- probably less lows below 140hz, but very present lows at around 160hz. The lower mids are fairly scooped on the maple, but the central mids are fairly present. The sustain is a bit lower, much more forceful, and glassy with almost an acoustic quality.

    By comparison, the hog/spruce clip sounds a little murky in the low mids, but wonderfully rustic and has more sustain. Less of a piano like bell to the notes, and with the increased sustain comes almost a bit of compression. There's a bit less treble content here as well, which contributes to the warmth of the overall sound. Where the maple sounds snappy and lively- refreshing like an cold breeze on a muggy summer day, the hog/spruce sounds more filtered, smokey, and truly seductive.

    The maple sounds like light, refreshing, beautiful and almost fruity. Playful and glassy, youthful and bubbly. Like that first Shirley Temple that I had at a wedding when I was 6 years old.

    The hog/spruce is sultry, heavy, resonant and familiar. Seductive and smokey, lustful and shadowy. I can almost smell a good cigar, and the taste is like a deep whiskey, chased with a heavy dry red wine.


    I'd definitely keep both if I were you!
     
  6. AaeCee

    AaeCee Member

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    Damn man, very colorful review…..better than some paid critics I've read!

    Your reflections on the spruce top model illustrates why I prefer it for jazz, and why so many jazz boxes are constructed that way.
     
  7. GasMask

    GasMask Member

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    Interesting clips Jim! Which guitar sounds better to you in person?

    It would also be interesting to hear clips that EQ'd each guitar to sound as good as it can possibly sound, rather than use the same EQ for each. It's possible that whatever EQ setting was used favors one of the two guitars.

    Imagine if a Fender amp and an AC30 were being compared. Would one EQ both amps the same, or tweak each one to do what it does best?
     
  8. gkoelling

    gkoelling Member

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    Forgive me if I'm wrong but I'm hearing "Little Wing" in there. It's also beautiful, if that was your intention it was very well done.

    I agree that the maple top is brighter, more present and the spruce has a smoky tone to it. I can't say which I prefer because I like them both and both work depending on what you, the player, are looking for at the time.

    Don't lose either.
     
  9. Jim Soloway

    Jim Soloway Supporting Member

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    I like both but they have different strengths and weaknesses. The maple has much more clarity in the low end and handles the bottom of my lowered tuning better. The spruce/mahogany has better string to string balance, a sweeter voice (I think) and sounds a lot warmer. The spruce/mahogany is also a lot more comfortable as a result of the thinner body and gets most of my playing time as a result.

    What I find most interesting about this, and why I posted it, is both because of how obviously different they sound (despite all of the similarities) and how well those differences conform to my expectations based on the wood combinations. I expected the maple to sound brighter with a tighter low end and it does. I expected the spruce/mahogany to sound warmer with looser low end, more strength in the mids and upper mids with a more muted high end and it does. I believe wood matters and I ordered both of these to be built for me based on my expectations of what the wood combinations would produce. It's obviously a very small sample but both guitars fit very well into the preconceived notions of what they ought to sound like based on the woods they were built from.
     
  10. Jim Soloway

    Jim Soloway Supporting Member

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    Yes, it is an excerpt from my version of Little Wing. I'm planning to record a video of my current version of the song and this all began as pre-recording experiment to find the best guitar and recording method to use for it. And no worries, both are staying for the foreseeable future. I'm down to three guitars, these two plus the same Soloway Gosling that I've had for a few years now. Between the three of them, I feel like I have all of my current needs well met.
     
  11. Ian Anderson

    Ian Anderson Supporting Member

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    Very cool, what a great comparison. It sums up what one would expect and its great to see it presented so well.
     
  12. edhamgtr

    edhamgtr Member

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    Wasn't expecting much of a difference but it turns out to exactly mirror my own life long experience !
    Maple/Spruce all the way for my taste. Some things the L-5 got right.

    Thanks for the comparison clips. Its as close to apples/apples as I've ever seen.
     
  13. Flyin' Brian

    Flyin' Brian Member

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    Nice job on working out all the details Jim. The mahogany/spruce works for me.
     
  14. XKnight

    XKnight Member

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    Thanks for taking the time to do the comparison. Even my untrained ear can hear the difference. Very nice playing too. For better or worse, this is the type of thread that gives TGP its reputation in the guitar community.
     
  15. derekd

    derekd Supporting Member

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    Wow, very distinct, easy to spot. The maple is much brighter and focused. The notes are much more distinct. My ears liked the M/S combination better, but that is probably from conditioning. Most jazz is recorded with a darker, smokier tone.

    Thanks for posting this, Jim.
     
  16. Jon Silberman

    Jon Silberman 10Q Jerry & Dickey Gold Supporting Member

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    I'm afraid if I say this I'll come of as ungrateful (which I'm truly not) and I hate to mention even having a day job on a musician's forum but I work some with experimental design and statistics and believe the statement that no proof is possible from a sample size of 1 guitar for each wood type is more than merely an opinion. This is true notwithstanding the appreciated effort to keep all of the possible confounding factors beyond the guitars themselves as consistent as possible. But this being said, the guitars do sound as I was expecting based on my own experience with guitars using these woods!
     
  17. K-Line

    K-Line Gold Supporting Member

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    Thanks Jim. Very well done. Does wood matter? Yes. I wish I had the time to do it with different styles of builds. Do 5 guitars of each and record. In the line of guitars I build, an S Style matters little which wood you use, very subtle. A T style makes more of a difference. Construction makes a difference. To generalize what a certain wood will sound like in a general sense is hard to accurately depict.
     
  18. dbeeman

    dbeeman Gold Supporting Member

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    Jim, great stuff. Appreciate your contributions to the craft and our enlightenment
     
  19. gkoelling

    gkoelling Member

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    Is the S style less susceptible to tonal changes from different woods due to the trem system? If so, there's a greater impact from woods on a hard tail, right?


    Thanks
     
  20. Jim Soloway

    Jim Soloway Supporting Member

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    Jon, I have lots of experience (and education) with statistics and I agree with completely. A sample of one does prove anything about the properties of specific woods. On the other hand, it's unusual to get a pair of guitars built and equipped so similarly but with different woods. And they do conform remarkably well to our commonly held notions of what these woods ought to sound like. Perhaps the one thing we can take with some certainty from a sample so small is that even with so much the same (including both the pickups and bracing pattern), two guitars can still sound so obviously different.
     

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