Calling Out to Builders: Guitar changes while playing

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by ariki, Jun 2, 2008.

  1. ariki

    ariki Member

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    To the builders out there...

    There's something I've been wondering about for a long time. I have talked with a guitar builder some time ago and he told me that
    (a) the sound of a guitar changes when it is played (very?) often over a long period of time (think years)
    (b) if you stop playing a guitar for a long time, it will go back to sounding as it were new.
    This should go to the extent that one can actually hear this difference. (As opposed to only being able to recognize it with a computer analysis, for example.)

    I must admit that I thought that such stories were myths generated by people selling off their old gear, but the above short talk has kept me wondering ever since. As a player, I don't have the experience yet to confirm this change of sound / feel myself.

    So, I have a few questions to the builders among you. You may have some education (or you can make some educated guess about this).
    (1) Does the sound of a guitar change when it is played often, over a long period of time?
    (2) Does the feel / resonance of a guitar change when it is played often, over a long period of time?
    (3) If you don't play a guitar for a long time, does the sound / resonance go back to original (i.e., as it was new)? (Apart from the dents, of course :) )
    (4) What are the scientific explanations of the above phenomena, if any?

    I am, of course, most interested in (4).

    Thanks a lot!
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2008
  2. Thor

    Thor Member

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    I had never heard about theory #3. This is a very interesting topic and I am eager to hear the experts weigh in on it all.

    cheers,

    Edward
     
  3. rollyfoster

    rollyfoster Supporting Member

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    3 sounds fake to me. the wood will keep drying out, etc. you not playing it isn't going to affect that process in the slightest.

    you may perceive it as sounding new if you haven't heard it in a long time, though.
     
  4. Terry McInturff

    Terry McInturff 40th Anniversary of guitar building! Gold Supporting Member

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    This is a fascinating subject that is not close to being completely understood.

    Yes...a guitar will change it's tone over time. While this is most readily apparent on a solid wood acoustic guitar...changes can and do occur over time with electric guitars as well..

    Once any changes have occurred, the guitar will not revert to a fresh, unplayed state.

    There are many things that cause changes over time.
    1) As the wood ages, chemical and structural changes take place at the cellular level, namely, the cell wall as well as is what is left of the organelles.

    Wood being a hydroscopic material, it will absorb-and-give-up water vapour in a direct relationship with the environment that it is stored in. Thus, even a 200 year old piece of wood may not be "dry"...but chemical and structural changes at the cellular level have occurred nonetheless.

    The ability for the wood to "re-hydrate" itself...when exposed to humidity...will certainly cause temporary changes.

    2) As a guitar experiences the vibrations of being played over time, the entire instrument "settles in"..ie, all of the components find a "resting place".

    In other words, tiny internal stresses work themselves out (altho with time, certain new stresses appear as a result of wood movement dimensionally as the wood changes...see #1). This settling in creates a situation wherin all of the components are vibrating more-and-more "as a team".

    3) This is one little understood phenomenon...it has long been conjectured that, at the molecular level over time, realignments along the planes of vibration occur. To my knowledge there is no hard scientific data to support this (there may be some that I am unaware of at this time). If someone finds a scientific paper on the subject...post a link to it please! :)

    4) Pickups change with time and indeed with playing too. It is a lengthy subject.

    Changes in the magnet occur as a result of the electromgnetic field being disturbed. Although it wouldnt be possible to completely de-magnetise a magnet by playing alone, it does play a role.
    Over time, the bobbins can warp due to the tension of the windings, as well as by evaporation of the plasticer in the plastic bobbin.
    Also, as the bobbin changes shape, tiny gaps between the windings can change. This will affect the tiny amounts of capacitance within the coil itself.

    This is a lengthy subject and, due to time constraints, I have only been able to touch upon it today.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2008
  5. daddyo

    daddyo Guest

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    Guitars don't revert back to "new." That sounds like some sort of hokum crap. Acoustic guitars made from solid wood will change with the seasons if not kept in a climate controlled room - they will sound tubby and dull during humid seasons and tend to sond better as they dry out. Solid bodies and ply/lam semi and hollow bodies that are finsihed in polyester or polyurethane like 99% of production guitars - I'm skeptical they ever change. Lacquer finised solid bodies and solid wood hollow bodies I believe do change over many seasons but they don't revert to "new." Exposing these guitars to an over-humid climate can destroy them.
     
  6. Thor

    Thor Member

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    Thanks Terry!!

    I really am digging you "Calling all builders" program!

    Cheers,

    Edward
     
  7. stan p

    stan p Member

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    Just a guess ... the "return to the past " phenomenon may be due to strings loosing testion and neck bending back. I am not abuilder though, but I love reading those:)
     
  8. ariki

    ariki Member

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    Dear Terry,

    thank you so much for taking some time to write a very nice and educated answer on the subject.

    This is what I thought that could realign again to some sort of original orientation if one would stop playing a guitar. That is, the instrument would become "unsettled" again :)

    Actually, it was the "settling in" part of your explanation that interested me most in the first place. (Pickups can also change a lot indeed, but that's a whole different subject!)

    But as I understand from your answer, if a guitar has settled in, it remains settled in. Very interesting to know!

    Wim
     
  9. Terry McInturff

    Terry McInturff 40th Anniversary of guitar building! Gold Supporting Member

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    Wim,

    You are most welcome indeed.

    It is important to note that, altho the basic changes that have occurred due to use will not regress to a new state...it is certainly true that a guitar that is left unplayed for an extended period is prey to whatever climatic conditions it has been stored in.

    Certainly, an extended period of storage in poor conditions will negate any advantages gained during the years that it had been played.
     
  10. Bruce Bennett

    Bruce Bennett Senior Member

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    Terry
    Their was a study done on several of the Stradivarius Violins that was called "Changes in the Crystaline structure of woods used in instruments"
    or something like that.

    it went on to talk about the breaking down of the Crystals that form when wood dries out and leaves Crystaline shaped sugar based deposits from the tree sap inside the Tubular structures of the wood.

    and that how they would shatter over time when subjected to vibrational energy and that both the freq. and energy levels used to shatter these crystals would have a dramatic (?) effect on the overall tone of a piece of material.

    Supposedly, as these crystals break they allow the wood to vibrate more freely. at least that was the gist I got from it. it was written like a darn NASA engineering manual... took'em 109 pages to say that.

    the study was conducted over a 10 year period. by some university over in Italy. I read this back in 1989.

    I know that therre are several folks out there now claiming that this is their basis for "artificially ageing" of guitars.
     
  11. suhr_rodney

    suhr_rodney Supporting Member

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    Terry, thanks so much for sharing your time and knowledge.
     
  12. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Member

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    I agree with all of these statements. Except that the "d" should be a "g" and read hygroscopic. :dude
     
  13. Terry McInturff

    Terry McInturff 40th Anniversary of guitar building! Gold Supporting Member

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    I can NEVER seem to remember how to spell that. In fact I have been corrected a few times over the years and I still mess up.

    Maybe it will stick this time, Jack! :)

    PS..I am having a "poor pitiful me" morning...broke my little toe an hour ago..I am grateful to be able to hang out here until the Motrin kicks in! :)
     
  14. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Member

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    Damn!! Sorry to hear that, Terry! Let me know if there's anything I can do to help you out.


    Cheers,
     
  15. Mark Kane

    Mark Kane Silver Supporting Member

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    Hang in there, you'll get used to it. I've broke the little toe on my right foot three times and my left foot once. I guess I'd learn to wear shoes:)
     

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