Can anyone help give a technical explanation of how tonewood effects solid body tone?

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by john_ciampa, Nov 29, 2019.

  1. Janus Alfador

    Janus Alfador Member

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    They do? What about ebony?

    And mahogany doesn't look like that dark of a wood to me.

     
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  2. mwym

    mwym Member

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    300Hz-3300Hz. 'Voiceband'. It is a frequency range on plain old telephone (analog, land) service. That is a frequency range within which every NON DEAF human hears EQUALLY WELL. As long a person hears the voice of other people - a person is not deaf. That is how they defined that frequency range for phones in the first place.

    Now use any guitar recording you know for years and completely CUT ALL THE FREQUENCIES OUT OF THIS RANGE and then listen. Then I will play some comparison video or audio recordings (wood and other) filtered exactly the same way.

    It won't take 10 minutes before you start to REQUEST proofs, evidence, data and science theories/diplomas to prove any difference in tone discussed in forums exists at all. Cause you will NOT BE ABLE TO DETECT ANY. And you will then go to guitar shop, play some guitars through an EQ CUTTING ALL THE FREQ BELOW 300Hz and ABOVE 3300Hz and lo and behold, ALL the guitars will have exactly same tone.

    A person can have it at even something like 200Hz-4500Hz, but that person will be requesting exactly the same things - data, proof, evidence, science theories, and .. diplomas and degrees. Cause as sure as sunrise will happen tomorrow morning a person with the most common regular hearing ability among humans cannot reliably hear any relevant/noticable difference of wood species, different alloys of hardware parts or strings, and other obvious things. And when general public is using guitars, obviously the huge majority has no other choice but to request data on tone difference they cannot hear, whenever any difference in tone gets mentioned in forums, just in order to be included in the discussion.

    300Hz-3300Hz. 'Voiceband'. And do notice that fundamental frequency of human voice is not even included in the range (it is bellow 300Hz), but SOME (as in NOT ALL) are able to recognize the voice and tell the name of the person calling after first 2 seconds or 2-3 words. Others HAVE TO wait for person calling to identify by telling her/his name, or have ro ask who they are talking to.

    These 'others' need data, proof, evidence on wood causing the difference in guitar's tone and they request it as their hearing ability does not provide these for them, the same way they have to be told the name of person calling on analog land phone line.
     
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  3. mwym

    mwym Member

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    It happens each and every time. This is the primary logical fallacy in threads like this one, and all other common ones are inevitable after it has been deployed.

    The quesrion is not if the difference in tone/timbre of solidbody electric guitars caused by wood used for making them exists or not. It is not questionable for people able to hear it.The question is how it works, why it happens and that is exactly what OP asked for.

    Anyone derailing discussion to a question if difference exists is actually - trolling. That is the only reason why these threads are always long and boring. All the threads derailed by trolling are.

    If a person does not hear the difference, why participate when cannot contribute to help give meaningful answer what causes it? THAT is the only logical fallacy exploited. And a 'right' for inclusion does not justify it.
     
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  4. xmd5a

    xmd5a Member

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    To paraphrase OPs question: "why do I hear the difference I hear because of cause X", to which a perfectly valid answer is, "without evidence that X is truly the cause, it's possible that the difference you hear has no relation to X", and further, "without having performed a direct A/B comparison contemporaneously, an imperfect recall of subtle tonal qualities might mean you didn't actually hear any difference."

    On the other hand, a person might ask, "audible or otherwise, how does the body wood effect the vibration of the string?", and without that qualifier of audibility, that's easy to answer: the body (and the neck) presents a frequency dependent load upon the energy stored in the moving strings. It's not unlike how a speaker presents a frequency dependent load on the amp.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019 at 3:46 AM
  5. moehuh

    moehuh Member

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    There's a StewMac video with Joe B. and his tech, where they talk about how a loose truss rod can have a negative effect on the guitar's tone. This actually happened to me, when I wanted a bit more relief on a great sounding tele with lots of sustain. Loosened the truss rod (too much) and it had a very negative effect (sustain gone, less attack, less definition). The relief and action did not even change at all because it's a pretty big neck. Tightened the truss rod again and it's back to great. Seems like the loose truss rod absorbed a lot of vibration.

    Found the video:
     
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  6. CaptNasty

    CaptNasty Member

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    So why then when a person speaks to an auditorium full of people is their name first announced followed by their credentials, relative experience, and accomplishments by the MC, then the speaker ascends the stage to speak to their topic? This is the MC building the ethos (credibility) for the speaker so the speaker can delve directly into their pathos (appeals to emotion) and logos (logic).

    Albert Einstein had to establish his ethos within the scientific community before he could get momentum behind Relativity. The pathos and ethos of the scientific community at large effectively forestalled wider adoption of relativity in spite a general lack of logos to support the prevailing theory of the day that “ether” filled space. The scientific community had coalesced around “ether” despite a complete lack of evidence (logos) that “ether” existed, both physically and mathematically. Pathos and ethos with a complete void of logos had entrenched a scientific theory.

    When looking for a job, we follow this framework. The resume presents our ethos justifying why one has the credentials and experience (I.e. credibility) that qualify for the job one seeks. If the resume succeeds establishing ethos, the applicant will often move forward to the interview wherein they will have the opportunity to establish their pathos and logos in an attempt to secure a job offer.

    When a charity for starving children seeks donations they show us pictures of starving children and describe their plight (establishing pathos), the charity then says something like “<insert charity here> has been helping needy children for xx year” (establishing their ethos), followed by “for just $0.25 a day you too can help a starving child” (a brilliant if not manipulative appeal to logos as it also contains a reinforcing appeal to the pathos).

    There are samples all around us in the world of the importance of establishing ones credibility in order to set the foundation for one to be able to influence and mobilize people to action and/or ideas.

    What you seek to do is discount pathos and ethos, presumably because you have failed to establish your own. You are trying to invalidate that which you cannot bring to the table in an attempt to set the playing field in your own favor. It is a perfectly rational thing to do, but not a particularly effective strategy.

    Your analogy of a murder trial was way off. The very first thing that attorneys do pre-trial and during trial is tear down the credibility of the witnesses (were you drinking?, were you wearing your glasses?, Isn’t it true that you have lied in the past, why should we believe you now? Do you have some agenda?, etc, etc, etc). So many trials have seen compelling witness testimony neutralized by witness credibility issues. Conversely, so many trials have seen uninspiring witness testimony bolstered by the unassailable credibility of a witness. You are making my point, thank you.

    Extend that to politics. Why mud sling? To erode your opponents credibility. Why erode your opponents credibility? Because once their credibility is compromised, you have decreased their ability to defend their logos... they are less credible, less believable. You don’t believe that political campaigns are really about ideas and logic do you? They are first and foremost about establishing the credibility to govern.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019 at 9:56 AM
  7. Mark Kerr

    Mark Kerr Member

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    In the first few examples I found with a quick search, ebony was described as sounding warm like rosewood but with subtle differences.

    The typical mahogany as used in guitars is darker looking than the woods people tend to describe as sounding bright, like maple or swamp ash. Mahogany seems to be the first wood that people usually describe as warm, and interestingly enough, sometimes as having a strong mid-range, possibly because it's near the middle of the wood color range.
     
  8. CaptNasty

    CaptNasty Member

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    Yes, this is what the “wood does not affect tone” camp fails to get. The guitar vibrates. This is undeniable. One can feel it.

    The energy to cause the vibration comes from somewhere. It does not come from the environment, it comes from the strings. That means that through a chain of components the energy is moving from the strings to the body. Any energy removed from the strings is energy that is not present in the string to be translated to electrical signal by the pickups. All objects have resonant frequencies and the RF is not the same for all objects.

    In other words, anything that removes energy from the strings affects the way the string vibrates. Anything the affects the way the string vibrates affects what the pickup hears from the string vibrating within the pickups magnetic field. What the pickup hears is the amplified voice of the guitar.

    None of the “wood does not affect tone camp” has provided a cohesive and compelling counter thesis to explain why the energy removed from the string by the guitar chassis would not affect tone. To the contrary they have failed to show that all materials remove the same amount of energy at the same frequencies... a requisite for different materials to have no variation in tonal impact. The entire counter argument is a patchwork of loosely coupled scientific observations held together by blind faith, “common sense”, and belief that is devoid of a comprehensive, unifying thesis.

    The whole “human hearing can not differentiate things below 1db” guy’s argument is not comprehensive, compelling, nor persuasive. The fact that an electric guitar played acoustically causes the wood to vibrate, that we can hear the vibration emanating from the wood, and that the volume of the vibrating wood is greater than 1db (a whisper is roughly 20 dB and the vibration of the wood on an unplugged electric guitar is louder than a whisper), leaves me with the thesis that the energy removed from the string is greater than 1dB. For the “below 1dB” argument to have any chance of holding up, the sound energy of the vibrating guitar would have to be below 1dB.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019 at 10:06 AM
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  9. Ron Kirn

    Ron Kirn Gold Supporting Member Vendor

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    personally I don't think many actually think the Wood doesn't effect tone.. It's just in this context, a forum, it's often difficult to convey thoughts...

    Yeah, wood DOES effect tone... as does all the other facets that comprise a guitar... it's just there's no way to know definitively what the guitar will sound like until it's completed..

    Again you cannot walk into a guitar shop and say.. "OK, I want to sample guitars that only have great sounding tone wood..." You simply play 'em, and they reveal who they are as you do so.. then ya pick one.. The tone of the wood mattered only in the context that it was part of the sonic signature of the guitar you were playing..

    a luthier can "steer" the intended "voice" in a direction, but a specific sound, that requires mystic abilities. The discussion is compounded by several variables.. Someone's hearing is one, as is any cognitive biases brought to the "table". Also in play are the various degrees to which one wants a guitar to "sound like" something they've experienced... and their recollection of what it actually sounded like. Few realize.. the average for someone being able to accurately recall the sound previously heard is 15 seconds... beyond that it's only a vague recollection of a familiar sound heard.

    an example is.. You're at a "joint" listening to a group playing as you're ordering your Lophraig .... all of a sudden the group cuts in with some well known tune.. and you think, "Damn, they have the sound nailed..", you turn and they're playing the entirely wrong gear.. and you think, "How in hell are they doing it..."

    Now if you could have the original group there, so you could A/B them, you would hear a vast difference. It just the psyche, being familiar with the song, "fills in" the differences, and you hear what you expect... don't argue with me, go talk to a Shrink that specializes in such.

    Some consider "sounds like" as having been achieved if the spectral traces resulting from an acoustic lab's examination comes close to matching an original (not gonna happen).. and for others.. it's simply if it's "close 'nuff for gubmint work" it's good 'nuff.

    For me.. unless you can take knowledge of some factor relative to a guitar and use it to purchase a guitar and get the desired sound as a result of that applied knowledge, it's useless, it does not matter... it's simply good for a discussion .. that's where the Wood's potential sonic sculpting falls... I don't care what type lumber you choose, or how it sounds as you bonk it to hear it ring, or listened to it's resonating sounds as it's machined... the eventual sound will ONLY be a composite of what the wood brings, plus everything else.

    Choosing a specific species because it's reputed to produce a certain sound has more to do with your expectations than the reality, and that reality has more to do with you getting the guitar you really want than getting the guitar that makes the sound you think you want.

    For instance, you hear Ash produces a more "snappy" sound.. so you go to Guitar Mania, an say ya only want to sample Ash guitars... the sales guy "screws" with ya an throws an Alder one into the mix... you play and determine the one made of alder has the "snappy" sound you want... so who was wrong... You.. for being :close minded" or the Sales guy for screwing with ya..

    Or if you want a Bluesy, Jazzy sound, you immediately think of Mahogany... it doesn't matter that many other species are suitable... and that some would say plain will not work.. but a Luthier can do the unexpected.. but if one convinces you to choose another lumber other than Mahogany,,, that's a mistake.. simply because you will wonder forever if you made the right call, and your "psyche" simply will not hear the sound you expected..

    Psycho acoustics can be a bytch..

    r
     
  10. CaptNasty

    CaptNasty Member

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    Absolutely. We can have an idea of what neighborhood the voice is in though. Give me an Alder body, Maple neck guitar with a titanium bridge and nut, stainless frets, and DiMarzio super 2s in the neck and bridge and I can tell you that guitar will be on the brighter side of the spectrum. Don’t know what the exact PRF will be, but if I am looking for a warmer voice I know that is not the guitar for me!

    It would also be dependent upon how much someone has educated themselves on the topic. To someone who plays and does not delve deeper into how a guitar works, the ear is all they have.

    To someone who has educated themselves to understand how the guitar works, they can have an educated idea of where to start to get where they want to go. They would then need to validate their idea with their ears. Such a musician could also alter components of the instrument to push a guitar in a given direction based on their knowledge. Like replacing the titanium bridge in the previous example with a brass bridge in order to tame the highs.
    While every guitarist is admittedly not capable of this, there are some who have developed enough knowledge be it formal or intuitive to understand how to achieve a desired sonic outcome. Hardware can be changed... easily for that matter. Nuts, tuners, frets, pickups, and bridges are easy to swap. Wood on the other hand is a foundational and expensive decision.
    Yet we have a very long history in which observations have generally reinforced the expectation. The law of large number has held for centuries in the case of acoustics. There are outliers, but a species I believe does have a dominant vocal character.

    In the Alder/Ash scenario you present, who is to say that the Alder was the source of the snappiness? Could be the tremolo sustain block, the saddles, the bridge plate, the nut that imparts the “snap” the guitarist is looking for.

    It is certainly a complex “dance” that occurs. It is a dance that many people do not take the time to study and understand. It is not a dance that is beyond our capability to understand and manipulate at some level if we invest the time and effort to do so.

    We do not need mathematical models or a grand unified guitar theory to affect the “dance”, intuitive models are a tried and proven way of approaching it.
    Ain’t that the truth

    Also to be clear Ron, I am not aiming at you with any of this. You have presented reasonable, detailed, and cogent reasoning for what you have contributed. We disagree on some points and there is nothing wrong with that.

    It is quite frustrating to deal with participants who simply say “Well, it doesn’t work that way because it doesn’t make sense to me”. Ok, why doesn’t it make sense? How does it work? Can you provide a comprehensive and cohesive model that doesn’t fall apart when delved into? Can you provide more meat than “no” and a stream of consciousness of loosely related pseudo-scientific factoids?
     
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  11. moehuh

    moehuh Member

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    This one is great and everybody in this thread should do the test themselves!

    One thing to mention: I'm not sure if perceived difference is a good measure for this. How different is different after all? It's better to take some notes for each sample and compare it to the results afterwards (something like B tighter bass, B more open sounding, B quacky sound, ...).

    To me, all samples were pretty close (0-2 in difference out of 10). After all, it's always a Strat on the same pickup (IMHO a 9 or 10 would be a semi acoustic with humbuckers vs. a Strat on the bridge pickup...). So, I always took notes on each sound sample and ended up with a pretty conclusive result: the ash/maple Strat has a very open sound with an aggressive quack (hard to describe but pretty much the sound you relate to old 50s Strats). The alder/rosewood Strat was the most mid focused with tighter bass and less open compared to ash (it didn't seem to have more mids, rather just less bass and less top end). Ash/rosewood sounded a bit tamer and mellower than Ash/maple, but still very open/wide. Alder/maple was very close to alder/rosewood but lacked some punch. I redid the whole thing after a while, so I forgot the sequence and ended up with a pretty similar result. The ash/maple Strat was the easiest to distinguish from the rest. Could just be the best guitar of all four, at least I liked it most.
    My first electric guitar was a Strat, it's what I love and played all the time. Redo this test with Les Pauls and I probably won't hear a lot of differences...

    Side note: one of the samples is the same riff played again on the same guitar, but one sample has less bass and is a bit brighter. Heard the same when relistening to the sample. The guitarist probably played the riff a bit closer to the bridge one time. Shows how much your playing affects the sound. Also really liked the eq'd samples, shows how easy you can color and change your guitar tone.

    Conclusion:
    - Differences are small (compared to two different guitar types like Fender vs. Gibson, solid body vs. hallow body). It's better to have two different guitar types for versatility rather than two of the same type but with different woods. EQ makes a big difference as well
    - It's better to worry about a great guitar in general, rather than wood combinations. What you hear is always the sum of all parts, and there is arguably more impact from other parts (e.g. pickups). That's why I'm not a fan of custom orders, I want to play the guitar and then decide if I like it or not
    - If you can't hear any difference at all: Great, just get a guitar that feels nice and looks good. Happy days ahead. Most people will not notice anyways...
    - Jeff Beck is 100% right: it's in the fingers!
     
  12. Mark Kerr

    Mark Kerr Member

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    "Wood does not affect tone" is a bit of a strawman. The argument is usually, "The species of a wood does not perceptibly affect the tone of solid body guitars." This tonewood issue initially arose as a backlash to claims made by some companies regarding the tonal qualities of their expensive woods types. There are things about wood that definitely can affect tone, we just don't believe that species of the wood is significant.

    Again, this misrepresents the anti-tonewood argument. We are not denying resonant frequency; we are claiming that ascribing resonant frequencies to a species of tree is impossible. The resonant frequency in different boards cut from the same tree can vary greatly, nevermind boards cut from different trees in different locations. Why do luthiers tap on different boards of spruce if they all resonate and behave identically? And incidentally, the resonant frequency of a solid guitar body is mostly determined by the luthier, and may vary greatly from the RF of the original board of wood.

    Peace out!
     
  13. Ron Kirn

    Ron Kirn Gold Supporting Member Vendor

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    and therein lies the variable... the "who" will hear what he wants, or depending on his hearing, what he Can hear.... and all any of us can hear is THE GUITAR, not the individual components.

    r
     
  14. SlyStrat

    SlyStrat Member

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    Lots of huge ego's replying here.
     
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  15. xmd5a

    xmd5a Member

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    You're not picking up what I'm putting down. All we need with respect to "influence" in this time and place is facts. The Theory of Relativity is (was?) just that, a theory, credibility matters when you're asking people to entertain an idea that, for whatever reason, cannot be proven. The "tone wood" can be proven, rather than have to fall back on the credibility of someone's guesswork, we can reserve judgement until we have the facts on hand. A lot of people with physics degrees would love to pull out their paper and hit people over the head with it, but it's primary use is to have given you knowledge, not to be a proverbial baseball bat to settle disputes.

    The YouTube video with the planks of wood came very close, there were just a few short comings, such as 1) wrong size of wood 2) no blind testing 3) only one example of each wood 4) only one person performing. I did heat what seemed to be a difference in those videos, unfortunately, for the reasons enumerated, I can't transfer that observation unto the tone wood debate. Another YouTuber might come along soon and get a few more of these things right, and we will be one step closer to knowing for sure.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019 at 12:05 PM
  16. tildeslash

    tildeslash Supporting Member

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    Discussion of tone wood equal less practice.
    Tone is in the practice.
    The world's greatest tone wood is practice.
     
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  17. Husky

    Husky Gold Supporting Member

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    Basswood is very light in color and is typically a very warm midrange. I agree the response doesn’t know how to spell the species of wood just as lacquer or urethane has nothing to do with it. It’s about the properties of the wood and how it vibrates. However, the characteristics of certain species falls in a range of response just the same as not all apples taste the same but you would have the best chance of finding an apple on an apple tree. Not all manufacturers charge more for choosing a certain piece of wood unless it actually costs them more. Koa costs the customer more not because of it’s tone but because of its costs. When building a jazz box or a top and using tap tone we are listening for the right thickness of the top and sometimes to see if it is a dud or wet. Dud sounding pieces of wood many times do follow the species. Some truss rods make necks sound dead and the neck might be more of an influence than the body in my experience. Like Jelutong, sounds dead with tap tone and dead when used for a guitar. So it would be better I avoid that species I’d think. There is a reason we have a wood database for species properties and yes there is a range but it is a range and the properties of the species gets us close.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019 at 12:22 PM
  18. hunter

    hunter Supporting Member

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    This discussion is based on the difference in db, not the absolute magnitude. The total energy removed may be greater than 1db but the difference in energy removed by different density woods is going to be much less. And happening at different frequencies, some more or less audible to human ears. While the conclusion that the energy of the vibrating body is greater than 1 db is sound, the conclusion that the sound energy of the vibrating guitar would have to be below 1dB to support the below 1db argument doesn't work.

    It is the magnitude and frequency of the *difference* that matters.

    hunter
     
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  19. Carltone

    Carltone Gold Supporting Member

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    I know Hugh Geegoh! He’s a great guy, but a bit full of ‘imself!
     
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  20. Ripthorn

    Ripthorn Member

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    I have purposely stayed out of this discussion up until now because it seems like whenever this topic comes up, it creates a lot of contention. I feel I have quite a bit of background here, being an acoustic physicist both by schooling and professionally, but that doesn't matter to some. However, if I could use an analogy, it might help.

    The way the strings interact with the hardware and, in turn, the wood, is quantified by the use of the acoustic impedance. This is a frequency dependent quantity that describes how energy gets transferred back and forth between the different components. Now consider an electronic circuit. It is made up of different components as well. What effect does a particular component or the construction of a typical component make? It's a very hard question to quantify and predict, but it's relatively straightforward to show that the mechanism is through analysis of the impedance characteristics of the circuit.

    So in our example, the wood is a component in the circuit (actually, it is 3 lumped element components for each end of the string: the compliance, mass loading, and acoustic resistance). Now, can we completely predict the result? Nope, not without a ton more information. But can we see the mechanism of how it comes in to play? Absolutely. It presents a total of 6 component parts just in the effect it has on the string boundary conditions. The OP mentioned pickups and relatively vibrations. Well, now you have 3 more components in the pickup/body interface. How about the transfer efficiency from neck to body? There's another 3 lumped element components. So we can see the technical reasons for why the effects are there, but we aren't predicting the end result.

    I'm not going to address predicting the end result, because that was not the question. If we strip away the emotion and beliefs and look at the actual science, it's clear there is an effect and that, given proper time and effort, could be used for prediction, but it would only be valid for one configuration. Change something (the bridge, how it's mounted, the truss rod, whatever) and you would have to create a new model for predictive analysis. It is simply a system of incredible number of variables, and as good old algebra tells us, for every number of variables, you need an equivalent number of equations to solve it. That's why this gets hard, but it's not impossible (theoretically speaking :)).
     

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