Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by Unburst, Mar 16, 2006.
... or is old wood just better wood, even when it was new?
Enquiring minds want to know.....
I'd like to know as well.. It would be nice to know why it gets better if it indeed gets better and is not another guitar myth. I have heard arguments about the wood drying and that having a positive effect on the sound. A guitar builder also once told me that in his opinion the wood gets better with age 'cause the woods inner tensions somehow get relieved.
It could also be that guitarist like the overall feel of old guitars better and that leads to happier minds which makes everything seem just better. Don't know. I briefly tested a '59 Les Paul Junior a week ago and that guitar was great, just had lots of mojo, whatever in the world that might mean.
Someone once said that it takes for the wood a couple of years to understand that it's a guitar, not a table, or something like that
+1 Let's have some expert opinions...
For acoustic instruments, absolutely, but the instrument must be played to realize the positive effects.
I've seen & heard opinions all over the map for electrics. It's my impression that those older instruments that sound better do so for complex and interrelated reasons including the older growth wood being different from the outset from some of the trees harvested today.
What's with the arguments that the good wood has gone now? How was older stock better than todays stock? Ofcourse it's obvious some sources are not available anymore like Brazilian rosewood and so on. What about Honduran Mahogany?
Not sure if this is correct or not, but from what I've heard as the wood grows older something happens to it physically (ie the chambers inside the wood expand I believe?) that makes it more resonant. Like I said, I'm no expert but it is what I THINK happens as time goes on.
This OP appears to be asking a different question from the usual "is old wood truly better?" This one seems to be asking "once a guitar is finished, does it improve with age - or does it remain with the same tonal quality?" Kind of like asking if good scotch or wine only ages in the barrel before bottling, or ages in the bottle as well?
IANAExpert on this - I have been curious about wood and done a lot of research, but all of the stuff I have picked up is second-hand. Here are a few points I have heard about:
- yes wood gets better - as a guitar ages, the wood continues to dry out, increasing the likelihood that the wood will stiffen, and the cells open up a little, increasing overall resonance
- Air dry vs. Kiln dry matters - air drying is considered better because the wood ages at a natural pace - kiln drying is more like to lead to wood that doesn't settle as well - it dries more quickly from the outside-in which can lead to less natural warping, etc. - which *may* mean it will not age as part of a finished guitar as well as air dried. Vintage nuts place a LOT of weight on air-dried vs. kiln-dried as central to why old wood is "better" than newer wood - it gets portrayed as the second-most important factor in wood quality after the initial nature of the wood itself - i.e., is the wood the right species of tone wood and is it from natural growth, old growth trees...
- wood as part of the guitar's overall "system" will integrate better - a guitar is made up of different pieces of wood glued and bolted together and finished - as a guitar ages, this total system of parts integrates together - there is argument (like Jon S's above) that you need to regularly play a guitar so it integrates in a way that is supportive for the music you are playing - I get the impression that if you play a lot of A and E chords, for instance, the integration may be different than if you play jazzier chords - not sure about this
- the finish matters - nitro lacquer gets thinner, crackles and lets more air get to the wood, etc - so there are arguments that the type of finish used will directly effect the wood's ability to benefit from both aging and integration with the other guitar parts.
- the Glue matters - again, a source of much discussion, but some folks think that hide (a more "natural") glue vs. modern chemical glues enables a superior form of integration.
- initial wood quality matters - great tone woods start off with better tone and apparently both age and integrate better. Poorer woods are more likely to not benefit from aging both because they started off with less potential and because they are typically used in less-well-made guitars that are less likely to benefit - again, similar to cheaper wines which clearly don't benefit from aging.
I think that is the bulk of what I have gotten out of research - hope it helps. The bottom line is that you should develop your ear and learn more about what YOU like - research will only take you so far...
Thanks for the useful info!
How about an argument I once heard (it's funny to notice how there's not much actual facts laid down here concerning this subject, it's mostly what people have "heard" ): once the wood is cut the drying begins and it continues even if it's finished, no matter how thick and what material.
This is total hear-say and I can remember it wrong.. What is kiln drying btw?
I've been told by some pro luthiers that the physical properties of the wood do indeed change over time, but as was mentioned, it has to be played. The vibrations change the molecular structure of the wood. The change in the frequency response can be measured.
Here's one man's opinion. It's probably worth something because he builds guitars and basses for a living. Here's the rest.
I have no doubt that what this post says is true.
I do, however, suspect that the change in frequencies or whatever happens CAN go the opposite way.
Perhaps the older/drier/more broken down the wood gets the tone is actually affected negatively?
No doubt wood changes, but I doubt it ALWAYS changes for the better.
Know what I mean?
Kiln drying in like putting the wood in an oven to dry it. serveral years ago I ordered a rosewood McCarty. I got it days after it was completed. over the next year the guitar changed dramatically. I don't know why, but it did. So why wouldn't a guitar change sounds sounds over 30 years?
I think the quality of old wood may have been better, depending on the wood species. However, there is absolutely no question that vibrations change wood. If you keep a new guitar long enough to really play the thing, that will change it more than how old it is. There are mint vintage guitars that sound like turds because they weren't played. There are beat to crap vintage guitars that sound amazing---because they have been PLAYED, not because they look old. IMO, it has nothing to do with whether the guitar has small cracks inthe finish and can "breathe," the finish just does not need to be too thick. The only validity to the whole relic thing is in the feel and the thickness of the finish---because the guitar won't sound old until it gets many hours on it.
I built a guitar out of a black Mexican (poplar) Tele body and a beautiful Masterbuilt Tele maple neck. It looks gorgeous, but sounded pretty dead 4 years ago when first completed. Now, I will put it up there with just about any Tele in terms of acoustic resonance. The wood can't have really aged much, but it sounds like a different guitar because it has been played. I can say that about my Gibsons, TA's and other guitars. Completely stock, they are much better than when new due to the hours on them.
The problem is people are impatient and don't want to spend enough time with an instrument for it to reach it's potential.
I read that a German Concert Grand Piano Mfg. dries the wood of the sound board for 13 years before it is used. A cousin of mine who is a Norwegian furniture builder dries the wood for 4 years before using it.
I guess I'm in the camp that thinks it is more about vibrating than simply aging...though aging surely has some effect. A guitar is lots of different pieces of wood that came from different trees and were all somewhate randomly cobbled together. It takes a while from them to learn to resonate as one cohesive instrument. The more you play it the faster they learn. I've even read of guys hanging their guitars in front of speakers while they're not playing them, just to keep them vibrating sympathetically.
I'm no expert, and I've done no scientific tests, but I can say that my Tayler 514C sounds different now than it did 10 years ago. So does my EBMM Silhouette that I bought the same year. Both sound better.
Here I go again being the voice of pessimism, but I cant see how anyone can tell that the instrument sounds better today than it did yesterday.
You people must have some kind of bionic ears to be able to say that.
that was funny.:AOK
I usually notice no difference in finishes changing the sound(I'm speaking electric guitars). I have to admit I sanded a rosewood neck that I have on one of my guitars. I'd clearcoated it 3 years earlier. It did seem to open up quite a bit.
I also consider my ears to be anything but bionic, but I did hear a difference.
All the old guitars I own(1970's) seem to have a special something about them. I think the older wood and the 30+ years they have been played contributes. Just my opinion, no documentation to back it up.
That being said, the quality, playability,finishes, etc...of the newer ones by small builders and quality minded factories seem to be much better than the old ones.
So, I think old wood does make a difference, or the fact the old wood has dried out and been played for 30+ years.
With acoustic guitars, absolutely does. I've owned a number of brand new high end (Collings, etc.) acoustics that have changed dramatically over the years. My understanding is that vibrating the wood (i.e. lots of playing!) has a dramatic impact, and the continued curing of the finish (lacquer in particular) also impacts tone.
I had someone demonstrate to me the impact of vibrating the top of an acoustic. I played a small luthier built acoustic shortly after it was strung up. Great guitar, but a little "tight" like most new spruce tops. The builder sent the guitar (experimentally) to another luthier who had devised a safe method of what I would call "speed vibrating" the top with a device that keeps the top moving very quicly for approx. 48 hours or so. I played the guitar after it came back from this procedure-result was amazing! The guitar had opened up like it had been played for 2-3 years.
You pose a good question, and as with most good questions, the answer isn't one dimensional.
The wood used to make vintage insturments (like from the 50's) IS different than the wood used to make today's insturments. It was cut from trees that were much older than today's, and it was dried for a much longer time before it was made into a guitar. It also "graded" better - "insturment grade" specs were tighter in the 1940's and 50's than they are now.
All those old trees are gone now - all cut down. Does that mean that guitars made from wood cut from less mature trees can't sound as good as old insturments? Not Hardly!
Modern builders have learned so much from the successes and mistakes of builders form the past that they can 'design in' excellence from the get go. Ron Thorn, Bill Chapin, John Suhr, Jim Soloway - none of them have any trouble building simply WONDERFUL guitars from woods that are currently available.
Woods DO cure with age and dry out. It's generally accepted that the dryer the wood is, the better it sounds. Finishes too need time to cure and dry. Virtually all guitars sound better after they're played for a while, and after they've dried for a while. This probably has to do with the water in each cell swelling the cell making the cell wall more rigid - the net result is that it's a little harder to set the wood in motion (get it to vibrate) and harder to keep the wood vibrating once a note has been struck. I say probably ... there's probably a number of reasons for this.
My pal Pete had his favorite Strat refinished a couple years ago. Beautiful nitro-cellulose finish. It wrecked the guitar, or so he thought - when he first got it back, it sounded terrible. Pete left it in the sun (well, through his living room window in Santa Barbara) ever day, and after a couple months, it began to sound better. After a year, it was all the way back to it's former glory. The only change was that the finish dried out and got hard.
My 2 cents, Dana