Old wood vs new wood vs plastic

alainguitars

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
610
As an old time vintage collector I have to say the wood debate is totall BS meant to take money out of your pockets. Love old guitars and have owned ALL of the collectibles. My favorite guitar of all time was a 58/59 LP special I sold to a well known shop in CT. It had a clean fixed neck break which I disclosed at the time. He later told me me he had overpaid (market had dropped in 2008). That guitar was the most toneful, harmonically rich guitar I have ever played. Wish I had never sold it. Does that mean every guitar built since is not as toneful?. The rig you are playing through is as much a part of the equation as the guitar. Unfortunately I don't remeber what my amp set up was. I remember what I was holding in my hand but don't remember the whole chain. Was it the guitar that was great or was it the signal chain?. Something to think about.
 

mabinogeon

A really hoopy frood.
Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,564
I am of the minority opinion that wood types/ages don't have a noticeable (if any) effect on electric guitar tone.

A pickup converts string vibrations into an electrical signal, and the string vibrates between the saddle and the nut (or your finger). Unless different wood types somehow cause the strings to vibrate differently, or the magnet in the pickup to magnet differently, I don't see how they can effect the equation.

Full disclosure: I am not a physicist or an electrical engineer or a very good guitarist.
 

C_C_King

Member
Messages
102
Unless different wood types somehow cause the strings to vibrate differently, or the magnet in the pickup to magnet differently, I don't see how they can effect the equation.
They do have effect on vibration of strings. When you hit the strings, not only the strings vibrate but the hole instrument, which you cant see but may feel. This relationship is not one way of course, instrument's vibration is affected by the vibration of strings and strings vibration is affected by the instrument. There are some papers around web that also show some results taken by vibrometer.

In short, wood is of course a big element on your tone and feel(attack, response etc) of the instrument. But that "big" is a relative thing. While some people may end up paying thousands more for that difference, some people may even not notice the difference.
 
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Old Guy

Member
Messages
5,388
Unless different wood types somehow cause the strings to vibrate differently...
My answer to this is that a wood's density and porous quality (porosity?) have an effect on string vibrations. Since sound is a wave, I would assume that wood can absorb some of those waves to a degree. It would then stand to reason that if some of those waves are absorbed, they never get to the magnets to transmit that sound. The next question is how much of those waves need to be absorbed to have an impact on the frequency the magnets pick up.

I do agree that "tone wood" is a very small part of the equation when examining tone, but it does have an effect I think.

I am neither a physicist nor an engineer, but I did stay at that hotel that is supposed to make you smart once. Once.
 
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BloozDouche

Member
Messages
177
Does guitar body/neck material affect what the pickup detects in order to create a signal for processing and amplification? I have a hard time imagining it doesn’t. Are those differences consistent and predictable to the point that someone can say “this piece of (insert species of wood) weighing (insert weight) will produce (insert frequency response) such that it is unique to only that species/type/weight/age/material? No. That’s completely nuts.
 

crhfish

Member
Messages
1,550
I've never really understood this debate. I can hear a hollow body sound vs a solid body sound pretty easy. I can also mute the strings and knock on the guitar and hear a sound without the strings vibrating. Pickups seems to have a microphonic ability at least to some extent. While it might be lost on me and my old ears, the tone from wood does seem to make a difference to some folks. It might be the last 5% of the sound, but to some that last 5% is allot.
 

AL30

Member
Messages
3,000
I wish I knew. I've been searching for another Jazz bass that sounds and plays like my old one but I'm not having any luck. The newer basses all sound "stiff". I can't figure out whether it's the wood, the pickups (I've swapped them out) or a combination.
 

AxemanVR

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
199
The "Coupling" Effect:

https://www.thegearpage.net/board/index.php?threads/the-coupling-effect.2008082/

...while I can't say whether "old" woods sound better or worse than "new" ones, all I know is that I have two Strats, both alder with maple fretboards and (when played unplugged) one sustains noticeably more than the other.

I've also swapped pickups between two ash/maple Fender AVRI 52 Teles and they each kept their original "character" intact despite the change...


`
 
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BloozDouche

Member
Messages
177
Since sound is a wave, I would assume that wood can absorb some of those waves to a degree. It would then stand to reason that if some of those waves are absorbed, they never get to the magnets to transmit that sound.
That’s true enough, but it can’t be predicted based on weight porosity, density, stiffness etc. Consider this — a piece of woood absorbs some string vibration more thoroughly than others. What happens to the vibrations that aren’t quickly absorbed? One reasonable inference is that those vibrations get translated right back to the strings. Does that increase those frequencies? Does that phase cancel those frequencies to some degree? What happens when there are several frequencies making their way back to the string in chaotic ways? Are they all travellling though the guitar at the same speed? Is the way they affect the string predictable?

For the record, I’m not a physicist either...I’m just an incredulous dude on the internet.
 
Messages
23,814
Does guitar body/neck material affect what the pickup detects in order to create a signal for processing and amplification? I have a hard time imagining it doesn’t.
First, I wanna say the whole of your post.....is excellent. I agree fully.

I snipped this part out to focus on the incredible gravitational pull, to associate any changes we hear in a solid body electric guitar to the wood species or the type of finish or the body weight......or the age of the wood. We do have a hard time imagining these obvious visual cues are often of very little impact.

So, we have an "unpredictable, can't write a recipe" component and that's overlaid with the "hearing a child's voice in a loud, rowdy party venue" component. It clearly isn't discussion of how many angels can stand on the head of a pin, but it also is not the kind of difference that hits us over the head with a hammer, either.

Sometimes I think, "how does the outside world see us when we discuss this stuff?" "Do they think we've lost our minds?" And sometimes I just don't worry about that at all.
 

Old Guy

Member
Messages
5,388
That’s true enough, but it can’t be predicted based on weight porosity, density, stiffness etc. Consider this — a piece of woood absorbs some string vibration more thoroughly than others. What happens to the vibrations that aren’t quickly absorbed? One reasonable inference is that those vibrations get translated right back to the strings. Does that increase those frequencies? Does that phase cancel those frequencies to some degree? What happens when there are several frequencies making their way back to the string in chaotic ways? Are they all travellling though the guitar at the same speed? Is the way they affect the string predictable?

For the record, I’m not a physicist either...I’m just an incredulous dude on the internet.
Totally agree with you. These are all variables which may or may not effect the sound coming out of the strings. I would love to see someone do something scientific with this.
 

Old Guy

Member
Messages
5,388
I've never really understood this debate. I can hear a hollow body sound vs a solid body sound pretty easy. I can also mute the strings and knock on the guitar and hear a sound without the strings vibrating. Pickups seems to have a microphonic ability at least to some extent. While it might be lost on me and my old ears, the tone from wood does seem to make a difference to some folks. It might be the last 5% of the sound, but to some that last 5% is allot.
The argument that people who don't believe the "tone wood" argument make is that the only thing that matters is the strings vibrating and the pickups picking up that sound magnetically.

When they make that argument I always ask about why we don't make guitars out of much lighter more sustainable materials if the actual material doesn't matter. They can never quite answer that question. Especially when, to me, Lucite guitars sound terrible.
 

orourke

Member
Messages
2,354
I am of the minority opinion that wood types/ages don't have a noticeable (if any) effect on electric guitar tone.

A pickup converts string vibrations into an electrical signal, and the string vibrates between the saddle and the nut (or your finger). Unless different wood types somehow cause the strings to vibrate differently, or the magnet in the pickup to magnet differently, I don't see how they can effect the equation.

Full disclosure: I am not a physicist or an electrical engineer or a very good guitarist.
I have a Les Paul and and SG, both have Duncan ‘59 pickups in them. Two guitars, same neck scale, same string gauge, same pickups. One difference is the SG has an ebony fretboard. The tone of these two guitars couldn’t be more different. The SG is has a much darker tone, I’m sure due to the mahogany construction. The LP has the maple cap over the mahogany body, which gives it a high end snap to the tone. Wood makes a difference.

As far as the wood being old, or vintage guitars sounding better, I’m with the closer to the OP’s opinion, though I wouldn’t say it’s BS, I’m just skeptical.

I’ve got a lot of fancy guitars and my best sounding one is Rick Kelly coustom guitar made from 200 year old pine. It has Duncan P-Rails in it. Are those pickups really special? I doubt it, it’s the wood.
 
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23,814
And yet I have guitars that are next to identical to another and they sound a lot as different as you describe. Choice of wood can impact the sound, but some compositions of parts just have a different personality and it may not come down to maple caps, may not come down to what species of mahogany was used. Anecdotes based on a thousand guitars might tell us a lot but with all due respect I'm not sure what comparing two guitars only....tells us.

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I think in 2019, when guitars are seriously underperforming, the manufacturer/contractor is told to stop because he's told he won't be paid. Even as cheap as some guitars are now, they seem darned consistent to me. Compared to 1967 and what we could get then, I mean. There was a universe once, between nice versus cheap guitars, in terms of quality of function. That's shrunk and so the characteristic that keeps hitting me, on "very aged" guitars is, how radically they vary one example to the next. This is probably aggravated by the fact that older "bummer" guitars are just set aside as collector's pieces. If you got a 1957 guitar, you don't go resetting the neck or trying to replace the bridge. If it is wonderful, you play it and if it is a dog, you pawn it off on a non playing investor and find something you can play.

+

So, that's the paradox, that in 2019, mass manufactured guitars may all resemble one another too much. You can assemble your own if you want to introduce some more "character" into what you're playing. I think it is much more economical than trying to do the same thing by buying an "old guitar/old wood" piece. Having said that, there's nothing like trying out a whole bunch of guitars already fully assembled and set up, and find the one that speaks to you. And, don't sell the "perfect for me" ones even if the guy offers what seems like way over market. Sometimes the market just doesn't matter.
 
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MoarGear

Member
Messages
3,450
Unless different wood types somehow cause the strings to vibrate differently...
Of course it does (cause the whole guitar to vibrate differently), strictly speaking; just like the way sound vibrations are different in air vs water vs styrofoam, or the way a window affects outside noises when you're inside your house.

The density and mass and other properties of every piece of the equation has *some* effect on vibrations, just like you can't hear sh!t in space because it's a vacuum.

Whether or not it's a noticeable difference can be argued in some cases, and wherever it's considered good or bad is subjective - as is the value proposition, but any and every change DOES have an effect on vibrations, even strap-button-screw composition if we could measure it, I bet.

(It would be tiny, the difference caused by different screw materials, to be sure, but mass and density are mass and density)
 

stumphead

Member
Messages
1,797
you guys must have tin ears.
the wood / hardware / finish make a huge difference in tone

seasoned tone woods for the body - fingerboard type - thin hard nitro finish - proper steel stoptail studs, proper enamel pickup wire - proper string metallurgy , proper quality potentiometers , etc...… all have an impact on tone
 

BloozDouche

Member
Messages
177
Totally agree with you. These are all variables which may or may not effect the sound coming out of the strings. I would love to see someone do something scientific with this.
I’d like to see that too — I doubt anyone would do a truly rigorous test though. I imagine a test setup like this:

1) pick a bunch of common guitar wood species - poplar, alder, ash, maple, mahogany, korina let’s say.
2) source 20 pieces of each species randomly from different suppliers.
3) cut each piece of wood to an identical size/shape — let’s say 10”x30”x2” rectangles. Any shape size will do so long as they’re consistent
4) install identical hardware on each with the same scale length (let’s say 25”) with identical measurements for string height and pickup placement. Simple is better here, so I’m imagining a wrap tail bridge, average plastic nut and readily available tuners like Grover rotomatics. The pickup would ideally be set up on a removable jig so the same pickup can be used on each “guitar”, thereby eliminating pickup variables — again taking care to measure the distance to the strings identically.
6) string and tune each “guitar” identically..whatever tuning you like.
7) mount them to a workbench and build some kind of jig for an identical pick/strum. I imagine some kind of pick on a weighted, hanging swinging arm that can be raised to a predetermined height and then dropped such that it strums the “guitar” at the bottom of its arc. This way picking variables are eliminated.
8) plug each guitar into a di on any clean preamp (use the same cable each time) and use a daw to record the swinging arm strumming the guitar. This would eliminate any amp/room variables.
9) run a spectrum analyzer on each sample to see where the frequencies peak, dip etc. Now we can actually chart the differences in a quantifiable way. Are all the same species similar? Are all the same weights similar? Are they all similar? Are all examples of Wood A brighter than Wood B, ore are some Wood A samples darker than Wood B etc. Can anyone hear the differences evident in the spectrum analyzer software? Can anyone identify which wood is which? Which individual piece of wood is which? Are heavy pieces always different than lighter ones in the same way? The questions are endless, but I think this type of data is waaaay more useful than the thousands of anecdotes we see here all the time.

Clearly, I have too much time on my hands to think about this stuff.
 

Old Guy

Member
Messages
5,388
you guys must have tin ears.
the wood / hardware / finish make a huge difference in tone

seasoned tone woods for the body - fingerboard type - thin hard nitro finish - proper steel stoptail studs, proper enamel pickup wire - proper string metallurgy , proper quality potentiometers , etc...… all have an impact on tone
I don't think anyone can reasonably say that any of those things have no effect on tone whatsoever. The question is "how much of an effect does it really have?"
 




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