Tonewood comparison experiment - LP style construction

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by David Myka, Jun 22, 2012.

  1. David Myka

    David Myka Gold Supporting Member

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    I recently conducted a tonewood experiment and I thought I would share with everyone the results. I sincerely hope that this is useful to builders and players alike. I will answer any questions about the design, build, and analysis of the instruments for the sake of an open discussion.

    The inital idea was to build something based on the '59 burst. Pretty straigh forward mahogany/maple/rosewood humbucker guitar. Then the question of maple vs. claro walnut came up. The walnut is a beautiful looking wood but would it take away from the LP tone too much? Deciding to truly answer the question I built 2 guitars for the specific purpose of determining the difference between two different species of wood on otherwise identical instruments.

    This experiment attempts to answer the question of how much of a difference the top wood on a chambered LP style electric guitar makes. I did not try to copy the Les Paul but instead came up with a design that utilizes what I have developed in my own style using the tried and true materials and design elements common to most LP style guitars. They both have thick mahogany body and neck, Brazilian rosewood fretboard, covered humbuckers, 2 volumes, 2 tones, PIO caps, etc. The two top woods are Eastern Flamed Maple and Flamed Claro Walnut.

    In order to best control the results I selected woods using these criteria:

    1) Same grain structure
    2) Same weight
    3) Same tap tone (to my ears as I have always done, no scopes involved)

    So for each piece of wood I selected what I thought was the best piece and then measured their weights at each step of the process and did my best to determine the loss from carving, countoring, and chambering.

    Here are the common specs:
    Body and neck: old Honduran Mahogany
    Fretboard: old Brazilian rosewood
    Body thickness: 2-1/8" at edge with a 1/2" carve (total top thickness 3/4" before carving)
    Neck carve: Average '59 LP specs of .883" at the 1st and .970" at the 12th
    Pickups: Throbak Humbuckers
    Electronics: 500k Volume and Tone
    Caps: .022uF 630V paper-in-oil NOS Soviet K42Y-2 capacitors
    TonePros tune-o-matic with string-through tailpiece
    TonePros Kluson style tuners

    Overall weight target: 8lbs 8oz
    Maple top actual weight: 8lbs 10oz
    Walnut top actual weight: 8lbs 9oz

    For the sake of discussion here are the notable historical differences from the vintage LP spec:
    Neck tenon: Straight neck tenon
    Neck heel: Carved and contoured neck heel
    Truss rod: dual action
    Neck reinforcement: carbon fiber tubes flanking truss rod
    Neck angle: 3 degrees
    Headstock angle: 13 degrees
    Headstock laminates: Veneered both sides
    Control cavity size: Standard for my work, more space inside (larger chamber)
    Pickup rings: wooden

    My first impression came during construction. The maple tapped out with a warm and crisp tone and some nice sustain. The walnut was similar with a slight upper mid and high end attack, it also had less sustain (claro always seems that way until they are strung up so it's a mental correction that is done with the tap tone). Eastern maple and the more dense peices of Claro walnut have always sounded similar when comparing tap tones to me. These were pretty close.

    The maple top guitar has what I have always considered classic LP tones: the thick, velvety highs, a bit muddy on the low end, and that classic mid range bark that is thick and hollow at the same time. It's the signature in my mind's ear of what a Les Paul and this guitar had some of that character. When it is pushed through an amp it can get very snarly and agressive. Love that!~

    The walnut top guitar is very similar but the tone is a bit more focused. It has a fuller upper mid range that fills in a bit of the hollow tone of the maple guitar. Very bell-like tones and a bit more chime in comparison. It seems brighter but mixed in with the mahogany tones it really isn't bright at all. Just a bit more range, perhaps simply less muddy than the maple top.

    I also want to mention the Throbaks. Since the initial spec was the get as close to a Les Paul as possible (while still having my style) we wanted to use the closest thing to a real PAF. Since these were made on the vintage winders they seemed the perfect and obvious choice. And the fact that Jon Gundry has everything made to spec in the states is pretty cool. Through my Siegmund Midnight Special they deliver a very accurate representation of the guitar's individual tone. I have mention this before but I use the Siegmund as an analytical tool in my shop. It does not hide anything.

    I have also spent a little time in the studio recording some A/B clips. Unfortunately we had some computer issues and didn't get as much done as I wanted. I am processing these clips over the weekend and will have them posted here when I am done.

    Here are some phtos of both of the guitars:

    Eastern maple top:
    [​IMG]

    Claro walnut top:
    [​IMG]

    Again, sound clips are coming. Just hoping to generate some interest until I get those posted.

    [EDIT]Added sound clip links.

    A-B Test (embedded player)

    A-B Test-2 (direct links to files)

    Thanks!~
    ~David
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2012
    supergenius365 and Baemer like this.
  2. plaintopper

    plaintopper Member

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    Both of them are beautiful. Looking forward to the clips!
     
  3. james russell

    james russell Silver Supporting Member

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    David,

    Thanks so much for sharing the results of your experiment! Man, I love your design sense. All of your guitars are so aesthetically gorgeous. This is great info for me as a builder because sometimes my customers make very specific tonal requests. Great work on your part!
     
  4. CDaughtry

    CDaughtry Member

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    I was/am David's co-conspirator in this little experiment. I commissioned David to build me a Les Paul type guitar with his special touch, and together we came up with this idea. David agreed to build both of them and graciously allowed me to choose which one I wanted to keep. I now have both of them at my house(they came in today around noon), and picking between these two beauties is going to be incredibly hard.
    They are both incredibly beautiful, and they both sound amazing in the short time I have had to play both of them. They both have a total Les Paul vibe in sound and playability, and quite frankly, I'm shocked how "Les Pauly" the walnut topped one sounds.
    I haven't played them enough to give you a detailed description, but believe me....I will by weekend's end.
    My initial impressions are similar to David's. The maple top has the typical low end thump of a really great sounding Les Paul. The walnut top has plenty of low end thump, but it really shines in the upper mid range tones. "Focused" is a good word choice by David. Also, initially, the neck pickup sound is airier on the walnut top than on the maple top, but the middle position is heavenly on the maple top. I would have been thrilled with either one.
    This is going to be a tough choice David!!!:omg
     
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  5. brianr0131

    brianr0131 Member

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    Send the Walnut one to me for proper verification please
     
  6. Route234

    Route234 Supporting Member

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    Dam those are both great looking guitars.
     
  7. anyone

    anyone Member

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    Semantic discrepancies...

    The walnut one is a stunner!
     
  8. CDaughtry

    CDaughtry Member

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    I'm playing the crap out of them right now, but I had to take a bathroom break, so I thought I'd chime in.:rotflmao
    One of the extraordinary things that jumps out initially about both guitars is their resonance.
    They literally vibrate in your hand like a really good old Les Paul does. When you hit a power A chord for example, they both vibrate significantly in both the neck area and in the butt end of the guitar. I almost never find this amount of vibration in a Historic Les Paul.
    The maple top is definitely old school Les Paul. The walnut top is classic Les Paul with a slight edge in the upper mids. The maple tops lower mids are fantastic.
    Dammit David...can't I keep both???!!!!:p
     
  9. beorn

    beorn Member

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    This looks extremely well done and only increases my level of respect for Myka guitars (which was already at a crazy-go-nuts level).

    Really looking forward to the clips. Videos would be even better.
     
  10. CDaughtry

    CDaughtry Member

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  11. David Myka

    David Myka Gold Supporting Member

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    Charlie, thanks for chiming in with your thoughts so far. It's always interesting to find out exactly how others perceive tone in the same instruments. It's also good to hear how they compare to the real deal, so to speak. Your impressions so far are very encouraging!~ The lower mids in the maple top: are you getting that reedy sound out of the higher gain tones? That came through with my amp so nicely. Hard to put into words but reedy seems to capture the woody and airy character.

    All of this is so hard to put into words especially when some of the phrases have become cliche. I think Terry has mentioned this before (as well as Donald Brosnac and Tim White) that we lack a specific vocabulary to describe tone. We often say the exact same things in very different ways (as anyone pointed out post #7). I will do my best to get the sound clips processed and online on Sunday. Sooner if I get the chance tonight.

    ~David
     
  12. CDaughtry

    CDaughtry Member

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  13. fretnot

    fretnot Gold Supporting Member

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    Beautiful guitars! That's like choosing between a blonde and a brunette supermodel! I'd be curious to see what the lack of steel studs, bushings, and tailpiece does to the tone and feel. Really unique builds!
     
  14. tdarian

    tdarian Gold Supporting Member

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    Nice shots Charlie....good luck choosing, if you must. Those guitars both look great!

    Encouraging work there David!
     
  15. Lambone

    Lambone Supporting Member

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  16. John Coloccia

    John Coloccia Cold Supporting Member

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    Hey, when you post the clips don't tell us which is which for a while :)
     
  17. Javanova

    Javanova Member

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    Wow beautiful! Why the string through vs studded metal stop?
     
  18. CDaughtry

    CDaughtry Member

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  19. DWB1960

    DWB1960 Senior Member

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    I have the same question. Beautiful guitars though.
     
  20. CDaughtry

    CDaughtry Member

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    I'll let David answer that question. He does most of his guitars that way, so I'm sure there's a tonal preference in it for him.
    Just an observation from me....it doesn't take away from the "Les Paul" sound at all done the way he does them....
     

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