Tonewood does not affect electric guitar tone?

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by steelvalley, Jan 29, 2009.


  1. steelvalley

    steelvalley Member

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    Hey guys - bored at work so was brushing up on my "physics" - came across this test report which concludes that, while body wood affects the tone you hear when playing the guitar unplugged, that difference is not translated to the pickups/amp. So an alder telecaster should sound identical to an ash, all other things being equal.

    http://www.stormriders.com/guitar/telecaster/guitar_wood.pdf
     
  2. shally

    shally Member

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    after reading the article i am uncertain how they came to their conclusions.. there are differences in the graph's between alder and ash.
    why would that not translate into something that sounds different to the human ear ? which differences are truly significant, and which aren't ?
    i cant tell...
     
  3. JLee

    JLee Member

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    I don't agree. If that were the case, making a piece of driftwood sound like the greatest guitar ever would only depend on the quality of the electronics. :BITCH
     
  4. shally

    shally Member

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    agree.. but then les paul started out with his "log" and gave little thought to it. the wings were just to make it look like a guitar... maybe the impact of the wood pales to insignificance compared to the impact of the electronics and amp ?

    i dont know the physics, but i can sure hear differences..
     
  5. 909one

    909one Member

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    Yeah, that conclusion of that experiment does not make sense.
    You can see right from the graphs that there are variances in frequency response between the two woods.
     
  6. rob2001

    rob2001 Member

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    As with everything, I think it depends on a lot of factors. Some high gain amps will impart their tone on everything. Meaning, A tele won't sound much different than an LP. But some clean and low gain amps are far more transparent and it's totally obvious when subtle changes in a guitar occur. So I think wood matters, depending on the rig.
     
  7. JLee

    JLee Member

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    I had two Les Paul clones by well respected companies. One was anemic sounding in comparison to the other. I pulled the pickups out of the favorite and installed them in the dead one. Even swapped some of the electronics, the tailpiece and the bridge. Same story. In fact, I'm not sure I could even hear a difference in the before and after. The pickups were too monstrous sounding in the favorite guitar, while in the anemic guitar, they sounded like the lowest output PAFs. Everything was equal except the guitar wood. That was the only thing I couldn't change. Same amp, cable and pick. Before that experience I was in the "pickups and amp make a bigger difference" camp.
     
  8. dazco

    dazco Member

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    I'm not going to read the entire article, but from what i DID read and read here in this thread, i now know that morons can indeed make PDF files. Seriously, thats on of the most idiotic things i have ever heard. I have had strat bodies that were so different as far as tone that i've never heard a difference any wider than that between 2 of anything ! And to go even further, some that were very very different even tho ther were of the same species.

    i understand what placebo effect is and well. In fact, i have spent many years learning how to tell when i may be experiencing that. When it's close enough i can still have problems telling. I also know that beyond a certain point theres no longer a question of placebo effect. This is a case where it's so far beyond that point i can only consider the researcher an utter moron. I don't care what tests he did, it's a moronic conclusion.
     
  9. supergenius365

    supergenius365 Silver Supporting Member

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    Did a similar thing with 2 Strat bodies. Night and day.
     
  10. AaeCee

    AaeCee Member

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    Quite simply, if that were the case, identical guitars with identical electronics would sound, well, identical (nearly). Having played hundreds of guitars, and having owned near 100, many 'identical', I can say with a great deal of certainty that there is always a difference between like guitars, sometimes rather dramatic. Additionally, I've found that there are many tonal consistencies or signatures that carry between guitars built with the same wood.
     
  11. Dana Olsen

    Dana Olsen Gold Supporting Member

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    Not only does tonewood affect the tone of a guitar, each individual piece of wood affects the tone. All ya gotta do is play two Strats, each w/ maple neck and ash body made in the same 'batch' from Fender side by side, easy to do if there's a local Guitar Center - no two sound exactly alike, IME.

    Dana O.
     
  12. ethomas1013

    ethomas1013 Supporting Member

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    I took the time to read it, and I agree. The conclusion is not supported by the data. It's obvious from looking at the graphs that the body did indeed have an impact on the signals.
     
  13. fullerplast

    fullerplast Senior Member

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    I'm actually reminded of this body wood question every time I play my Trussart's or Danelectro's. Is body wood as big a factor in a solid body as we have come to think?

    Facinating experiment, and seems to have been basically well done.... with a couple of potential flaws. I wish they had normalized the graphs between mic'd and direct, but you still can certainly see the point. It shows that the pickup has a definate "moderating" effect on the body wood differences. I would have also liked to have seen some chords and fretted note responses, but the results are still meaningful....and surprising.

    So what's the deal with this experiment and why does it contradict "common knowledge"? IMHO, the use of a tele bridge plate and bridge pickup tends to potentially minimize differences due to body wood. This in itself is probably the biggest flaw in this particular test. I'd have liked to have seen the neck pickup response, since it is coupled to the wood body, rather than metal bridge. As well, perhaps the differences only show up in more complex multi-note interactions, not single open notes. Another thing they haven't done in this test is recreate the amp-speaker-guitar interaction. Some guitar bodies come alive with feedback and sustain, others don't.

    A good, interesting experiment with interesting results, just not quite as comprehensive as it could have been. Good food for thought.
     
  14. bluegrif

    bluegrif Member

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    I'm sure many of us have had the sad experience of trying to cure a dead sounding guitar with pickup swap after pickup swap. Or even a good sounding guitar that just doesn't have quite the tone you're after. It doesn't take long before you realize the guitar is just going to keep sounding like itself. Different pickups can cause radically different variations in that sound, of course. But essentially the guitar will still have it's own signature. Kind of blows this whole theory out of the water don't you think?

    The only time the electronics will completely trump the sound of the guitar itself is if you bury the guitar's inherent voice in distortion and effects. At that point it does become more about the electronic signal.
     
  15. decay-o-caster

    decay-o-caster Member

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    To paraphrase someone's sig line from a year or so ago, if you measure something and don't see a difference between two objects whose differences you can clearly perceive, that just means you're measuring the wrong things. It was put much more eloquently than that, but the concept is dead on.
     
  16. Reeltarded

    Reeltarded Member

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    I call complete B F N S.
     
  17. Austinrocks

    Austinrocks Member

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    Conclusion:

    Through the course of this research it seems that there is proof to the statement made by Halliday in that the body of an electric guitar does not have resonance.

    Of course this is both correct and incorrect.

    From the stand point of the electric guitar’s purpose of being amplified the statement is correct.

    However, the guitar body does in fact resonate and when it is not plugged in, the body is noticed to color the sound.

    This observation explains why some would say they can hear a difference in the wood. When playing an electric guitar unplugged the tonal qualities of the wood are apparent as the ears perceive what the microphone “hears”.

    These perceptible variations however, appear to get lost when the volume of the amplified signal takes over


    maybe if the conclusion is broken out we can understand what is being said

    1) an electric guitar is resonant, you hear that resonance when the guitar is played with out an amp. We heer the acousti c resonants and they sound different for diferent woods.

    2) the resonances of an electric guitar are miminized by the amplifier when the guitar is played though an amplifier.

    you really don't want a resonant guitar, that means that certain notes will be much louder than other notes, a non resonant guitar will have the same volume for all notes, which is what you want, the gutiars are resonant with certain notes being louder than others but plugging the guitar into an amp swamps out these resonnaces and so the guitar volume does not vary a lot note to note.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2009
  18. steelvalley

    steelvalley Member

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    I'm not saying I agree with what I've been reading lately, but I am fascinated by how complex the electric guitar is, to the point where, after all its years of existence, there's still legitimate rational disagreement for how all the aspects of construction affect tone.
    There seemed to be some trend in my readings that says its more about the stiffness and stability of the anchor points than the "tonality" of the wood - which might explain why some guitars never come alive - maybe its due to poor assembly or construction rather than the tonal qualities of the wood?
     
  19. saggybottom

    saggybottom Member

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    Man I wish it were true...I would have saved a lot of bread over the years.
     
  20. Keyser Soze

    Keyser Soze Member

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    Alot of thoughtful replies here so far.

    Yep, a pickup is a comb filter, and a pretty profound one. One that is also surprisingly consistent in its effect on tone. Not because it must be that way, just that it is; and mainly because we as guitarists will not tolerate much deviation (lace sensors or alumitones anyone?)

    I too wish the graphs had been better normalized. What I'd really like to see is a more detailed 'close up' of the 50-5k Hz range - since that is where we reside sonically speaking and also where our ears are best able to recognize even subtle differences in tone. (what I'm trying to imply is that those 'similar' graphs are not as similar as the author would like you to believe.)

    And a most excellent point about the tele bridge pretty much sounding like a tele bridge no matter what it's mounted upon.
     

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