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Thread: Wood Density, Tone, And Other Intangibles

  1. #61
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    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post
    Sigh.

    One simply does not know what to say at such a revealing post.
    Ah - the ad hominem rebuttal.....
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  2. #62
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    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post
    My first guitar was a Mexi Strat. And it had issues. It took three luthiers to turn it into a useful guitar.
    Quote Originally Posted by alantig View Post
    I have a Mexi Strat that only took one luthier to turn into an excellent guitar.
    My first electric was a Mexi Strat. It is a very nice guitar right out of the box and required no tweaking. The experiences the three of us had don't point to an inferior guitar since they were fine after adjustments, they point to inferior quality control. (I say 'is' because I still have it - how can you sell your very first electric guitar? I still have my first acoustic too.)

    One of PRSh's oft repeated goals is that a musician should be able to take a PRS brand new out of a case or gig bag and use it in a live show. My local dealer says when they open the new arrivals to put them out for display, they almost never even have to tune them....

    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post
    If Paul's expensive guitar was "better" I'm pretty sure he'd have said that. Yes it may generate slightly different tones than his other guitars, but it isn't "better". It's "every bit as good". People buy those guitars because they like the way they look, they like the exclusivity, they like the personal attention that Paul gives them. But they're probably not objectively "better".
    Except that in your example the more expensive guitar is almost certainly better than its less expensive brother. Over the years, PRS has developed refinements in materials and specifications that make tonal and playability improvements in the guitars. Some of the refinements are more expensive materials, some of them are more labor intensive processes, some are both. "Artist tweaks" fall distinctly into this category. You will find more of them incorporated in the higher end and less of them in the lower end.

    You may argue that the various 'upcharges' are not worth the benefits, or that you personally cannot perceive (enough of) a difference between two guitars, but that becomes a buying decision. It works for you or not. It is worth it or not. I know that I have heard from several employees at PRS that the artists they work with can tell the differences without being told which is which.

    My musical talents are not nearly so refined that I believe I could tell except for the most obvious changes, but that doesn't mean I won't be able to tell in the future or that on some level I subconsciously perceive such things now. I suspect your experience between the Mexi Strat and the Mira was along those lines - and that's a good thing.

    There are also improvements that are really obvious like the rosewood neck "extreme awsomeness" treatment which is not standard on RW necked guitars, but worth every penny if you ask members here who have had it done.

    All in all, you seem to dismiss the idea that there can be differences in the quality, playability and tone at various price points, which makes your shopping for an acoustic a bit puzzling. Did you look at only one Taylor, one Martin and one Breedlove? And if you did consider price point and features within each of these lines, why is it a valid decision for acoustics but not within the PRS electric line?

    Edit: As for that smile on Paul's face, in response to a question, that usually means he is about to educate someone....
    Last edited by rugerpc; 06-04-2013 at 08:16 AM.
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  3. #63
    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post
    If Paul's expensive guitar was "better" I'm pretty sure he'd have said that. Yes it may generate slightly different tones than his other guitars, but it isn't "better". It's "every bit as good". People buy those guitars because they like the way they look, they like the exclusivity, they like the personal attention that Paul gives them. But they're probably not objectively "better".
    You are missing my point.

    It's not a matter of "better." There is no objective standard for "better." There is what works for you. And that is, and should be, 100% subjective.

    I"ll say it again for emphasis -- t's all subjective. It's supposed to be subjective. That's the beauty of it, not the drawback of it. An instrument is something you manipulate with your fingers to please your ears and brain! Are your fingers, ears, brain and playing technique - not to mention musical taste - exactly like mine? Of course not.

    Everyone's fingers and ears and brains are different. Everyone has different playing capabilities, different talent, different taste, different levels of artistry. They all look different to inspire you in different ways, too. Because we all like to look at different, individual, things that appeal to our senses.

    So, if it's supposed to be subjective, where does value figure into the equation? It's a question that can't really be answered objectively. Because money isn't part of the fingers - ears - brain - eyeballs equation. It's a separate issue.

    "I'd rather have this one. It speaks to me more. I like it better than that one."

    "But it's more expensive."

    "Yeah, but it's worth it to me."

    Or not!

    It's art. Not science. My original post was about wood density, because it seemed interesting, but I'd pick a guitar by hands and ears and brain, not measurements, anyway.

    I don't need a scientist to tell me what sounds good.

    If I told you that the neck on a Paul's guitar is chosen a little more carefully and is a variety of mahogany that usually rings a little more, would that make it somehow better? Only if that's what you want the guitar to sound like. If the top is higher grade than a 10 top, does that somehow make it worth more? And to whom?

    Eric Clapton still seems to prefer his Strats. He knows PRS are out there. They're just not for him. So are Strats "better" than PRS? For him, they are. I believe that if his guitars were stolen, and you took your old cheap Strat model and your PRS backstage to loan him, he'd take the inexpensive Strat onstage because that's the type of guitar he plays, he's used to it, and it suits his style.

    So, you might not prefer Paul's Guitar. You might not need what it offers. In fact, your playing technique may or may not be appropriate for whatever "that" is.

    Paul's guitar sounds a little different, it's not supposed to be "better." If you like that difference and want to pay for it, great. If not, and it's not worth it to you, great. That's the point I'm sure Paul was trying to make. I'm confident that he's proud that all of his guitars sound worthy and great, so it's a question of which nuances you like. I happen to think Paul's guitar sounds fantastic, although I don't own one because I bought a Sig Limited that's fairly similar in design and sound before this model was introduced.

    Paul's Guitar has a fancier top, so you're paying for that. But the guitar is several hundred bucks less expensive than an Artist Package version of any other model. It's actually a bargain for what you get, in my opinion.

    It has a more select neck wood than a standard model. The bridge and finish are slightly different. The inlays are different. The case is nicer than a standard case. Lots of little touches that make it worth owning!

    Anyway, that's why "is it really better?" is not a thoughtful or particularly meaningful question. I'm betting Paul smiled for that reason. I mean the man's life is about guitars and guitar design. Where do you even begin to explain your lifetime?

    I could discuss guitars for a week without stopping, and not even scratch the surface, and I know 1/1,000,000th of what Paul Smith knows!

    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post
    These guitars remind me of a tea house I read about in the northern part of Japan. They sold two cups of tea. One cost the usual dollar or something. But the other cup of tea cost something like $100. And the difference was only the price. The two cups were identical. And this was no secret. Everyone knew. But people would come from long distances and buy the $100 cup of tea. What they would tell you is that the act of paying that much for a cup of tea changed the experience.
    See my reply, above. If you think this is about that kind of thing, that's fine, I'll never be able to explain why to your satisfaction. But it isn't a valid analogy. Because Paul's Guitar isn't serving you the same exact tea and simply charging more for it.

    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post
    Would it help if I told you I could hear clear differences? I called them minor because all of the guitars sounded good.

    By the way, what IS our disagreement? I THOUGHT we were having a conversation.
    Our disagreement is not an unfriendly one. We simply disagree on several of our statements. Nothing wrong or upsetting about that, it makes for lively conversation!

    OK, when you say there are minor differences between the guitars, what you apparently mean is minor differences in quality level, i.e., "all the guitars sounded good."

    We're speaking different languages.

    When I talk about differences between steel string guitars, I'm talking about the approach to how the instrument balances the fundamental tone to the harmonic overtones. Body size for body size, in general Martins will put more emphasis on the fundamental, and still have sparkle in the high end, Gibsons have much more fundamental and midrange and less overtone emphasis, Taylors are all about the overtones, etc.

    Yes, they all sound good, that is a given. When I evaluate a guitar, I'm concerned with the sonic details, because they are crucial to how the instrument fits into what I'm trying to accomplish when I create a soundtrack. I'm not looking for a guitar that simply sounds good, or is the "best" guitar. I'm looking for a particular sonic signature. So these differences are much larger for me than they are for you. And recording is like a microscope, where these kinds of differences are magnified. Not just via the amp or the microphone, but "how well will this sound take EQ?" "How will it sound in a mix, will it blend in or be lost?" "Will I have to roll off the bottom end or will it sit right in the mix?" "Do I want a warmer sounding pickup, or a bright one?" Etc., etc.

    It's the same with electric guitars in my world. As the years go on as a player, one gets more and more into the nuanced details. And it is in those sonic differences that the value of an instrument lives as far as I'm concerned.

    And some players buy 'em for the looks, and there's nothing wrong with that, either. It's a free country!
    Last edited by LSchefman; 06-04-2013 at 11:46 AM.
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  4. #64
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    All of this is interesting, but the original post really was just related to the premise that uniform density woods project better. I think that you guys may be talking past each other saying similar things (philosophy aside.) Sure, different guitar designs sound different, and better is in the eye of the beholder. The question though as this applies to an electric guitar is if we could hold everything else constant (pickups, hardware, dimensions, etc.) would the effect of density uniformity be important. I'm still saying that I'd be surprised if it was. But I'm surprised by lots of stuff...

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    Quote Originally Posted by aristotle View Post
    I'm still saying that I'd be surprised if it was. But I'm surprised by lots of stuff...
    I'd be surprised if the effect of density uniformity would NOT make a noticeable difference, especially if the wood in question was the neck or the body wood. I'd expect a less noticeable effect if the wood was a veneer -- the top or the fretboard -- although the type of wood used in those cases does seem to make a difference from this player's perspective.

  6. #66
    Quote Originally Posted by aristotle View Post
    All of this is interesting, but the original post really was just related to the premise that uniform density woods project better. I think that you guys may be talking past each other saying similar things (philosophy aside.) Sure, different guitar designs sound different, and better is in the eye of the beholder. The question though as this applies to an electric guitar is if we could hold everything else constant (pickups, hardware, dimensions, etc.) would the effect of density uniformity be important. I'm still saying that I'd be surprised if it was. But I'm surprised by lots of stuff...
    Actually, I was just trying to get a conversation going with my original post. So it's fine that it's taken this detour, it's fun!
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  7. #67
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    I don't have Les's experience or his ear, but I get where he is coming from. When I'm looking at guitars I'm looking for one that sits in my hands and doesn't want to walk of. I have played many over the past few years, and even at my primitive level of playing, I can tell what works for me and what doesn't.

    I remember when the Johnny Hiland model came out. I saw him at the Experience that year. He even toured some of the stores - I have a pic of the two of us in the store in Westminster somewhere... I wanted to like his signature guitar. I played it and played it, and different examples of it, but it just didn't do it for me. It was a fantastic model, but it wasn't me.

    I turn out to be more of a McCarty/Custom22/Hollowbody kind of guy. Are these guitars better than the JH? No, they're different. Back in the race to be DGT pres, I had to gin up a quick bona fide so I make a trip top the store for a quick vid with a DGT. THAT guitar spoke to me.... and I ended up going back withing days to buy it.

    Now I know that DGh and PRSh and company fretted over that guitar's specs for a looooooong time. It shows in the final product, just like Johnny Hiland's input showed in his. On a related note, I'm pretty sure that David Gilmour had a fair amount of input into his signature Strat and so on.

    So Les is right that 'better' is relative to what each of us wants.

    BUT. There IS better within a company's product line. This is true for almost any manufactured good. Materials, workmanship, styling, features, conveniences, upgrades, options, take your pick. And one of those things for guitars is wood.

    I believe that the components of a guitar are both subtractive and additive. Some materials and wood species dampen vibrations in specific tonal ranges and some vibrate sympathetically enough to enhance overtones that might otherwise be buried. I also believe that it is a black art.

    Wood density is part of that equation as assuredly as rock density affects the speed and amplitude of seismic waves - and that isn't a bad way to think about it. But it is so much harder to prove.

    Wood being a natural product is subject to natural variations and as such there is no definitive example of 'rock maple', 'BRW', 'mahogany' or any other tone wood. The question approaches the untestable because you can never say for sure that the piece of cocobolo you have in your hand and use is representative of all cocobolo.

    Moral? Does the guitar speak to you more than the money in your wallet? The only question you really need to answer....
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  8. #68
    Quote Originally Posted by rugerpc View Post
    Moral? Does the guitar speak to you more than the money in your wallet? The only question you really need to answer....
    Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. That is exactly what I am saying. It's that subjective.
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  9. #69
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. That is exactly what I am saying. It's that subjective.
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  10. #70
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    Quote Originally Posted by rugerpc View Post
    You may argue that the various 'upcharges' are not worth the benefits, or that you personally cannot perceive (enough of) a difference between two guitars, but that becomes a buying decision. It works for you or not. It is worth it or not. I know that I have heard from several employees at PRS that the artists they work with can tell the differences without being told which is which.
    This, in a major way.

    I read an article in an older Premier Guitar (I'm about a year behind now, but gaining ground!) about a guy who builds bass cabinets. He built one for a guy who was particular about things and said the guy said he could hear differences. So when the guy was checking out the cab and had his back turned, the builder decided to test him and reached over to his amp and adjusted the EQ at some frequency by 1db or 2db, and the player yelled, "I told you I don't like that frequency emphasized!"

    Some people hear those things, some don't. There are some things I hear that I didn't used to. There are some things I NOTICE that I didn't used to.

    Like Les said, we're all different. There are guitars I see that I know it's not worth me looking any deeper than the picture because I know it's not for me.
    Alan

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