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Thread: Wood Density, Tone, And Other Intangibles

  1. #21
    SuperD Boogie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    Ever play a Steinberger L Series guitar from the 80s? I had one for a short time. It worked exactly as one would expect. It was cool to look at, white, no headstock, and its small size seemed great to handle in the confines of my control room...It was made of a mishmash of carbon fiber and graphite. The whole idea was to increase the modulus of stiffness, increase sustain, and do exactly what you're talking about in your post...It was wonderful at what it tried to do, which made it a very, very boring, toneless instrument to play. I wanted to like it. But basically, there's a reason you don't see a lot of players with Steinbergers on the stages of the world any more. It had no personality.
    That's a very accurate description of my experiences, as well. As much as I wanted to love those guitars and their revolutionary technology, they were dependent upon the complicated racks of effects to inject character. They were sterile and sonically boring (as were much of the guitar tones of pop music in the '80s). A great example is Mike Rutherford from Genesis and Mike and the Mechanics. He's a low-key and understated player whose lack of excitement was exacerbated by his use of Steinberger guitars. While this may just be my stylistic and tonal preference difference from his, every time I listened to his work, I felt a yawn coming on. This is a purely subjective commentary, but I always blamed much of his gear choices.
    Last edited by Boogie; 06-02-2013 at 11:41 AM.
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  2. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by Boogie View Post
    That's a very accurate description of my experiences, as well. As much as I wanted to love those guitars and their revolutionary technology, they were dependent upon the complicated racks of effects to inject character. They were sterile and sonically boring (as were much of the guitar tones of pop music in the '80s). A great example is Mike Rutherford from Genesis and Mike and the Mechanics. He's a low-key and understated player whose lack of excitement was exacerbated by his use of Steinberger guitars. While this may just be my stylistic and tonal preference difference from his, every time I listened to his work, I felt a yawn coming on. This is a purely subjective commentary, but I always blamed much of his gear choices.
    Absolutely.

    Theoretical perfection is not what the ear and brain crave. The closer you get to it, the more sterile and useless the sound in the context of music.

    What do we use a pure sinewave for, for instance? Any synth can generate a pure, unmodulated sine wave at any audible frequency. Here's the only thing musicians have found useful to do with a 100% pure wave: create test tones, and create subharmonic basses for doubling with bass and kick drum sounds in dance or rap music. That's it.

    In music, character = imperfection. It is often referred to as "coloration." A mic or preamp with character is generally a non-linear device that distorts the signal in some way that pleases the brain of the listener. The legendary U47 mic is not a hi fi mic in the true sense of the word. No large diaphragm mic is due to the laws of physics. The large diaphragm creates resonances. The U47 is legendary because it failed to be uncolored, not because it is uncolored! Its coloration just happens to sound good on vocals (and yes, I've used them, so this is first hand experience, not guesswork)!

    A Neve 1073 preamp adds heft via its transformer that isn't there in the actual signal. It's legendary because it's a creator of sound, not a hi fi instrument. I've had and used my Neve gear, and I know this is true.

    The 1950s Les Paul failed to be a perfect tone generator, and that's why it became sought-after, not because it succeeded at achieving Les Paul's dream of eliminating the wood as a tone factor! The Steinberger L succeeded to a far greater degree at achieving Les Paul's dream, yet after an initial enthusiastic response by pro players, it failed in delivering what musicians ultimately wanted.

    To go back to my first post about the Stradivarius instruments, people prize them for their liveliness, "zing", and ability to project. But this is far less important to the listener, who probably couldn't identify which instrument was used, than to the player, who manipulates the sound-producing elements of the instrument to achieve his musical expression, and likes the instrument because it enables him/her to do that more easily.

    As is the case with a PRS, in my experience and in my opinion (at least as it applies to my own work).

    Ultimately, someone may figure out a way to do this just fine using something other than wood, and I'm good with that. But they will still be searching for, and emulating the sound of the old wood instruments. And to do this, they will have to find the imperfections and non-linearities, not the theoretical perfections.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 06-02-2013 at 01:36 PM.
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  3. #23
    Senior Member sergiodeblanc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    create subharmonic basses for doubling with bass and kick drum sounds in dance or rap music. That's it.
    That's it?! Man, you make it sound so insignificant.

  4. #24
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    My experience is that for electric guitars, variations amongst instruments of the same design are just not measurable or detectable (quality control issues aside...) Different pickups, sure. Different physical guitar designs, sure (though less than you might expext...) But variations caused by detailed differences in wood from the same species...nop. I'm certainly not the end autority on the subject, but I have spent some time with actual vintage Les Pauls (Early 52's through Bursts) for a failed startup attempting to model vintage Les Pauls. Bottom line is that we could model the differences in pickups, but never even came close to measuring a difference between guitars when we swapped out pickups to keep that constant. Turned out that way for vintage or modern variants. Just because the attempt failed doesn't mean that there aren't differences. But it sure doesn't look to be significant.

    Les, I'm sure you're aware of the double blind experiment with old Stradivarius instruments against modern mid-tier violins. In that case, they used concert violinists, wearing a view limiting device (and with a dab of perfume on the chin rest to mask smell). The results indicated that even very talented career musicians couldn't tell the difference while playing the actual instrument. Your arguments against double blind experiments are still valid though, so I'm not saying that it's definitive. And maybe there are a select few among us who have trained up on noticing things better than the typical professional musician (which I most assuredly am not...), so even if 20 out of 20 pro's cant tell, maybe that just means that they it's only 1 out of 50 who are capable. But it just doesn't seem to be a "real" phenomenon for the majority.

  5. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by aristotle View Post
    My experience is that for electric guitars, variations amongst instruments of the same design are just not measurable or detectable (quality control issues aside...) Different pickups, sure. Different physical guitar designs, sure (though less than you might expext...) But variations caused by detailed differences in wood from the same species...nop. I'm certainly not the end autority on the subject, but I have spent some time with actual vintage Les Pauls (Early 52's through Bursts) for a failed startup attempting to model vintage Les Pauls. Bottom line is that we could model the differences in pickups, but never even came close to measuring a difference between guitars when we swapped out pickups to keep that constant. Turned out that way for vintage or modern variants. Just because the attempt failed doesn't mean that there aren't differences. But it sure doesn't look to be significant.
    This is pretty much what I would expect.

    Quote Originally Posted by aristotle View Post
    Les, I'm sure you're aware of the double blind experiment with old Stradivarius instruments against modern mid-tier violins. In that case, they used concert violinists, wearing a view limiting device (and with a dab of perfume on the chin rest to mask smell). The results indicated that even very talented career musicians couldn't tell the difference while playing the actual instrument. Your arguments against double blind experiments are still valid though, so I'm not saying that it's definitive. And maybe there are a select few among us who have trained up on noticing things better than the typical professional musician (which I most assuredly am not...), so even if 20 out of 20 pro's cant tell, maybe that just means that they it's only 1 out of 50 who are capable. But it just doesn't seem to be a "real" phenomenon for the majority.
    And this is what makes it so difficult to know what the truth is. So many people are so certain that they cannot be fooled in this way, but just about everyone is. And it's not an issue of integrity or having a bad ear. It a function of the way the brain works.

  6. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    Well, we use them BECAUSE they distort in a certain way, not in spite of it. Tubes are very good at what they do, and their somewhat chaotic nature is exactly what produces the tones we like.
    I don't actually disagree with much of what you said. My Luddite reference was actually meant to be tongue-in-cheek and not a little provocative, although I do think there is at least a small measure of truth in it.

    I would say that "chaotic" is not the specific word that you're looking for. "Non-linear' is. Clean tones are relatively easy to digitally model since that part of the amp's response is more or less linear. That means that a good impulse response can be used to calculate the response of the amp to any given input signal pretty faithfully.

    But once you start distorting a tube amp, it gets non-linear as all get out. Non-linear systems are much more difficult to model, and they can be highly sensitive to the slightest change in the input.

    It looked to me about 5-10 years ago, that digital amps were looking to break through, but musicians have spoken and digital is being relegated to starter amps and a few high end jazz models.

    I suspect that the only thing at this point that will displace tubes is for a different type of sound to take over. If people start being successful with an entirely different type of sound triggered digitally from guitars, then and only then might we see tubes go away.

    And in the meantime, aren't they interesting, magical little things?

  7. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by kingsleyd View Post
    Ted McCarty, who had a lot to do more to do with the development of the "Les Paul Model" guitar than did Les himself, noted that they actually tried some non-wood materials to test the idea "what would happen if you did actually take the wood out of it and replace it with a much more rigid material." The resulting "guitar" sounded like crap, as did solidbody guitars whose bodies were all hard (Eastern) maple, at least to the R&D folks at Gibson, which is how they came to land on the mahogany+maple recipe they did.
    Maybe.

    Here's a video of Les Paul himself talking about his invention of the electric guitar ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhdAWQaEsjA ). He says that his first experiment was putting a single string with pickups on a piece of steel railroad track and he said that it was the sweetest tone he ever heard.

    But.

    Nobody could carry around anything that heavy, so he went back to wood.

    And somewhere or other I read McCarty talking about the first Les Paul. They originally wanted the heaviness of maple, but a solid maple Les Paul guitar was just too heavy. So then they switched to all mahogany. Still stiff and rigid, but much lighter. In the end, they decided to put the maple cap on the mahogany because McCarty thought they could use existing Gibson manufacturing techniques to carve a maple top in ways Fender couldn't.

  8. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post

    I participated in an Akai demo in Amsterdam in the 90s at Wisselloord Studio, owned by Polygram, where I was working on a project. It was double blind, the purpose being to show that the Akai time compression algorithm of the day couldn't be identified on more than a random basis. The audio was run through the studio's SSL J series console, into Genelec mains, soffit mounted, triple amped, that probably ran 30 grand at the time. So we had good sound. And Wisselloord has great sounding control rooms designed by professionals. Details were evident. This isn't always the case, and is a weakness of some controlled tests.

    I was able to pick out the compressed track on 10 of 10 tries. I wasn't supposed to be able to do that, according to their other double blind tests.

    The problem was, I knew what to listen for.
    You probably should not have been told what to listen for. To some extent, doesn't this make it a bad example of a double blind test?

    Certainly an experienced ear should be able to hear compression artifacts if they are looking for them. It would be more interesting if you had not been told to listen to compression. The way the human sensory system works you might not have noticed it in that case.



    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    Ever play a Steinberger L Series guitar from the 80s? I had one for a short time. It worked exactly as one would expect. It was cool to look at, white, no headstock, and its small size seemed great to handle in the confines of my control room. I really liked not banging the headstock into my gear while working! And I bought into the argument that you (and the manufacturer I might add) make.

    It was made of a mishmash of carbon fiber and graphite. The whole idea was to increase the modulus of stiffness, increase sustain, and do exactly what you're talking about in your post.

    It was wonderful at what it tried to do, which made it a very, very boring, toneless instrument to play. I wanted to like it. But basically, there's a reason you don't see a lot of players with Steinbergers on the stages of the world any more. It had no personality. It was not inspiring to work with.

    It is the "flaws" of a wooden instrument that give it that wonderful tone!

    I have not had the pleasure of playing one, although I find the instrument interesting but not appealing. And it may be just as you say.

    But.

    One cannot help but wonder at the effect of changing the pickups, working with the nut, changing the strings. Without a lot more work it is difficult to know what to pin this problem on. It may be that Steinberger really liked that sterile sound and tuned the guitar for it on purpose. Did you ever try swapping out the pickups?

    And.

    After you strum your guitar, the signal is going to go through effects, all of the craziness and color of your amp, maybe some EQ, compression, etc... I would think that having a fairly flat frequency response would give you the maximum flexibility to color it the way you want.

    The pictures I get out of my Nikon digital camera are dull and muddy. They capture them that way to keep from clipping any signal. It's up to me to decide how much contrast, how much gain, and how much vibrancy I want to add to the final image.

    Also.

    Now, I want to be careful here. I just google-stalked you and you appear to be a very interesting guy (you weren't very hard to find). I want to preface this by saying that I do not doubt in the slightest your musical talent or your judgement. What I would gently ask is this: can you be sure that your feelings for the instrument itself didn't color your ability to actually hear it?





    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post

    Now as to the problem with a double blind test:

    With instruments, the player and the instrument are a feedback loop. That is, the player adjusts the note on the fly with various techniques including finger pressure, pick attack, amount of force, vibrato, pizzicato, sforzando techniques, etc, to produce the notes. This process isn't just striking or bowing a note, it's the pressure and modulation applied while the note is playing as the player is listening to it. There is a constant adjustment in most cases as long as the note is held.

    So to merely listen double blind to instruments doesn't do the player any good, because he or she can't impact the note itself, and this is what distinguishes a responsive instrument from a dog of an instrument. Wooden electric guitars may be hardwood, but there are good ones and not so good ones.

    Secondly, there is another problem with double blind testing, and that is the effect of ear fatigue during the test. After a few A/B switches, it has been shown that the brain effectively becomes somewhat dazed, and the ability to clearly analyze decreases the longer the test is in play.

    Thirdly, double blind testing can't tell you long term results. For example, go listen to an A/B test of studio monitors. I've done this in tests run by Dynaudio, Genelec (my studio at the time was a beta tester for them), and others. Yes, you can determine how well a pair of monitors does in a given room (of course the room part of the equation skews the results also). What you can't determine in such a test is how it feels to listen to them for an extended period of time; days, weeks, months.
    I would argue that neither of these issues has anything to do specifically with double blind testing, but with A/B testing in general. It's very difficult to get someone to play a short piece exactly the same twice. But this has nothing to do with double blind testing and everything to do with the difficulty of testing a lot about guitars.

    As for long term testing, while impractical, there is no reason that a double blind test cannot go on for an extended time.



    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post

    I can tell you from experience that some monitors are quite tiring and irritating to sit in front of for extended periods, even though they do very nicely on A/B tests. I don't like to work with certain Quested nearfield monitors for this reason, though they sound absolutely stunning in A/B tests!

    Again, I would say that this makes it harder to get to the truth of which equipment is "better" since that is such a subjective thing and probably can change on a day to day basis. But has nothing to do with the desirability of double blind testing.



    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post

    Finally, I don't want to give the impression that I'm somehow angered by your post. I'm not. Every person's experience is different, and people are absolutely entitled to believe what their experience tells them is true, be that from personally trying things out, or from reading and study. But it's also true that the mind is suggestible to a variety of theories, as you say, and if it makes sense to you, you're going to fit your personal experience into that suggestion.

    I've been playing a variety of instruments since I was 4 (1954). I grew up playing piano, Hammond Organ, accordion, guitar, bass, and a
    few others. I've made my living in the studio as a composer and producer since 1990. I spend an awful lot of time listening to instruments. This lifetime of experience has led me to certain conclusions that differ from the ones you draw.

    And that's why discussion of ideas is a good thing!
    Glad I haven't managed to make you angry (certainly not trying to) although at the old Birds and Moons I accidentally got some people pretty steamed at me. While my father spent part of his youth as a professional musician, I come at this from the math/physics side. I stumbled on guitar about 5 years ago when my wife insisted my boy learn an instrument. Guitar didn't take for him, but somehow it ricocheted off him and hit me. I still suck, but I'm getting better and I'm starting to suck in more interesting ways. Five more years ought to have me playing reasonably well I'm hoping.
    Last edited by bird_droppings; 06-02-2013 at 05:52 PM.

  9. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post
    I come at this from the math/physics side.
    The main part of my career has been spent as a math teacher and math educator. I have a Ph.D. in mathematics education.

    So I'm not unfamiliar with the math and physics side of it.

    Here's the thing, though: I don't think nearly enough time has been spent figuring out what it is that real, experienced musicians actually hear and how they process sound while playing an instrument for science people to lean on something like the violin comparison study and the plentiful evidence that expectation effects play a huge role.

    I've spent too much time around people like Les [not, sadly, Les himself] who can do things like be sitting in another room while I try out several of the same model guitar sitting on the wall and call out, as I start to play each guitar, "Oh, that's the lemonburst '05, right?" and be right every time. And I've verified myself (in a single-blind test) that my GF (now wife) could identify with 100% accuracy four different guitar cables after being played each one twice each (the cables were identified to her as "A" "B" "C" and "D") and then again in a random sequence, all with the same 5 or 7-second riff played as close to the same as I could manage. Ask Alan Phillips (of Carol-Ann amps) about the time he was at Eric Johnson's studio tweaking an amp for Eric. Eric kept insisting he was hearing some weird interaction between the two channels of the amp, and Alan was insisting (based on what he was seeing on his 'scope) that there was nothing there. Then Alan decided to look at what was going on at 25-30 KHz. Sure enough, there was an interaction, a weird artifact, that Eric was somehow perceiving.

    So I'm well convinced that people (at least SOME people, and likely IMO more women on a % basis than men) can hear and identify some pretty subtle stuff. And that cables (and the wood in guitars) make a clearly audible difference. And I think science has a long way to go to get to the bottom of some of this stuff. The basic problem science has is the same problem we all have: we're not very good at recognizing when our own assumptions and past experience are getting in the way. The Eric Johnson story is a great example of that: if you measured Eric's hearing in the traditional way, I'm sure you'd conclude Eric can't hear anything going on above 20 KHz. (actually probably a ways below that as EJ is the same age as my wife, 58, and he's been standing in front of cymbals and loud amps for his whole life) But somehow Eric can perceive the artifacts of something happening well above that.

    I'm also well convinced, though, that a lot of people probably aren't nearly as good as they think they are at hearing certain things. Such as: listening to a record and deciding that a guitar in the recording is definitely thus-and-such a model. Certainly I've fooled people with blind tests on the 'net many times!

    I'd be happier with the state of scientific understanding of how our hearing relates to these things if science had a better handle on what expertise is in this domain. I'm willing to bet that experts could be found who could have reliably IDed the Strads in that test, the same way I know that experts can be found who can reliably ID vintage Les Pauls in such a test.

  10. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post
    You probably should not have been told what to listen for..
    I wasn't told what to listen for. I said I knew what to listen for. The problem was that as an example, they used a track that I was mixing in the studio that day to test me. I think they wanted to conclusively prove that even an experienced guy listening to his own material couldn't tell one from the other.

    I knew the track very well, and what the timbres and so on were. I could hear the differences in my own track ten out of ten times based on my experience with it. I'm sure I could have done the same with any track I was very familiar with, by the way, such as a favorite record, etc.

    The big problem with the algorithm they were using was that it changed the texture of the cymbals and guitar a bit, and the rhythm had lost some of its feel. I don't know how one measures texture, or feel, and maybe that wasn't part of their testing when they created the algorithm. The cymbals just weren't oscillating in the same way, though I couldn't really put my finger on why this was.

    Someone could probably measure aspects of it. I just felt it. I know that sounds nebulous, but it's true. The track lost its vibe. It felt wrong.

    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post
    Now, I want to be careful here. I just google-stalked you and you appear to be a very interesting guy (you weren't very hard to find). I want to preface this by saying that I do not doubt in the slightest your musical talent or your judgement. What I would gently ask is this: can you be sure that your feelings for the instrument itself didn't color your ability to actually hear it?
    Well, I really wanted to like it. The thing was just so convenient to work with in my studio, and it was great looking in a "wow cool" kind of way.

    No, I actually heard it. Over and over. Remember, I mix my own stuff. That's a LOT of passes listening to things. Like most mixers, I listen over and over and over until I get so sick of tweaking that I can't make it any better. Most folks don't become that intimate with what they really sound like.

    But I also didn't get "the vibe" playing it. I can't put it any other way. I've had great guitars, and I've had duds. The great ones just have something special going.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 06-03-2013 at 03:57 AM.
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  11. #31
    Quote Originally Posted by aristotle View Post
    Les, I'm sure you're aware of the double blind experiment with old Stradivarius instruments against modern mid-tier violins. In that case, they used concert violinists, wearing a view limiting device (and with a dab of perfume on the chin rest to mask smell). The results indicated that even very talented career musicians couldn't tell the difference while playing the actual instrument.
    Yes, I am aware of several experiments, the most scientifically done was in Indy recently.

    First of all, your statement of what the finding was is incorrect: it wasn't that the players couldn't tell the difference between the fiddles. In fact, each had a preference.

    It was that they couldn't identify which one was in fact the Strad. To which I say, "So what?"

    These tests really miss the point! The underlying assumption is always that the players SHOULD be able to tell which one is the Strad, because it's supposed to be the best.

    They misunderstand the simple truth that everyone has different ideas of what the best actually sounds like!

    So what conclusion does one draw from it? The players are always asked to identify the Strad, as though somehow being a Strad was the important part, as opposed to simply being the instrument they preferred.

    So in Indy they each liked a different instrument best, and simply ID'ed that one as the Strad.

    The real point isn't whether one can ID a Strad by playing it. The real point is that the violins sounded different from one another, and each player expressed a preference!

    In other words, the only "problem" was whether they could call out the brand name? To which I say, "so what?" If they can pick a fiddle they like, because they have their own tone preference, what's the problem here?

    Where is it written that a musician has to be able to identify a brand with a blindfold?


    How is this a problem, except to people who insist that Strads must be the best sounding and most preferred violin because of their reputation?

    Here's what one of the researchers had to say; she acknowledges that the issue is really what people prefer and their criteria, and the conclusion I can draw is "not everyone likes Strads best:" But the fiddles did sound different:

    "People looked at the violin, tried to understand how it vibrates, what are the mechanics behind it," she says of past research. "But nobody has really looked at the human side." She says her research is aimed at determining how people choose what they like, and what criteria they use."

    The study doesn't prove that there aren't tonal differences between well made violins. It simply proves that people can't identify which one is built by Antonio Stradivari.

    To which I again say, "so what?"

    I may not be able to tell you which guitar brand I'm playing blind. But I can certainly tell you which one I like best of the ones I play. And I can certainly tell you which ones I don't care for and why. Most of us can do that, I think. Some are better at it than others.

    In any event, you don't need golden ears. You just need to be aurally aware.

    I happen to like PRS guitars. I don't like them because they are somehow "the best." That is an entirely meaningless concept. There is no best. I always say that, don't I? There is not a best anything. But there may be something that you think is the best for you, at that moment when you select it.

    I'm pretty sure that I simply share Paul Smith's taste in guitars, and a lot of other people do, too. That is all that can be said, and it ain't a bad thing!
    Last edited by LSchefman; 06-03-2013 at 03:11 AM.
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  12. #32
    Quote Originally Posted by kingsleyd View Post
    And I think science has a long way to go to get to the bottom of some of this stuff
    I agree.

    I had a wonderful studio tech named Gordon Nay, who was an electrical engineer with a degree from University of Michigan College of Engineering. He knew his stuff.

    One day when I first got a new console, maybe the mid 90s, he came over to my studio, and it was back when I had unpowered, passive monitors, and a separate power amp. I'd installed a pair of speaker cables as thick as a fire hose from the amp to my monitors, and Gordon started laughing at me for being suckered into buying them.

    And he set out to prove that I couldn't tell the difference between these cables and standard lamp cord stuff. First, he brought out a bunch of test equipment and demonstrated this to me with it. Then we did a double blind test. Gordon switched the cables; at the time I had a large 64 input console, and I couldn't see behind it to observe what he was doing. So I couldn't see which cables were connected. Having seen the equipment tests, I was not confident that I simply wasn't hearing what I wanted to hear!

    So as Gordon turned the audio on, after making the each cable swap, I called out which cable I thought was active, and Gordon kept track. I missed only once, at the end.

    Gordon said it was impossible that I could tell the difference, and that something must have been wrong with the test.

    So we did it again. Same result.

    Gordon was a good friend, and this was the only time I ever saw him become frustrated. He stood up, walked around the studio, said something in the test must have been flawed, maybe the equipment, and stormed out and went home. Later we both had a good laugh about it, but Gordon never admitted that maybe I could hear the difference. I'm sure he thought I'd just somehow had 7 come up on the dice a bunch of times. Maybe that's so. I dunno.

    I really miss Gordon, he passed away a few years ago and was still a young man. He taught me a LOT about putting together a studio. But he could never figure out how I could hear the difference in cables. Frankly, I have no idea why, either! It's just something that happened.

    But my guess is that maybe we just aren't measuring all of the variables that certain people can hear. I really don't have a scientific explanation for it.

    I am often told that I hear things in mixes that other people don't hear. But I don't think it's a matter of hearing acuity. I don't think I hear better than anyone else.

    I think it's the elements of sound that I somehow concentrate on that most people aren't listening for.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 06-03-2013 at 03:56 AM.
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  13. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    I knew the track very well, and what the timbres and so on were. I could hear the differences in my own track ten out of ten times based on my experience with it. I'm sure I could have done the same with any track I was very familiar with, by the way, such as a favorite record, etc.
    I think I now understand why you don't want too many guitars to choose from in your work. I've noticed you say it before, but it just settled in my mind now. I admire the discipline.

    I like this thread, but don't really have much to contribute. I know that many of the differences in my guitars might be noticable mostly to me, and that they might be influenced by my feelings for the guitar. I observe, but try not to analyze too much - because it would probably make me crazy.

  14. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    But my guess is that maybe we just aren't measuring all of the variables that certain people can hear. I really don't have a scientific explanation for it.

    I am often told that I hear things in mixes that other people don't hear. But I don't think it's a matter of hearing acuity. I don't think I hear better than anyone else.

    I think it's the elements of sound that I somehow concentrate on that most people aren't listening for.
    I think that's exactly it. I don't think we've figured out exactly what "expert hearing" IS, at least not in context, which is where it counts, right? But I know from experience that it's developed by systematic and careful listening, over a long period of time. (10,000 hours mebbe?!?) And you're right, it boils down to focusing on certain elements. My friend who can hear the differences between every Historic Les Paul on his shop wall listens for very specific things, and has listened to thousands of Les Pauls in his lifetime.

    Good on you for pissing off an engineer about cables! And his reaction is priceless: instead of saying, "hmmm, maybe I need to question my assumptions about this!" he sais something must be wrong with the equipment and stormed out. Sadly, that reaction is all too common in the scientific community. I guess because, like the rest of us, they are human, with characteristic human foibles...

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    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post
    One cannot help but wonder at the effect of changing the pickups, working with the nut, changing the strings. Without a lot more work it is difficult to know what to pin this problem on. It may be that Steinberger really liked that sterile sound and tuned the guitar for it on purpose.


    I know Ned. He did this, absolutely. Although he wouldn't have used the word "sterile." "Neutral," maybe.

    Did you ever try swapping out the pickups?
    Pickups can only amplify what's there. They can't add resonances that aren't there. They make some difference, sure, but it's sort of like different microphones make a difference: no matter what microphone you use, you can't make Rosemary Clooney sound like Paul Rodgers. Change the pickups and it sounds like a Steinberger with different pickups. This I know from personal experience...

    After you strum your guitar, the signal is going to go through effects, all of the craziness and color of your amp, maybe some EQ, compression, etc... I would think that having a fairly flat frequency response would give you the maximum flexibility to color it the way you want.
    A flat frequency response and maximum flexibility aren't necessarily good things when it comes to guitars, even in the context of a player who is doing a whole lot to the signal after it leaves the guitar and before it leaves the speaker.

    The pictures I get out of my Nikon digital camera are dull and muddy. They capture them that way to keep from clipping any signal. It's up to me to decide how much contrast, how much gain, and how much vibrancy I want to add to the final image.
    Again, this may or may not be a good thing. Some people may very much prefer the personality (texture? vibe?) that other cameras impart, because it suits their purposes. (or agrees with their sensibilities)

    Now, I want to be careful here. I just google-stalked you and you appear to be a very interesting guy (you weren't very hard to find). I want to preface this by saying that I do not doubt in the slightest your musical talent or your judgement. What I would gently ask is this: can you be sure that your feelings for the instrument itself didn't color your ability to actually hear it?
    I think that, in order to understand expert listening and expert listeners, one is going to have to come to grips with the fact that "feelings for the [whatever]" are part of the picture and need to be accounted for -- not just as a confounding variable that needs to be eliminated but as part of "what's actually going on."

    I would argue that neither of these issues has anything to do specifically with double blind testing, but with A/B testing in general. It's very difficult to get someone to play a short piece exactly the same twice. But this has nothing to do with double blind testing and everything to do with the difficulty of testing a lot about guitars.

    As for long term testing, while impractical, there is no reason that a double blind test cannot go on for an extended time.


    And I would argue that double-blind testing is very limited in its applicability because it doesn't help understand how professionals in a certain pursuit decide what really matters. Often, it's just used by non-professionals to make a sort of "Emperor's new clothes" judgement which often completely misses the important stuff and doesn't serve any useful purpose within the professional community.

    Again, I would say that this makes it harder to get to the truth of which equipment is "better" since that is such a subjective thing and probably can change on a day to day basis. But has nothing to do with the desirability of double blind testing.
    Everything humans do, including scientific analysis, is by definition "subjective." Science is done by humans, even when supposedly "objective" machines are involved. Some human designed that machine. Some human decided what it was going to measure. Some human decided what the measures mean. Some human designed the statistics that are used to decide that the results are meaninful, i.e., "statistically significant." That's a whole lotta subjectivity, which gets glossed over because of the high degree of inter-rater reliability within the tribe.


    Last edited by kingsleyd; 06-03-2013 at 08:34 AM.

  16. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    Limiting the scope of this post strictly to PRS, I've been a PRS player since 1991. During that time, I've owned (and played) quite a number of them, and in several instances, more than one of the same model at the same time. In every case, they sounded different, and one would be more "lively" than the other, with the notes feeling like they were easier to produce and almost springing off the guitar.

    Of course, not having access to a CT scanner when buying guitars, I have no idea why this is the case.

    But -- the two liveliest guitars I've ever owned are the two limited run guitars I have, the Artist V with a Peruvian 'hog neck, and very densely ribboned 'hog back, and the Sig Ltd with the so-called sinker neck (the back of mine isn't translucent, so I have no idea what that's like at all).

    This is sort of taken as obvious within much of the guitar-playing community: that the more dynamic and responsive guitar is the better guitar.

    But...

    ...I've learned a lot of innaresting stuff from our mutual friend, Kimock. One bit that has prompted some serious "thinking about things" on my part is based on my experiences sitting in his barn playing a bunch of different guitars: his guitars, my guitars. Specific case: he has a 1970 (
    ish) L-5CES. It's a bit of a dog, acoustically, and overall, you might use it as an example of how Norlin-era Gibsons just aren't up to the standards of their 1950s forbears. I have a 2001 L-5CT, built by James Hutchins, the top dog at Gibson in terms of building that particular model and others like it. Its acoustic (and electric) sound is noticeably more responsive and vibrant than Kimock's L-5, and it has the kind of responsiveness that experienced players would associate with '50s models. I'd bet that the vast majority of guitar players who played 'em both would say mine is "better," no question whatsoever, and I know for a fact that my guitar (prior to my owning it) has been borrowed by at least a couple of noted jazz players for recording because it has that classic jazz guitar sound. So I left feeling great about my guitar, right?

    Well, a good while later, I happened to spend 3 consecutive nights with SK and band while on a mini-tour of New England. SK was, at that point, really favoring his L-5, i.e., he was playing it a lot on the gigs. It sounded really good to me, as in: "Damn! I sure would like to have that guitar!"

    Wait, what gives?

    Of course, it's all in the context-of-use. Given the specific music SK was playing, the way he was amplifying the guitar, the overall level (in dB terms) at which he was playing, and the physical relationship between himself, the guitar, and the amp (i.e., their relative locations in 3-dimensional space), the relative deadness of the guitar was a good thing. Whereas in that specific context-of-use my guitar would have caused all kinds of trouble with feedback, woofing, and out-of-control harmonic information. Even though mine has a thinner body! Also of note is, SK's guitar still conveyed that characteristic L-5 voice -- it didn't sound like a solidbody and the usual "ping" of the spruce was readily apparent.

    So much of the time on these boards, it's all about "the best" guitar -- so many of us get obsessed with getting "the best" out of 37 examples of the same guitar, or, for those of us who play in the more one-of-a-kind world of Private Stocks and custom builders, getting "the best" out of that particular context. It's easy to lose sight that "the best" is always a matter of context, and while that context for a lot of us denizens of these boards is mostly "playing by ourselves at home" it looks really different for someone whose context is "recording music for clients every day" (like Les) or "playing music on the road for an audience" (like Kimock). In order to understand the choices of a professional, it's critically important to take into account the professional's internal criteria, subjective as it may seem on the surface.
    Last edited by kingsleyd; 06-03-2013 at 09:02 AM.

  17. #37
    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    Yes, I am aware of several experiments, the most scientifically done was in Indy recently.

    First of all, your statement of what the finding was is incorrect: it wasn't that the players couldn't tell the difference between the fiddles. In fact, each had a preference.

    It was that they couldn't identify which one was in fact the Strad. To which I say, "So what?"

    These tests really miss the point! The underlying assumption is always that the players SHOULD be able to tell which one is the Strad, because it's supposed to be the best.
    I have to part company here. I cannot imagine anyone going through the trouble (and risk) of obtaining a Strad just to prove the obvious: that different people like different things.

    As a statement, that not really in doubt really is it?

    But a Strad! They cost a fortune and study after study has been launched to find out just what is that creates the Strad magic. Famous players play them and claim that no conventional instrument plays as well.

    But maybe not so much. Here's wikipedia:
    Above all, these instruments are famous for the quality of sound they produce. However, the many blind tests from 1817[9][10] to the present (as of 2012[11] ) have never found any difference in sound between Stradivari's violins and high-quality violins in comparable style of other makers and periods, nor has acoustic analysis.
    What these studies prove to me is not that different people like different things (they do), but that the Strad isn't "better". What it is is "as good".

    I think that's really interesting.

    This reminds me of a party a wealthy man threw in which he invited a number of people from the wine community. In particular he had a number of well-known oenologists on the guest list. For the party he bought two wines: one average wine and one expensive highly rated wine. But before the party started, he swapped all the bottles so that the inexpensive wine was in the expensive wine bottles and vice versa. Late in the party, he asked his guests to rate the wines, and almost to a person, they voted the bottle not the wine.
    Last edited by bird_droppings; 06-03-2013 at 09:40 AM.

  18. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post
    No less a personage than Les Paul explained that his "log" guitar was meant to take the wood vibration out of the equation.

    The point of an electric guitar is to support as rigidly as possible the vibrating string system. The more rigid the support, the more sustain you get, and the less the wood plays any part in the sound.
    Les Paul's goal was to be able to amplify the sound of the guitar so it could be heard in any mix of instruments. Acoustic guitars (then and now) suffer the same problems with amplification - the resonate top and chamber of the instrument can easily vibrate in sympathy with the amplified sound and feed that back into the microphone. The kew word there is microphone. With the advent of better and better magnetic pickups, feedback became much less of a problem. Early magnetic pickups were not 'potted' well (or at all) and tended to exhibit 'microphonics' which led to even them feeding back. Les may or may not have known it at the time, but the real changes to let guitars be amplified to incredible levels without feedback were elimination of the resonate chamber (not the resonate woods) and the development of a good, non-microphonic magnet pickup.

    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post
    Maybe.

    Here's a video of Les Paul himself talking about his invention of the electric guitar ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhdAWQaEsjA ). He says that his first experiment was putting a single string with pickups on a piece of steel railroad track and he said that it was the sweetest tone he ever heard.

    But.

    Nobody could carry around anything that heavy, so he went back to wood.

    The misconception you have here is that Les Paul wanted to eliminate all vibration in the guitar body itself. Have you ever heard a hammer strike an anvil? Do you really think that Les Paul's railroad track guitar body didn't vibrate at all? The real lesson here was that the soft pine guitar didn't vibrate enough! That bears some thought.

    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post

    The pictures I get out of my Nikon digital camera are dull and muddy. They capture them that way to keep from clipping any signal. It's up to me to decide how much contrast, how much gain, and how much vibrancy I want to add to the final image.
    I'm going to make a dangerous assumption that your Nikon is digital.

    What better argument for analog VS digital? Digital, by definition, is desecrate steps. You can increase the gradation but it will still be steps. Analog has a smoothness that digital only attempts to match. I love my digital SLR, but I have found many areas where it simply cannot match Kodachrome 64.

    On the off chance your Nikon is not digital - The art of photography lies in the manipulation of your camera and different methods to push the film in processing, not in digital computer manipulation.
    Thbbbbbt...
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  19. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by bird_droppings View Post
    This reminds me of a party a wealthy man threw in which he invited a number of people from the wine community. In particular he had a number of well-known oenologists on the guest list. For the party he bought two wines: one average wine and one expensive highly rated wine. But before the party started, he swapped all the bottles so that the inexpensive wine was in the expensive wine bottles and vice versa. Late in the party, he asked his guests to rate the wines, and almost to a person, they voted the bottle not the wine.
    The conclusion I would draw from this is not that the experts can't tell the difference, it's that "what we believe to be the case" can and often does trump our sensory experience, and that this is as true for experts as it is for non-experts. That's a cautionary tale for everyone, including scientists who conduct supposedly objective tests.

    As for those old Cremonese violins, an important thing to keep in mind is that not one of them exists in its original form as built by Stradivari or Guarneri. Every single one of them has been modified. And non-trivially so. (as in: necks reset, bracing completely redone, etc, etc)

    The price on those is a product of all sorts of not-inherently-musical aspects, and as such it's a bit of a red herring when considering their function in a purely "making music" sense. Same with those old 1950s Gibsons. However, there is something to learn from them if you are serious about playing (and, perhap building) modern instruments. PRSH has certainly spent time playing and dissecting 1950s Les Pauls to find out what makes them tick in order to inform his current art.
    Last edited by kingsleyd; 06-03-2013 at 10:22 AM.

  20. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by rugerpc View Post
    What better argument for analog VS digital? Digital, by definition, is desecrate steps. You can increase the gradation but it will still be steps. Analog has a smoothness that digital only attempts to match. I love my digital SLR, but I have found many areas where it simply cannot match Kodachrome 64.
    Either way it's a representation. Film -- like analog tape (or vinyl!) -- or tube amps -- has its own characteristic flaws. It's just that those flaws tend to "feel better" to a lot of us, and that the end result has a sort of texture that is more agreeable and more analogous (!) to how we experience things in real time/real life.

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