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Old 06-09-2010, 04:35 PM
verbs4us verbs4us is offline
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Default Ladder vs. X-bracing: wassup?

I’ve recently been intrigue by John How’s guitars, some of which use ladder bracing. So far, I haven’t had the pleasure of playing one, but wonder: What are the benefits and liabilities of ladder bracing? Some comments here hint that ladder-braced instruments are more prone to go out of tune, and are more sensitive to changes in temp/humidity, yet have a more “original” bluesy tone. The gist in previous threads here, and on frets.com, is that X-bracing became dominant because it is more durable and superior (?) acoustically, and that ladder has been more or less pushed aside. Would appreciate any insights.
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Old 06-09-2010, 04:39 PM
mmasters mmasters is offline
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As I understand it the X came for strength to handle steel strings. The ladder brace came from classical guitar design and was pretty much used on all guitars up until the 1930s.
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Old 06-09-2010, 04:48 PM
verbs4us verbs4us is offline
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Right--some old Stellas (with steel strings) used ladder bracing and John's little ladder guitars all use steel. I couldn't find it specified on John's site (www.johnhowguitars) but I suspect his ladder models call for light or extra-light strings.
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Old 06-09-2010, 04:49 PM
Jeff M Jeff M is offline
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I own one of John's ladder braced GC's, and have not noticed any problems with it going out of tune of being more sensitive to humidity/temperature changes, though it is not exposed to much fluctuation.

I love the guitar. Owned it for about a year, and it has become my "go to" guitar for fingerstyle country blues/light flat picking pieces.
The guitar is light and resonant, can feel it through my body when I play it and has that "bluesy tone" you mention.
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Old 06-09-2010, 04:56 PM
gitnoob gitnoob is offline
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Here's a pic of one of his tops:



I've never tried a How, but I do have a ladder-braced parlor from the early 20th century. I don't think they had that same bridge-plate reinforcement back then, which on mine meant that the wide spruce brace was pretty much destroyed by the ball-ends of strings.
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Old 06-09-2010, 05:05 PM
verbs4us verbs4us is offline
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Wow! Thanks Gitnob. Now, there's a bridge plate reinforcement that ate East Saint Louis! Interesting that braces are not scalloped at all -- I guess you need all the strength you can get. Have you A:B'd it with an equivalent sized (and strung) git with X-bracing? I'm curious how you would desribe the difference in tonal qualities.
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Old 06-09-2010, 05:55 PM
Wade Hampton Wade Hampton is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by verbs4us View Post
Wow! Thanks Gitnob. Now, there's a bridge plate reinforcement that ate East Saint Louis!
So THAT'S what happened to East St. Louis! That explains a lot, actually....


whm
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Old 06-09-2010, 06:53 PM
gitnoob gitnoob is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by verbs4us View Post
WHave you A:B'd it with an equivalent sized (and strung) git with X-bracing? I'm curious how you would desribe the difference in tonal qualities.
Funny you should ask.



That's a Larrivee Parlor on the left, X-braced. And a similar sized parlor (similar scale lengths, too) about 100 years older on the right -- ladder braced.

No strings on the ladder-braced right now because I need to reinforce the bridge plate (similar to what How did with that little rosewood plate). The glue is drying now, so I may be able to tell you in the next day or so.

FWIW, the 100-year-old parlor has a much lower-frequency tap tone. I'll have to string it with low-tension strings since the bracing is so light and it has no neck reinforcement, so it's pretty much guaranteed to sound nothing like the Larrivee. I'm curious myself.
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Old 06-09-2010, 07:09 PM
zombywoof zombywoof is offline
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The reputation of ladder bracing suffered because of its association with the later cheap Chicago-built guitars like the Stella branded Harmony.

The guitars in the 1920s and 1930s made builders like Oscar Schmidt and the Larson Brothers though were a whole different ballgame. The Schmidt guitars are particulalry coveted because of their association with Charley Patton, Barbecue Bob, Leadbelly, Blind Willie McTell, Bo Weavil Jackson, Blind Blake and a long list of others.

Here is the bracing in an Oscar Schmidt Stella.

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Old 06-09-2010, 07:25 PM
McCawber McCawber is offline
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I had several '60's vintage ladder-braced Harmony's over the years. The big Harmony Jumbo Soverign was a pretty fine guitar but it just didn't have the big tones I was looking for like my buddy's D-18. (Yeah, I know - that was asking a lot). Eventually I popped teh back off of one of them and rebraced it with an X brace as close to the Martin pattern as I could make it. It changed the tone - but it still wasn't a Martin.

If I cold ever get my hands on another Harmony Soverign I'd leave it exactly how it was originally built. They were pretty fine guitars.
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Old 06-10-2010, 08:01 AM
zombywoof zombywoof is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by McCawber View Post
If I cold ever get my hands on another Harmony Soverign I'd leave it exactly how it was originally built. They were pretty fine guitars.
The difference between a ladder braced Sovereign and a ladder braced Stella badged Harmony is like night and day. I have a late 1940s Stella and a late 1950s Sovereign jumbo. Hard to believe they were made by the same folks.
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Old 06-10-2010, 09:55 AM
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Howard Klepper Howard Klepper is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mmasters View Post
As I understand it the X came for strength to handle steel strings. The ladder brace came from classical guitar design and was pretty much used on all guitars up until the 1930s.
The X bracing system by Martin and the classical fan bracing system by Torres were both in use by the 1850's. Martin's system was developed for gut strings.
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Old 06-10-2010, 10:44 PM
John Arnold John Arnold is offline
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Ladder bracing is simpler/easier/faster to construct, which is why it was historically used on cheap instruments.
Ladder bracing stiffens the top across the grain, which generally gives the guitar a brighter tone, with more sustain (when compared to X-bracing). The downside is the greater tendency for the bridge to rotate, creating the 'roller coaster' top. One cure is to install two braces between the bridge and soundhole, or to use one taller brace.
Whether a guitar can support medium strings is primarily a function of the heaviness of the build, rather than whether it is ladder or X-braced. Some 1960's Harmony guitars can take heavy gauge strings, while some early-1900's featherweights barely will stand extra-lights.
Because the ladder bridgeplate can extend all the way from one side to the other, spruce is favored for sound. Of course, spruce is too soft to stand the pressure from the string balls, hence the hardwood overlay at the bridge pins.
My favorite ladder braced guitars have an angled brace between the bridge and soundhole (closer to the bridge on the treble side).
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Old 06-11-2010, 06:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by McCawber View Post
I had several '60's vintage ladder-braced Harmony's over the years. The big Harmony Jumbo Soverign was a pretty fine guitar but it just didn't have the big tones I was looking for like my buddy's D-18. (Yeah, I know - that was asking a lot). Eventually I popped teh back off of one of them and rebraced it with an X brace as close to the Martin pattern as I could make it. It changed the tone - but it still wasn't a Martin.

If I cold ever get my hands on another Harmony Soverign I'd leave it exactly how it was originally built. They were pretty fine guitars.
I have what I have been told is a H165 or the generic model of the Sovereign, the neck needs a reset for sure. All of the tortoise binding is gone so...... I was going to pop off the top and change it to an X brace.
You wouldn't do it huh?
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Old 06-11-2010, 07:18 AM
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Tim McKnight Tim McKnight is offline
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Ladder braced guitar design was abandoned after many tops failed and or developed the "roller coaster" affect that John Arnold described above. Due to the string pull and rotational torque on the bridge the top is trying to fold itself into the sound hole. Hence the X brace design provided the longitudinal support to resist those physical forces on the top.
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