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Old 04-30-2012, 01:08 AM
guitarlifter guitarlifter is offline
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Default Do different binding, neck, fretboard, and bridge materials affect sound?

It's well-accepted that top and back/side tonewoods and certain other things affect sound, but I'm unsure about the binding, neck, fretboard, and bridge of the guitar. Can different materials used in these things affect the sound of the guitar, or are the differences more so just for looks or function? For example, would an ebony bridge and fretboard affect sound compared to, say, a Brazilian rosewood bridge and fretboard? Would different woods used in a neck affect sound? Would different woods/materials used in binding affect material?

What are your thoughts on this?
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Old 04-30-2012, 02:15 AM
gtrmkr22 gtrmkr22 is offline
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This is a really hard question to answer accurately. The main reason being that pretty much everything that goes into an acoustic adds to its tone. Its hard to accurately determine how much though because every guitar is unique, even if it is built the same way from the same species of woods and materials. The key is understanding that guitars are organic creatures. Every piece of wood is different. Every grain pattern and density different. When they are all cut and glued up, they are going to settle in differently. And therefore sound different.

Then add the factor of human "error". Granted this is not the word I would prefer to use, but its the most accurate. No guitar is crafted 100% perfectly. Its **** near impossible to do that; this coming from a carpenter. However, great luthiers strive for that 100% and those guitars come out amazing. Thats where you can see the love and devotion put into the instrument and almost anyone that picks that guitar up will not know any error made. However, this is what makes guitars unique as well. This is why each instrument sounds slightly different from one another.

If I were to put, in order, what I believe to contribute the most to the tone of an instrument it would be this:

1. Construction - The way the guitar is built. The measurements used, the joints made, the thickness of the wood, the placement of the bridge, the shape of the bracing, etc. This above all else affects the way a guitar will sound.

2. Top - The top of the guitar would be next. What its made of, how its braced and supported, what thickness it is, etc. It is the focal point of where the strings are anchored to the instrument. The strings vibrate the top and depending on how much the top vibrates and the way it vibrates, this will affect the tone even further.

3. Playing style - Depending on how you play, the guitar is going to sound different. Ever notice when a mediocre player grabs a guitar and it sounds cool? Ever notice when an amazing player grabs the same guitar and it sounds even better? How you pick, strum, hit notes, etc........ all this will determine how the tone of the instrument is brought to life.

4. Everything else on the instrument - Back and side wood, neck wood, nut and saddle, fingerboard, bridge, binding, etc. This all can add very slight subtle differences to the tone.

Here is the main problem. It becomes very difficult to accurately test all of this. Good luthiers can shape a wood to sound the way he or she wants. But determining the final tonality of the instrument is impossible. Doesn't mean that a good builder can't have a fairly close and well educated guess based on their own experience. What it boils down to is that everyone has an opinion and this is simply mine. Take it for what it is worth. I would say that yes. Almost anything that goes into the build of an instrument affects the tone to some degree, even if it is very slight. The question is would you be able to perceive that difference? Most people say no depending on what you change. If I have an amazing guitar with a plastic saddle and nut, I personally think it sounds dead. But when I fabricate a bone nut and saddle for it, the tone sounds much better to my ear. But again, that is my opinion. Nothing more. Best to just listen to the guitar and decide for yourself.
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Old 04-30-2012, 02:16 AM
sniggings sniggings is offline
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Yes they make a difference but I bet not too many people could hear the difference!
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Old 04-30-2012, 06:03 AM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by guitarlifter View Post
What are your thoughts on this?
The acoustic guitar is a "system" - a whole that is the sum of its parts. Each part has numerous choices related to it - choice of material, choice of design, size, shape... Attempting to isolate a single part and categorically state that changing this one choice will produce this result is very difficult even for a single builder. To attempt to make sweeping conclusions that a specific change will have a specific result on all guitars is, well, unwise.

While some changes do produce a result, human perception being what it is, people may or may not be able to perceive that change or agree on what the change is. When one starts to talk of changes that produce much less prominent - if any - change, such as the choice of binding material, the discussion tends to drift into less tangible things.
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Old 04-30-2012, 09:25 AM
JannieA JannieA is offline
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For me, changing from a plastic saddle on a Taylor to an Ivory saddle, made it a completely different guitar. Then when I had a bone nut made, it finished the change by improving it just a little more. But that's just my ears.
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Old 04-30-2012, 09:34 AM
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rmyAddison rmyAddison is offline
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This is an eternal debate, and I say "yes", to my ears Martin 28 series and 40 series sound different, adn I've owned many of both to compare over many years. To me the 28s are warmer and woodier, and the 40 series have a high end shimmer and more harmonics/overtones than theri cousins.

Here's an interesting read:

The following is from the SC Forum, by Dan Roberts when he was with Santa Cruz:

The Effect of Purfling on Tone

"The deeper the purfling cut, the more top isolation is achieved. This is because you are cutting out the stiff joint of the spruce top to the back and side assembly, and replacing it with a material that allows more movement to take place. Also it allows that movement to be more consistent around the bout. If you flex a piece of spruce you find that as you would expect, it is much stiffer longitudinally than it is when flexed the other way... where the soft summer wood flexes more readily.

If you glue a spruce top to the side assembly without purfling or binding at all, that longitudinal stiffness translates into a top that can't move as easily along the bottom of the lower bout. Cutting most of that joint away and replacing it with plastic, or a soft wood and cellulose fibers as in violin purflings, allows the top to be more consistent in its flex around the perimeter of the top. These translates to better string to string separation as well as better responsiveness. It affects other dynamic aspects as well.

It has been accepted as fact for years that the purfling in a violin is essential to its proper tonal response. The materials used as purflings and bindings can also affect the overall tone and dynamic range of a guitar.

When a deep purfling cut is made and then the material used to fill it is Abalone, there is a resulting brightness to accompany the responsiveness. When SCGC does abalone we do a narrower abalone strip. We do this partially for visual aesthetic, we feel it is a more elegant look, and it also leaves room to border the abalone on both sides with BWB Purfling strips to maintain the purfling advantage and not overdo the brightness result of the abalone.

Herringbone is a similar material to violin purflings and so results in a nicely isolated top, great responsiveness etc. Conversely, when we designed the D/PW, all of the design decisions leaned in the direction of a dark, open, tonally complex guitar. The choice to use a single BWB (black white black) violin purfling was appropriate both for its aesthetic simple elegance, but also tonally, it serves to lend some focus to an otherwise dark, open complex timbre and prevents any chance of a "muddy" tone.

I have heard through a third-party that Eric Schoenberg thinks the pearl borders on the pre-War Martin 45 guitars make a difference to tone as compared to their Herringbone cousins.

Whether any of this is true is subjective, IMHO, but if there is any truth to it, then bling can sometimes not only be a visual treat, but an aural one, as well."

My opinion is based on my ears, others should be based on their ears.....
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Old 04-30-2012, 10:04 AM
jbslive jbslive is offline
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Anything the sound has to reflect off of affects the overall tone. the past few threads have pretty much nailed it...
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Old 04-30-2012, 12:48 PM
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I've heard lots of Telecaster players say a maple fretboard has a more bright, popping sound than a rosewood fretboard, but I've never been able to hear it.

I would venture a guess that in an acoustic, so much results from the wood combination, the bracing, the body size, the saddle and the nut material that it would be overwhelming. I think any contribution by any other part of the guitar would be so minimal you would need sophisticated sound equipment to hear whatever it contributes.
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Old 04-30-2012, 01:51 PM
Glennwillow Glennwillow is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by charles Tauber View Post
The acoustic guitar is a "system" - a whole that is the sum of its parts. ...
Yep, the guitar is a complex mechanical system. Anything that affects stiffness or mass can affect the tone from the guitar, and a lot of aspects of the guitar build could have an effect -- or not.

The discussion that Rich posted above about the effect of MOP binding has been posted before and I have always thought that this was fascinating but really not all that surprising.

- Glenn
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Old 04-30-2012, 02:21 PM
Alan Carruth Alan Carruth is offline
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statokatsu wrote:
"I've heard lots of Telecaster players say a maple fretboard has a more bright, popping sound than a rosewood fretboard, but I've never been able to hear it."

Let's get this one out of the way right off: on a solid body guitar the neck is the most flexible part; the thing that's most likely to be set into motion by string vibration. As such, it's probably the biggest 'acoustic' influence on the sound (as opposed to the 'electric' stuff, such as the pickups). Ebony, maple and rosewood all have different densities and stiffness, so swapping out one for another as a fingerboard material will probably effect the sound. Ditto for neck materials, such as maple and mahogany.

On an acoustic the neck is quite stiff compared with the top, or even the back (even if it's no stiffer than an electric neck: acoustics tend to have fatter and shorter necks so they're probably stiffer all else equal). For this reason alone you'd expect the neck and fingerboard to have less effect on the tone of an acoustic than it does on a solid body electric. Note I don't say 'no effect', it's just not nearly the big deal it is on a solid body (usually), and tends to get lost in other, more significant, changes.

The bottom line here is that you have to compare oranges with oranges: there are lessons that can be learned from comparing one instrument type with another, but you have to be careful.

This is, of course, also true when you compare the violin with the guitar. Specifically: the purfling on a violin is inlaid right over the inside edge of the liner, and is cut halfway through the thickness of the plate at that point. This leaves a thin web of wood, about 1/16" thick, at the edge of the top.

Guitars use wider liners than violins, and it's not usually the case that the purfling goes in as far as the inside edge of the liner on a guitar. It can happen, of course, especially with something like herringbone, or a wide shell inlay. Still, in most cases there's more wood around the edge of a guitar at the thinnest point than there is around the edge of a violin, so the binding/purfling on a guitar usually have less effect on the tone. Binding material is probably not very important either, so long as it's there. If somebody tells you the secret of good tone is snakewood binding, you can probably smile and nod, and change the subject.

IMO, the most important properties of the bridge as regards it's effect on the sound are it's weight and stiffness. All else equal, a walnut bridge of a given size and shape will weigh less then a rosewood one, which will, in turn, weigh less than ebony. They might all have about the same stiffness, although I'd usually expect the stiffness to somewhat track the density in this example (which will _not_ be true of all hardwoods, by any means).

If one may be permitted a broad generalization, a heavy bridge will tend to cut down on the sound output of the guitar, since it's harder to move. It will also tend to cut down on the treble more than the bass, which is why most people think of ebony bridges as 'enhancing the bass': the balance is shifted, and we're not as sensitive to changes in power as we are to changes in balance.

If you swapped out a stiffer bridge for one that's less stiff of the same weight on a given guitar, you probably also notice a difference in sound. I'd expect it to be in the opposite direction from the swap from lighter to heavier: a stiffer bridge would probably make the treble come out more. Again, the stiffness would cut down on sound across the board (probably), but change the balance.

In short, sure this stuff effects the sound: it's all part of the mix, and you have to think about it all. But, compared with the top, the B&S, and (most of all, IMO) the luthier, it's pretty minor. These are the sorts of details that can mess you up if you get them wrong, but seldom help a lot even when you get them just right.
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Old 12-06-2012, 10:20 AM
upsidedown upsidedown is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alan Carruth View Post
Let's get this one out of the way right off: on a solid body guitar the neck is the most flexible part; the thing that's most likely to be set into motion by string vibration. As such, it's probably the biggest 'acoustic' influence on the sound (as opposed to the 'electric' stuff, such as the pickups). Ebony, maple and rosewood all have different densities and stiffness, so swapping out one for another as a fingerboard material will probably effect the sound. Ditto for neck materials, such as maple and mahogany.

On an acoustic the neck is quite stiff compared with the top, or even the back (even if it's no stiffer than an electric neck: acoustics tend to have fatter and shorter necks so they're probably stiffer all else equal). For this reason alone you'd expect the neck and fingerboard to have less effect on the tone of an acoustic than it does on a solid body electric. Note I don't say 'no effect', it's just not nearly the big deal it is on a solid body (usually), and tends to get lost in other, more significant, changes.
I'm wondering now about the difference between the stiffness or rigidity or resistance of necks. Whichever word describes it best.

One guitar I own has a lot more give to its neck than what I'd consider "normal." Always felt that it should be a bit louder but never thought the neck's relative stiffness (or lack thereof) might be a contributing factor.

Makes sense, right? If a neck is too soft there will be a lack of tension and generally speaking a decrease in volume.
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Old 12-06-2012, 10:58 AM
frankfalbo frankfalbo is offline
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Yes that's a great observation on your part. With vibrations "wasted" on the neck there is less inertia to drive the top. Your guitar still may have reduced volume at the body, but a flappy neck can take valuable energy away from the box. Beyond the stiffness, the material does have great influence over the acoustic guitar's tone, but stiffness can influence amplitude.

As for the greater converstion in this old thread, yes everything affects everything else. Everything about your race car can be finely tuned to perfection, finest tires in the world, and I can change the feel immediately with my fingernail on your tire valve. A little tiny plastic saddle can offset thousands of dollars in Brazillian Rosewood!
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Old 12-06-2012, 11:43 AM
Dirk Hofman Dirk Hofman is offline
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I've noticed a difference in the tone of two guitar specs where the fretboard and bridge were made of brazilian rosewood instead of ebony.

2 Collings CJMh: I owned the braz versions and compared it to one ebony at purchase time
2 Santa Cruz Southerner Jumbos I played in-store for several minutes.

Now of course in both cases I had little time with at least one of the guitars, so my evaluation is limited in it's experience. In both cases I found the ebony version to have less overtones and quicker decay, with the brazilian correspondingly "better" IMO on both counts, though of course there are those who might prefer the quicker decay and more straight-ahead tone.

I would say probably, yes. I would GUESS that the bridge has a lot of effect on tone, being..the bridge and all. I don't know about the fretboard.
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Old 12-06-2012, 11:48 AM
HHP HHP is online now
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I think when we get into a "does________ affect tone?" discussion, the first question should be "Compared to what?"

I agree anything might affect tone but a lot would only have miniscule impact. Other than the overall instrument, most changes of significance will be player, strings, picks, technique.
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Old 12-06-2012, 12:35 PM
geordie geordie is offline
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guitarlifter, what about the bridge plate isn't it central to the guitars sound
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