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Old 11-23-2018, 07:51 PM
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Mbroady Mbroady is offline
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Default Ugly Guitars with great sound

I am curious as to how builders and their customers view wood grading when it comes to building and purchasing guitars.

From what I understand the grading system is based purely on aesthetics: grain spacing, straitness of grain, quartering angle, figuring, runout and imperfections. If that is indeed the case why is there such a mystic as well as premium put on master grade woods.

With that said, I understand the art (and science) of guitar building is part visual. And I like my guitars to look nice, but Have you ever had an “ugly” piece of wood that you felt had amazing sound qualities? Did you use it (perhaps with a solid color or burst finish?) Any pictures?

Did the guitar sell.
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Old 11-24-2018, 07:34 AM
ruby50 ruby50 is offline
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Check #17 and #32 here:

https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/...=200827&page=3

John Thomas had Kim Walker make a Gibson L body (actually a Nick Lucas copy IIRC) out of reject wood. He had Walker set aside ugly but functional Mahogany and Spruce, and when he had enough, build this guitar and paint it black. I have a lot of photos of this amazing piece, but can never figure out how to put them up on this forum.

It has the last of the real Rickenbacker binding, gold glitter purfling like Gibson did in the 30's, and that wonderful "century" head plate.

By all accounts, it is a fabulous sounding guitar.

Ed
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Old 11-24-2018, 10:10 AM
tadol tadol is offline
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I have a couple with tops that would be considered very low quality based on the visual grading system, but sound great. Its not uncommon to find a piece that is very well cut, and near perfect with only a tiny flaw that causes it to be downgraded because of the visual imperfection - back and sides it seems you can pretty much get away with using anything these days -
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Old 11-24-2018, 11:02 AM
LouieAtienza LouieAtienza is offline
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Personally I prefer visually "imperfect" and character wood, especially if it is otherwise "perfect" in other respects such as being quartered with almost no grain run-off. I'd even tolerate slightly rift if there is almost no grain run-off, but I'm not a fan of tops that have a noticeable amount of run-off but perfectly "quartered." Some of our most "cherished" top woods are increasing harder to find in master grade, and I'm sure visually "imperfect" will become a new norm in the way streaked ebony has gained acceptance (and even desirability among few.)
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Old 11-24-2018, 03:11 PM
printer2 printer2 is offline
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I picked through a pallet of reject tops and came away with roughly 30 tops with 'visually interesting' grain patterns and color. They are well quartered and ring nicely. I expect them to sound good. Mind you I feel almost any piece of wood can give a good showing for itself if the builder gives it what it needs.

I had some walnut that I was practicing resawing and I set it aside as it was flat sawn and of little use other than as purfling or using for double sides. At the time we had a discussion on what an all walnut guitar would sound like and I thought why not build with this stuff and see? It turned out to be a wonderful sounding guitar that changed what people at work thought I could do (we have a large contingent of guitar players in our division).

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Old 11-24-2018, 09:19 PM
McCawber McCawber is offline
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My brother has a fairly new OM-28 Authentic that has a killer sound - and the top has a rather ugly grain. I don't care and he doesn't either - the guitar sings!
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Old 03-14-2019, 07:20 AM
skypeace skypeace is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by printer2 View Post
I picked through a pallet of reject tops and came away with roughly 30 tops with 'visually interesting' grain patterns and color. They are well quartered and ring nicely. I expect them to sound good. Mind you I feel almost any piece of wood can give a good showing for itself if the builder gives it what it needs.

I had some walnut that I was practicing resawing and I set it aside as it was flat sawn and of little use other than as purfling or using for double sides. At the time we had a discussion on what an all walnut guitar would sound like and I thought why not build with this stuff and see? It turned out to be a wonderful sounding guitar that changed what people at work thought I could do (we have a large contingent of guitar players in our division).

That is a beautiful guitar; found this thread by searching for "imperfect perfect" as I have an Ibanez AE305 that I call a slutty guitar; she has imperfections that make her a perfectly singing guitar. easy to play, rings and roars. I love her.
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Old 03-14-2019, 08:17 AM
redir redir is offline
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I personally see no flaws in what some consider to be mother nature. If there is a bit of wiggle in the grain, uneven growth rings, color stain, or what ever, it is there because that is the way this once beautiful and living organism adapted itself to lived. Now having said that, of course, for guitar tops in particular, you don't want flat sawn wood, large knots, and so on. If it's quarter sawn, or at least close, free of defects that might cause splitting, and serves the functional requirements of a guitar top then any good luthier can make it sing.

Some folks though just don't like cosmetic flaws so that's really what grading is all about. A mater grade top is typically one that looks good, uniform color across, no defects, even grain lines and so on. The only structural consideration in master grade tops is that they are perfectly quarter sawn and even that is probably more for the cosmetics of silking. No one as far as I know grades tops on their stiffness and acoustical properties.

Many small shop luthiers will do their own grading. You can for example buy a master grade top that looks great but has a very low density and is floppy, save that one for your classical or parlor guitars. Other tops might be AA grade but are incredibly stiff and can be thinned out greatly while retaining it's strength, safe that one for your 000's and Dreds.

Also BTW one company's 'master' top is another suppliers AAA top. Then there are others that come up with 4A 5A and so on. So the luthier is ultimately the judge on grading. Years ago it was 1-3A and Master, maybe there was a 4a. But it's sort of turned into a wood grading arms race which is unfortunate because it white washes the grading system and makes it difficult. But most of us have our trust suppliers and know what to expect. I'm hopping within a year or two to have enough wood to build more guitars then I possible can before I'm dead or quit building. Then I don't have to fuss with it any more

Last edited by Kerbie; 03-14-2019 at 06:28 PM. Reason: Edited.
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Old 03-14-2019, 09:11 AM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mbroady View Post
From what I understand the grading system is based purely on aesthetics: grain spacing, straitness of grain, quartering angle, figuring, runout and imperfections. If that is indeed the case why is there such a mystic as well as premium put on master grade woods.
First, quarter sawn (vertical grain) and runout are not aesthetic qualities. The reasons that makers have traditionally wanted quarter sawn wood is that it is dimensionally more stable and less prone to cracking. Yes, in certain woods, if the piece is exactly quarter sawn one can see sectioned medullary rays ("silking") which can be aesthetically desirable, particularly in woods like white oak. Runout is a structural consideration: too much and the wood is more likely to split/"delaminate". Yes, on guitar tops, runout can cause a two-tone appearance/coloring to the top at the centre seam that some find aesthetically objectionable. In recent years, that has become "a thing". Prior to that, few cared or found it objectionable.

Guitar making, for most makers, is a business. Supply and demand applies. If a wood is rare or hard to get, it is more expensive. Each maker must differentiate him or herself in a very crowded market place. Some makers do that by having rare, one-of-a-kind pieces of wood from which to make an instrument. They usually charge a significant up-charge for finding, storing and offering that unique wood. If buyers like and want that wood, they pay for it: if they don't like it, they don't.

The "best" materials for instrument have always been a small percentage of the lumber that is available. The best of that is an even smaller percentage and, consequently, is as expensive as the market will bear.

I have a stunning set of "The Tree" mahogany that I bought decades ago. It is now worth more as wood (back and side set) than it would be if I were to make an instrument out of it and then sell the finished instrument. (As an unknown maker, I could sell an instrument for $3500 or so: the raw wood can be sold for more than that.)

Aesthetic values change with time and the market reflects that. When I started making guitars 40 years ago, "bear claw" figure was a flaw to be avoided. Now, buyers pay a premium to obtain "bear claw spruce". 40 years ago, you pretty much couldn't give someone a guitar with a satin finish. 40 years ago, Brazilian rosewood was cheap and plentiful and readily available quarter sawn. Today, it is scarce and any modern supply is not quarter sawn - much of it has sap wood, also an aesthetic flaw 40 years ago. (The only quarter sawn material available today is material that someone has sat on for a few decades.) The buying public believe that Brazilian rosewood, of any kind, is worth paying a premium for: if it is quarter sawn, even more so. Luthiers are aware of that market. Last decade's 2nds are today's "master" grade: supply and demand. People adjust their definitions to suit the situation.


Quote:
With that said, I understand the art (and science) of guitar building is part visual. And I like my guitars to look nice, but Have you ever had an “ugly” piece of wood that you felt had amazing sound qualities?

Did the guitar sell.
Makers have varying reasons for using a particular piece of wood. If the object is to make money making instruments, there must be an eye towards whether or not the instrument will sell, if being made on speculation. (If a customer commissions an instrument with a particular piece of wood, there isn't any "guesswork" or risk involved in whether or not the guitar will sell with that particular piece of wood.)

It would be a poor business decision to repeatedly make guitars for sale out of materials that many would find aesthetically undesirable. An example of that is luthiers trying to make instruments out of woods that aren't known to the buying public: it is a hard sell in a very competitive market.

Last edited by charles Tauber; 03-14-2019 at 09:16 AM.
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Old 03-14-2019, 10:23 AM
redir redir is offline
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To illustrate a point with pictures, I built this guitar for someone years ago who came across my, for lack of a better word, barn wood collection of guitars. All the wood for this instrument came from a broken down barn on the farm I lived on in Virginia. The top is southern yellow pine (I believe). the patch you see near the sound hole is a nail hole. This is exactly the way he wanted it.

Without trying to toot my own horn this was one of the best sounding guitars I have ever made and it was literally built from scrap wood. The first one I built from this material was more or less a joke till I strung it up and played it for the first time.

The guy eventually sold this guitar on eBay to a guy who then contacted me to build him two more guitars. Point being, you really can make good guitars that don't look like good guitars. Granted part of the barn wood guitars is the back story, it's sort of folk art if you will, but they really do sound good.

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Old 03-14-2019, 06:25 PM
amohr amohr is offline
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That yellow pine looks great on your fantastic build. I appreciate and share your philosophy on the nature of woods appearance.
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Old 03-14-2019, 08:13 PM
printer2 printer2 is offline
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Built as an example of where there is a will there is a way. The opposite of quarter sawn, good thing it was a small instrument. Had it for over a year to make sure it would survive before I would part with it. One day I will make another but I would like to find the right piece of wood for the top with pin knots like this back had. Just to keep around for the unwary to pick up and find out looks can be deceiving.



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Old 03-14-2019, 09:22 PM
Birdbrain Birdbrain is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by redir View Post
Some folks though just don't like cosmetic flaws so that's really what grading is all about. A mater grade top is typically one that looks good, uniform color across, no defects, even grain lines and so on. The only structural consideration in master grade tops is that they are perfectly quarter sawn and even that is probably more for the cosmetics of silking. No one as far as I know grades tops on their stiffness and acoustical properties.

Au contraire- the Godin companies (Seagull, S&P, Norman and La Patrie) advertise "pressure tested" top woods. The best are set aside for the top models, and their stiffness allows them to be thinned accordingly. This process is briefly visible on factory tour videos and mentioned often in promo materials.
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Old 03-15-2019, 05:08 AM
Jcamp Jcamp is offline
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I’d say the grading system followed over from the wood working industry and the guitar builders just use that as a selling point now. A guitar with a AAAA top should be worth more than one with a AA top right? Doesn’t mean the sound will follow tho. I still believe a good builder with lousy woods will build a better guitar than a lousy builder with great woods.
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Old 03-15-2019, 08:43 AM
redir redir is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Birdbrain View Post
Au contraire- the Godin companies (Seagull, S&P, Norman and La Patrie) advertise "pressure tested" top woods. The best are set aside for the top models, and their stiffness allows them to be thinned accordingly. This process is briefly visible on factory tour videos and mentioned often in promo materials.
Like I said, the luthier is the one who does the actual grading of their own personal collection of tops. Or in this case maybe not a luthier but a guitar company. Good for Godin.
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