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Fullmental Alpinist

So, Can You Really Hear the Difference?

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Vis a vis the continuing debate whether vintage instruments sound better than new ones, here is a report of a double-blind test in which blindfolded violinists were asked to discern Stradivari and Guarneri from modern instruments:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtlTJkbUqkA

 

It asks the question "can the [desired sound] be gotten from a new instrument as well as an old one?"

 

The results are amusing.

 

The review also gives you the chance to pick the Strad from a recent era violin.

 

FMA

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Yes, maybe - but violins are weird cigar-boxes with a stick comin' out and cat-guts from one end to the other, which are strangely activated by a branch featuring horse-hair. . .

 

Apart from that there's no doubt you could fool some people by the right array of wrong guitars too.

Of course certain old acoustics will sound fx too edgy or rough or tame to offer the vintage flavor a chance.

As other newer model might be blessed with something precious that echoes a classic golden aged voice.

Still as a pattern most vintage guitars have that special ancient sonic halo of indefineable depth related to extremely 'relaxed' dry well vibrating wood-components, which know each others swing and really want to show it.

I'm sure playing styles count in when judging, but my vintage guitars - beyond any doubt at all - present a dimension that NEVER could be found in a new instrument. Even the plain 1959 J-45.

There might be weak spots here and there at the same time, but the 'thing' (which is as far from a thing as anything) is in there to find and enjoy, no question.

 

I'm close to feeling sorry for those ears that don't sense this phenomenon - but that would be foolish, , , , and perhaps in the neighborhood of arrogant.

 

So takes these words, , , or leave them lost. . .

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Well, it may have been some luck, too, but I managed to hear out the Stradivari through my Bose desktop speaker system although I wouldn't rate it higher. It just sounds older which might be better for some music and not so decent for another.

 

When comparing instruments be evaluating recordings, it is crucial that they are played and recorded the same way. No matter if it goes around violins or guitars, a slight change of bowing or picking point will change everything beyond comparability. The reproducibility of the musician's playing was fantastic in this case. This player has been mastering her/his art outstandingly - a true professional.

 

The recordings clearly were done in the same manner, too. Microphone, mic positioning, EQing and levelling are very critical, and the sound engineer doubtlessly did a nice job.

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Yes, maybe - but violins are.. ... , which are strangely activated by a branch featuring horse-hair. . .

 

Apart from that there's no doubt you could fool some people by.. .

Of course certain old acoustics will sound fx too ....

As other newer model might be blessed with something precious that echoes a classic golden aged voice.

Still as a pattern most vintage guitars have that special ancient sonic halo of indefineable depth related to...

I'm sure... but my vintage guitars - beyond any doubt at all - present a dimension that NEVER could be found in a new instrument..

There might be weak spots here and there at the same time, but the 'thing' (which is as far from a thing as anything) is in there to find and enjoy, no question.

 

I'm close to feeling sorry for those ears that don't sense this phenomenon - but that would be foolish, , , , and perhaps in the neighborhood of arrogant.

 

So takes these words, , , or leave them lost. . .

 

Nicely done. Thanks for putting that out there, as a topic such as this can stir things up. "Better?" Ha. As soon as that frame of mind is in place, you're done.

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I think you have more chance of 'feeling' a difference than anything to be honest, older guitars do feel like old instruments... new ones, even relics don't. Sound wise, having a discussion like this will inevitably bring out the classics...

 

Case One: Old one sounds different, perhaps less tight, only to be expected of course....

Answer: Yes, that is the sound of old, new can't compare... this is why vintage is king. That'll be $6000 please.. thank you good bye.

 

Case Two: Old one sounds different, but new one sounds great...

Answer: ah well mic placement is all wrong here, obviously anything old is better than anything new... this test is wrong. Test results rejected. Test results poster viewed as some kind of troublemaker and accused of witchcraft.

 

Case Three: Old sounds incredibly average, new sounds great

Answer: must be luck, must have that 'touched by the gods' factor built in, or Ren Ferguson personally came in and sacrificed two crocodiles and a fighting chicken, soaking them in some gun metal solution before mounting their souls as silken threads across the top whilst performing incantations.

 

Case Four: Old one and new one sound no better than each other.

Answer: Tester accused of trickery, PMs start flying around and poster on a watch list.

 

People spend loads on these guitars, it's going to take quite a brave man to say isn't that great really... most folk have a deep seated need to feel validated. This is like the polar opposite of the Norlin discussion, everyone who has a Norlin seems to be 'one of the lucky ones who got a great one' and 99.9999% of those who've doled out for an old guitar have bought "one with that vintage magic new guitars don't have" etc... That said if we're talking as value for Objet d'art well, old guitars have a look and detail that relicers can't fake well enough and can remind you of looking at an old artwork where you see crazing too where the oils have fully dried out, natural crazing always looks much better than faked crazing.

 

You'll never resolve this one, people too blindly invested and folk will just throw a million parameters at you for why the test was wrong before they would ever accept the results.

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I think you have more chance of 'feeling' a difference than anything to be honest, older guitars do feel like old instruments... new ones, even relics don't. Sound wise, having a discussion like this will inevitably bring out the classics...

 

Case One: Old one sounds different, perhaps less tight, only to be expected of course....

Answer: Yes, that is the sound of old, new can't compare... this is why vintage is king. That'll be $6000 please.. thank you good bye.

 

Case Two: Old one sounds different, but new one sounds great...

Answer: ah well mic placement is all wrong here, obviously anything old is better than anything new... this test is wrong. Test results rejected. Test results poster viewed as some kind of troublemaker and accused of witchcraft.

 

Case Three: Old sounds incredibly average, new sounds great

Answer: must be luck, must have that 'touched by the gods' factor built in, or Ren Ferguson personally came in and sacrificed two crocodiles and a fighting chicken, soaking them in some gun metal solution before mounting their souls as silken threads across the top whilst performing incantations.

 

Case Four: Old one and new one sound no better than each other.

Answer: Tester accused of trickery, PMs start flying around and poster on a watch list.

 

People spend loads on these guitars, it's going to take quite a brave man to say isn't that great really... most folk have a deep seated need to feel validated. This is like the polar opposite of the Norlin discussion, everyone who has a Norlin seems to be 'one of the lucky ones who got a great one' and 99.9999% of those who've doled out for an old guitar have bought "one with that vintage magic new guitars don't have" etc... That said if we're talking as value for Objet d'art well, old guitars have a look and detail that relicers can't fake well enough and can remind you of looking at an old artwork where you see crazing too where the oils have fully dried out, natural crazing always looks much better than faked crazing.

 

You'll never resolve this one, people too blindly invested and folk will just throw a million parameters at you for why the test was wrong before they would ever accept the results.

 

 

 

 

 

You left off Case Five...Old one sounds absolutely sensational, new one ...too new.

 

 

BluesKing777.

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I visited an old friend yesterday and we got a night-jam goin' as many times before.

 

Funny enough he keeps my old early 70's Morris dread (Martin D-28/35 copy), which I bought as a teenager in 1974.

It is in good shape and of course has been a splendid opportunity to experience and examine the 'becoming vintage process' up through the years.

Point 1 because I know it so well – Point 2 because I only get to play it so and so often.

And yes, it has changed to the better. Maybe not in physics, which seem slightly twisted out of shape, but sonically.

This is beyond discussion – though probably laminated to some degree, the old guitar has fallen into itself over those 4 decades and simply presents a more 'nobel' tone, if you excuse the term.

The stored wine comparison cliche lies straight ahead - it has refined and risen to another level.

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I prefer having a newer instrument instead of one that is 50-60-70-years-old. I don't believe a vintage instrument sounds better (if it actually does) because it is "vintage." It sounds better because it happens to be an instrument that stands-out in its family of instruments, and just how much better it sounds is totally subjective. It may have a legendary reputation because of who played it, but that has nothing to do with how it sounds compared to a newer instrument. It's totally subjective.........I don't think any of these vintage instruments are worth the price being asked. Perhaps to a collector, but rarely, if ever to the mainstream guitar player. My old guitars have sentimental value to me, but no one else. Anyway, enjoy your old guitars. They're kind of like our babies.

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Weeeeeeell... there was a point when folks could tell the difference, as afar as gutiars go, in the 60s-80s, when folks went out looking for old Martins (and Gibsons and Fenders) becasue the new stuff being built didnt cut it. That began to change in the 90s, when the reissue programs began to gear up. The true authentic golden vintage era reissues may not have sounded quite like the old stuff but were surely an upgrade over the standard issue of the prior 30 years (meanwhile, old gutiar fetish took hold to the point where the value of those rejected 70s models has gone up).

 

Speaking of new gutiars, there is a world of difference between the high end stuff and factory standards. The former are close to the old fiddles; a lot of the standards are ok, but just that.

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I often get drawn into these discussions because I have spent so much time thinking and worrying about it. I am the crazy sound scientist who as a hobby collected and studied guitars for 40+ years. This is a fasinating subject -- it cetainly fasinates me -- but it is pretty complex. Every now and then I feel inspired to post on forums.

 

I did that recently -- but before I copy that here, let me give a disclaimer. What I am reporting on is basically a single experiment -- so what I report on is our own instruments because you need extensive free access to intruments to truly study them. We do have a fair number -- about 300, most vintage -- but I don't pretend to say things about all instruments. So here is what I said:

 

This is one of the questions that brought me into the vintage guitar market long ago.

 

Let me begin by saying some geeky stuff that was in my face while developing speech communications systems. We do not all hear the same things. Obviously our ears perform differently, but it is much more than that. The audio cortex in a very power processor in the brain, and it learns to hear some things and ignore others. It learns from its environment -- it is a neural net -- so people who have been immersed in particular sound environments actually hear more details that someone who has not. This is a great pain to speech communications developers because different groups and cultures naturally demand very different audio features to accept a system as "high quality."

 

We now have studied in some detail a bit more than 100 guitars -- and experienced many more. A few (42 J-45, 55 00-17, 33 0-17) are basically mint. Many more are excellent original condition, and others are original but heavily played. We also have others which are not particularly original (refins, repaired cracks, renecked, replaced bridges and bridge plates, etc.) -- our basically requirement is that the sound critical components (top, bridge, bridgeplate, braces etc.) are either original or repaired to match the original components.

 

Here are my observations.

 

1. New guitars can match all properties of old guitars save one. They can have the same tonal balance, loudness, sustain, attack, etc., etc. The one property they cannot match is what is generally called clarity -- it is the ability to clearly hear individual notes in a chord. It is pretty easy to train yourself to be a clarity detector if you have access to appropriate instruments -- new (green) guitars always have a slight "fuzziness" in the tone that is not there in an old guitar. (I have been trying to find new, clear guitars for at least the past 25 years -- if I do, I certainly will let you know. Then you really could build a "new vintage guitar").

 

2. Clarity is a functional feature for some genres -- it makes the instrument more audible in a complex acoustic mix. (This effect is understandable in psychoacoustic terms -- the techniques used to design MP3 -- but I will not talk about it here). That is why the bluegrass guys -- with their trained ears and string bands -- picked up on it first.

 

3. In my experience, clarity is more a function of time than of playing -- our 70+ year old mint guitars are pretty much the same as 70+ year old well played examples. It is widely believed that playing accelerates this process in new guitars. It is hard for me to tell -- but the "coming out" phenonmena is certainly real. Of course, if you play one, you will hear it whereas if you don't you won't. I do know of one dramatic case were an new Adi top went in the closet, and came out two years later as a different guitar. So even in young guitars, time seems to count.

 

4. Because of the way the auditory cortex works, people learn what to like from what they hear. We know why the functional properties of our bluegrass guitars are important to us. However, when we don't need that functionality -- as in solo playing -- why would we prefer and buy vintage? Well, maybe it is just we have trained ourselves to love that clear sound. Clearly, a lot of people seem to really like the sound of old guitars -- that was indeed our first response 40+ years ago. But that is clearly subjective, and remember -- we don't hear the same things. It does not surprise me at all that many prefer the sound of new guitars -- you can learn to do that, and for most their enviroment encourages exactly that. If that is the way you feel, you are not weird at all. For you, vintage guitars would be a waste.

 

Best,

 

-Tom

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1. New guitars can match all properties of old guitars save one. They can have the same tonal balance, loudness, sustain, attack, etc., etc. The one property they cannot match is what is generally called clarity -- it is the ability to clearly hear individual notes in a chord. It is pretty easy to train yourself to be a clarity detector if you have access to appropriate instruments -- new (green) guitars always have a slight "fuzziness" in the tone that is not there in an old guitar. (I have been trying to find new, clear guitars for at least the past 25 years -- if I do, I certainly will let you know. Then you really could build a "new vintage guitar").

 

-Tom

 

I think that is what I heard in the above test between the Strad and the modern guitar. In the mid to upper ranges I noticed that the individual notes--the fundamentals I think they're called--stood out clearly and the harmonics seemed to be separate notes from the fundamental. The fundamentals on the modern violin seemed blended with the harmonics.

 

Eminor7--your friend appears to have taken great care of your Morris dread. I envy your ability to stop by and play it over the years.

 

FMA

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I think that is what I heard in the above test between the Strad and the modern guitar. In the mid to upper ranges I noticed that the individual notes--the fundamentals I think they're called--stood out clearly and the harmonics seemed to be separate notes from the fundamental. The fundamentals on the modern violin seemed blended with the harmonics.

 

Eminor7--your friend appears to have taken great care of your Morris dread. I envy your ability to stop by and play it over the years.

 

FMA

What you describe here is exactly what made me hear out the difference. The Stradivari seems to put out just a tiny amount more odd-order harmonics and less even-order harmonics than the 1980's violin. This is what happens to my experience to most stringed instruments during aging. It is practically independent from the strings actually used in case these are of same make on the instruments to compare since it will affect the overall tonal balance.

 

My personal attempt to explain is that aging will even response. Even-order harmonics and transient vibrations are less symmetrical than odd-order harmonics and resonant vibrations. The overall smoother response which comes with age will create a more transparent tone which makes single notes in chords more separably audible.

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Well, it may have been some luck, too, but I managed to hear out the Stradivari through my Bose desktop speaker system although I wouldn't rate it higher. It just sounds older which might be better for some music and not so decent for another.

 

When comparing instruments be evaluating recordings, it is crucial that they are played and recorded the same way. No matter if it goes around violins or guitars, a slight change of bowing or picking point will change everything beyond comparability. The reproducibility of the musician's playing was fantastic in this case. This player has been mastering her/his art outstandingly - a true professional.

 

The recordings clearly were done in the same manner, too. Microphone, mic positioning, EQing and levelling are very critical, and the sound engineer doubtlessly did a nice job.

 

As far as I can tell, this is true live, too. And the fact that it's true - that a change of pick or picking position or technique can alter tone as much or more than the perceived difference between a pre-war J-45 and a good contemporary TV, for example, means the difference between the two guitars is not terribly significant. This much I know for sure - I have friends with a 50s SJ and a 40s J-45, and my '03 Original Jumbo more than hangs with them. It's louder. It's as responsive to attack. It's deeper. It has more headroom, even with pretty low action. If there's something special in those old guitars that isn't in the '03, I don't know what it is. Maybe 10 years is enough? I've heard a lot of old Gibsons and was really tempted to believe age was magic until the last 10 - 15 years when Gibson started building really good guitars again. Now I tend to think they just weren't on their game for a few decades.

 

P

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Vis a vis the continuing debate whether vintage instruments sound better than new ones, here is a report of a double-blind test in which blindfolded violinists were asked to discern Stradivari and Guarneri from modern instruments:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtlTJkbUqkA

 

It asks the question "can the [desired sound] be gotten from a new instrument as well as an old one?"

 

The results are amusing.

 

The review also gives you the chance to pick the Strad from a recent era violin.

 

FMA

 

 

 

How many violinists does it take to change a wheel, light globe, cook toast...all those.

 

The violinists that could NOT pick the Strad should be struck off their respective team/ list. How humiliating for them. That's like Henry picking the copy LP, or BT picking the Chinese fake or CFM4 picking the SC....

 

I listened on my iPad and I must say the Strad gave a bit of a nasty squawk through the little speaker!

 

 

BluesKing777.

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I listened on my iPad and I must say the Strad gave a bit of a nasty squawk through the little speaker!

 

BluesKing777.

 

Yes, but in 300 years your iPad's speaker will have matured so you'll be able to truly appreciate the Strad.

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I do not own a vintage instrument, 2002 is as far back as mine go. And as a matter of economic survival, I avoid playing them if the opportunity is there. I have had the privilege of hearing more than a handful, and jamming with a few, and I think that TB is spot on in the observation that there is a certain quality of "clarity" / separation / trueness that you can hear, almost in your subconscious. I'm not totally convinced that it is all in the aging, might be, but there may be or must be something in the components and the build that can accentuate that, at least a bit. I think you can hear it in Martin's Authentic series, and the one J-45 Legend that I have heard was a remarkable guitar. So far, I'm happy with my little herd of five, the eldest of which is 12 years old. [biggrin]

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I often get drawn into these discussions because I have spent so much time thinking and worrying about it. I am the crazy sound scientist who as a hobby collected and studied guitars for 40+ years. This is a fasinating subject -- it cetainly fasinates me -- but it is pretty complex. Every now and then I feel inspired to post on forums.

 

Best,

 

-Tom

 

 

 

Next time you are near a good musical instrument shop, Tom, could you PLEASE go in and try a Martin Authentic Dread and the one they all talk about and I would love to try...the OM18 Authentic. Maybe brand new would be too much of a shock, perhaps a used one?

 

I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

BluesKing777.

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A great, meaty, thread. One of the main reasons my GAS is really beginning to abate is that I really don't want to go through just the minor breaking in period a new guitar needs to go through and I'm not going to be around to hear my guitars begin to have the clarity mentioned in an older guitar. I do notice the phenomena and on my Gibson and my other slope shoulder guitars clarity in the bass is the last thing I notice developing. I do also notice that my ears and my hearing have become more sensitive to nuance and what I like to hear. The inadvertant/sympathetic harmonics I notice sometimes surprises me. Were they always there and I just didn't notice them or are my ears just better at listening or are they just beginning to develop in the guitar itself? There is a future generation of guitar players that sure are going to have a lot of great guitars available to them. Already great guitars getting some age on them. I'm like duluthdan in that I've become pretty content with my little harem and I find that their individual personalities and development keep me occupied and happy.

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Next time you are near a good musical instrument shop, Tom, could you PLEASE go in and try a Martin Authentic Dread and the one they all talk about and I would love to try...the OM18 Authentic. Maybe brand new would be too much of a shock, perhaps a used one?

 

I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

BluesKing777.

 

I've played quite a few D-18As -- they are quite popular around here. They are not all the same. They are still green of course, but I did check[biggrin]. A couple have been really good.

 

It one I have played most belongs to a close friend and picking buddy who also owns the best sounding actual 37 D-18 I have played. The D-18A is a fine guitar --but there is a cautionary tale that goes with it.

 

We put that guitar in with a bunch of vintage stuff in some of our early experiments. That is not how I would do it now, but it is still interesting I think.

 

Best,

 

-Tom

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I've played quite a few D-18As -- they are quite popular around here. The D-18A is a fine guitar --but there is a cautionary tale that goes with it.

 

-Tom

 

 

Oh no, Tom, is someone now going to start a thread moaning about Martin quality control, too?

 

That was a seriously interesting discussion, but I was startled to hear that the original Martin bridgeplates were only 1 mm thick. It's actually hard to plane/shave a piece of maple to that thickness, which is only about 3/64".

 

Can you confirm that the Martin bridgeplates were/are really that thin? By comparison, I'm pretty sure the standard Gibson bridgeplate is about 1/8" (.125"), or just over 3 mm.

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