Jump to content
Gibson Brands Forums
Sign in to follow this  
onewilyfool

Why do vintage guitars sound so good?

Recommended Posts

I've played a lot of "vintage" guitars over the years (although "vintage" on Ebay and Craigslist can mean as young as 2001, but I digress) Some sound good, some bad, and some GREAT!!! Often for me, the great sounding ones, seem to be very light weight. The aging process seems to lighten the guitar's weight over time. But that's not the only factor. The finish on a lot of these old guitars is thin, or worn, or crackled, and I think this adds to the freedom for the top to move. It's not just how "dry" the woods are......there are certain resins in spruce, and over time they "crystalize" and this is actually what gives the vintage wood the good sound from what I read. It weakens the long grain of the wood somewhat, so it vibrates easier. So dry you can do easily, you can mechanically dry wood, but crystalization is harder to do. I've also played vintage guitars that look like they were never played in their life....closet kept or under the bed for 40 years, these guitars often don't sound as good as beat-up old 'players' that have had a lot of vibration over their lives.....So, dry, crystalized, crackled, vibrated.....this is the secret.....Dry, crystalized, crackled, vibrated???? Sounds like a few of the guys in this forum.....lol

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Why do vintage guitars sound so good?"

 

They've been around the block a few times, even though we haven't.

They know how to give us what we want, even though we don't know what we want.

Because they are experienced.

And we are not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
... It's not just how "dry" the woods are......there are certain resins in spruce' date=' and over time they "crystalize" and this is actually what gives the vintage wood the good sound from what I read. It weakens the long grain of the wood somewhat, so it vibrates easier. ...[/quote']

 

OWF - IMHO, you've got it right there. Some woods reach this state sooner than others. In that regard, the older the guitar, the more likely the woods are in this state. To my ear, it sounds like the top is vibrating more fully, in a kind of consistency across the whole top. I often believe I can feel this quality too - it's a feeling like every piece of wood in guitar is reacting to the vibrations of the strings in unision.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Dry, crystalized, crackled, vibrated???? Sounds like a few of the guys in this forum.....lol"

 

Hmmmm. I resemble that remark...

 

Seriously, from the experience of stupidly starting work on rebuilding an old Washburn 1920s (?) parlor guitar that had fallen apart, then losing the unfinished pieces on a too-quickly made move, I'd say it's probably a combination of factors.

 

The wood yeah, as thinned pieces make up the body especially of an acoustic, there will be a yet different type of aging as the wood fibers settle into their shapes at the thickness they've been cut into. The finish itself will have aged.

 

I've read similar discussions about fiddles from the classic era such as Strads and ain't really heard much that offers a more decent explanation beyond educated guesses.

 

But here's a non-physical thing to consider... What if the person playing a vintage stringed instrument simply plays an oldie somewhat different out of respect to the instrument itself? A fraction of difference in technique can make huge differences in how the string is attacked and therefore its sound...

 

I dunno, but I'd not care entirely to rule out the human factor.

 

Also I've read in here some "anti tobacco smoke" sorts of comments about guitars, but figure that most acoustic stringed instruments made prior to, say 1980, probably had a lot more variations of chemicals wafting in and around them than anything newer. No air conditioning, little in the way of "central heating;" the Strad especially was born and brought up in an era of fireplaces. Cooking odors, in the 19th and 20th century oodles of soot of various sorts not to mention other airborne particulates and "gasses."

 

Hmmmmm.

 

m

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A lot of new guitars sound incredible also ! Has anyone played a Martin D 18 Authentic lately ? :-

 

Suburude, I did....and the salesman told me that the real big markup of the Authentic over the standard D-18, is because Martin KNOWS it will have to do a neck reset in under 10 years, because the authentic doesn't have a truss rod or any neck reinforcement.....JUSSSSSST like the old days....lol. I played one, and it was nice, but CLEARLY NOT worth the $3,400.00 Dollar difference between the Authentic and the standard D-18???!!! In this case, the Emperor has no clothes......

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just had a "grouchy old man" thought, folks.

 

One reason perhaps so many "vintage" guitars sound so good is that they're the cream of the crop of their time, and they're also those that have been sufficiently taken care of that they're still here to be played.

 

I wonder how many of even the better boxes sold by the tens of thousands to high school and college kids in the '60s folkie and rock "you've gotta have a guitar" days ended up in the garbage, broken or not - and that includes outfits in all price ranges.

 

m

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The aging process seems to lighten the guitar's weight over time. But that's not the only factor. The finish on a lot of these old guitars is thin' date=' or worn, or crackled, and I think this adds to the freedom for the top to move. It's not just how "dry" the woods are......there are certain resins in spruce, and over time they "crystalize" and this is actually what gives the vintage wood the good sound from what I read. l[/quote']

 

The wood actually cannot get any dryer than the air in which it sits, no matter how old the wood is. Put a new guitar and a 100 year old guitar in air that's at 45% relative humidity, come back tomorrow and test both, and the woods in both guitars will have 45% relative humidity. Guitars cannot lighten over time.

 

Now, the crystallization process may make a difference. I'm at work at studying that. Here's step 1 in the study, a 1943 Gibson L-50 being CT-scanned:

 

2508729730033810361S600x600Q85.jpg

 

I've now scanned somewhere between 60 and 70 instruments, including the first Martins of circa and 2 of Orville Gibson's pre-Gibson company, hand carved guitars. I've published preliminary results in 2 artiicles in teh Journal fo the American Society of Radiologic Technology.

 

Oh, and the best part is that I get to play all of the instruments.

 

On edit: Here's a look at the display of incredible amounts of info that we're getting (it takes two monitors to display the menus!):

 

2502375680033810361S600x600Q85.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

JT....

 

Dumb question maybe, but is there a way to tell if the older instruments have "adjusted" to the curves of their shapes and have less internal tension on the sides and/or top especially? A carved top and/or back should have less tension than the sides that have been bent - so...???

 

m

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
JT.... Dumb question maybe' date=' but is there a way to tell if the older instruments have "adjusted" to the curves of their shapes and have less internal tension on the sides and/or top especially? A carved top and/or back should have less tension than the sides that have been bent - so...???[/quote']

 

Milrod,

 

Not a dumb question at all! I actually think that this may play into the sound of vintage instruments. I know that the archtop arch often settles over time. We also know that tops and backs distort, leading to the need for resets on flattops. But, what exactly are those sides doing? And, how does all of this play (pun intended) into the sound of a guitar?

 

I've really not figured out how to begin to measure this. I can measure new and old versions of the same models, but, AFAIK, there's not way to tell the precise shape of a vintage guitar when it was new.

 

One cool think it does look like the CT-scanner will tell me that I didn't expect: wood species. I've built a "baseline board" with scraps of Honduran mahogany, African mahogany, EIR, Brazilian rosewood, ebony, Adirondack spruce, European Spruce, and Sitka spruce. I'll be sending that board through the CT-scanner along side the guitars. The CT-scanner provides really precise density readings which, when compared with the "baseline" pieces, will enable us to determine species. In addition. I'll leave the "baseline board" and the subject guitar in the same room for several days before the scan so that the relative humidity will be the same in all pieces of woods.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I suppose the CT scans will be able to identify guitars that were thought to be of solid wood construction as ones having laminate back & sides(?).

There may be some surprises in store for owners of some Banner Gibsons!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I suppose the CT scans will be able to identify guitars that were thought to be of solid wood construction as ones having laminate back & sides(?).

There may be some surprises in store for owners of some Banner Gibsons!

 

Like what surprises? Sounds like you already know?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The wood actually cannot get any dryer than the air in which it sits, no matter how old the wood is.

 

Isn't wood moisture content read in percentage ( amount of moisture contained in the cells of wood) ? You can have a 100 year old piece of spruce that has 6% moisture in a room at 45% relative humidity along side a piece of 3 year old spruce at 12% moisture. I'm thinking that the moisture content has alot of how the wood vibrates. Just thinking, I may be wrong.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I wonder' date=' also, the difference old growth wood plays into this, if any. [/quote']

 

Excellent point. Recent studies on the Stradivarius violins have shown wood density can greatly effect tone. Researchers found that these violins all have extremely consistent density, with little variation in the growth patterns of the trees which produced the wood. The density having to do with how close the tree rings are together - slow growth due to cold temperatures and/or reduced availability of water.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Suburude' date=' I did....and the salesman told me that the real big markup of the Authentic over the standard D-18, is because Martin KNOWS it will have to do a neck reset in under 10 years, because the authentic doesn't have a truss rod or any neck reinforcement.....JUSSSSSST like the old days....lol. I played one, and it was nice, but CLEARLY NOT worth the $3,400.00 Dollar difference between the Authentic and the standard D-18???!!! In this case, the Emperor has no clothes......[/quote']

 

I've also played an Authentic and thought it sounded amazing, but like OWF, maybe not several extra thousand $ bills amazing based on what I have available in my wallet. As far as the neck not having any reinforcement, that may just be some salesman blowing smoke. They're reinforced. The Authentics have a steel T bar in the neck just like Martin used back in the '30s. Plus my understanding is that the way they are fretted and the fingerboard is glued to the neck is in keeping with the older methods and also adds to the neck's stabilty. Resets may or may not be needed, but I'm sure that is always added into the pricing equation. As is the heating, mixing and applying of the hide glue........and I think that the authentics are pretty much hand made including side bending and neck carving.

 

Anyway, I'm really enjoying reading about the scientific research being done on older instruments and everyone's thoughts as to what makes the older instruments special. Suburude's bringing a newer instrument like the D-18 Authentic into the conversation is good because it makes me wonder what the original sounded like when it was new and if a new D-18A sounds anywhere close? How would we ever know because even if we could find a sound reproduction of a new D-18 back then, it may not give us a true representation. I also wonder if a guitar built as closely to specs as possible to it's 70 year old counterpart will age and sound similar when it is also a 70 year old guitar? If so, will it be because of the way it's constructed, played, stored or because of the wood.......or some/all of the above? And what will it sound like compared to the 140 year old D-18?

 

I guess the truth of it is that most of us weren't around in the 1930s to know about the original, and most of us won't be around in 2080 to find out about the current. So my thinking is to buy what I can afford and think sounds good to me now and hope that in the future, playing an acoustic guitar is still popular and all of my years kneeling at my pew rewards me with an afterlife. That way when the great grandkids get them they can find out for me and when their time comes, they can report their findings!!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Suburude' date=' I did....and the salesman told me that the real big markup of the Authentic over the standard D-18, is because Martin KNOWS it will have to do a neck reset in under 10 years, because the authentic doesn't have a truss rod or any neck reinforcement.....JUSSSSSST like the old days....lol. I played one, and it was nice, but CLEARLY NOT worth the $3,400.00 Dollar difference between the Authentic and the standard D-18???!!! In this case, the Emperor has no clothes......[/quote']

 

Aparently your guitar salesman dounsn't diddly about Martin D 18 Authentics ! :D They "Do" have a steel "T" truss rod just like the originals did. Noi adjustable. ^_^

BTW most Martins new and old D 18s need a neck re set in 10 to 15 years .

Also the Authentic is completely built with Hide glue by "One" gentleman at Martin.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Isn't wood moisture content read in percentage ( amount of moisture contained in the cells of wood) ? You can have a 100 year old piece of spruce that has 6% moisture in a room at 45% relative humidity along side a piece of 3 year old spruce at 12% moisture.

 

Yes, right on both points. But, that old wood won't stay at 3%. If it did, vintage guitars would not react to humidity, and we all know that's not true. The wood and surrounding air, given time, will equalize in moisture content.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Alot of it is a fig newton of your imagination.

 

We want them to and Gibson marketing team (and those of other builders) are counting on that.

 

Some of the best and the worst Gibsons I have ever held in my sweaty little hands were made in the 1930s and 1940s. Same for Martins. Never mind slight variations in wood thickness and the placing of bracing but the aging process is not always kind.

 

I do admit that I prefer sound and feel of Gibsons made from 1955 to 1959. Nuttin' out there sound the same but that is because those guitars had a very different bracing than what Gibson used before and is now using.

To my ears they are punchier and quicker with chunkier mids. The only other guitars I have run across that have a similar shaped bracing were the original Mossmans.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

....

 

I dunno how an MRI might show this, but my thought on the sides is this: The wood is cut thin, and then bent using water/steam or whatever, to get it into the shape of guitar sides.

 

I can't help but believe that there remains some degree of tension in the fibers toward wanting to straighten out in a newer instrument regardless of quality woods, quality of luthier or whatever.

 

Then, some 70 years later, wouldn't those tensions have resolved?

 

Again, though, my thought also is that in a lotta ways the old instruments we're praising have tended to be the cream of the crop, not the second echelon or below.

 

Similarly the woods available today ain't the same as those used 70 years ago even if literally from adjacent trees.

 

m

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...