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onewilyfool

Why do vintage guitars sound so good?

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A lot of emphasis on the scientific reasons but what about the idea that your guitar just likes you better the more you play it and therefore gives you a better sound. A happy guitar is a happy guitar.

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JT....I'm not sure that is right....on our construction jobs, we often have to wait for the hardwood floors to "season" a little to the heat and humidity of the new home, which is different than the warehouse it came from. Often relative humidity can be 50-60% but there is a little instrument that tests water content of wood, and the wood will be about 7%. So humidity can affect wood, especially the thin wood of a guitar, but the moisture content of wood will NEVER equal the moisture content of air. Even 100 year old logs brought up from the bottom of lakes and rivers if you cut into them, they will only be about 20% moisture content. Air and wood do not absorb water at the same rate.

 

 

The wood actually cannot get any dryer than the air in which it sits' date=' 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:

 

[img']http://inlinethumb38.webshots.com/47717/2508729730033810361S600x600Q85.jpg[/img]

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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JT....I'm not sure that is right....on our construction jobs' date=' we often have to wait for the hardwood floors to "season" a little to the heat and humidity of the new home, which is different than the warehouse it came from. Often relative humidity can be 50-60% but there is a little instrument that tests water content of wood, and the wood will be about 7%. So humidity can affect wood, especially the thin wood of a guitar, but the moisture content of wood will NEVER equal the moisture content of air.[/quote']

 

Given time, the moisture content in air and wood absolutely will be equal. This from the US Forest Service's publication entitled, "Equilibrium Moisture Content of Wood in Outdoor Locations in the United States and Worldwide":

 

"The moisture content of wood depends on the relative humidity and temperature of the air surrounding it. If wood remains long enough in air where the relative humidity and temperature remain constant, the moisture content will also become constant at a value known as the equilibrium moisture content (EMC). Thus, every combination of relative humidity and temperature has an associated EMC value. The EMC increases with increasing relative humidity and with decreasing temperature."

 

Here is the complete article. The length of time that it takes for equilibrium to obtain depends on the relative humidity and heat.

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2006 Gibson Les Paul Std

2007 Gibson J-45 Std

 

I have been buying wood musical instruments since the early 1960's and one of the big issues that I have found is the availability of volume sources of the coveted highly figured maples,spruce and mahogany species for instrument construction. Back in the day these materials were a lot easier to come by and large lots were available. As population centers expanded less and less of these woods were available-now raw product buyers are everywhere in the world searching for those prized woods. I happen to live in timber country and I am amazed at the prices for furniture grade material and I suspect it will only get harder.

 

As a young teenager the prices for a premium species guitar was in the $250-$400 range-take a look at where we are now! When I read these stories about wealthy collectors paying these prices that are in the 10's and 100's of thousands of dollars for these guitars I take notice of where these prices are going-There was a lot more of this or that wood available and a lot cheaper-its getting to the point where the coveted guitars are in the hands of very wealthy collectors and musicians-When I bought my Les Paul I looked at probably 100 instruments before I bought the one I own and it is a stunning guitar-In tone and looks-Of course I keep dreaming about finding a vintage Gibson Super 400 for $50 at a garage sale-I will keep you posted!

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"The moisture content of wood depends on the relative humidity and temperature of the air surrounding it. If wood remains long enough in air where the relative humidity and temperature remain constant, the moisture content will also become constant at a value known as the equilibrium moisture content (EMC). Thus, every combination of relative humidity and temperature has an associated EMC value. The EMC increases with increasing relative humidity and with decreasing temperature."

 

 

I see where the problem is.....EMC is not the same as moisture content of the air. In California, if the percent of moisture in wood were the same as it was air say 50% moisture, every house in California would fall down from dry rot. ECM does not EQUAL the relative humidity, but it does fluctuate. Raw studs are about 17% moisture content and I've seen them squirt water into the eyes of the carpenters when they were nailing them. When a house is framed and closed in the moisture content can go to 12%.....and Kiln dried lumber is 7% or under. Wood will move with changes in humidity, but to say the percentage of moisture IN the wood is the same as in the air is not true.

 

That article you quoted is for wood in outdoor locations.... and relative humidity rarely stays constant. Equilibrium between relative humidity and EMC does not mean the wood has the same amount of moisture in it as the air....

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Equilibrium between relative humidity and EMC does not mean the wood has the same amount of moisture in it as the air....

 

"The equilibrium moisture content (EMC) occurs when the wood has reached a water content equilibrium with its environment and is no longer gaining or losing moisture."

 

Link

 

"The moisture content of wood is directly related to the humidity and temperature of the surrounding air."

 

Link 2

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Given time' date=' the moisture content in air and wood absolutely will be equal. This from the US Forest Service's publication entitled, "Equilibrium Moisture Content of Wood in Outdoor Locations in the United States and Worldwide[/quote']

 

Key words there being "Wood in Outdoor Locations". Hopefully we don't store our guitars outdoors. But still, the moisture content of the air and the wood are not equal. Using the formula in your link, a temp of 90 and a humidity of 74% yields and EMC of 13.6%. From the text there:

 

"The equilibrium moisture content (EMC) occurs when the wood has reached a water content equilibrium with its environment and is no longer gaining or losing moisture."

 

It's a point of equilibrium. No, wood will not continue to absorb moisture until it holds the same as the air. Submerging it in the river might produce different results, however.

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It's a point of equilibrium. No' date=' wood will not continue to absorb moisture until it holds the same as the air. Submerging it in the river might produce different results, however.[/quote']

 

??????

 

I give up. Someone has to explain to me, and rebut all of those scientific publications that explicitly conclude to the contrary, how wood can resist equalizing with the moisture content of the environment in which it is located.

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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.

 

This is the post that stands out amongst all the rest to me. As long as your dealing with wood as your primary building material, instruments are going to vary to some degree from one to the next. It's always been that way.

 

I too have played some vintage acoustics guitars that blew me away and others that fell far short of my expectations. A good guitar is a good guitar. It might get better over time, but not by any predefined amount (though it is certainly easy for any of us to build these things up in our own minds). Conversely, a turd is not going to change into a diamond after 70 years. More than likely those vintage guitars that sound bad always sounded bad. (In some extreme cases, such as a guitar left for many years in an uncontrolled climate, exposed to temperature and humidity extremes, you could identify that cause of poor tone to "aging".)

 

Your observation regarding Gibson's from the mid to late 50's and your preference for their overall tone being tied to the differences in the design and construction of those instruments definitely makes sense. Even amongst that subset of instruments, I'm sure you would find some examples that you would prefer over others.

 

All the best,

Guth

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Here's another thing I just hit while doing a little research on another subject.

 

One reason for F-hole guitars' popularity in the early radio days was that the radios of the era played well in the mids, but not at the highs or lows. That's how the F-Holes sounded, and they ruled the airwaves.

 

I'd always wondered why, for example, Mother Maybelle Carter played that big Gibson F-Hole when a flat top was "the" folkie/country guitar. Well, it was my ignorance. The output of the F-hole more closely matched the media available.

 

Also the old wind-up 78 rpm recordings were pretty similar. No matter how good the horn of the non-electrified "record player," you weren't going to get much bass regardless. The grooves on the record wiggled the needle that wiggled a diaphragm that then went through a horn of various sorts. My Grandma had a "console" version that had a rather complex winding-horn designed to get more bass, but... it didn't really.

 

m

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Just getting to know a '41 J-35 and it is pretty much divine sounding. A living thing. Very thin finish - almost not there. Very lightly built with what looks to me like tapered and scalloped bracing, two tone bars. A pretty tight grain top, but with a lot of variation. Experts have been trying for centuries to pin down what makes certain vintage instruments special. I only know some of them really are special, and different.

 

Like Suburude I also have a great D-18A, one that I believe is particularly good and close to a vintage in tone. But there is a difference, and in my dreams I own it and a pre-war D-18. I'm closer to the Gibson version of that dream now, as My Kopp K-35 is a very, very good Gibson tone new guitar and the J-35 is in the house. I think I'm almost done with GAS.

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'Why do vintage guitars sound so good?'....because people tell you they do! Guitar sales people are first cousins to used car salesmen.

Myth, legend, and lies abound. After all sound, appearence, playabiliy have a high degree of subjectivity.

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Just getting to know a '41 J-35 and it is pretty much divine sounding. A living thing. Very thin finish - almost not there. Very lightly built with what looks to me like tapered and scalloped bracing' date=' two tone bars. A pretty tight grain top, but with a lot of variation. Experts have been trying for centuries to pin down what makes certain vintage instruments special. I only know some of them really are special, and different.

 

Like Suburude I also have a great D-18A, one that I believe is particularly good and close to a vintage in tone. But there is a difference, and in my dreams I own it and a pre-war D-18. I'm closer to the Gibson version of that dream now, as My Kopp K-35 is a very, very good Gibson tone new guitar and the J-35 is in the house. I think I'm almost done with GAS.[/quote']

 

You are very lucky man [blink]

 

Please give us on a seperate thread a comparison between the 41 J 35 and the Kopp K 35. It seems we have similer taste! [biggrin]

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Hi,I have noticed how differently guitars that have lived their lives in the U.S.A. age, compared to the U.K. Here our weather is mild most of the time ,we dont get abrupt and severe changes in temperature so you dont see guitars that have "Crazing" in the laquer so much here.I had a used Martin sent over from Wichita acouple of years ago I am positive it got heavier since Ive had it due to absorbing moisture from the atmosphere also a small indendation on the back of the neck has all but dissapeared ,it still sounds good ,but different, not quite so lively,I guess this is not neccesaraly a good thing but we dont generally have to keep our guitars in specially controlled environments as I understand many people have to in the U.S I think any U.K. owned Gibsons or Martins will take a lot longer to get that "vintage " sound.

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