- The Sound Of The Electric Guitar
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- 1. Does the wood matter or not?
- 2. What can camouflage that bell?
- 3. Microphones
- 4. Excessive paint
- 5. Bridges
- 6. How much does the arm influence the final audio?
- 7. Does it sound better if it’s heavier?
- 8. One wood is better than another
- 9. Old wood is good?
- 10. Aesthetics Vs Sound
- 11. One board is better than two or three
- 12. The Woods of your Guitar
The Sound Of The Electric Guitar
We will talk about the importance of seeing our instrument as a whole and the main elements that make up the final audio as well as other minor elements that also influence it. On the other hand, we will demolish some myths regarding this whole subject which is undoubtedly crucial and exciting.
Unlike the acoustic or Spanish guitar, the electric guitar has other factors that influence the sound of the instrument. Fittings, bridge types, arm and body joints, electromagnetic pickups and more, each one of these elements influences the audio and it is important to understand the electric guitar (as well as the electric bass) as a whole.
As we said at the beginning, we will deal with the woods, the need for a balance (or not) and the different tones that each one of them can give us. It is important to know all this in order to be able to buy or order the instrument that fits our requirements as much as possible.
In the case of making a guitar with a Luthier, it is very good to take into account their considerations beyond their own needs. An important example is to define the type of neck that we are going to require (curve, radius, measurements in general, type of fret) and obviously also the type of construction of the instrument.
The first and fundamental thing is to demolish certain myths that are detrimental to making the most accurate decision on the acquisition of an instrument.
1. Does the wood matter or not?
Well, if you’re one of those people who think that wood doesn’t influence the tone of the instrument at all, maybe this isn’t the best place to receive communion.
It is very clear the influence of wood in the sound of the instrument, is with the pads and anchors (eg: Bridge) the most important of an instrument and what defines its personality. If we mounted a pickguard with good microphones and electronics on two Stratocasters with different combinations of woods like ash and maple or alder with rosewood we would realize instantly the great differences they present. Obviously, if we are going to connect the guitar to an extreme gain pedal and we are going to process the sound too much these notable differences start to become more subtle.
ToneWood exists as a fundamental part of the sound of the instrument and is only despised by those who do not understand or listen to it. The pickups do not only capture the vibration of the string and in this case this vibration, harmonics and sustain depends exclusively on the wood of each element, the socket of the arm and the bridge.
2. What can camouflage that bell?
As we have already mentioned in the channel on more than one occasion there is an endless number of variables (including our perceptive audio) that can make these differences less noticeable.
Instrument microphones or pickups can be classified not only as singles, doubles and active. Within each of these groups, we have pickups for example manufactured to obtain maximum signal/noise level performance. Others for Hi-Gain or high-level processing. In this case, the microphones with a lot of winding tend to be pastier and go towards the medium frequencies, if we add this effect to the excess of waxing to obtain a low noise and microphones it is evident that little more than what happens on that polar piece is transferred to the final sound. Is this good? depending on the musical style as I mentioned before it may or may not be.
Part of the “magic” of a microphone is that it also captures the very vibration of the wood and what the bridge transfers to it. In more classical styles a microphone with less wax will make our instrument “breathe” more. We must seek a balance between both worlds to have good sound and be comfortable.
4. Excessive paint
The problem isn’t the cop or the nitro, it’s the how and the quantum. The cheaper brands use softer woods and generally in more parts and apply excessive layers of paint. The thicker the layer, the more it affects the sound. Now we must see what wood we have underneath because if it is a resonant wood (eg Mahogany, Alder, etc) or a harder wood like hard ash things are different. A harder wood accepts better that extra layer.
The bridges according to their material or the form that they anchor to the body will act as a sound absorber of the string. A clear example is a hardtail bridge of a telecaster against that of a Jaguar where the string has much less tension on the saddle, beyond scales and structure if we mount the same electronics we could clearly see those differences in sound where the anchoring of the latter gives us a “thinner” audio than that of the hardtail bridge.
As another example, the characteristic audio of a Les Paul or SG is given not only by its combination of woods and its type of humbuckers microphones but also by the classic bridge type of these guitars called Tune O Matic.
6. How much does the arm influence the final audio?
In talks with several important Luthiers dedicated to the specific construction of electric guitars, in all cases, the same conclusion is reached, something I had already been able to try out with instruments but it was interesting to approach and have other perspectives. To the point, the mass and density of the arm determine a type of audio, the greater the mass the more and better the bass and sustain, a thinner arm gives us comfort but takes away these characteristics.
On the other hand and going specifically to the type of woods or combinations, each one will give us a tone in the instrument which will then be accompanied by the wood of the body of the instrument and balanced to one side or the other in the final EQ.
When we find differences in sound for example in Les Paul with mahogany or maple arm and these differences are noticeable we realize how that small big variable changes both the final audio of the instrument. (Tonewood is a reality).
Something similar happens for example with the Stratocaster or Telecaster etc, a whole maple arm will give a tone and one with a rosewood fingerboard will give us another “warmth” in that final audio. In the near future, I will make a post specifically talking about this topic and the tones of each wood for it.
7. Does it sound better if it’s heavier?
Let’s think about a specific wood like mahogany. This particular wood is one of the most used by Gibson. What would be the benefit of having heavier mahogany? What would be the benefit of having heavier mahogany? What would be the benefit of having heavier mahogany? What would be the benefit of having heavier mahogany?
Well, without a doubt the main points would be two: Moisture and Density. Let’s talk about both points, humidity, for example, is not something positive in fact a more vintage body sounds better and one of the main characteristics besides the fact that obviously in the past there was more to select from is that in those years the wood lost humidity. It is not in vain that the best Gibson models today are the lighter ones like their well known “R” line
The fact that one wood is heavier than another does not mean that it is better, simply because each wood has unique characteristics and based on them we should measure the weight and not think that if it is heavier it will magically have more sustainability among so many other virtues. In fact, the humidity in the wood makes it less resonant and not the other way around, the effect is one of damping which is the opposite of resonance.
The density of the wood, on the other hand, is another factor different and intrinsic to it, a denser wood than another is neither better nor worse is simply different and will give us other characteristics, more density more attack and brightness more porosity more warmth, this as a simple summary of the subject.
8. One wood is better than another
When we talk about the most classic woods and even several substitutes or varieties that grow in our countries there is nothing better than another. We must think that there are woods that are more suited to the tone we need and that there lies the need to know the tonal characteristics of each and the good combination, relationship or balance between mast body and fingerboard.
It is also true that there are woods typically used by the big brands that provide us with the audio we have heard in the records of the last decades. So it is inevitable that those combinations sound “better” to us, read a big quote.
9. Old wood is good?
Even though we talk about the fact that with the years a wood acquires another resonance, if we go to the title of this section an old wood is not necessarily good, since badly chosen 30 or 40 years ago it will still be the same, as an economic guitar can be. An example of this, not long ago a maple neck came to me that was about 30 years old and still unstable with a need for soul adjustments almost all the time.
10. Aesthetics Vs Sound
Let’s take as an example the different types of maple, spalted, flame, quilted, etc, in these cases there are really no important or perceptible changes in the sound and we must be clear that when we pay extra for these woods we do it merely for a cosmetic issue. For example, a thin maple top flamed over a mahogany body does not really make the sound, unlike other instruments where the thickness of the top already marks a trend in the final sound of the body of the instrument.
As an example, the PRS is brighter than the Gibson (not only because their arms are generally maple), the maple cover is considerably thicker in the former than in the latter. On the other hand, if this flamed maple cover of X thickness was replaced by a standard radial maple cover, the difference in sound between one thing and another would be impossible to detect.
11. One board is better than two or three
Another classic myth is that a one-piece guitar is better than a two- or three-piece and this is not necessarily so either. Except for exceptions where obviously the wood is very well chosen by specialists in the higher ranges of known instruments or in luthier instruments many times instruments with more than one piece can be equal or better since that piece is either symmetrical or a part of that wood was discarded for different reasons and that second board was better chosen. The truth is that at a sound level two or three pieces of wood glued together do not make a difference with respect to one. Let’s remember that in Fender, for example, it’s the most normal thing to have 3 glued pieces even in high-end instruments.
Logically, when the number of pieces increases, it is inevitable to think about the quality of the wood, younger trees, less selection of wood, etc. In these cases, the lower and upper part is even laminated to improve the aesthetics and camouflage these pieces.
12. The Woods of your Guitar
Let’s start then with the most classic woods used by the most classic brands and the tone they provide according to their natural characteristics.
The body of the electric guitar
I think we can distinguish 3 types or big groups of woods in the bodies of electric guitars: resonant, hard and neutral.
Dark or Warm Sounding Woods
The first and most used for example by the Gibson brand is the mahogany from Honduras or Bolivian mara (later). The Honduras mahogany provides the instrument with a very resonant tone, warm with sustain and with a marked tendency towards the medium and low frequencies (these frequencies can be altered according to the total mass of the instrument as you can see clear differences between an SG and a Les Paul).
There are Asian surrogates of the deep mahogany that are currently used by many brands or sub-brands such as LTD, Epiphone, etc. These give a similar sound although in a tuned ear you can distinguish the differences as well as a wood settled by the years.
Another of the most commonly used resonant woods to make quality electric guitars is Alder. The alder is the wood par excellence used by Fender especially for its most recognized model the “Stratocaster”.
As for the fretboards, the Rosewood Indian is a clear example of a very warm and resonant way that combined with mahogany and PAF type pickups give us the typical Gibson sound and with a maple, arm gives us the classic sound of Fender or other brands.
With a more closed pore and usually heavier these woods give as a result more attacked and brilliant sounds with more projection in these frequencies and can be used in bodies as well as in arms.
A clear example of this type of wood in bodies is the Ash ( Ash ) mainly in the north of cold and dry climate, different from its variety Swamp Ash that grows in a humid almost subtropical climate and that is light and but resonant throughout all the spectrum.
Maple is hardwood in almost all its varieties and given its hardness, stability and above all availability is very chosen both for whole arms as to use it under a fretboard of another wood such as Rosewood.
Ebony is another clear example of this type of wood and is used very frequently in the fretboards of acoustic guitars as well as in high-end electric guitars.
They are those woods that present more homogeneous characteristics and an intermediate timbre, in general, they are used more in economic guitars as well as in guitars oriented to more aggressive music. In this last case, they are eventually accompanied by pickups of more gain than usual.
Basswood, poplar, linden are clear examples of this type of wood, usually used by the Ibanez even for some of their models of higher range oriented just to the public mentioned above.
These woods have also been used by several of Squier’s series among many other brands with very good quality/price results. In these cases, it is a wood that very acceptably replaces the tone of alder for more classic styles when we cannot afford high-quality alder or swamp ash instrument.
We must understand the instrument as a whole, each of its components will contribute to the final audio to a greater or lesser extent. Although there are many variables as we have seen, the three main ones are. The wood (arm and body), the microphones and anchorages (bridge and nut) or the type of insertion between mast and body (construction).