Do electric guitars sound get better as they get played more?

Frontier9

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Greetings from Sunny New Jersey
Not in my case...
Way past time for a refret.

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nickmsmith

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Nah. I think on acoustic or electric, a different set of strings will make much more difference than aging ever would.

Sounds like some fiction from someone who believes in and/or profits from the “vintage is superior” school of thought.

And what is “better” anyway? If there is a change in older guitars, it could be considered worse. Along with the maintenance of dealing with old instruments.

People can’t tell old, mega valuable guitars/violins from nice new ones, by sound alone.

Would I like a 50s Strat, Tele, or old Gibson, Martin acoustic? yeah! I think they’re cool. I just wouldn’t be expecting any magic from them that you can’t reproduce with modern stuff.
 
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bottlenecker

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Interesting. Never heard that before but I will say that I've played on a few 100+ year old guitars over the years, and all the ones I've played had a dark, woody, sort of tone to them. Then again guitars that old usually have gut strings on them, since they're not built to handle steel strings, so that probably has a lot to do with it. Even still, they sound darker than say a modern classical guitar. Not sure why.

The steel string acoustic guitar designs most of us like aren't 100 years old yet. So that's kind of like saying cars slow down when they reach 100 years old, except we happen to know they were always that slow.
 

Wallaby

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Possibly.

I know for a fact, though, that it takes me a few minutes to figure out how it likes to be played and how the way I play affects the way me, the guitar and the amp sound together. If the best sounds in it need a technique I'm not good at, the "few minutes" can turn into days, weeks, months, forever...
 

Tele-friend

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The notion that age affects instruments in beneficial ways has been more folklore than evidence-based. It had a big setback when modern masterbuilt violins were mostly preferred over revered old ones by experts in a series of blinded studies.
www.researchgate.net/publication/273403015_Perceptual_Evaluation_of_Musical_Instruments_State_of_the_Art_and_Methodology
www.researchgate.net/publication/320041676_Sound_Enhancement_of_Musical_Instruments_by_%27Playing_them_in%27_Fact_or_Fiction

Regarding the mentioned exposure of acoustic guitars to artificial vibrations, the only real controlled study showed that it did not work. No measurable changes were found, and experienced guitarists could not reliably pick the "treated" guitars.
Clemens et al. (2014). Effect of vibration treatment on guitar tone: A comparative study. Savart Journal, 9. https://www.savartjournal.org/articles/22/about.html
João Pedro de Aragão Alegria Oliveira. (2018). Evolution of the vibrational behaviour of a guitar subjected to localized vibratory excitation [Master of Mech Eng Thesis]. Universidade de Coimbra.

There are a number of patents on vibration technology for musical instruments, but patents require no proof that inventions actually work.

If it doesn't happen in obvious ways for acoustic instruments, it's hard to see it happening for solid body electric guitars. But studies in electric guitars are very rare, and very limited in scope. eg
Esposito, E. (2003). A comparative study of the vibro-acoustical behaviour of electric guitars produced in different decades. Proceedings of the Stockholm Music Acoustics Conference (SMAC 03), 125–128.

Guitar manufacturers mostly use seasoned wood that has reached a low moisture content, often over considerable time. Mostly to ensure neck stability. Since no one made controlled recordings of now-vintage guitars when they were made, to compare to how the same guitar sounds today, we'll never know for sure. It's likely that there's a healthy dose of simple nostalgia/romanticism about "old wood" aging gracefully. Particularly since measured evidence from real electric guitars suggests that the reasons for their sonic differences lie in places other than the body wood.
The Physics of E-Guitars: Vibration – Voltage – Sound wave - Timbre (Zollner)

If there are any sonic changes over decades, it's possible that they could be due to other things. Maybe micro-shorts in pickup coils as the insulation degrades. OTOH there is little support for magnetic changes from pickup magnet experts.
Great post supported with scientific data.
When data talks, bul**** walks.
 

eclecticsynergy

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Sound seems subjective at times, to me. There are days when I plug in, same settings as the day before, and I just don’t like the sound which was fine the day before. Can’t really explain what it is - but it’s very likely me and not my rig.
We definitely hear things differently from day to day, and mood can affect our perception even beyond that.
However IME sometimes amps & speakers will exhibit tone changes too, for no apparent reason.
More so than guitars do.

I used to figure it was just my ears or the weather. But it's also happened in climate controlled studio soundrooms - with recordings that proved the sound was different from the previous day's tracks.
 

theleman

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I used to think wood contracts and expands through time, so if old guitars go through structural changes in the bodies and necks, they would sound inaccurate.
 

theleman

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There are also aspects of personal taste in music and sounds too. I mean some genre of music would never be appreciated no matter how well played, by the people who are not into the type of music or sound, but would be loved and appreciated by those who like the music and sound of course. For example I am not a metal fan, and no matter how well played, or whoever played metal music to me, they would all sound like just noise. And there are genius guitar players who are regarded as guitar gods by many folks. But if their music and playing styles are not my taste, I would never listen to them, because they just don't interest me, or sound good to me.


But I love blues and country music, and no matter how poorly played, I tend to appreciate the music and the sound.

But we are not talking about that in this thread.

It is more good sound in the instrumental level we are talking about. I mean, some guitars sound so good even just playing some chords progressions with it, you want keep playing it. But there are guitars sounding dull, muddy and subdued, and you just want to put them away immediately. When the poor or normal sounding guitars are played more often and for long time, do they become good sounding guitars? - that was the point.
 
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BFcaster

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In terms of electric guitars sound better or different as they age, I've often thought about the electronic aging and how that may affect things. Pots and switches, even caps and resistors maybe. On some level I have to think shooting an electrical current through the circuit over a long period of time should do something, right?
Then there's the pickups. Crud gets in there too. Haven't we all seen a beater at a pawnshop that looks like everything (even the pickup windings) need a good cleaning?
 

arlum

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With acoustic guitars that use specific tone woods like Rosewood, certain Mahogany's or Adirondack Spruce the tone is known to improve as the instrument ages. I've never heard that the amount of playing the instrument receives has the same effect. I believe that the improvement in the tone of electric guitars as they age has more to do with the weakening of the pickup magnets than anything else.
 

msalama

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My 4 guitars span the years from 1973 to 2018 and they all sound good, albeit different. Now make of that what you will :)
 

theleman

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I think well made guitars with high quality wood and parts would sound better with ageing and playing more such as Fender MIA and the Gibson USA guitars perhaps? But older guitars doesn't automatically mean they sound good - I know for a fact that several old 60s - 70s MIJ Teisco and Kay guitars, they all sounded bad, no matter what amp they were plugged into, and no matter what highest quality strings put on.
 

kinkstah

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IME, they play better because I progressively 'fine-tune' a given guitar to get it set up the way I want it to be (which can differ from one guitar to another). Soundwise, I can't say I've ever noted any change over time (as it is the case for acoustic guitars, I think)
 




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