I Swear This Will Be My Last Gibson

Discussion in 'Acoustic Heaven' started by zombywoof, Apr 8, 2019.

  1. stanger

    stanger Tele-Meister

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    You're welcome, teletime.
    It's fascinating to me how some guitar designs can trump their materials and construction and will sound extremely similar, no matter what they are made of, how they were made, or how old they are, while other designs' tone and other qualities will change drastically with any change made at all to the materials.

    In my experience, all Nick Lucas models do what they do and so do the AJs. Even time just isn't able to affect them very much.

    There shouldn't be a lot of difference between a new J-45 DeLuxe, a rosewood guitar and an AJ; the shorter scale of the 45 shouldn't make such a great change, and both guitars share almost identical designs, but there are a lot of subtle differences between them. One is so subtle I think most folks who never spot it; the slope of the lower bout from the waist down is different on the AJ. The soundhole placement is different, as is the bridge placement. The small tone braces are placed slightly differently. None of this is a very large difference, but when they are all combined, the two are very different guitars.

    I played a Martin D-28 for decades, and I now play a Martin D-21 that is the same age as the 28. By all rights, those 2 guitars are identical except for the binding and have only one big difference; the 21 has a rosewood fretboard and bridge, while the 28's are both ebony. The board really doesn't make any tone contribution a human can hear, but the bridge makes an enormous difference tonally. The 21 is similar to an AJ- its voice is as bright as a sliver trumpet, and it has an AJ's short sustain. The D-28 has a deeper, much darker tone, sustain for days, and has much stronger overtones.

    But everything else on both is exactly the same! And they were made by the same crew with the same materials.

    After playing several other rosewood guitars with rosewood bridges, I now believe the bridge's wood changes the tone.

    It's somewhat logical- rosewood is quite hard, but it's less dense than ebony, so it's a little easier for the small high-pitched strings to excite when the string is struck than ebony. Rosewood is also quicker in tone decay than ebony because it's less dense. Ebony is slower to excite, but because it's so dense, once excited, it vibrates longer, and the density favors the lower pitches of the larger strings.

    It makes me wonder what a hard maple bridge would do to a guitar's tone. If you knock a piece of good hard maple, it literally rings like a bell, while only some rosewood rings. Maple is all softer than either of the other 2. I've never seen a maple bridge on any expensive guitar, but to me, I think it may hold unexplored promise as a tone generator.
    regards,
    stanger
     
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  2. zombywoof

    zombywoof Friend of Leo's

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    I think it was John Greven who once noted that no builder made changes purely for sound. It was more about structure. There is a reason nobody out there is building guitars with bridge plates .040" thick such as the Kroydens and early Advanced L body Gibsons had. Great for sound but not the best thing for survival.

    I have never put much stock in the lumber used to build a guitar. While it will nuance sound it is other things that come more into play when it comes to pulling sound out of a guitar. Martin took a heck of beating in the late-1960s when they went from a maple bridge plate to a rosewood plate. It was not the wood but the fact that the Martin plates were oversized which I assume was to help control bellying. The reason Gibson beefed up the bracing on the B45-12 in late-1964 had nothing to do with sound. It had everything to do with guitars which were originally braced no differently than their six string counterparts which kept showing back up at the factory for warranty repairs. Same thing with those laminate bridge plates big enough to qualify as a piece of furniture Gibson started using in the early 1960s. Had nothing to do with sound and everything to do with supporting the heavy ADJ saddle bridges.
     
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  3. zombywoof

    zombywoof Friend of Leo's

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    When I first started playing Gibsons it was impossible to figure out when the thing was built. No books, internet and such. Best you could do was maybe a period or sometimes simply "pre-War".

    On another note, I was just browsing some late 1920s and early 1930s Gibson catalogs and noticed they offered a stock plectrum guitar. So possibly, like they did with tenor guitars, Gibson would make you plectrum version of any guitar in their catalog.
     
  4. teletimetx

    teletimetx Doctor of Teleocity

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    ...just for discussion, @stanger & @zombywoof ...

    There's quite a lot of research and "unbiased" testing and even more opinions about the selection of wood for building guitars. My experience is that one wood isn't "better" than another - but it can result in a different sound and a different quality of sound.

    Seems like it's always a balancing act.

    Antonio Torres made a guitar with wood top and something like paper mache for back and sides. Bob Taylor made his "Pallet Guitar", using pieces from an oak pallet for back & sides with random wood 5 or 6 pieces for the top and by all accounts, it was a "good" sounding guitar. What I read was that Taylor wanted to demonstrate that it's not all about the wood.

    Seems like there's a large number of things and small details that can make a difference.

    I do think that the bridge and saddle design are important and that would have to include the bridge plate.

    One thing that kind of surprised me is the relatively small bridge size of a number of the 30's era flattops, particularly the width measured parallel with the strings. No tongue-like platform to provide a little more separation between bridge pins and saddle. Just a narrow little rectangle, some with a pyramid, some scooped at the ends.

    Doesn't always make a good sound - I have played a few budget parlors from that time that might make for good canoe paddles.

    I think it would be pretty amazing to see what a hard maple bridge would or wouldn't do.

    Just checking the Martin website- they are now producing a modern/vintage hybrid using a carbon fiber material for a bridge. Interesting.
     
  5. stanger

    stanger Tele-Meister

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    Yup. All the guitar companies offered plectrums. They just didn't build many of them because there were few orders.

    The tenor and plectrum guitars were designed for banjo players. The tenor was by far the most popular banjo from the turn of the 20th century to the end of WWII, and during the early days of recording, was almost a standard rhythm instrument because it projected so well when the music was mechanically recorded.

    The tenor is tuned in 5ths like the violin family. This tuning is very wide; every string's notes from open neck have 7 frets before the note is repeated on the next higher string. This makes the need for a very long neck disappear, and the chords played in the tuning have a wide open note stack. This also helps the sound stand out, especially in a horn band.

    The plectrum is actually a 4-string version of the 5-string banjo. It enjoyed a brief moment of popularity around 1900-1915, when steel strings began to replace the gut strings on the 5-string banjo. The 5-string has always been played with the fingers, and back then, bare fingers.

    Their tuning is much closer spaced than a tenor's, and doesn't project as strongly. That 15-year span was when the 5-string was very popular as a parlor instrument, and many all-banjo orchestras were formed. The lead banjos in those orchestras needed to project the melody line more strongly than the others, so the plectrum, designed for stronger-projecting steel strings struck with a hard flatpick, became the solo and melody instruments, playing single notes against the 5-string's rhythmic rolls and strumming.

    But once the tenor, the last to be invented, appeared, they worked much better for the soloists, and they also worked better unamplified onstage for solo vaudeville performers. So it came to dominate.

    Then, when electronics came on the scene, the banjo's strong projection was no longer needed. A guitar, which as a smoother sound, could be heard when it had a microphone in front of it. All of a sudden there were thousands of banjoists who needed to change instruments to find work. Most went with the tenor guitar.

    There were always a few pros that used both tenor and plectrum banjos onstage. And as always, there are diehard players who wanted to stick with what they knew how to play. When it's a musician's job to play rhythm, the sound of the instrument isn't as important as the neck, so the guitar wasn't the big thing in the switch- it was the neck.

    The ancestor of both banjos, the 5-string, nearly went extinct during that era. It was seen as being too primitive and too old-fashioned, as the 5-string's first real heyday was in the 1800s. By the end of the 1940s, all the companies that only made banjos had either switched to making guitars or had gone under. The tenor banjo's popularity waned, but it was still pretty popular throughout the 1950s and was the sound that defined 'banjo' on recordings and onstage. (And in the movies)

    Vega was one that survived. It's tenor banjos were always popular. By the early 50's Vega was making mostly guitars and tenor banjos. They were once a big 5-string manufacturer, so they had all the equipment, and made them on order, along with plectrums. Gibson and Vega were about the only big banjo companies that continued to make banjos steadily.

    When the folk revival began in the late 1950s in New York City, the Vega factory was close by, so the musicians who wanted a 5-string could take a short trip there and order one.

    Folksinger Pete Seeger invented an extra-long 5-string neck that was a very useful singer's banjo, as it allowed fast and easy key changes. Changing keys is difficult on a standard 5-string. Pete made his own neck, and later had a local NYC guitar-maker convert a standard length 5-string neck to and extra-long neck for another banjo a bit later.

    The other folksingers in NYC wanted a banjo like Pete's, so would cruise up and order them from the Vega factory. The long necks gave the banjos a brand-new and very distinctive appearance that had never been seen before, which helped them a lot. New is always good to get some notice.

    In 1958, the folk music revival really took off when the Kingston Trio recorded Tom Dooley. The Trio hit all the right buttons; they were handsome, young, cool-looking ivy league guys who sang great harmony and had ear-catching songs. They became the most popular performers in the U.S. in short order, and made folk music hip to city kids for the first time.

    And they used 2 banjos, a long-neck 5-string and a plectrum. Bob Shane played the plec, as it was an easy switch from the guitar, and Dave Guard played the 5-string. And Nick Reynolds, who was always the rhythm section of the group, played the tenor guitar. All 3 also played Martin guitars too, along with congas and a few other rhythm instruments.
    They revived all 3 instruments at the same time.

    Guard wasn't much of a banjo player at first. The banjo intro in Tom Dooley was played on the plectrum by Bob Shane. But Guard soon learned some of the authentic playing styles from other New Yorkers, and learned some basic Bluegrass licks as well. Bluegrass was also developing at the same time in the South.

    Guard's combination of several old playing styles caught the kid's attention, along with Flatt & Scruggs' Foggy Mountain Boys appearances on the Beverly Hillbillies, and both secured the 5-string from the brink of extinction.

    The 5-string looks mysterious with a neck that's 3 feet long with a tuning peg sticking out halfway in the middle of the neck. The plectrum looked pretty much like a tenor, the banjo everyone saw, so it didn't get as much attention. The 5th string made it an interesting instrument for beginners.
    They didn't know how challenging it is to play. Learning a few basics on it is easy as pie. But learning the styles that make it so distinctively unique is either mentally difficult or requires extreme dedication.

    The plectrum's survival was also helped by the popularity of the Philadelphia Mummers bands. The plectrum can be tuned to the top 4 strings of the guitar, so lots of guitar playing Mummers used them in bands. The plec is a very friendly banjo to a guitar player, more so than the 5-string or the tenor. Lots of club and lounge acts used the plectrum as a second instrument when they wanted the banjo sound.

    Fiddlers and mandolinists can pick up a tenor and wail right from the first once they get used to the longer finger stretches.

    The plectrum was designed to be tuned, low to high CGBD. By raising the 4th string from C to D, the tuning become and open G chord. The dropped C added some bass to the tuning, and when a plec is tuned to its proper tuning, has a very sweet and rich sounding tonality that allows good chord fingerings.

    I think the tuning actually works better for the guitar as the banjo.
    regards,
    stanger
     
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  6. Brian J.

    Brian J. Tele-Afflicted

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    beautiful
     
  7. zombywoof

    zombywoof Friend of Leo's

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    My introduction to folk music was "Tom Dooley". Led me to go get a copy of Pete's How to Play the 5 String Banjo. Alas, banjos and I could not peacefully coexist. But when I heard the Rooftop Singers "Walk Right In" I
    knew I had to get me a 12 string.

    it seems I have always been around folk music. Back in 1967 I went to work for Lee Hays. Wasn't much of a job mostly being about keeping Lee company. There was a long line of us and we were always known as Lee's Houseboys. But Pete. Toshi, Arlo and pretty much every folk singer who was even coming through the area would stop by.

    Then in the mid-1970s I moved to Putnam County NY and fell in with John Cohen, Jay Ungar and that bunch. If you ever run across it, Cohen made a film on the folk music scene called "Fifty Miles From Times Square." Strangely it was square dancing that started it all off. The band John was in along with Jay (the Putnam String County Band) grew out of that scene. They made one great LP on the Rounder label.

    I actually used to play a lot of fiddle although I spent most of my time playing in a blues band. But yeah, you play that and the mandolin and tenor are no problem. While I still keep a couple of mandos around, the last tenor I owned was an odd duck built in the 1920s on which somebody had attached an electromagnetic pickup hooked up to an old radio transformer. To attach it they had to install a solid wood top. I figured the guy who did the work was ether a genius way ahead of his time or a raving lunatic.
     
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  8. stanger

    stanger Tele-Meister

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    What tone contributions the sides and back makes to a guitar is a never-ending discussion.
    There are those who think the wood's job is mostly to reflect the sound waves the top generates around inside the guitar, so the type of wood isn't as specific as the wood's hardness.

    Others think the wood, while it does reflect the waves, also vibrates and generates smaller vibrations that also color the sound of the top.

    The differences can easily be heard between all the different woods, but not so much between one species of a wood and it's first cousin other species. I've never been able to tell the difference between East Indian and Brazilian rosewood when they are both the same hardness, but I've known people who can.

    When I'm selecting a guitar my main considerations are the size and shape and the top's wood.

    I believe the type of wood used for the neck makes a bigger difference than the sides & back with some guitar designs, as the neck has a lot of vibrations going on all the time, and if it is solidly connected to the body, those vibrations are going to both top and body.

    For me, there's no best or worst type of wood. I've played guitars with Sitka tops that I thought were better than one with an Adirondack top, and I've played redwood tops that sounded very much like spruce.

    Each colors the sound differently, but to me, the best I can do if building a guitar from scratch is to take a guess at what I think will work, as in general, much is predictable. But so much depends on personal preference that a guitar I might love is one some other player would dislike.

    I think that's also the reason why there are so many different makes that all use the same wood combinations. The ones most common are the ones that are the most tried and true, and will deliver the tone most players want to hear. The same is true with the way they're constructed and their design.
    regards,
    stanger
     
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  9. zombywoof

    zombywoof Friend of Leo's

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    I have never drank too deeply from the Tone Wood Kool Aid. There is no argument that certain species of say spruce differ a bit structurally and tonally - but only just a little bit. The wood itself does not provide a guitar with its voice. That is up to the builder who knows know how to use these variations coupled with the bracing and other variables to give an instrument its voice.

    The point is there are just too many variables involved in determining tonal outcome. Making a guitar physically perfect is the easy part. But giving the instrument its voice is where the true skill and knowledge comes in.
     
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