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Having just finished a kit guitar which I customised, I plan to buy a pre-made neck and use my own body design which will be based around a standard Strat scratchplate.

I have searched online for opinion about using oak and the consensus seems to be that it is too dense and not very attractive - one person saying that it looks like a material for old men.

I don't understand either of these objections. I'm considering buying a piece of oak big enough for three bodies which is not unattractive - so that's not an issue.

But the density objection baffles me. I'm not an aficionado but I always had the impression that sustain was the Holy Grail of guitars. As I understand it, material density increases sustain; although, I would disagree with this as there are some materials which are very dense but I think would not give good sustain, I would argue that the required property is actually hardness.

Then, there is the question of weight. If the material is dense, the body will weigh more and could be uncomfortable. If that is an objection, might oak be considered if the body I intend to make is about 80% of the volume of a standard Strat?

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IMO there is not very much convincing evidence that timber x with density y and weight z will give more sustain than another piece of timber. A denser timber used in a solidbody electric guitar may increase sustain, but there are plenty of other factors that could influence sustain too - bridge type (trem or hardtail), bridge material, string anchoring (through-body or top mounting), scale length, string gauge, trem setup (fully floating, locked to body, number of pivot screws, block size and material), semi-hollow/chambered/completely solid body, any acoustic feedback you may experience while plugged into an amp, the playing style of the person using the guitar...Some may have a big influence, some may not.

A lot of the 'tonewood' debate tends to vanish into directionless point-scoring and personal opinions. It's notoriously difficult to measure, prove or disprove anything regarding the use of certain species of wood in electric guitars. I personally suspect any differences in sustain between, say a rosewood fretboard and ebony fretboard will also be completely inaudible in a band situation. Could it even be measured in that situation?

Acoustic guitars I can see value in selecting certain types of wood with a minimum stiffness and weight that might exhibit a particular resonance when struck. The whole body is responsible for the sound that is projected from the guitar. Electric guitars, not so much.

Others may disagree with me here, and of course everyone is welcome and entitled to their own views on the matter, but I prefer to simply make an electric guitar using timbers that are stable and look appealing, and let the sound of the guitar take care of itself.

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I generally agree, though I have no expertise as far as guitar making is concerned, I'm generally recalling what I learned in physics and as an aircraft mechanic.

Sometimes it helps to look at extreme examples, softer materials are used to dampen so clearly harder materials have the opposite effect. Some of the densest materials are soft (e.g. lead) or even liquid (e.g. mercury) but they are clearly not going to provide much sustain as they will absorb the vibration.

I read one comment somewhere (not here, I don't think) that the overall density of the guitar body was the key factor and that drilling holes in the scratchplate would have a negative impact on sustain. I couldn't find the energy to sign up to the forum just to weigh in (NPI) but the scratchplate isn't in what I think of as the vibrational circuit and unless it is loose ought not have any effect in my perception but I'm happy to be corrected.

Talking of which, I have an aluminium scratchplate on the guitar I just put together and I noticed by accident (I had some echo on my amp and I heard the effect a second or so later) that it picks up impact noise from my plectrum. I tested another guitar and it did not happen. At first, it concerned me but after playing around for a while, I got to like the idea that I could make percussive noises and thought about adding a kind of mini washboard or engrave some parallel lines that I could scratch.

Anyway, as far as the wood is concerned, a major factor for me is cost and one of my favourite sayings is 'necessity is the mother of invention'. I mean, some people make guitars out of shovels and cardboard.

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I've noticed that some guitarists dislike Oak for various reasons too. I'll not argue with them when it comes to discussions of how wood affects tone, but I'd disagree about aesthetics, I think Oak guitars look pretty cool. I've got an old Westone Thunder bass that's made of oak and it looks great. Some of the guys here will probably know the details better, but I think Westone guitars were made at the same factory as Aria pro basses in the 1980's (more as a tribute than a copy) and they look very similar to Aria Pro's, many of which were Oak too.

So, yeah. One vote for Oak :)

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Oakay!

I'm almost convinced to buy the lump in question.

My next thought was about knots. Aesthetically, I like the character that knots give wood but I was concerned about using knotty wood for guitars until I did a Google image search.

This is the piece I am thinking about buying.

oak-01.jpg

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Over the years there have been many discussions about tone woods and sustain. Some of them were quite passionate and every point of view has been vigorously defended at one time or another. The only thing that was proven is there are a lot of opinions. One of my favorite quotes is from OrgMorg, a member that makes guitars out of old weathered barn wood and many native woods not typically considered as guitar wood. When asked what a guitar of particular wood sounds like, he responds: it sounds like a guitar. As long as it is structurally sound, any wood is fair game to become a guitar and will sound like a guitar.

20 hours ago, curtisa said:

Others may disagree with me here, and of course everyone is welcome and entitled to their own views on the matter, but I prefer to simply make an electric guitar using timbers that are stable and look appealing, and let the sound of the guitar take care of itself.

Andrew has it right.

As far as knots go, some of our most prized tops are made from burls and burls are just clusters of tiny knots. I would make sure any knot with loose pieces get those pieces secured so they don't rattle. You wouldn't want a big not in a neck, but otherwise don't sweat it. As you say, the knots will give you finished product some character.

Find a board that makes you happy and turn it into a guitar.:)

SR

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7 hours ago, Flamesong said:

Sometimes it helps to look at extreme examples, softer materials are used to dampen so clearly harder materials have the opposite effect. Some of the densest materials are soft (e.g. lead) or even liquid (e.g. mercury) but they are clearly not going to provide much sustain as they will absorb the vibration

I'd like to see the opposite extreme; to see what happens when there is no body. Ie, what would be the effect of running six strings in open air between two decoupled anchor points. The 'body' in that instance would have zero mass. What would the effect on sustain be then?

 

3 hours ago, ScottR said:

One of my favorite quotes is from OrgMorg, a member that makes guitars out of old weathered barn wood and many native woods not typically considered as guitar wood. When asked what a guitar of particular wood sounds like, he responds: it sounds like a guitar. As long as it is structurally sound, any wood is fair game to become a guitar and will sound like a guitar.

Sounds like a pretty good philosophy. Taking it another way, how many times have you listened to a recording or been at a gig and thought, 'gee that Les Paul sounds sooooo mahogany', or 'I don't like his tone much. If only his guitar had been made of Alder'.

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Mass is only one of the things that impact sustain. At minimum the string looses energy by flexing itself and moving air around it. Then the more other things it sets in motion the more energy it loses, decreasing sustain. Make a soft and heavy body it will lose energy to flex the body. If we make a stiff and light one it will make the body vibrate. If we have no body and stiff anchor points (Andrew's example) we pretty much maximize sustain (we can only get more by sucking all air out and playing in vacuum).

The "mahogany sounding LP in a recording" is also something I always thought as a good argument in the whole debate on the subject, so let me offer a counter-argument that I came up with after giving it some thought. Well maybe not "counter", but another point of view:

If (and I stress - if, because that's another discussion) you manage to impact tone with some features of the guitar like wood, high end caps, whatever voodoo you like - and if the player perceives it (or thinks they do) - maybe it impacts their playing? Not really the tone that much. In other words - for the listener the tone is indistinguishable from anything else (especially in the mix, after EQ, fx, mastering etc), but the actual playing is different because the instrumentalist is feeding off the instrument in a different way.

I was thinking about this in relation to fancy tops, fingerboards and the like (let's say the visual side of the instrument) - they might have nothing to do with the sound, but -  Hypothesis - when I'm playing and glance at my fingers moving around this super-cool fingerboard it just triggers this extra bit on inspiration. An old worn guitar will make you approach playing it in a certain way. A guitar with some history also will. The mojo is in the guitar-guitarplayer relation.

Concerning knots - I wouldn't put a knot under the bridge, neck joint or in the neck. Anywhere else I don't see a problem.

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2 hours ago, pan_kara said:

If (and I stress - if, because that's another discussion) you manage to impact tone with some features of the guitar like wood, high end caps, whatever voodoo you like - and if the player perceives it (or thinks they do) - maybe it impacts their playing? Not really the tone that much. In other words - for the listener the tone is indistinguishable from anything else (especially in the mix, after EQ, fx, mastering etc), but the actual playing is different because the instrumentalist is feeding off the instrument in a different way.

Imho this is probably more relevant than any tonewood voodoo. Guitarists can be a superstitious bunch (speaking as a bass player :D). Emotion plays a big part in how they perform - absence of brown M&Ms, lucky pants, etc. included. Haven't you watched Spinal Tap? :)

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9 hours ago, pan_kara said:

I was thinking about this in relation to fancy tops, fingerboards and the like (let's say the visual side of the instrument) - they might have nothing to do with the sound, but -  Hypothesis - when I'm playing and glance at my fingers moving around this super-cool fingerboard it just triggers this extra bit on inspiration. An old worn guitar will make you approach playing it in a certain way. A guitar with some history also will. The mojo is in the guitar-guitarplayer relation.

The argument there, in that case, seems to be that 'looks mean everything, the sound of the wood means nothing' ;) (which for all I know, could actually be the case...)

If you gave a player a guitar painted in an opaque colour and told him the body was made of Honduran Mahogany, but didn't tell him it was actually made of plywood, would his assumption that he was playing an exotic-bodied instrument influence his opinion of the tone? Or change his playing style?

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Sustain, at least, is something that can be measured. A plectrum attached to a mechanical device (to remove human error) and a VU meter ought to be all that is required to make a rudimentary but objective measurement.

I spent a little of the last day trying to find a definitive answer to the best wood for sustain argument but even Wikipedia wimped out by saying, extremely vaguely, that it depended on the wood. Elsewhere, however, reading between the rhetoric, I think that I am not far wrong with my hardness theory.

By the way, I'm not really concerned about sustain - its enhancement would add little to my playing style, it was merely a factor which was repeatedly mentioned whilst trying to discover why oak is frowned upon as a guitar tone wood and in those articles which I found that analysed different woods tonally, oak is not even mentioned.

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3 hours ago, curtisa said:

The argument there, in that case, seems to be that 'looks mean everything, the sound of the wood means nothing' ;) (which for all I know, could actually be the case...)

 

I wouldn't take it that far, I'd just say that how the guitar influences the player can have a bigger impact of that the listener gets to hear than things like the components/wood/etc

3 hours ago, curtisa said:

If you gave a player a guitar painted in an opaque colour and told him the body was made of Honduran Mahogany, but didn't tell him it was actually made of plywood, would his assumption that he was playing an exotic-bodied instrument influence his opinion of the tone? Or change his playing style?

That depends how much he'd be willing to trust you :)

Of course we can take everything to the extreme and of course there are differences in sound between guitars. My point was just to mention another factor that could play a role. I do have a guitar that I brought to a rehearsal once and all the band complained about how crappy it sounds. (It wasn't the pickup, I put a pickup that I used in another guitar for many years before and nobody ever complained). One day I'll try to figure out what's wrong with that guitar exactly.

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3 hours ago, pan_kara said:

I wouldn't take it that far, I'd just say that how the guitar influences the player can have a bigger impact of that the listener gets to hear than things like the components/wood/etc

Yep, I understand. I was being facetious (hence the winky-smiley face at the end of my comment).

 

3 hours ago, pan_kara said:

That depends how much he'd be willing to trust you :)

Maybe I should've said 'if you gave a drummer a guitar painted in an opaque...' ;)

 

3 hours ago, pan_kara said:

I do have a guitar that I brought to a rehearsal once and all the band complained about how crappy it sounds. (It wasn't the pickup, I put a pickup that I used in another guitar for many years before and nobody ever complained). One day I'll try to figure out what's wrong with that guitar exactly.

I reckon there just wasn't enough mojo in your banjo. Or maybe not enough beer at rehearsal...or too much, even?

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4 hours ago, Flamesong said:

By the way, I'm not really concerned about sustain - its enhancement would add little to my playing style, it was merely a factor which was repeatedly mentioned whilst trying to discover why oak is frowned upon as a guitar tone wood and in those articles which I found that analysed different woods tonally, oak is not even mentioned.

@pan_kara is doing some interesting experiments at the moment on the differences in sound between a high-end Schaller Hannes bridge and a cheap no-name one on the same guitar. Very interesting to read about.

 

Quote

Sustain, at least, is something that can be measured. A plectrum attached to a mechanical device (to remove human error) and a VU meter ought to be all that is required to make a rudimentary but objective measurement

That's actually one thing I haven't seen mentioned in any discussions regarding the differences in sound between timbers. A method describing how to remove that most variable part of the equation - the player. Some kind of mechanical contraption that replicates the action of a pick striking a string repeatedly with no variation between strikes would go a long way to validating some tests on the effect wood imparts on the sound of the guitar. The best I've seen to date is a ruler swung down onto the string from a fixed height.

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6 hours ago, curtisa said:

@pan_kara is doing some interesting experiments at the moment on the differences in sound between a high-end Schaller Hannes bridge and a cheap no-name one on the same guitar. Very interesting to read about.

Actually I'm taking this further now, the hannes thing was my first try and it didn't get anywhere (which was my fault as it appears). But now I want to be able to test pretty much anything (within reason) - fretwire type, nut material etc etc - ending with the wood choice if the method works fine.

BTW Andrew, what you mention is exactly what I'm doing - taking the player out of the equation. Not with mechanical devices but by describing the situation in a way that cancels out the player (more precisely - is insensitive to the initial conditions for the vibrating string).

So, shall we wrap up our thread hijack? :) We can discuss all of this in my thread ;) and I'm waiting to see @Flamesong's oak body !

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I'm still getting my head around my first customised kit build. I wouldn't know where to begin on that topic but it has nothing to do with oak or even the guitar body so unless I feel like public self-disembowelment at some point in another thread, I'll say no more about it.

As for the oak body, I ordered the pictured lump and it should arrive next week. I am still working on the design but it has gone from scribble to pencil drafts 1 & 2 to an Illustrator document. I'm fairly confident in the concept but I have absolutely no experience with a router (not the networking pronunciation). I'm going to spend the next couple of days making templates and maybe, by the time the wood arrives, I will have mustered the bottle to give it shape.

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You could always practise using the router by making some MDF copies of your master templates - they are always handy, and no disaster if you go wrong - assuming you don't remove any bits of yourself in the process! :D

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3 hours ago, Norris said:

You could always practise using the router by making some MDF copies of your master templates - they are always handy, and no disaster if you go wrong - assuming you don't remove any bits of yourself in the process! :D

I'm all to aware of the dangers that tools pose. In June, whilst doing something completely unrelated, I put a chisel through the index and middle fingers of my left hand completely severing the flexor tendons in both of them and detaching the tendon from the distal of my index finger. That detached again three weeks after the initial surgery so I had to have another operation. I can no longer straighten my index finger nor fully bend it and my middle finger only gets about 30º movement in the middle distal joint.

I'm right handed so it is quite annoying when people say that I was lucky it was my left hand. Anyway, I am just about managing to play most chords again but struggle some like open Dm and G7 which require my index finger to play the top E string and barre chords are a bit muffled but I have made a lot of progress in the past month. I tend to play open inversions (they may not even be real chords) higher up the neck so I am at least able to play most of my own creations. And I've never been particularly good at playing lead so now I have a good excuse not to bother anymore.

But yes, I will practice on bits of waste wood.

I just got notice that the oak is arriving today so I am more than a little excited to get a feel of it.

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8.7kg of oak just arrived. It looks nice and feels solid. I'm wondering how to really bring the grain out. I tried a technique on the kit guitar I customised which is ash but it didn't come out as well as I hoped. I'm hoping to pickup some wood to practice on tonight.

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2 hours ago, Flamesong said:

I'm wondering how to really bring the grain out.

You can fill the pores of the timber with dark filler and sand it back flush to accentuate the grain patterns. Or if the timber has any quilting or fiddleback in it, you can combine dark dyes and stains followed by lighter shades to give you that 3D Paul Reed Smith rippled effect.

 

2 hours ago, Flamesong said:

It looks nice and feels solid.

In most cases, that's all you really need to start building a guitar :)

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I just finished my oak guitar - as somebody who wanted to make guitars for over 40 years and have always felt that it might be beyond me, I can't quite describe the feeling I have from thinking that this was just a bit of wood I saw on eBay two months ago today; though I concede that the neck was pre-made with a paddle headstock.

It still needs some work in that the intonation needs tweaking etc.

The shape was basically designed to accept a Stratocaster scratch plate but with reduced profile. One thing that I find annoying is how guitars tend to fall over if there isn't a stand around so I made the fin so that there were two points of contact with the ground.

The jack is of the strap lug type but there are two strap anchors at each end - at the neck end, they are just above the neck plate and at the end of the neck pocket. This was a bit of a last minute inclusion as I got a rush of anxiety about the guitar's balance.

Anyway, I already have ideas for the next one which I could say are in a way, quite literally revolutionary but I need to do some experiments first.

flamesong-fce002-01a.jpg

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I like that :)

I read with interest the discussion on the use of oak and was waiting for the progress reports and pics and then, just like magic, it's finished! :D

Few more details?  How you found the oak to work on, stain, finish, pickups, balance, etc etc would be excellent to hear about :D

In the meantime, I notice your thread about your next build.  Can't wait!

 

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Thanks for the comment.

I'm sorry that I didn't do much of a progress report. I'm actually a filmmaker in my other spare time but although it sometimes occurs to me to document what I am doing, I really like to focus on whatever it is I am actually doing and I suppose the brutal answer is, I can't be bothered but for reasons I find good. Also, I used to work as a graphic designer and I always hated people seeing work in progress or looking over my shoulder.

Anyway, to answer your questions:

I can't really comment on how good the oak was to work with as I have nothing to compare it to. The only other guitar I have constructed was ash but it was a kit. Actually, just a few minutes ago, I was comparing the two as apart from the body, they have exactly the same hardware setup yet sound incredibly different. The oak sounds cleaner but I think there is more, as yet undiscovered, than just the wood causing the difference. The tone knobs have much more effect than my other guitar despite them both being wired identically (I copied this one from the other) and exactly the same capacitors.

The wood was a little knotty and I managed to locate the knots where is wasn't so important. I wasn't too bothered about the imperfections of the wood - I actually find them very attractive.

I used orange fountain pen ink to stain the wood and treated it with a couple of coats of satin spray lacquer.

One issue which I anticipated but didn't know what to do about until it was finished was the balance. I had intended for it to have just a jack socket strap anchor with the other anchor just above the neck plate but once I tried the neck on, I realised that was not ideal so I added another anchor at the end of the neck pocket and one in the conventional place below the bridge. These two seem to be about right but it isn't too bad using the other anchors.

As far as pickups are concerned, I am actually on a very tight budget so I'm not using anything top end that I know I can replace later when I have a bit more money so the pickups are imported dual rail humbuckers each having a humbucker/series switch and there is a pull switch for the bridge pickup on the lower tone knob. Also, there is a push kill switch.

I find that I only use humbucker option when I have two pickups selected and have one in series, the other humbucker otherwise the sound is very thin.

For the next one, I need to research some new switching as I need to have a three position switch with the options single(n)/series/single(s) and so far I haven't found a way to do it. I couldn't sleep lat night trying to figure it out and ended up conceiving of something which could be a monster - so maybe I need to reel my ideas in a bit. I might spend a few weeks experimenting with some pine offcuts before I commit any more oak.

Edited by Flamesong

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