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What Makes A Guitar Sound The Way It Does? (long)


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Hello,

Some of you may have seen my recent project: http://projectguitar.ibforums.com/index.ph...pic=21066&st=30. Basically, I replaced the body on my Floyd-equipped Ibanez with a hardtail body. I'm very happy with the way it came out, except for one thing: it doesn't sound the same. It's close, but the new guitar seems to have lost some midrange chunkiness and taken on a more strat-like presence. So now I'm trying to find the cause of this and see if I can fix it. I have a few thoughts:

- Setup: I'm still tweaking pickup heights, but I don't seem to be making much progress. Raising the pickups give more output, but not the missing mids. The action is also lower than it used to be, but I don't see how that would affect it. It doesn't buzz or anything.

- Weight: Both bodys are mahogany, but the old body was, I believe, slightly heavier. I'm not completely sure about this because I haven't taken the Floyd off, so I don't know how much weight that adds. In any case, the Floyd+old body combo is heavier than new body with a bent plate style fixed bridge. If weight turns out to be a problem, I have a piece of brass bar stock that I could mount under the bridge to beef it up, but I’m not sure if this would make a difference. How could I go about testing this theory?

- Neck/body coupling: The neck fit tighter on the old body. The attachment to the new body is very solid, and the alignment is perfect, but there are small gaps on the sides of the pocket. This seems to be a likely contributor to my problem. Is there a way to fix this besides filling and re-routing the pocket?

- Strings: I'm using a set I've never tried before: DR Extra life coated strings. I've been using Elixirs nano-webs for a couple of years, but I want to try these for the "cool" factor. Do they have a reputation for being "twangy"? I haven't changed gauges... I've been using .09 to .42 for almost as long as I've been playing.

- Amp: My current amp is fairly new to this guitar. It's a Line 6 Spider II head through a DIY 4x12" that I've had for about 6 years. I've had the amp since October, but I only played the Ibanez through it for about a month or so before I started this project. I do remember the guitar sounding brighter through this amp, but not so strat-like.

Anyway, I think that's all the bases. I've checked the wiring multiple times... even wired in a preamp bypass to make sure the preamp wasn't cleaning up my sound unexpectedly.

Sorry for the long post... any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Edited by fookgub
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Maybe those strings being a bit different could change things up. Of coarse the newer strings will sound brighter, but that will mellow a bit, Highs are much easier to hear and they may just be over powering the mids that you are used to. Play those strings a bit and see if things cool back down. Pickup height of coarse can also play a big role. Try not to keep tweaking things too much till you get the those items in check.

P.S. If you are really trying to listen closely to the instrument. Avoid loud noises (vaccume cleaners, lawnmowers and of course playing with the amp cranked). You will effectively weaken your ability to hear well and it will take a couple days worth of quite before you can hear well again. Just a side note.

Peace,Rich

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Do I have this right? You changed:

Pickups - if so, this could make a huge tonal difference. What were you using before?

Bridge - but if anything I think the hardtail would tend to sound less thin than a floyd

Nut - the corian might add some zing to your open strings

You said you checked the wiring, but make sure you haven't mistakenly wired a humbucker for coil splitting.

Other than that, it could be that you're just getting more lows and high end snap due to the better hardtail coupling, making it sound more mid scooped. Do you notice a lot better sustain?

Mike

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Do I have this right? You changed:

Pickups - if so, this could make a huge tonal difference. What were you using before?

Bridge - but if anything I think the hardtail would tend to sound less thin than a floyd

Nut - the corian might add some zing to your open strings

You said you checked the wiring, but make sure you haven't mistakenly wired a humbucker for coil splitting.

Other than that, it could be that you're just getting more lows and high end snap due to the better hardtail coupling, making it sound more mid scooped. Do you notice a lot better sustain?

I know the electronics are right, and the pickups are the exact ones that were in the other guitar. I doubt the nut is influencing the sound too much, since fretted notes are affected too. Also, the nut works fine, and doesn't 'ping' or bind. There could be some difference due to the weight of the nut, since the Corian nut is about half the weight of the old locking nut. I've noticed on other instruments that changes in mass at the headstock can have a sizeable effect on sustain, but I haven't really observed a change in overall tone. Granted, my experiments with this are limited.

Speaking of sustain, I haven't noticed much difference between the two guitars. If anything, the new one might have less, but it's difficult to judge because it's been a couple of months since I played the old one. I blocked the trem on the old guitar a few years ago, and after that it always had very good sustain. I think the main cause of this was the solid coupling between the floyd's heavy sustain block and the body itself. My thinking right now is that the different bridge is largely responsible for the change in tone. The old guitar had a really cool vibe that was about halfway between strat and les paul, leaning a bit to the les paul side. The new one seems to be leaning a bit to the strat side.

I'm guessing now, but I'd say that the lighter weight tends to make this guitar sound brighter. Additionally, the coupling between the fixed brige and the body probably allows for more highs, which are overpowering the mids. So, installing a sustain block might affect the first problem, but, without some way to slightly decouple the highs, it probably won't affect the second.

Lets see...

you have a different body, eg: different wood.

You have MORE wood

You have no springs in the back to change the tone

the bridge isnt flopping around anymore

the neck joint is different

new strings

Other than those points, i cant see why it would sound different.

Good thought on the springs. I had the springs in the old guitar taped up, but they still tended to vibrate sympathetically, especially on the open A. Viewed as reactive components, the springs would tend to 'store' low frequencies while dissipating highs. This may be a significant factor in the change in tone. Unfortunately, I can't think of a reasonable solution for this. I'm not going to rout a big hole in the back just to put springs in it, although a sustain block with springs attached might be an effective solution (it would certainly change the decoupling problem I described above).

I'm interested in your thoughts about the neck joint. I have always maintained that the neck joint is the main way for vibrations to propgate into the body, so I could see this playing a big role. Any thoughts on how to remedy or test this situation? Probably the most difficult problem here is that so many things have changed, and the change in sound is probably due to a combination of all of these factors. It's going to be very difficult to pin this down.

I'm disinclined to blame the strings at this point. I've tried many brands in the past, and I found that, provided they are the same gauge and composition, they all sound basically the same. Sure there are some slight differences, but the change in tone that I've seen seems to drastic to be just the strings.

An interesting sidenote: I realized while I was writing this that we usually talk about these sorts of things backwards. After all, we're not interested in how the body vibrates or sounds, we're interested in how the body and the coupling between the body and the strings affects how the strings vibrate.

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Probably the most difficult problem here is that so many things have changed, and the change in sound is probably due to a combination of all of these factors.

Probably the most difficult problem here is that so many things have changed, and the change in sound is probably due to a combination of all of these factors.

Probably the most difficult problem here is that so many things have changed, and the change in sound is probably due to a combination of all of these factors.

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Probably the most difficult problem here is that so many things have changed, and the change in sound is probably due to a combination of all of these factors.

True, but that doesn't mean I should just give up, right? Funny thing is, I'm starting to like how the neck pickup has cleaned up. It's the bridge pickup that's the real concern. It used to have a very pronounced, peaky response in the upper mids, almost like a half-cocked wah. With distortion, it cut very well without being harsh, and it had great response to harmonics. Now the half-cocked wah sound is gone, and, while it sounds much better on the clean channel, I having trouble eq'ing it with distrotion to cut like the old guitar did.

For now, I'd like to see what I can do with what I have. If it becomes apparent that the guitar just sounds like it does and I can't do anything about, then I have a number of avenues to explore with new pickups and electronics. But before I get to that point, I want to be able to say I did everything I could with the hardware I had.

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True, but that doesn't mean I should just give up, right? Funny thing is, I'm starting to like how the neck pickup has cleaned up. It's the bridge pickup that's the real concern. It used to have a very pronounced, peaky response in the upper mids, almost like a half-cocked wah. With distortion, it cut very well without being harsh, and it had great response to harmonics. Now the half-cocked wah sound is gone, and, while it sounds much better on the clean channel, I having trouble eq'ing it with distrotion to cut like the old guitar did.

I wouldn't mess around with a sustain block, etc. I would look into making it a string-through instead.

First, I'd work to see if you can dial in the sound with your amp. You may have been boosting the highs to compensate for a darker sounding guitar. Now that your guitar has more natural zing, you can cut the highs a bit, which will also have the effect of bringing out the mids. I've always held that it's better to get the tone out of your guitar. The less you have to "fix" with eq tweaks the better, IMO.

If you're still not getting the sound, look for a pickup that has more of that upper-midrange voice that you like. According to Dimarzio, the ToneZone has a lot of bass and lower mids.

Mike

Edited by mikhailgtrski
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I'd bet you dollars for dust that it's the bridge. Floyds use locking saddles that don't vibrate with the strings, so now that you've got a vintage-style bridge with graphite saddles, it's definitely going to be more Strat-like, even if it's a string-through body setup.

You might think about maybe changing the Tone Zone for something a little darker, or using 300k pots instead of 500k to warm it up a bit.

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No, you should definitely not give up. However, you can't expect one of us to give you a simple answer for this fairly complicated problem. Your best bet is to change the most suspect components one at a time and observe what difference, if any, it makes in the sound of the guitar.

Unfortunately, the most suspect components are also the hardest to change. Anyway, I'm not looking for a free ride here... I just wanted to get some opinions from a group of people that have a lot more experience with instrument building than I do. My end of the bargain is to keep this tread updated with my progress in the hope that someone will find this discussion useful in the future.

I wouldn't mess around with a sustain block, etc. I would look into making it a string-through instead.

First, I'd work to see if you can dial in the sound with your amp. You may have been boosting the highs to compensate for a darker sounding guitar. Now that your guitar has more natural zing, you can cut the highs a bit, which will also have the effect of bringing out the mids. I've always held that it's better to get the tone out of your guitar. The less you have to "fix" with eq tweaks the better, IMO.

The guitar is already string-through. You're right, the sustain block is an awful lot of work and risk for a questionable payoff. It will probably never materialize. I think the thing to do for now is spend some time working on the setup and my eq. A new pickup might be in the cards, but I hate to get rid of a perfectly good pickup that has served me well for so long. I think a properly voiced mid-booster could go a long way towards getting the tone right, too.

I'd bet you dollars for dust that it's the bridge. Floyds use locking saddles that don't vibrate with the strings, so now that you've got a vintage-style bridge with graphite saddles, it's definitely going to be more Strat-like, even if it's a string-through body setup.

You might think about maybe changing the Tone Zone for something a little darker, or using 300k pots instead of 500k to warm it up a bit.

Very good point about the pots. I realized this afternoon that I've been running directly to the amp. I usually go through a Dunlop wah first, which is well-known for its 'tone-sucking'. With the wah in my chain, I did notice a darker sound with the preamp bypassed. It's not all the way back to what I remember from the old guitar, but it's certainly progress. Obviously, the Graphtech preamp doesn't care what it's driving. I bet it would sound the same into a 10k load. This gave me an idea, though: if I still find the sound lacking after some more tweaking, I could develop a passive network and put it on the preamp bypass side (having an active circuit here would defeat the purpose of the bypass for emergencies). This would let me keep those nice, clean strat tones in preamp mode and give me the fat mids I want in bypass mode. Add in the piezos, and that's a heck of a lot of tones for one guitar.

Anyway, I realize I've been all over the map today as far as what I want to do. Posting several times in one day probably didn't help with that, but it's been really useful to get all those ideas out there. I think I'm on the right track now, though. I'm going to continue working on the setup first, then start looking at electronics if I'm still unsatisfied.

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Here's a little update. I adjusted the bridge pickup closer to the strings and turned the gain on the clean channel up until it started to break up with moderate strumming (in passive mode). I also adjusted the eq to have slightly boosted mids, flat treble, and slightly cut bass. Interestingly, the Graphtech preamp is slightly less than unity gain, so the guitar doesn't clip the amp in active mode. This makes the active mode sound cleaner (obviously) and the higher input impedance of the Graphtech preamp makes it sound flatter... all at approximately the same apparent volume. It's a Good Thing.

I'd say this has gotten me close enough to where I can't honestly claim to hear a difference. Since the last time I played the old guitar was in November and I've spent a lot of time tweaking on the new guitar, I'm having trouble keeping the differences straight. Throw in the fact that amp is relatively 'new' to me, and we're starting to get pretty darn subjective. The important thing is that I've found a sound I like (a bunch of sounds, really), and the guitar plays far better than it did before.

FWIW, I did try loading the pickups with various resistors in passive mode. They did help to bring out the mid-y nature of the bridge pickup, but adversely affected the gain situation I described above. In the end, I decided the best compromise was the leave them out. I may try a couple other things like adding a little inductance, but I don't have high hopes for that stuff (mostly I'm just looking for an excuse to use the coil winder that's been collecting dust in my office :D).

Anyway, thanks for the advice.

Edited by fookgub
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