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The Tone Differences Among All The Woods Type Are Really Noticeable?


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A friend of mine was not convinced that there is a real difference in the sound that a wood can produce in relation to the others.

He asked me if the difference between ash and mahogany, for example, is so noticeable or not.

I did a test to demonstrate this and the result is really impressive.

The answer to the question that my friend posed me? Yes, absolutely! The difference is really noticeable: my wife noticed it!

If you are curious you can listen to the difference on my web site: http://www.power-development.net, navigate to "sound comparaison" / "SC-Hollow vs SC-Curved" and listen to the samples.

Let me know what do you think about it :D

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There has been a lot of discussion over the sounds of different woods, there was another thread recently comparing a les paul, explorer & a chipboard guitar. The problem with your experiment is that the guitars are not only made from different woods but also constructed differently. This doesn't mean that they can't be compared but any differences in sound could be caused by body wood, neck wood, chambering vs solid & pickup construction differences.

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You are completely right. For this reason I did this test with 2 guitars I personally built.

The elements that are the same for the 2 guirtars are:

Scale

Neck wood

Neck and body dimensions

Pickup positions

Wiring (pot, cap and wires)

Bolt-on

Based on the same project/plan

The elements that are different:

Body construction (one is hollow and the other is solid)

Wood (one is ash with maple top and the other is all mahogany)

Bridge (one is a piezo strat style and the other is a wilkinson wraparound)

In my case I really think that the 2 guitars are more comparable than other guitars. In the cases you reported there are more structural differences: a les paul and an explorer cannot be compared at all (the first element is the pickup positioning and these 2 guitars do not have them at the same position). You probably know better than me that the pickup position is a key element for the sound...

In my case, the semihollow body sounds brigther than the solid body and this is due to the fact I used a very very very hard type of ash (european). What I mean with this is that the type of wood you use to build a guitar is really impacting the sound.

In addition to this, in my case I used a, let me define it, a "standardized amplifier": I used a preset of the guitarport of line6 and this allows anybody who has it to reproduce the same amp set-up (same amp and same eq set-up).

I heard some samples that were uncomparable (even if the authors didn't agree with me) because they used different amp set-up.

There has been a lot of discussion over the sounds of different woods, there was another thread recently comparing a les paul, explorer & a chipboard guitar. The problem with your experiment is that the guitars are not only made from different woods but also constructed differently. This doesn't mean that they can't be compared but any differences in sound could be caused by body wood, neck wood, chambering vs solid & pickup construction differences.
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I agree different woods will have different charictoristics. I personally record(for my own information and records) desity, and or stiffness(using deflection test) depending on what the wood is used for, moisture content at test time for my acoustic woods. These relate to pretty predictable vibration charictoristics in similar applications. One thing I can also confirm is that many woods have properties that are closer than you would think. Because of this I of often see an overlap in the values between species(meaning one species may generally be stiffer or denser than another, but sometimes you find peices that are maybe lighter or less stiff than normal or vice versa). I used to believe more in the general rules of thumb, but tend to really take it piece by piece now. Not to say you cant bank on some things say African Blackwood will have a higher density than Maple(the wide gaps definately apply). However EIR vs Bois De Rose(rosewoods in general) can go back and forth like crazy depending on the piece. Maples have a pretty wide range(I suspect there is some mis identification of exact species going on in some cases).

With your test. I don't know if your test is a well balanced test. You have different volumes(one carved on solid) of wood. I am assuming you used Ash as your center block on the hollow, the different bridges are going to play a role in terms of both mass, and what they are doing to the string. All that aside, what really counts is that the different designs sound different. That you can use to develop the sound you are after :D .

Peace,Rich

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I think your approach is really interesting: the fact of recording the wood's characteristics is a scientific approach that will allow you potentially to precisely choose the sound your guitar will have... really very interesting!

On the other hand, with my simple test, I would demonstrate my friend that there are many elements that will affect the final sound and that the differences on the sound are really noticeable.

In addition to this, I updated my website because there were some problems with browsers different from IE.

Sorry about it, now it should be ok.

If you will experience any problem, please let me know.

Thank you all.

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I think your approach is really interesting: the fact of recording the wood's characteristics is a scientific approach that will allow you potentially to precisely choose the sound your guitar will have... really very interesting!

On the other hand, with my simple test, I would demonstrate my friend that there are many elements that will affect the final sound and that the differences on the sound are really noticeable.

The way I record or take notes is pretty common in acoustic building. It really is only a way of trying to remember what you may have used or give you something to review when things do or do not work. Like you said though there are a LOT of variables beyond taking very basic measurements. I would be fooling myself if I thought I would be able to precisely control the sound of my guitars with the basic information I record(but something is better than nothing when I am so limited as to how many guitars I personally can make).

I agree with you completely that the best test is to simply play the guitar :D . Every guitar is going to sound a little different, and every players technique will make the same guitar sound a bit different yet. Where it is played, how it was recorded(every method of recording will alter the signal to a degree, and then how it is played back adds more color yet), strings age and type, and on and on.... All change the sound. Then you have human perception, everyone hears a little different. So the bottom line is still, does the guy playing the guitar love the way it sounds(and really what else matters).

Peace,Rich

Edited by fryovanni
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it makes a makes a difference...but not as much as youre amp, youre strings, youre pickups or youre fingers and picks. Thats my opinion on the subject. I bet Van Halen (and/or the worst player in the world) would sound just like himself if he had either played on my all maple guitar or my mahogany/ebony guitar.

Edited by Odin
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Forgive me, I am a bit confused here...nothing new really. Am I understanding that you are comparing a semi hollow with a solid body but attributing the difference to the wood? If that is the case, then you are comparing designs and not woods. I would think the only way to do it would be to have 2 identical bodies, made of 2 different woods, and use all the other pieces in both i.e. hardware, neck, electronics, string gauge (if not actual strings) etc. Then you would have to make sure that your amp was set exactly the same, or go direct to headphones ensuring that your mixer (or driver) settings did not change. Also, any processing or high volume or pre amp gain will start to disguise any difference that might exist. Please correct me if I have misinterpreted the test parameters you have given.

I will always take Rich's word in matters of wood characteristics.

Peace...Rog

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Rog- You spook me when you say this.

I will always take Rich's word in matters of wood characteristics.

Given I am a hobbiest like yourself. I do the best I can to understand things, but I have no where near the experience many other guys have. Shoot I don't even trust myself half the time :D . I would put my faith in professionals who have built a LOT more than me. My opinions should hold about as much weight as any of the other happy weekend hobbiests :D .

Peace,Rich

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How much of a difference are woods in the same species?

Like different species of mahogany etc.? How different do they sound?

How much of a difference.- Well take a few pieces of whatever wood you like to use and just weight them, then calculate the volume of each piece. Divide the weight by volume and you will see some difference. Now if you have a moisture meter you can check the moisture content and hopefully they are about the same. This will tell you which piece has a higher density. I find VERY few pieces have the same density even if they are cut from the same tree. You have probably picked up a piece of wood at a lumber yard and just thought dang that is light(well or heavy). This is because density is definately not consitent. Be careful not to get confused by a board with a higher moisture content(because moisture adds a ton of weight, not to mention dampens vibration like crazy). Stiifness is another variable(again moisture content plays a role here also). If you have two boards similar in volume and length. You can do a simple deflection test(the thinner the wood the simpler the test). Place two blocks of wood a set distance apart. Use something to reference the position of the board(I use a dial indicator, but you could even use a ruler*accuracy may vary). Place weight on the board and see how much it deflects. Then check the other board-same process. I have found density and stiffness are not directly related. A denser board may very well be less stiff or vice versa. So do a couple simple tests and see what you think.

How different do they sound. Depends on what you are using the wood for(soundboard, neck, solid body and so forth). If you are talking about what do they sound like when you thump or tap the board. Stiff boards tend to sound loud,punchy, and tight. Less stiff tend to have more sustain, sound round and full(often you can hear more complexity in the ring as the fundementals tend to be weaker). Extream examples either way sound tight and dead, or floppy and muddy. Higher density tends to slow attack, diminish volume, but the sound rings more evenly and maybe a bit longer. Lower desity tends to have a quicker attack, wider overall dynamic, but the wide dynamic leads to quick rise and drop in volume. Extreams in either don't sound so good. In all the different woods we use a good piece will strike the good bargain of density to stiffness(maybe a very dense wood is also relatively stiff, and thus it sounds good, or a slightly less stiff wood that is not extreamly dense also strikes a good balance). What does not sound good is a very dense very low stiffness wood, or a wood that is extreamly stiff but light as a feather(not really a common condition, but the sound would be brittal and harsh).

Edit; Thought of a good way to think of stiffness(well probably easier to relate to). Think of a maliable iron bar(nothing huge). A soft tempered bar will ring longer and you will hear complexity in the tone as it rings out. If you temper it to make it stiffer it will sound louder, tighter with a stronger fundamental tone and will sound as though it does not sustain as long(because of the high dynamic). This is a case where you are not changing density, but you are changing stiffness. Another good test for you to try out. I wish I could think of something that relates to density like that, but nothing is coming to mind at the moment(at least without modifying stiffness).

Hopefully someone else will chime in with their 2 cents, but for what it is worth that is what I have found.

Peace,Rich

Edited by fryovanni
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Forgive me, I am a bit confused here...nothing new really. Am I understanding that you are comparing a semi hollow with a solid body but attributing the difference to the wood? If that is the case, then you are comparing designs and not woods. I would think the only way to do it would be to have 2 identical bodies, made of 2 different woods, and use all the other pieces in both i.e. hardware, neck, electronics, string gauge (if not actual strings) etc. Then you would have to make sure that your amp was set exactly the same, or go direct to headphones ensuring that your mixer (or driver) settings did not change. Also, any processing or high volume or pre amp gain will start to disguise any difference that might exist. Please correct me if I have misinterpreted the test parameters you have given.

I will always take Rich's word in matters of wood characteristics.

Peace...Rog

Hello Rog

You are right, I'm comparing a semi hollow with a solid body (I built both guitars from the same plans).

What surprised me is the fact that a semi hollow body should sound fat and warm but in my case the sound is bright and I suppose this is due to the fact that the ash I used (european) is very very heavy and very very very very hard. This fact is driving me crazy because that sound is not what I expectes...

In relation to the approach you propose for the tests (2 identical bodies, same pieces,...) you are completely right: my test was not so scientific, I would only demonstrate to the friend who asked me that there is always a difference... The registration is the only element that is "scientific": I used the line 6 guitar port with a standard preset (like heaven is its name) that sets the amp type, the mids, the basses and all other settings...

I posted this message because I would have the feedbacks from other people on order to better understand.

Thank you all :D

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FWIW - (not much, I know, as it's only anecdotal evidence) I played one of those Swamp Ash Les Pauls a while ago. Pretty much a standard LP, Mahog. neck, rosewood board, same hardware, 490R and 498T pickups, only major difference is the body and top are ash. (Supposedly "swamp" ash.)

So yeah - did it sound different than the identical-other-than-body-wood LP sitting next to on the rack? Yeah. It did have a different character. A little more more high end and a little more snap than the regular LP. But in the end, it sounded like a Les Paul, still the same big sustainy thick LP sound. . I found the subtle differences pleasing, and I probably would have bought that guitar before buying another LP (mostly because it felt like it weighed less) and in a world where I was striving to make everything perfect I might have prefered it over another instrument, but I don't think any of the differences where noticbable enough to make someone wonder how you made an LP sound like that. They all actually seemed like the kind of things that if I was playing a live set somewhere, I wouldn't notice it, because I'd have twiddled the knobs on my amp the half a notch to make it sound like my own amp.

So yeah, just anecdotal evidence - I wish I had sound samples, that would have been a neat thing to have. Rich's explanations here are proably some of the best we have, but when I was reading the top of the thread, with some discussion of not comparing two identical guitars, this was the firs thing to pop in my head.

I had a friend I helped put a "conversion" neck on an old strat - while the new neck was much nicer than the old one, they were both maple and rosewood, and I was much more surprised about the change in sound from scale length. Almost as dramatic as a pickup swap.

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Just to drop a couple of my thoughts on what may account for differences in boards(same species, and even same tree sometimes). This is only my best guess on the possible sources of difference.

Density- Wood is a fiberous and has pores thoughout. The pores can hold water and that adds to the density of the material(when dried the water escapes leaving empty pockets). Wood shrinks a little as it loses water so you lose a little volume. So depending on how many of those little pockets are left you will tell you how much density is changed. The material that makes up most of all species of wood is pretty similar in density. What makes the wood unique in terms of density is the pore structure, possibly some mineral content, oils, resins, and of course you will have some cell locked moisture that may take a very long time(if it ever escapes at all). So you can see from this that how dry wood is is a huge factor in density, how the wood reacts(how many of those pockets collapse as the wood shrinks), The size of pockets that remain. You may have noticed a difference in density between sap wood and heart wood. Sap wood is much more poreous, Fibers have not been sqeezed tighter, and minerals and other goodies have not had time to get trapped. Older heart wood has been long dead and has been compressing in the inner part of the tree for some time. I generalize my thinking about this and draw a conclusion that in most cases wood(from the same tree and all) that is older(say lower in the trunk and deeper in the heart) will pan out slightly denser (of course significantly denser than sap wood)* be that good or bad.

Stiffness- All else being equal in similar wood same species. Stiffness seems to vary a bit based on structure(and structure varies a bit thoughtout a tree). It seems to vary significantly based on moisture content(water is not real stiff, and tends to soften fibers a bit). Given we have stabalized fairly equally dry wood. The orientation of grain can play a huge role(I am not speaking to flat vs quartersawn). Wood has about 20% as much strength across the grain vs parallel to the grain. Ideally the best strength and stiffness would be obtained from perfectly straight grain wood. To be clear we all can look at growth rings and see how straight grain in one axis. What is harder to detect visually is the slope on woods other plane. Think of a really well quartersawn piece of curly Maple that has grain lines running pretty straight up the board(of course it will wobble a bit because it is curly). The slope of the grain on the less visable plane is waving up and down(showing figure as the wood runs out and then turns back into the core-kinda like waves in water with a some of the peaks getting cut off). I use the curly figure to illustrate how grain on this plane is definately sloping to some extent in any piece of wood. With acoustic sound board billets we split a face to determine the angle of the slope of the grain, and try to make our cuts as parellel to the slope as possible. Again ideally we want to get close as we can to straight grain on all planes, because the farther off we get the closer we get to cross grain which we know to be significantly weaker. All that said we know trees just don't grow in perfectly straight lines. Thus you will see differences in orientaion and thus stiffness how much will just depend on the way the wood was cut, size of the tree, how the tree grew. This is one of the reasons we try to avoid using large tree limb lumber(it tends to be small, grain wavers more). It could also me notable that interlocked grain(grain that twist as it grows-Woods such as mahogany, Sapele exhibit this growth) can be a factor. Although twisting grain is the opposite of what we would normally want. Because the twisting is tight and pretty consistent it makes the wood more predictable *possibly more even strenth from different angles.

So there is another pile of opinion and my theories at the moment.

Peace,Rich

BTW; None of this is meant to imply there is an ideal wood or set of properties for all applications. What you need or want from a solid guitar body is different than what is desirable in a soundboard, neck, fretboard, etc.... I try to understand the material, but you have to understand the demands of the part or you won't know what to look for in the material.

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