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How Important Is Body Shape To Tone?


Dave I
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Probably a subjective question, but how much of a factor is the body shape/design to tone versus other factors, like string, scale, neck-thru vs. set vs. bolt, etc.? For instance, how much of a difference will the shape of a Strat vs. a Tele vs. a Les Paul vs. an SG vs. a PRS vs. an Explorer make on the overall sound of a guitar, all else being equal (e.g. wood, string gauge, electronics, scale, etc.)?

Related question, for custom builds or original designs, does your desired tone affect the shape you use or draw? I have heard that more wood around the pickups gives it a louder sound/presence (namely as a way of explaining how/why a Tele is rumored to be louder than a Strat), and wonder if there is any credence to that. Is there any conclusive evidence over how body size/shape and location of mass affect sound?

-Cheers

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Now I've seen it all. :D

The body shape in terms of its silhouette is pretty much a non-issue. I've not once heard of someone saying that something sounds better because of its shape. :/ Overall mass will matter to a certain (even quantifiable) degree, of course, and I guess the shape CAN impact the strength of the neck joint in some cases... but really, it shouldn't be on your list of considerations except in terms of wood mass and aesthetics. Even in terms of mass, not many people feel that a Steinberger "broom" is particularly horrible-sounding due to low mass... not everyone likes it because it's "clinical" (active pickups, earlier models used more synthetics in place of wood), but the small body isn't cited as a tone problem so much as an aesthetics ("yuk!") issue.

Your second question begins with a good thought-- I imagine MOST people design a shape because it fits a certain genre they're thinking of. You want a metal sound, you might in some cases be inclined to make a pointy-sharp guitar. :D But then it goes wacky again. I've never heard anyone say that a tele is inherently louder than a strat... they certainly typically have more bite, but that's down to the pickups and other construction elements... not the shape. Your original question said "all things being equal," and I think that if you took a strat and made a tele-shaped strat (all other things being equal includind wood, hardware, etc) you'd be pretty hard pressed to say that one is louder than the other. B)

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I personally think beyond body thickness, you really won't get any dramatic change in sound.

I have heard someone somewhere explain a Flying V's "nasal" sound as a result of the missing scoop of wood behind the bridge, but I have played a few Vs and don't consider them especially nasal.

Also, I remember a while back (we're talking years) when I was looking up stuff on Explorers, and I came across a site that hosted a physics project in which some students measured the resonances of an Explorer body and deemed it less than ideal.

Personally, I think you won't be able to tell the difference. My solid maple Spirit Steinberger neck-through "broom" with a JB pickup sounds more "Les Paul-ish" than many Les Pauls I've played, and it's neither mahogany nor shaped anything like a Paul, and my Epi Korina Explorer sounded about the same as the Epi Korina V that was next to it on the shelf... the Explorer was just lighter and more comfortable to play (and I preferred the shape) so I grabbed that one instead!

EDIT: I will say this, however. Different neck joints sound different... I played two very similar guitars, one singlecut and one double cut (neck thru on both) and there was a slight difference in sound, probably due to the increased support on one side of the neck joint in the singlecut.

Edited by TemjinStrife
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Now I've seen it all. :D

Hey, no problem! I can ask all kinds of unexpected questions if you'd like!

The body shape in terms of its silhouette is pretty much a non-issue. I've not once heard of someone saying that something sounds better because of its shape. :/

I wondered about the dimensions more in terms of how much wood is left in the cut overall, as well as around the individual pickups. It made sense that there MIGHT be some difference between a larger surface area guitar (e.g. Gibson Explorer or Hamer Standard) and a smaller surface area guitar (e.g. Fender Telecaster or Steinberger) based on how the whole guitar reverberated, the energy transfer along the length of the guitar, etc.

Your second question begins with a good thought-- I imagine MOST people design a shape because it fits a certain genre they're thinking of. You want a metal sound, you might in some cases be inclined to make a pointy-sharp guitar. :D But then it goes wacky again. I've never heard anyone say that a tele is inherently louder than a strat... they certainly typically have more bite, but that's down to the pickups and other construction elements... not the shape. Your original question said "all things being equal," and I think that if you took a strat and made a tele-shaped strat (all other things being equal includind wood, hardware, etc) you'd be pretty hard pressed to say that one is louder than the other. B)

A while ago at the local guitar shop, I struck up a conversation with one of the guys working there and he mentioned the Telecaster was known as "the loudest Fender" and attributed it to the amount of wood around the neck pickup, basically that it was wider at the neck pickup than a Stratocaster, Jaguar, Mustang, or anything else they make. I had never heard that before but had no reason to necessarily disregard his opinion; he's a manager in the guitar section of the largest music store in the city, maybe he knew something I didn't. Anyway, it made me wonder if there was any science into guitar shapes, or if they were that way due to mere cosmetics and ergonomic considerations. It also made me wonder if, assuming the guitar shop guy was not totally off his rocker, there were any differences in tone between a single-cut and a double-cut, my logic being that there would be less wood in the immediate area of the neck pickup of a double-cut than a single-cut. If tone-chambers can affect the tone, why not the cut of the body in proximity the pickups?

If it makes no difference, then it makes no difference and I can accept that.

-Cheers

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A while ago at the local guitar shop, I struck up a conversation with one of the guys working there and he mentioned the Telecaster was known as "the loudest Fender" and attributed it to the amount of wood around the neck pickup, basically that it was wider at the neck pickup than a Stratocaster, Jaguar, Mustang, or anything else they make. I had never heard that before but had no reason to necessarily disregard his opinion; he's a manager in the guitar section of the largest music store in the city, maybe he knew something I didn't.

In my experience, guys that work at music stores are the *last* folks to listen to when it comes to "facts" on tone.

(No offence meant to any board members who work at a music shop - really just poking a little fun - but I mean, I've heard some crazy stuff come from the mouths of folks behind the counter at my favorite music stores - even when it isn't part of an attempted sales pitch.)

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This has been discussed. Probably even fought over already. Do a search, it's there somewhere. I believe I might even have brought it up (back when I was just starting to build and was kind of goofy about all the possibilities)--I'd come across a site where the guy claimed that body shape does indeed have an influence on the sound. I'm not sure I buy the argument, but then, it doesn't cost much to wonder about these things.

PS: From what I understand, guys in music stores are subjected to listening to people hack out Stairway to Heaven at least 50 times a day. So that would tend to addle the brain somewhat.

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Of course the shape matters, everything matters. But does it make a noticable difference? chance is pretty slim, considering two bodies of the same wood and mass, unless the shape of one of them is really out there (like a 1,5m long stick) the difference would hardly be noticable.

Biggest trap when planning a guitar is reading into too much bullshit on the internet. Just because someone figure out how to post their thoughts on the web, doesn't give them credibility unless they can back their theories up. In most cases, someone just comes up with something that seems logical to them, posts it on the web, 100 people who don't know better regurgitate the "information" somewhere else and after a while it's suddenly a fact.

I'd say worry about the stuff that will have a major influense on sound, don't bother about the rest of the voodoo. IMO it's impossible to predict exactly how a guitar is gonna sound anyway, so just build a guitar with components that are proven to work and get some experience...after a while you can start experimenting with way-out-there theories.. (even if you hear someone who claims they've experimented and come up with amazing results, the truth is that the amount of data collected is most likely waay less than what's needed to actually prove a theory)

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This link might answer part of your question.

http://www.kettering.edu/~drussell/guitars/index.html

to me, that link really says nothing...

Nowhere is the actual "tone" discussed" just how a couple of different guitars seem to resonate (with the strings dampened).

Also, I'm not really shure what that test is supposed to prove...that an acoustic resonates differently from an electric? that two electrics of different materials resonate differently?

The test is carried out on one guitar of each model, this is imo way to little to draw any conclusions, especially about the shape of the instrument, since they where built from different materials.

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This link might answer part of your question.

http://www.kettering.edu/~drussell/guitars/index.html

to me, that link really says nothing...

Nowhere is the actual "tone" discussed" just how a couple of different guitars seem to resonate (with the strings dampened).

Also, I'm not really shure what that test is supposed to prove...that an acoustic resonates differently from an electric? that two electrics of different materials resonate differently?

The test is carried out on one guitar of each model, this is imo way to little to draw any conclusions, especially about the shape of the instrument, since they where built from different materials.

what the hell does imo mean?

im new so please explain that please.

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I have heard lots of people claim flying V's have a unique tone and this is often attributed to the large mass of wood behind the bridge that can cause some of the string vibration to get lost. I cannot support this claim with actual evidence because i havnt built any V's yet so it always worth taking it with a pinch of salt.

My point: if body shape will make a noticable difference the body shape will need to be radically different from the norm, i can see how this might work for V's in (laymans) theory

would a strat, tele, les paul or double cut all made from the same wood with the same construction method and hardware sound different because of the shape - i really doubt any of us could tell!! Although i suspect the strat and DC may stand out slightly, possibly because of the cutaways that affect the neck join area. Still think its going to be a tiny difference though.

As always i am just trying to contribute issues to consider rather than trying to supply definative answers or claiming to be the authority on this subject. I have not done scientific research into this!!

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Ultimately a solid body electric guitar’s tone is governed by several factors that garner a nice timber.

The largest and most noticeable are:

Quality/type of wood used

Quality/type of pickups used

Neck joint and mass around the neck joint

IMO – type of frets used (which can increase sustain)

Quality/type of bridge used.

Strings used (big difference maker in my book!)

Using a plastic cover plate instead of a wooden cover plate will not give you a noticeable affect on tone.

Putting a bevel on the back for your belly will not give you a noticeable difference in tone.

I suspect that everything contributes to the overall voice of a guitar but really! This ongoing debate is fruitless. I’ve heard guitars that were made on an assembly line out of the same materials as the next one and one of these guitars will have a better voice.

A guitar is an imperfect instrument and is played and built by imperfect people. The experimentation is what is so exciting about building guitars. Everyone will sound different no matter what you do to it! To me there is no better excitement than the first chord on a freshly finished guitar.

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This ongoing debate is fruitless.

Fair enough. It makes me wonder about some of the shapes out there that I do not find all that appealing, but if it does not make much of a difference I will stick with ergonomically comfortable guitar shapes that look appealing and offer nice fret access. Thanks for the posts.

Out of curiousity, does anybody have a link to where this has been discussed in the past, or keywords to plug into the search box?

-Cheers

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Probably a subjective question, but how much of a factor is the body shape/design to tone versus other factors, like string, scale, neck-thru vs. set vs. bolt, etc.? For instance, how much of a difference will the shape of a Strat vs. a Tele vs. a Les Paul vs. an SG vs. a PRS vs. an Explorer make on the overall sound of a guitar, all else being equal (e.g. wood, string gauge, electronics, scale, etc.)?

Related question, for custom builds or original designs, does your desired tone affect the shape you use or draw? I have heard that more wood around the pickups gives it a louder sound/presence (namely as a way of explaining how/why a Tele is rumored to be louder than a Strat), and wonder if there is any credence to that. Is there any conclusive evidence over how body size/shape and location of mass affect sound?

-Cheers

The answer to the first question is yes, of course it will. The problem with quantifying the difference especially between guitars with different scale length, electronics, wood(and every piece of wood is going to be a little different), ambient factors that effect the instrument dirrectly, variables outside the guitar(amplification, signal chain, speakers and enclosures, environmental considerations for these components, the "room", your ears, players technique, and on and on). All of these variables make it next to impossible to "prove" the value of these things. Forget the debate to try to "prove" these things, the guys who want to say it is "voodoo" or "sales pitches" will never be proven wrong(on many many levels they are right), but fundementally the answer has to be yes it will change the timbre of an instrument along with many other larger and smaller factors.

Cutting through all that, the goal is to build a guitar that plays great, sounds great, is durable, looks great, and will remain that way for a very long time. All of this of course to the taste of the musician that owns it. Your goal should be to learn how to the best of your ability and knowledge meet those requirements. Use every bit of reference you can from historical instruments and methods, look at how manufacturers achive consistent results, and durable instruments, build your experience and hone your beliefs based on your findings, always being open to consider new ideas. This is all you can do, and actually that is better than a lifetimes worth of work(so use what people who came before you are willing to share!). Oh, a big hint here. If you really want to learn about what players want(or collectors,hacks or what have you), and what holds up well. Go spend some time with a good tech. with many busy years in the trade and plenty of loyal customers. I can't think of a better resource.

Peace,Rich

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the guys who want to say it is "voodoo" or "sales pitches" will never be proven wrong(on many many levels they are right), but fundementally the answer has to be yes it will change the timbre of an instrument along with many other larger and smaller factors.

That's a non-point. I agree with the rest of what you're saying, but you're implying that just because all changes can be quantifiable on some molecular level, anybody who says "don't bother worry about it" is crying "voodoo". I'm just crying "common sense". :D Common sense, not "voodoo avoidance" dictates that you shouldn't really choose the silhouette of your guitar as something that will impact your tone goals. Just design something you like and are happy with, within certain general parameters like mass/thickness/etc.

If I dent up my guitar with a spoon, it's going to impact the tone on some molecular level, too, but I'm not about to try to strategically place tone-enhancing dents. :D If you can't identify what the impact will be, then it's not a design consideration. It's that simple.

Greg

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I realize a lot of you guys are content to reinvent the wheel and just build guitars that already exist. That's your right, your privilege and your pleasure, and there's nothing wrong with that.

But for some of us, the whole idea of building is to go beyond what already exists. And one of the ways of getting there is to ask questions like this, wonder about this kind of issue, grope your way toward somewhere else. It's possible you'll end up coming back to what exists, sure. And it's possible that a lot of what you'll come up with will seem like voodoo to someone else. That's not the point.

In the long run, it's not such a big deal. I mean it's not like someone claiming that global warming doesn't exist or claiming that the Republicans are master economists. We're only building guitars here. So why not dream a little?

My personal opinion is that there's no real way to say for certain how a body shape affects tone, so while it's fun to muse about it, it's not something to dwell over. And that other choices --like a swimming pool route and strat-style pickguard/pickup mounting would seem to have more impact on how the guitar is going to sound.

And aesthetics and ergonomics are indeed important issues to take into account when building YOUR guitar. I find strats perfect for playing while standing up, but uncomfortable as hell sitting down. And they're ugly. But I love the sound...so I need to figure out what's going into that sound, right?

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I get what your saying Mick. I think what many of these guys are trying to do is disspell factors that should not be worried about by new or researching builders. As it was said in this thread and in another thread of a similar nature, yes these factors make some difference, however, that difference is so minute that there is no way to distinguish what the difference is. Aside from the fact that there are dozens of other factors that have considerably more impact upon your sound. I think the point is to keep people from constricting themselves to a certain shape due to other people telling them it has this huge impact and how it will drastically affect their sound. For people with more experience and have made guitars such as yourself and other experienced builder I see no concern and think it is helpful that you do experiment and see what you can figure out, as this helps us all(if another significant factor is ever discovered). I do feel though, that is important to the people just learning or reading to know that these are not factors to consider when planning a guitar. As I said before, if you spent your time researching and planning a build based on these types of factors, you'll spend a year trying to get all the pointless specifics right and even then you would have no evidence that it made any difference, how do you compare?

Like I said, I see what you mean, but I still think it is important to disspell these ideas now to help researching people from falling victim to these theories of consequence. Once they have built a dozen themselves, they will know enough to experiment and know to expect certain outcomes and by then these discussions are nearly pointless to them anyway as they already know what to expect and so on. Experimentation is great, but you'll probably never be able to prove anything you found as there is little to no solid criteria to base something so subjective, so at best you'll be instucting others to build based on your taste. You see what I mean. I understand explaining and pointing out considerable factors, but these little factors like shape or using a 3 piece back over 2, there is just no point. Just how I see it though, just my thoughts on the subject. J

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Adding fuel to a debate that is as old as guitar building itself:

There was a link here somewhere to one of the Tele-forums. There was a guy who challenged that community to tell the body wood in a sound clip he published (yeah, yeah a sound clip over the net, lousy quality and PC speakers you say, but anyway…). That forum was enthusiastic about the soooo nice quality of the sound and sustain and everything.

He then revealed the truth. He had bolted a neck onto a square made up of double layer of MDF bolted together (no glue no nothing. There you go. That shows how important body shape, body wood and everything is.

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Yep, I would believe it, I would be interested to hear what pickups and amp were used. If you use something like, for example a DiMarzio Super II pickup through an ADA preamp and into a Marshall power amp, it's going to sound killer whatever the guitar is shaped like. The shape and materials might add subtle differences, but there is not too big a chance they will mortally wound the tone for most ears. :D

Edited by Muzz
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