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Sound Of A Finish?


GermanFafian
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Ok. I have searched all over this forum and a couple more just to try and find if this is true or not and have very little to no evidence or sign that different types of finish have different influences/nuances in an electric guitar's sound. I suppose it ha more influence in an acoustic instrument, but is it the same for an electric guitar?

I am a total noob in this guitar building business, but have been playing guitar for over 25 yrs and always have thought this was a bunch of no sense. I personally prefer oil finishes but it is a tactile preference rather than a "soundwise" thing.

I know that there are many knowledgeable people here who have years of experience and I want to know their opinion on this. I don't want to start a flame war or anything like that, but I have been criticized and almost ridiculed in another forum for expressing these thoughts and I want to know If I should apologize for really being an ignoramus :D or if I am in the right path to build the best possible guitar I can with the best and most "musical" finish.

Thanks in advance. :D

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i dont belive it. there was an argument a long time ago on here where some guy was saying that adding a great finish was just to make yourself look better and it destroyed a guitars sound and he would never use a finish again. i think thats crap. if wood, aluminum tops, and acrylic tops barley make a difference,(not even one you can tell right off) why would a finish of 1/32" or less make a difference? i just dont belive it.

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A guitar body resonates in sympathy with the strings, and to a degree this resonance and it's "voice" attenuates the absolute resonance of the strings. This is why string movement translates a sound through the pickups which includes a degree of interaction with the medium they are stretched across. Simple. Strings vibrate. Body vibrates also. Body as a unit has a tight wrapping which is in a lot of cases brittle, heavy, and does not resonate like wood. This affects the way the body vibrates in sympathy with the strings, and also how the strings are affected by the medium they are stretched across.

Unfortunately, finishes do not generally permeate wood through and through. They sit on and sometimes partially under the immediate surface. The finish does not resonate or attenuate at the same frequencies as wood. This interaction creates a complex attenuation "voice" which affects the overall output of the system. A wood which is acrylised would sound better than the same wood with an acrylic coating in theory, at least the attenuation being a lot less weird mathematically :-D

Thinner or less weighty finishes seem to compliment the sound that wood returns to the strings. Bodies caked (or choked IMO) in finish do not do so as well.

Imagine a guitar body with a thickness made up from laminates of 1cm steel, 1cm walnut, 1cm acrylic, 1cm brass, 1cm cheese. This does not make for a very good "tuned" system. It would suck hugely. If those five component constituents were blended in a big atom smasher and made into a homogenous material to make that body, it would resonant at a more pleasing even level....if they would indeed blend of course!

What i'm getting at, is that a cosmetic finish does not make for the best tuned system for an instrument. Just as shrink wrapping doesn't make chickens look sexy anymore.

Drums don't sound as good or as pure if you have a piece of duct tape on one side of the skin, or a dent. It becomes a more complex and generally less desirable sounding system. Like a trumpet with chewing gum and a few old socks stuck in it.

You know what I mean, really.

Probably.

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You will get a lot of different opinions on this, mixed up with unsubstantiated claims and pseudo-science. I have yet to see one reliable source with any scientific proof being able to claim one finish 'sounds better' than the other. An important point is that all terms describing sound are very loose. 'Tone' might have a million different meanings to a million different people, yet people often claim this or this ruins tone. Everything you do to an instrument is going to alter the sound in one way or another. Most of these variations are going to be so small that no-one will be able to tell the difference. I personally don't think that one minor alternation can change the sound in such a way that it would sound bad to everyone.

First rule when learning about guitarbuilding on the internet is to be weary of all your sources. What happens way too often on the internet is that someone posts something that makes sense to them, a lot of people read it, and after a while it's posted as validated fact. Common sense is probably the largest source of bullshit on the internet. Try to filter out everything that seems unsubstantiated and only take serious sources as fact. I'm not tellning you to not take other people's input on things just because they're not experts on the subject, but don't take any one persons claims as facts (unless the person really has the evidence to back it up).

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Fry explained it better than I did here:

http://projectguitar.ibforums.com/index.ph...st&p=320615

Aidlook, you know just as well as I do that red guitars play faster than pink ones. It's the incorporation of too much white light reflecting bacteria in the finish that slows down the phase perception of tone arriving at the ears in a sheared time-space relationship.

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Prostheta, couldn't really find that explanation.

It's seems like what you're getting at is homogenous+low complexity=good sounding. Wouldn't a simple occilator produce the most pleasant tone known to human ears if this statement was true. Also it seems like wood wouldn't be a very good material to build guitars from in the first place if your theories where true, due to the variying density etc. It's just an extreme oversimplification as to what we percieve as good sound. The duct tape on a drum skin is not a very good analogy, a piece of duct tape on the side of the drum would be a better comparison, we're talking resonant frequensies of the body here, not the string. If what matters is how homogenous the resonating body is, it seems like casting the body out of some homogenous material would make the guitar sound a lot nicer. I still see nothing but 'this makes sense' claims with no actual testing or evidence to back the theories up. Seems like swapping plastic pickguards for wooden ones would make for an equally big change in tone (for the positive since the system is now more 'tuned'). Also it seems like a wooden bridge and wooden knobs would be optimal.

All your arguments seem to be based on the theory that low complexity=what all people percieve as good sound. It's just not that simple. I'm not gonna say that different finishes don't affect the resonanse at all, but I am going to question the magnitude of change it's going to make. I have yet to see some factual evidence of this, or even a remotely scientific test. I also believe that physical contact to the instrument would be a much bigger factor than what finish you apply.

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I think the thickness of a finish has more of an effect on sound than type of finish.

That's basically what I think and was called a Moron :D

Drums don't sound as good or as pure if you have a piece of duct tape on one side of the skin, or a dent. It becomes a more complex and generally less desirable sounding system. Like a trumpet with chewing gum and a few old socks stuck in it.

You know what I mean, really.

Probably.

Not getting it really as electric guitar finishes seem to interact less with the acoustics of the sound in general. At least to my ears :D

You will get a lot of different opinions on this, mixed up with unsubstantiated claims and pseudo-science. I have yet to see one reliable source with any scientific proof being able to claim one finish 'sounds better' than the other.

First rule when learning about guitarbuilding on the internet is to be weary of all your sources. .............................................don't take any one persons claims as facts (unless the person really has the evidence to back it up).

I am trying to be as impartial on this as possible but there seems to be so much speudo-science as you said. I read here somewhere that PRS uses car finish for their guitars but haven't been able to find proof of that either. That should kill any tone from the guitar for sure yet their guitars sound great.

Prostheta, couldn't really find that explanation.

I also believe that physical contact to the instrument would be a much bigger factor than what finish you apply.

I could not find any explanation either. I apply the finish the customer wants and what suits him the best in the best possible way.

I hope I did not open a can of worms here B)

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I suggest you do your searches outside of this forum...

In my short period of time being a member here, I've noticed that some people are quick to offer advice without prior knowledge or experience in working with more than one type of finish.

Besides, the whole topic is easily open to interpretaion based on one's hearing ability.

How do you know the advice you're getting isnt from someone who is totally tone deaf? :D

Edited by DGW
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If we were attempting to create an instrument which doesn't colour the sound, then yes. Guitars however benefit from a degree of voicing which the chain of which playing technique, guitar construction, pickups, effect, amps, speakers, ears/mics etc. are the total chain.

Perhaps the angle of homegeneity was the wrong one to utilise. We can all agree that a wood in it's simple form has attributes such as density, flexibility (or lack of) and other factors which contribute to it having a "sound" or more accurately, a colouration on how it vibrates in sympathy with the strings stretched across it. An swamp ash instrument would sound different to a black walnut instrument for example. A maple topped Les Paul uses two woods which contribute their voicings (and interaction) to the system. Just in the same way as adding a maple top to a mahogany instrument affects the sound, so would bonding an appreciated heavy plastic finish to the body. It would just affect it differently, just probably a lot less. This is just a matter of degrees. I'm refinishing a mahogany explorer i've played au naturel for three years in white poly which I know will change the sound. I'll probably not notice it, or more likely, probably not care about the marginal difference of course :-D

Not to go down the silly path of advocating wooden knobs (they are cosmetic - nothing more) but if an instrument was made from a million wooden knobs or a million plastic knobs, there would be a difference. This argument is invalid however as it's purely theoretical, and i've never played a theoretical instrument ;-)

"I also believe that physical contact to the instrument would be a much bigger factor than what finish you apply."

I agree. Contact is the key word here I think. If you layered on an inch of poly then that mass of finish will affect the system in some way for definite, as it is now part of that system. Same as if you glued on another inch of wood to the thickness of the body.

My point of low complexity isn't down to the purity of tone - completely the opposite in fact. Wood colours sound which makes guitars sound interesting and different! A soundboard on an acoustic doesn't translate the resonance of the instrument perfectly/purely - it attenuates certain frequencies and creates interactions which result in an interesting sound colouration. Certain interactions however, may not be as pleasing to the ear - in my example, a laminated guitar body made of different types of disparate materials which don't work together very well to create a harmonious sounding instrument (or at least best guess - i've not played an instrument which is made of steel and cheese, but played metal cheese with one...).

I'd never get as nitpicky as to consider accessories such as strap buttons, pickguards and knobs to contribute to what we hear. They really don't at any practical level. At a purely theoretical level perhaps! That's outside the scope of sensible people of course.

Some instruments are not made with the tonality of the materials used (body/neck/fingerboard woods, not pickguards....) so the difference in tone between finished and not finished probably won't make much difference. An example of "sounds awful unfinished" and "still sounds awful finished"! An instrument built using well thought out and nicely chosen and combined materials has a voice which can potentially be changed for the worse if finished with something nasty and ultimately cosmetic. Again, degrees - most people would not not hear the difference, or would simply accept the sound for what it was - not A/B'ed for comparison.

I wish I had the time to rebuild and record the sound of the Explorer *clean* before I start grain filling it, priming and applying a glossy white finish and recording it after. I'm am 99% sure however, that the sound would be more affected by the condition of strings, the instrument's setup and the amp and more importantly my playing technique that day! The voice of the instrument would be different in some (perhaps not immediately measurable to the average human) way.

To answer the original question - yes, an acoustic relies on the tuning and resonance of the body's parts and finish will come into play more than on a solidbody, but it's not to say that it will not affect a solidbody. It will affect it marginally.

This should be in no way a call for purists to go stripping the solids off their guitars. That would be a waste of time ;-)

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You guys are looking for a black and white/ good or bad answer. You won't find it because it is not there. A guitar built from wood will have a unique sound(properties of wood vary from piece to piece), wood changes its properties with moisture and humidity levels (just stating the facts). This means measuring small points from guitar to guitar becomes difficult if not pointless, because you have no way to develop a reliable baseline. So this finish makes that guitar sound good or bad is not going to be an answer you can arrive at, there are other variables that could make it sound different.

There are definately properties that can be considered from one type of finish to the next. Does it penetrate the wood? What will it do to the internal damping? How thick does it need to be applied to develop an acceptable degree of protection from rapid changes in humidity or dings? How stiff/hard/brittle is the finish? How fast does it cure(there are several considerations that a manufacturer would add a lot of weight to their choice)? The list goes on.... These can be things you should think about as a builder. The finish is simply part of your guitar, it does effect the guitar(has to as everything else that makes up the instrument does). I think many people try to build around woods and design, but would like for the finish to be as neutral as possible(in terms of effecting the timbre of their instrument), yet still provide needed protection for the instrument. Some believe certain finishes can actually modify the timbre in a possitive way. There have been tests done on acoustic soundboards using different finishes, measuring at different thicknesses for weight to stiffness, damping and so forth. The US dept. of agriculture and forestry services has a nice table they developed to show the differences in resistance to moisture of different finishes based on applied thickness. These can be handy resources to help understand some of the differences in finishes. Other considerations such as UV protection and so forth can also play into your choice. In past centuries the choices for finishing were limited, but adequit for protection. We have a lot more options and certainly some pretty high performance finishes available.

Choose what you want to use. Develop your opinions on the good or bad (based on what you want from your finish). As much as I feel like people who preach one finish at one thickness is right for all situations are full of ****, I also feel the same about people who say the finish makes absolutely no difference. These things are easy enough to check out on your own, just finish some wood and see what you think. Place enough value on durability and reliability to avoid using a brittle finish that will crack like no other in ten years. Apply your finish smooth and with at least enough thickness to help slow down rapid moisture transfer.

Personally, I don't want an extra thick or extra heavy finish on my guitars. I try to apply what is needed, no more, no less. I generally prefer finishes that build a nice surface film, but do not penetrate deeply. I like a finish that can be repaired without a high degree of dificulty (if it gets dinged or what not). I would love to try several other finishes I have not used yet, there are many great options out there today. That is just my 2 cents FWIW :D

Peace,Rich

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I suggest you do your searches outside of this forum...

In my short period of time being a member here, I've noticed that some people are quick to offer advice without prior knowledge or experience in working with more than one type of finish.

Besides, the whole topic is easily open to interpretaion based on one's hearing ability.

How do you know the advice you're getting isnt from someone who is totally tone deaf? :D

This seems to be based on the fact that I questioned your statement that krylon makes any guitar sound like a smuthered turd. I really hope it's based on something other than that as well since you're reccomending someone to not look for information on this forum. And really, you should be able to come up with a better argument than claiming people who don't agree with you tone deaf....

@ fryovanni and prostheta

I think we're actually kinda on the same page here, although I may not come off as good as I want to in the communication.

My basic points I was trying to explain was that of course everything added or subtracted from a guitar will change the tone in some way, although it's so small that I doubt that anyone would be able to tell. Also there are some larger factors that are always overlooked like the fact that the pickguard (about the same mass as a plastic finish) is made out of plastic, or the human contact with the instrument.

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About guitars and finishes, or people? :-D

It's good to hear - I hope you can use this mass of info to do your guitars justice!

About all three :D

Here's the reason all of this is so confusing - the tone of an instrument is essentially a mathematical problem that can't be solved analytically. The tone of a piece of wood all by itself is a problem that can't be solved analytically. When you add multiple pieces of wood (body, neck fretboard), other materials like plastics etc....you get something that's even more of a mess. Finally you add the electrical component which is also imperfect.

The biggest factor in the sound of the guitar is of course the electronics. This is the signal that's going directly in the amp, the zeroth order. Next are the main mechanical components, body, neck, bridge etc, first order effects. These indirectly affect the sound (by how they feedback with the string). Now the effect of the finish is essentially a second or third order effect (as in unimportant if the finish is a small fraction of the mass/thickness of the guitar). This is because the main change is in the acoustic sound of the instrument. The acoustic sound then has to travel through air affect the strings, which is a very weak feedback given the loudness of the instrument (as opposed to the direct mechanical coupling of a bridge or the electrical effect of pickups). So as long as the finish's thickness is a small fraction of the thickness of the instrument, the effect will be negligible. The degree to which it is negligible will of course depend on

the thickness.

For what it's worth, the imperfection of wood is what makes it tonally interesting. A very homogeneous material (think a piece of metal) has a very sharp

frequency response centered at its resonant frequency. What happens when you tap a piece of metal? It rings at one pitch right? In mathematics, that tap closely approximates a signal with evenly distributed frequency spectrum (that is it has the same amplitude across all frequencies), so what you hear after the tap is the "response" of the material - you are hearing its EQ curve. So the metal is strong in a very small frequency band. Wood is very much different - it is organic and chaotic. There are knots of higher and lower densities, pores, etc, that each contribute to give a much more complex frequency response. Now you know why luthiers and builders "tap" pieces of wood - it's a quick way to approximately determine the frequency response of a material whose frequency response is very hard to predict. This is also the reason different instruments of the same make/model/year/color sound different.

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