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Wood For Thought... Does Wood Make A Major Difference In Tone In Solid


Guest bartbrn
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Guest bartbrn

I know this is a dangerous subject to bring up around here, because even ASKING the question will bring 227 howlers with PhDs in Acoustic Engineering flying out of the woodwork, screaming "Sacrilege! Sacrilege!"

I know what I DON'T know, and I don't know the answer to that question. But I'd be inclined to side with a guy who hasn't made 2 or 3 guitars, or dozens, but hundreds, in a 40-year career, and wrote a book titled "Make Your Own Electric Guitar," which has sold somewhere around 150,000 copies. His name might be familiar here: Melvyn Hiscock. Below is an excerpt from an interview with him on Guitarbench.

From Guitarbench, June 30, 2010:

"In all cases I try and tell people not to believe too much of what they read on the internet. There is a lot of rubbish about how different woods are supposed to sound and what you can and cannot use. The whole thing about certain woods sounding ‘dark’ is quite funny. What is dark? When I turn the light out the room it doesn’t sound any different! Ha! The actual wood used is relatively unimportant, there are way more factors affecting the sound of the guitar than just the wood. Fret height, integrity of the neck join, type of truss rod, head angle and bridge type all make a huge difference, even using different gauge strings will make a difference.

"If you want to make necks then stiffness is the key so you don’t use a bendy wood like ash or elm. For bodies everyone seems to want to Honduras mahogany. I recently made some softwood guitars just for the hell of it. Douglas fir necks and cedar bodies. The fir is stiff and is fine for necks if you get a good quality bit and western red cedar makes good bodies! I have a fun guitar with a cedar body, fir neck and two TV Jones Filtertrons. That is a FUN guitar. The two neck laminates are also joined along the centre which is not the way you are supposed to do it either! I may make a guitar soon that goes against all generally accepted ideas in terms of wood used and methods employed just for the hell of it. It depends if I get time."

By the way, Melvyn Hiscock published his second guitar-making book (he also writes on WW1-era aircraft), "Make Your Own Acoustic Guitar," on Dec. 1, 2010.

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Dangerous, yes.

This has been argued like you wouldn't believe on here.

I say it makes a difference. Any material will have it's own distinct harmonic properties. The pickups literally "pick up" sound that has been transferred through the strings. Everything vibrates sympathetically to a certain extent and makes at least a small change. I've played guitars with great pickups that sounded dull due to the wood and a heavy plastic finish. I could go on and on about how it works, but I'll refrain being the "PhD" sounding guy.

A lot of guys will say it makes no difference once the sound goes through all their distortion and whatever else. That's mostly true, but not everybody plays like that. For everybody else, there is a distinct and noticeable impact intone.

The arguments about words used to describe tone are just semantic arguments. We have no better simple terms than dark, warm, etc., so that's what we use. They make sense to most people, so they get used. If I wrote every description for tone that goes through my head, I'd sound like one of those weirdo sommeliers everybody hates. Arguments about those terms come up a lot and always include a good dose of sarcasm (like the quote from the book).

That's my two cents. These topics are usually a can of worms, so I might end up added more than my two cents later.

Edited by NotYou
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I know what I DON'T know, and I don't know the answer to that question. But I'd be inclined to side with a guy who hasn't made 2 or 3 guitars, or dozens, but hundreds, in a 40-year career, and wrote a book titled "Make Your Own Electric Guitar," which has sold somewhere around 150,000 copies. His name might be familiar here: Melvyn Hiscock. Below is an excerpt from an interview with him on Guitarbench.

In other words you already have an opinion,you are not really asking for answers,and you are just looking to stir up an argument? :D

"(insert opinion here) Is quite funny" or "I laugh when I hear (insert opinion here)" are only arrogant ways to argue a point you really have no proof of or ability to properly argue.

Maybe you could build something,form your own opinion,and decide what YOU like without trying to deride people who hear what you and some others can not by quoting yet other people's opinions?

By the way,while you are forming this opinion of your own,why don't you go here

http://thornnewsanddiscussionpage.yuku.com/topic/2941/Tone-Wood-Combo-Q

Scroll down,and read Thorn's response to possible woods used to gain certain characteristics in a certain guitar,and then if you are not familiar you could look up Ron Thorn's site and study some of his "hundreds"(or however many)guitars

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I'm an egineering student, and although I'm told everyday the theory that the neck join and material are much more important - I still believe in the body wood voodoo.

Guitarists are a funny bunch. :D

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Guest bartbrn
In other words you already have an opinion,you are not really asking for answers,and you are just looking to stir up an argument? :D

"(insert opinion here) Is quite funny" or "I laugh when I hear (insert opinion here)" are only arrogant ways to argue a point you really have no proof of or ability to properly argue.

westhemann -- It seems that it's a minor point at best to you, but at some point in your reading of the interview I posted did you happen to notice that the phrases you chose to excoriate me for were Mr. Hiscock's words, and not mine?

I already admitted at the very beginning of my post that I don't know the answer, but I'd certainly be more likely to side somewhat more with the opinion of a man who has made literally hundreds of guitars -- AND has written the most popular and arguably most used book on the subject -- than the opinion of someone who's knocked a few guitars together. It's a matter of empirical evidence, NOT of opinion.

If you wish to comment on something I've written, please do me the common courtesy of getting your facts straight -- which one would think should be pretty simple for any user of the English language who had actually read my post with some semblance of comprehension -- before slagging ME for something Melvyn Hiscock said.

As I said in my original post -- quotes from which you mis-attributed -- I don't consider myself qualified to have an opinion on this particular subject, and unless you are an acoustic engineer whose specialty is the sound transmission qualities of the different species, cuts, and vertical and horizontal sections of the woods you're talking about, and the tonal differences these various woods have on the sound of a solid body electric guitar, with verifiable data gathered from reproducible, strictly controlled double-blind tests, then you're not qualified either. Individual human hearing systems have at least as many variables as individual pieces of wood.

Was that a clear enough explanation of a post that should have required no explanation? Did you somehow think Guitarbench had interviewed me?

Just as I predicted: even bringing the subject up as a question gores somebody's ox...

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In other words you already have an opinion,you are not really asking for answers,and you are just looking to stir up an argument? :D

"(insert opinion here) Is quite funny" or "I laugh when I hear (insert opinion here)" are only arrogant ways to argue a point you really have no proof of or ability to properly argue.

westhemann -- It seems that it's a minor point at best to you, but at some point in your reading of the interview I posted did you happen to notice that the phrases you chose to excoriate me for were Mr. Hiscock's words, and not mine?

I already admitted at the very beginning of my post that I don't know the answer, but I'd certainly be more likely to side somewhat more with the opinion of a man who has made literally hundreds of guitars -- AND has written the most popular and arguably most used book on the subject -- than the opinion of someone who's knocked a few guitars together. It's a matter of empirical evidence, NOT of opinion.

If you wish to comment on something I've written, please do me the common courtesy of getting your facts straight -- which one would think should be pretty simple for any user of the English language who had actually read my post with some semblance of comprehension -- before slagging ME for something Melvyn Hiscock said.

As I said in my original post -- quotes from which you mis-attributed -- I don't consider myself qualified to have an opinion on this particular subject, and unless you are an acoustic engineer whose specialty is the sound transmission qualities of the different species, cuts, and vertical and horizontal sections of the woods you're talking about, and the tonal differences these various woods have on the sound of a solid body electric guitar, with verifiable data gathered from reproducible, strictly controlled double-blind tests, then you're not qualified either. Individual human hearing systems have at least as many variables as individual pieces of wood.

Was that a clear enough explanation of a post that should have required no explanation? Did you somehow think Guitarbench had interviewed me?

Just as I predicted: even bringing the subject up as a question gores somebody's ox...

Ba hahahahah. This post is hilarious! Let's strat with the glaringly obvious faults here. You chide Wes for having a lack of comprehension of the English language while you too make the same mistake of obviously not understanding it either. In your original post you clearly stated that while not knowing the answer, you are INCLINED to believe Mr. Hiscock. That's a clear statement of which side of the fence you sit on. So, Wes attributing the quotes to match your opinions is valid. You made an authority appeal, and he pointed it out.

Next, when was the last time the field leaders of a craft were the ones writing the books? It's not exactly the majority. You don't see Ken Parker or the like writing the textbooks. You do in educational fields because they're often employed by universities... but that's once again not the case in this kind of craft. Secondly, being famous for writing a book does not automatically make you a good luthier (I'm not saying you're not Melvyn, just making a point). Have you tried his guitars to verify your position on his capability to make a music instrument (since that is what these things are for, music)?

However, I think my favorite fallacy of all comes towards the end! I love how in your mind the opposing side must meet HUGE requirements to voice an opinion, while the side you go with gets obviously much more lenient treatment. You are happy to incline with Mr. Hiscock because he's built a couple guitars. However, for you to even ALLOW Wes to HAVE an opinion he must be "an acoustic engineer whose specialty is the sound transmission qualities of the different species, cuts, and vertical and horizontal sections of the woods you're talking about, and the tonal differences these various woods have on the sound of a solid body electric guitar, with verifiable data gathered from reproducible, strictly controlled double-blind tests." Is Melvyn? I must have missed that somewhere.

And lastly, congratulations, you found one person that believes wood species has no impact on tone. Go to a custom guitar show and talk to the guys. You'll find way more on the opposite side of the fence than Hiscock. These are also professionals who build hundreds of guitars. You can stack it by people, or number of guitars built, but your reasoning will still be ridiculous.

This guy is an IDIOT! And I love it :D Gives me my PG soap opera fix!

Chris

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Guest bartbrn
! I love how in your mind the opposing side must meet HUGE requirements to voice an opinion... for you to even ALLOW Wes to HAVE an opinion he must be "an acoustic engineer...

Not what I said. EVERYONE's entitled to have an opinion. Sadly, we all know what opinions are like. Presenting one's opinion as a settled fact is hardly consistent with the scientific method required to settle facts. Millions of people for tens of thousands of years were of the opinion that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around the earth. Oddly enough, those opinions did not make what they believed actual fact, though some still believe the earth is flat and the sun revolves around the earth. Such people have their counterparts in MANY other fields, including this one. You do understand the difference between opinion and fact. correct? The only way to prove hypotheses relating to the narrow-spectrum physical world in which we live every day (leaving sub-atomic and cosmic matters to their peculiar spheres and methodologies) is by the scientific method -- empiricism, not phenomenalism. I found a very nice site which is meant to explain the scientific method to kids, and I figure it's about at a level someone who feels compelled to call other people "idiots" might be able to grasp:

The scientific method is a way to ask and answer scientific questions by making observations and doing experiments

The steps of the scientific method are to:

Ask a Question

Do Background Research

Construct a Hypothesis

Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment

Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion

Communicate Your Results

It is important for your experiment to be a fair test. A "fair test" occurs when you change only one factor (variable) and keep all other conditions the same.

Have any opinion you like, but if you can't verify it scientifically as fact, it's just an opinion -- one of those universal laws that applies equally to people like Mr. Hiscock, and to mental giants like you. Speaking of Mr. Hiscock, you scrawled:

"Mr. Hiscock [has] built a couple guitars…"

You might want to check your facts on Mr. Hiscock's output, longevity in the field, clientele, and reputation.

"You'll find way more on the opposite side of the fence than Hiscock. These are also professionals who build hundreds of guitars."

So is that the requirement for holding an opinion you can side with, the number of guitars someone has built? See Hiscock info above..

If it makes you feel like a big boy ready to crawl out of your diapers and into training pants to call me, or anyone else, an "idiot," don't bother to respond, because I certainly won't. If you know what you're talking about, you have no need for personal pejoratives, and if you don't know what you're talking about, calling people names simply makes you look even more infantile than you already do. If the moderator here considers your sort of behavior acceptable within this forum, then it's not a forum to which I wish to belong.

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just a little reminder of last time we did this:

http://projectguitar.ibforums.com/index.php?showtopic=44760&hl=tonewood]&st=0

i seem to remember you using arlo west's use of pine as proof that wood had no affect on tone - although we did find on his website that one of the resons he used pine was was because he liked the tone

i seem to remember that you were suggesting that all the tone of an electric guitar came from the stings and possibly the nut, bridge as they were in direct contact with it, which to me ignored the fact the body and neck were also in contact with it through that same 'coupling' you admitted was present in acoustic guitars

i seem to remember the same stance whereby you were suggesting we needed scientific proof to back up our opinions (based on experience), whilst all you needed was quotes from experts stating there opinions (based on experience).

i seem to remember you went quiet - but clearly you have found a quote that vaguely supports your view and here we go again!

so first lets see how melvyns expert opinion matches with yours.

You say:

It's my opinion that differences in neck and body materials make VERY little -- I believe NONE that can be heard by the human ear -- in the flat, unmusical plunk of a plucked string on an unplugged solid-body electric guitar, period

The sound of a solid-body electric guitar ... is dependent entirely on a ferrous string vibrating in the magnetic field of a pickup, those vibrations creating an electrical current, or signal, in the wires wrapped around the pickup bobbin.

melvyn says:

The actual wood used is relatively unimportant, there are way more factors affecting the sound of the guitar than just the wood. Fret height, integrity of the neck join, type of truss rod, head angle and bridge type all make a huge difference, even using different gauge strings will make a difference.

some cross over, like his mention of string gauge but melvyn is accepting that body/neck construction can affect the tone quite drastically which already shows how he would most likely disagree with your opinion that its just the string. i am quite surprised he didnt write 'scale length' in his list of factors, as would fit with your opinion, it is quite important in the tone of an electric guitar. he also didnt mention pickups but i assume we all agree that makes a massive difference, and he probably did not mention it as an interchangeable part largely unaffected by how you choose to build a guitar.

also, how do we interpret the phrase 'relatively unimportant'? Is melvyn actually agreeing with your standpoint that the wood used has no affect on the tone? to me its clear he is not, but he is suggesting other factors are more important and i believe its the amount of influence of each part that should be debated (and maybe even studied scientifically if that is what people want to do with their time). I am ok with him minimising one factor, its quite different to ruling it out and ignoring it altogether. In melvyns new book he does talk about apparent 'science' that manages to ignore things he knows to be important. I reckon he would be laughing at these threads, or at least suggesting that each person should make up their own mind based on their experience. his general stance seems to be learn to build first and then look into the other factors later if you so choose. the last paragraph of the first chapter of his new book states

you can make a good, viable and fine sounding instrument on your first attempt, but you will learn as you go and the seed to experiment may be sown, and further guitars will begin to answer the questions you set for yourself.

not to put words in anyone's mouth, but my interpretation of melvyn's approach has always been that there is no need to limit yourself to 'proven' guitar woods as many other will work well. the important focus in his writing seems to be on choosing structurally sound and not too heavy wood first.

anyway, whatever his opinion or experience we should also consider the aim of his books. It is to teach people techniques they could use to make their own guitars. it is not to debate stuff that takes away or makes that seem more difficult, Melvyn is practically telling us to figure that stuff out ourselves! It is a no-nonsense approach that is purposely simplified in a very effective way.

I have used 'inappropriate' woods before and produced good sounding guitars. as my own guitar that is absolutely fine. There was no need to try and control the tone so whatever result ensued as long as it sounded good would make me a happy man. i figure anyone building a first guitar following melvyns book would also be happy with that kind of result.

but what happens when specific tones and sounds are sought? I cant build a tele out of inappropriate woods and get it to sound like i expect from a tele, at best it sounds like a tele, and in some cases that is exactly what i want! From my experience of 50 or so guitars (not into the hundreds yet;) )i know the safest way for me to get their would be with certain woods that give the tone i want, if i choose carefully. Not just a good tone, but a fairly precise tone for a precise situation. clearly that is not what somebody making their first guitar needs to do to be successful! but then melvyn's books have never focused on producing specific guitars have they!

...

The steps of the scientific method are to:

Ask a Question

Do Background Research

Construct a Hypothesis

Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment

Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion

Communicate Your Results

It is important for your experiment to be a fair test. A "fair test" occurs when you change only one factor (variable) and keep all other conditions the same.

its implied in some sections, but you may want to look into the peer review element of science. Without peer review the rest is largely meaningless.

...

as an aside, i find the style of your first post to be rather patronising and written like you clearly knew the flaming that would follow. and now you think the mods should step in!!!

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Thank you for teaching me about science. I feel as though a great weight of ignorance has been lifted from my shoulders! I am ready, now that I understand science, to join your side oh great leader!

Bah hahaha. You chide me for calling YOU an idiot and say there's no need for personal pejoratives if I know what I'm talking about. Well, I hate to break it to you, but your little patronizing rant about a kids' science website was just a round about way of calling ME an idiot. So I guess we're two peas in a pod that don't know what we're talking about :D

Oh, and I called you an idiot because your argumentation style, knowledge of the field, and your to comedic ability to use every fallacy in the book makes you appear to be one. Or, I can spell it out better for you if you'd like:

I have a control group (other forum members) and I read their posts and note their behavior, lexicon, diction, etc. Then, we bring in the test subject (you) and I do the same and compare this to the control group. My hypothesis is that an idiot would act accordingly and spew **** out their mouth like they know what they're talking about. Sure enough, through my careful observation, it appears that you are indeed an idiot :D <- PS: Don't bother pointing out things I may have missed that would turn this little joke into a "legitimate scientific study" because if you do, you've obviously missed the point of that whole paragraph.

Chris

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as an aside, i find the style of your first post to be rather patronising and written like you clearly knew the flaming that would follow. and now you think the mods should step in!!!

*steps in*

What's all this then? :D

Oh, another troll.

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as an aside, i find the style of your first post to be rather patronising and written like you clearly knew the flaming that would follow. and now you think the mods should step in!!!

*steps in*

What's all this then? :D

Oh, another troll.

Uh, yuh. I have nothing better to do than troll in a group where seemingly everyone is absolutely convinced of their own infallibility. Maybe you should rename this site The Multi-Pope's Project Guitar. I'm absolutely convinced of my own very human fallibility, and clearly don't belong in such brilliant company. Please take me off your member's list. I hope none of you fall off the edge of the earth.

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Done. It was quite adequately pointed out that you brought a hugely flawed "argument" to the table, backed up with inflammatory rhetoric baying "this is what it is, and it is up to you to prove it is not so!".

Thank you for your gracious safety advice regarding planetary geometry. Equally I hope you don't fully disappear up your own arse. Once I have finished applying black and yellow striped warning tape around the earth's perimeter, I will forward you the spare for your own problem.

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