I recently, on you tube, caught an old interview with James Taylor where he went into his climate controlled vault and showed off some of his old guitars. He made a statement that these guitars had worn out ,that they eventually get to a point where they don't sound good anymore.( this was a while ago and I can't remember exactly why he felt they wore out ,just that he doesn't play them anymore)
I have a lot of time for James Taylor, and anything he has to say about guitars I'm going to listen to. My immediate reaction however was to scratch my head as I fix old guitars all the time, and it seems to me that the older they get the better they sound. (yes they need frets and neck resets etc). he obviously can afford to pay a luthier, there must be something else at play here
Now James plays a lot, he's a working musician, putting many more hours on a guitar than many,
Can anybody shed any light on this comment ( then perhaps I'll write to him and offer to start fixing his guitars)
I have read a few accounts of guitars/instruments losing there acoustic luster. Segovia comes to mind.
Personally, I've noticed that some guitars seem to change over time more than others. I guess it would be subjective but maybe, people that feel that their guitars wear out just don't like how it sound/feels with those changes. In the case of Jame Taylor, I'm sure he can afford to purchase another to replace it. It's also completely possible that I'm clueless because the only "road" my guitars go on is from here to my church or a friends house. I have taken some on extended trips but I didn't subject them to a new climate every day or so, allow baggage handlers to toss them around and then play them in whatever venue is next on the list, wherever that happens to be no matter how wet or hot/cold. Maybe people like James Taylor do have problems with instruments that just wear out.
What we probably need to know is just what his defination of "worn out" is because I can't see any guitar being so worn that it can't be fixed.
There is a piece of lore that says classical and flamenco guitars get "played out" and lose their great tone after enough time and use. That isn't supported by logic, though. If it were the case, then the old ones wouldn't command the high prices they do.
Steel string flattops are also highly prized if they were good to start (e.g. Martins from the 1930s) and it's presumed, if not proven, that they get better with age and playing.
Everything does wear when handled, so it's not uncommon to see high mileage guitars with significant physical damage from simple prolonged use. I've always assumed Willie Nelson's guitar is a part of his schtick - he's a very controlled player who wouldn't "accidentally" wear a hole in the top, methinks.
It's not an acoustic, but check out this bit of wear on a guitar we maintain - the front of the saddle is worn at an angle just from handling while playing, and I know for certain that the string has worn that groove in the metal saddle housing. It has never been filed - the wear is strictly from DAILY string changes:
I think Richie Havens said he got new guitar every eighteen months, but his style was fairly invasive. Frank, wow daily string changes... I see something new everyday.
Quote: "My immediate reaction however was to scratch my head"
Quote: "I'm clueless because the only "road" my guitars go on is from here to my church or a friends house."
Quote: "I have read a few accounts of guitars/instruments losing there acoustic luster. Segovia comes to mind."
Quote: "There is a piece of lore that says classical and flamenco guitars get "played out" and lose their great tone after enough time and use."
You are surely, best placed to help us with Divine Insight!
This is a tough one, an intrigue that without a history with a given Player and their Instrument, we simply don't have enough accurate specific data to make a proper diagnosis.
But we can proffer notions, so here are mine.
One of three things, is actually going on, or more likely, a combination of differing elements.
It's entirely possible that over time, the hearing acuity of the Player, regularly subjected as they are to a high level of sound on stage, (even Segovia performing with accompanying Powerful Orchestra's), lose a little compared to their former pristine ability. Especially in the critical mid range of hearing, which would impact upon the brightness of the Instruments Response, and the High Frequencies which would impact upon its Presence .
Ears that listen intently, day after day, can quickly tire, and this again can affect their sensitivity to these type of frequencies in particular. I know Piano Tuners that limit how many Pianos they work on per day, specifically because if they do too many, after a while there is a deleterious effect upon their hearing. The need for this usually emerges as Tuners get progressively older. Age seems to come up in such discussions repeatedly.
Both the Players mentioned, would fall into such a category. Performers that work with Sound Reinforcement Systems, with powerfully clear Monitoring, or even In Ear Devices. Sometimes can be affected by a degree of threshold shift, which temporarily clamps down via a Global Membrane across the entire response of a performers hearing. It usually soon comes back well.
But someone coming down from the stage after a performance might well project or interpret a personal issue, onto their entirely Innocent Instrument. This is a fundamentally basic, psychological defense mechanism.
Performers are fallibly human, even Legendary Names.
Not only do changes in Temperature and Humidity affect the Stability and Playability of a great many Musical Instruments.
But particular movements in these Environmental Characteristics, can affect the manner in which sound moves through the air, most especially the speed at which they do so, the speed of sound decreasing, as air becomes increasingly more dense. This is a immutable fact not open to debate.
This can affect, can be most noticeably observed in the changes in response of typical Top End Microphones, for High Quality Studio Recording, in certain parts of the World. You might reasonably think these variations are too tiny to be genuinely observed, but are commonly noted and understood by Great Producers and Engineers working across a great many Studio Locations. Specific Frequencies are most noticably affected, via Hearing Mechanisms.
Travelling Performers especially, might well interpret such subtle alterations in sound perception as to be directly attributed to changes to their Instrument. As our thought processes tend to work by cause and effect, and the sound they listen to as they Play, comes directly from their Instrument. They also are listening off axis to the direction of the Instruments Sonic Projection. This would in all probability, increase the noticible effect of any such change to the Performer.
The difference between an Average Good Instrument and a Truly Impressively Great Instrument, is the sum of a multitude of extremely tiny elements.
The recent acclaim given to the Kalamazoo Gal "Banner" Gibson's, is adequate testimony to this. A great many extremely fine differences can, taken together coagulate to multiply their Influence and Significance.
It is possible that extremely subtle changes to a number of different elements over time have occurred so as to move the Instrument form where it was perceived to be by a demanding Performer at the very Top of their Game; to a another different point in the life of the Instrument, where it displays slightly altered Tonal and Playing Characteristics.
Just as Strongly Humidified Instrument can exhibit a dull sluggish disposition. An Instrument that has progressively dissipated more of the natural chemicals in and between its cells, may exhibit other rather more subtle and difficult to detect differences probably only discernable to the Builder or Player closely associated with it. In particular I am alluding to Protoplasmic Changes in the Content of Cells, the Elasticity and Flexibility of the Vibrating Surfaces, and how readily these might Inhibit, Absorb or Transmit Vibration, Impacted by Molecular Change and Oscillation Damage over time.
The Cells of wood are perhaps best thought of as reinforced structures with both and inner and outer walls. Changes to these structures over time, could well affect by sophisticatedly inconspicuous means, Innate Characteristics that first attracted a Singular Player to the very Instrument itself. Certain parts of wood, even those thought to be entirely dead, can exhibit distinct changes over time, but such change in typical instances, like heartwood can occur only once. Should such an internal effect occur, one that is essentially chemical, then that may flag a significant marker in the Optimal Life of that Instrument.
But I believe it's a combination of all these type of factors that are actually involved, in such issues.
For to anyone else, encountering the Instrument anew.
The Instrument is Perfect.
Let's not forget those time-honored cliche's, "one man's trash is another man's treasure," "different strokes for different folks," "there's no accounting for taste, and "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Or the ear, as it were.
Here are some thoughts....forgive me for poking holes in popular notions. My opinion is that JT's statement only reveals his preferences.
Tests show that people are notoriously poor at comparing new sensory data with remembered sensory data. That's why we A/B guitars and speakers. The discrepancy between how JT thinks the guitar sounded 5 years ago and how he hears it now (and how he describes the change) may not be accurate. It sounds different and he doesn't like the change, that's what counts.
JT is an incredible songwriter, chordist, and player and no doubt has "golden ears." But..he has a sound in his head that he's after and it probably changes to some small degree every day depending on the room, weather, sinus conditions and whether he spoken to Carly Simon recently. Guitars that make the cut one day might not another. Guitars he deems "worn out" might speak to him at another time and in another place, but the judgement he's made would be hard to overcome to objectively reevaluate.
We know guitars change over time...finishes thin, wood dries out, glue joints loosen up and the tone changes. Either you like the change or you don't. JT is probably very particular about his sound and there is nothing wrong with that. It sure works for him though recorded sounds have almost as much to do with the mic and room as the guitar.
For me, a "worn out" guitar is just one that needs a serious overhaul. If it was great sounding when it was in good shape then It probably will be again when restored with the caveat than all physical changes will change the volume and tone to some small or large degree. You may or may not like the result.
Recall that John Sebastian's traded his 57 Goldtop to Rich Derringer who had it refinished in cherry red and refretted. He found the "new" guitar uninspiring and sold it. It certainly spoke to George Harrison, who acquired it from Dan Armstong and called it "Lucy."
Actually, Eric Clapton acquired the red LP from Dan Armstrong and gave it to George. It may have been the guitar Clapton used on "While my guitar...". This guitar was stolen and recovered and is still owned by the Harrison family.
Perhaps it was the 1967 Gibson fretwork that uninspired Rick.
When I was 14, the Lovin' Spoonful was touring with the Supremes. They came to Savannah and played at the National Guard Armory. My grandfather owned the only PA company in town and had contracts with every venue. I was his gopher. About 4pm, after soundcheck, my friend and I knocked on the dressing room door and the guys invited us in. They taught us their songs and let us play their guitars. Chip played the Starfire bass and I played Zal's Thunderbird and John's Les Pauls.... one of which he sold to Rick Derringer. So...I played Lucy before George or Clapton!
Judging by what I know about printed stories of Segovia's mystical statements concerning Luthiers & instruments,he played some crapolas back in the day but... got to witness the development/improvement of the Classical..I think well made guitars continue to mature if cared for. They usually outlive us somehow....gotta get the action/intonation just right to make any worth having instrument perform. JamesT sounds more like a collector who knows the value of a great guitar played by him is worth way more than it actually is....heard some scary tales about how Willie got that xtra hole in that million dollaro Martin.He has a vault filled w/exact duplicates to include extra holes!!!
Quote: "Tests show that people are notoriously poor at comparing new sensory data with remembered sensory data. That's why we A/B guitars and speakers."
ABX Testing. Where A is compared to B, then a third unknown repeated of X which could either be A or B is so unreliable, that Manufacturers who utilise this type of testing often recommend repeating the test a minimum of ten times, in order to get any really trustworthy result. It's that hard!
There's a number of theories in existence as to why this is. You will appreciate that a relative of mine, a Professor, led the team that developed the Model of The Human Ear all Surgeons, Medical Researchers, Auditory Specialists, Audio Equipment Designers etc use. They tested the hearing of a humongous amount of individuals, using Specially Designed Speakers by EMI Research and Development at Hayes Middlesex, and Built for them by KEF Manufacturing Facility as a One Off. We have those speakers in our possession.
But how the Human Ear and Brain work together is very important to know. And you can Compose Better Music, if you work with the grain of Nature, than against it. Musical Arrangers will note, for instance, the average person can only actually follow, no more than three separate Thematic Threads simultaneously in a given piece of Music. If we make things more complex, it will be lost to all but those with exceptional faculty, or highly trained and experienced hearing.
Basically, in layman's terms, the Main Theory is that when we hear Sound, each of the very many various independent components that constitute its makeup are transmitted to the Brain via the Auditory Canal into separate coding, and channels, in short term memory. These then after about 1/4 of a second, are stored in Long Term Memory, but REDUCED during this process, into a single solitary Channel.
Now there are other Theories, but this I think this offers the best explanation for the difficulty people are proven to experience, in being able to make repeatedly reliable, absolute judgments.
I prefer to think about all these matters in an entirely different way. But to understand that, you need to realise that when we hear Music, something strange happens.
Because although there is all the largely unconscious Coding and Channeling. Musical Sound in particular has the almost unique power, to first bypass our conscious mind and reach right into a part of the Brain, that Controls and Moves our Emotions.
This is why Music has such a Strong Emotive Power and Influence, causing people to Dance and Sing and can be used as Therapy. It instantly bypasses our normal conscious thought processes at first, and moves us in a profoundly deep way, as the Sound is received Directly into a part of the Brain, that controls many unconscious, but vitally important functions.
It's just my own personal theory, but I believe that is the case because, Eon's ago, man's very survival amongst many predatory animals stalking and hunting him in the jungle, depended upon instantaneous reaction from Auditory Stimulation, in situations where visibility was limited. Linked to a Directly Responding Mechanism that Initiated Strongly Emotional Fight or Flight Reactions, would have meant the difference between Life or Death.
It's why I believe we are conditioned to Respond Immediately and Emotively to Sound. Be it a Baby Crying, or Music itself.
Many years ago I was touring and playing on T.V. Shows in Europe, and a Group of us were talking in a Hotel Room in Amsterdam.
Some were talking about their favourite Groups and Musicians. And the Producer, and man who at one time was one of the U.K.'s Top Session Musicians working with session people like little Jimmy Page and big Jim Sullivan, said something to these guys, that stayed with me all my life though.
He said. "The reason you like these Groups so much, is because their playing is incredibly complex technically. You understand how difficult it is to play that well, so you admire their great technique. Normal people do not think about Music like that at all. Most people react to Music Emotively. They strongly connect to Music that Moves their Emotional Feelings, and are not genuinely drawn attractively to Technical Music, unless it also carries with it the Power to Move their Emotions." To me this is the Hallmark of Great Session Playing and Players, and a Salutatory Lesson in Musical Greatness.
How this relates to the salient point about AB Testing is this.
I genuinely know what I like or am after in terms of Sound Projection and Timbre. I trust we all do.
I also know that you never get a second chance to hear a Musical Sound for the first time. So I've learnt to TRUST my Immediate, Initial, Critical Judgment and Emotional Response. For if you listen long enough, you can get used to anything.
I know what Sound I react to in a Positive, Deeply Felt Emotional Way. Memory Experts tell us that if we want to remember complex pieces of information, the BEST way to do it, is to link the fact we want to remember, to a Clear Emotional Feeling.
So what I am looking for when I compare Sounds, is which Sound directly provokes or resurrects the same, Desirable Emotional Response from Deep Within Me?
The Essentially Salient Matter to evaluate where Musical Instruments are concerned for me, is not whether The Sound Itself is precisely identical to another in scientifically provable terms, Whether I feel physically the same as on previous days listening, Whether the Room and Acoustics are identical or the environmental conditions etc?
What I Desire and look for when I hear an Instrument, is does its Sound, Provoke a Profoundly Deep, Familiar, Emotional Response?
One can critically assess what one likes in detail, from that point, but all such analysis, flows outwardly from that imperitive.
People can say what they like about this, but if you have an Instrument whose Sound is Emotively Involving.
That people Percieve and Respond to with Intuitivly Positive Feelings that are Deeply Felt.
There is no doubt, that you are Playing a Genuinely Compelling Instrument.
Quote: "I played Lucy before George or Clapton!"
It's probably difficult for some people to appreciate this.
But Gibson Les Paul Guitars, like a great many American Guitars, were extremely hard to find at one time.
Today they are ubiquitously found everywhere, but in the U.K. many decades ago, this simply wasn't the case at all. American Products carried a huge import duty, trade protectionism was rife everywhere, and such Instruments were few and far between. So the earliest and best examples to be found in the U.K. were usually passed on between Players.
Quote: " Segovia's mystical statements concerning Luthiers & instruments,he played some crapolas back in the day but... got to witness the development/improvement of the Classical."
Segovia's Life and Work was overwhelming responsible for the Guitar being dignified to be accepted into the Realm of an Orchestra Concert Instrument.
Although he had earlier embraced and helped to conserve the purity of Flamenco, he eventually settled upon a Classical Direction, and was largely responsible for establishing that Repertoire, as it is recognised and known today. His first Concert involved Transcriptions of Bach.
His Mother's maiden name was Torres, so his life being so wrapped up in this Instrument, perhaps it was inevitable that that what we recognise today as a Classical Guitar, with its sweet sound is what it is based upon a Torres Design with Segovia being amongst the very earliest adopters of Nylon Strings.
The thing people don't realise, is that the distinctly strong differences between what we think of today as Classical and Flamenco Guitars, simply didn't exist in the same way just over one hundred years ago. In fact, these differences as we understand them now in terms of differentiating features, are an entirely a Modern Invention from that time to the present day.
So depending on the Instrument Builder, and the Players that were serviced, Instruments could vary in specification quite substantially, but the essential salient point is, as you go back further and further is, today's clearly differentiating features merge into a was broadly speaking, a somewhat confused picture and situation with a broad History, that lacks the dividing features and definitions of use for a particular Musical Form Style, as we would understand them today.
Many Historical Instruments of Long Standing from all over the World, undergo a "European Classification Mentality" sometimes receiving a New Name, a once they are absorbed into the Orchestra. This list mentality need for precisely definitions during Centuries of Great Collecting from cultures throughout the world, is responsible for many clear divisions we today would attribute to Historic Instruments, that rightly belong together, beside one another, Grouped as One.
The Guitar is no exception, what can we say other than it is a continuously evolving Instrument.
Yes, when I played Lucy Les Pauls hadn't been made for 5 years and weren't sought after...it was the first LP I ever saw or played.