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)



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I can see the "Worn out" idea making sense from a "road worn and road damaged" point of view - being on the road eventually puts guitars in a position to be damaged. Once a guitar has been damaged enough, it can be repaired, but getting it to be the way it was before may be impossible. Imagine re-topping or re-bracing whatever vintage lovely instrument you like - would it turn out the same, or be different? (Never mind that the knowledge that repairs have been done can cause one to think that it is now different, and not as good.)

Wear and damage would seem to make a guitar different, and I can understand the viewpoint that they are therefore "worn out". I wouldn't mind, though, if some of those "worn out" guitars made their way to me... :)

I'm with you totally.

Yep...once I develop an negative attitude towards a guitar it's almost impossible to overcome. I have a MIM Fender Jazz Bass. Never liked it. So I recently stripped the polyester paint and refinished it Daphne Blue with matching headstock and spaghetti logo. Replaced the PUPs with Lindy Fralins, planed and refretted the fretboard, rewired the control plate with vintage taper CTS pots, PIO caps, cloth wire and a balance pot. It's an entirely different beast...BUT...I still expected to be disappointed when I pick it up. Now, if I could just find a stacked semi-parametric EQ with internally adjustable center point and Q that would fit without routing....;-)

I am way more worn out than my J55 that is a lot older than me.Personal taste I say.

Hello, This is a very good question, and has been a topic with violins for quite a long time. Many of the solo grade violins in use today are 300 plus years old. A great deal of study's have been done about, Breaking in time (for some up to 20 years of playing) , The general transition from new (stiff) to seasoned (mellow with a finely balanced tone) as well as the (inevitable) transition to a more murky response and duller tone (and how to delay it)..Two books by The Hill brothers ( The life and work of Stradivarius, and the Guarnieri family ) look into why some of the more robust instruments (Thicker tops and backs, slighly lower arch)  may have taken longer to play in, but have stayed (with great preservation) still fairly brilliant, loud and subtle at the same time (a great bow certinly helps). The guitar being a percussion instrument, and the violin family being a bowed still have common characteristics, Wooden box with strings. So you might want to take a look at violin constitutions for some insights.. Thanks John Lambdin

Thanks, John. Interesting perspective. I imagine it's difficult to tease out all the variables in play over 300 years - different countries, continents, latitudes, storage conditions, storage method, amount of play, quality of players, frequently of setups, repairs, amount of spilled beer, etc.

Please forgive my ignorance: Is removing and regluing the top and bass bar a consideration in delaying murkiness? Are bridges on the old violins considered disposable or part of the legacy? For example, would a Strad with an original bridge be more desirable?

I would think the bridge would have a huge influence on sound. We know how picky buyers can be when it comes to old guitars, even with mods that improve them. Just wondering if there is a similar phenomenon with violin buyers. Maybe Strad owners put the original bridge in the case and install the equivalent of a Tonepros, Pigtail or Faber.

Hello, Since built in the 1700's , All Strats and Guarnier in use today have been renecked (from originally glued and nailed on side) to a longer doved tailed neck with a higher angle to the body (That practice began around 1820), also the modern bridge is taller than original bridge (now only seen in museums), and the original bass bar has been replaced to larger and longer one to accommodate modern pitch (440 =A). when these violins were built, Their Middle "C" (Italy 1700) is currently "Concert" B flat. (Also important fact!  the modern violin bow, invented 1805, France)  although removing the top on a violin is real easy, Replacing Bassbar is not really done unless needed for repair of top. What is done is replace bridge and replace or adjust sound post (recommended adjust twice a year for viola and once a year for violins due to change of seasons) that is a little like rebooting the box.  Also (recommended) always keep at concert pitch. With the nineteenth century addition of the Chinrest and the twentieth century addition of the shoulder rest, the body is free to fully vibrate. Another (modern) modification  is to change tailpiece (A lighter tailpiece (Boxwood or a hollowed out) sounds different from a heavy one, Rosewood, Ebony ) . A concert Violinist travels with at least two violins and changes strings each week on at least one of them. Humidity and change of season is the enemy.  One might think that all this is a bit extreme, But some of these violins are miracles of nature (acoustically) and genius in construction. well worth preservation.  Oh and yes they cost millions, Even in the 1820's only The upper class (Royalty and the like) could afford Strad's and Guarnieri's. And these have become the model for all modern violins. Stradivarius also made guitars as well  Thanks  John Lambdin

Thanks for the insight!  I couldn't pry myself away from the "string quartet" of Strads they have at the Smithsonian's Museum of Industry and Technology last summer.

Sounds about right on maintenance. Pro guitarists often restring every night and also have their guitars' truss rods adjusted with the seasons. Humidity is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Frank Ford  documents some amazing guitar restorations on his companion site where he's resurrected rare instruments sometimes by creating new techniques, jigs and tools if necessary.

Be interesting to speculate which guitars will be the Stradivari or Guarnieri 200 years hence.  I wonder if any are in James Taylor's Vault of Worn Out Guitars. ;-p

 My vote, Llyod Loar L5's and mandolins, Gibson Super 400's, D Angelico, Stromberg, All early Martins, Pre CBS Fender, 50's Gibson Les Paul's .Really all the guitars that are super expensive now.  Only The upper class (Royalty and the like) can afford. Another parallel between Guitars and Violins.

A few years ago I read a wonderful book called; "The Violin Maker". In the book a writer/brass instrument musician became intrigued  by the attraction people have for violins and determined to find a maker that would allow him to follow the building process. As it turned out he happened to make connections with one of the premiere "copy" makers in the world. The book was an eye opener to me as this musician that knew very little about the world of strings follow the development of a very fine violin.

Part of his research lead him to the conclusion that it is not really possible for us to know what any great violin sounded like when it was new. All of the great violins have been modified through updates and repairs so many times that it not possible for us to hear an original version of any of these instruments. The luthier he was working with confirmed this and even conjectured that many of these instruments would be considered copies in other areas of instrument making because of the extensive repairs and modifications made to them over the years. He believes that its possible that some of the great violin family instruments don't actually have any original parts in them at this point. 

 I guess the real point is, as has been mentioned in this thread already, that our personal preference has a heavy influence on what is considered a great playing/sounding instrument and what is "worn out".  If we fix it and update it long enough it may considered one of the pinnacles of the genre in a couple of hundred years... even if it doesn't sound or play anything like what it does now.  

Yes, it is true that many of those old Violins have become so brittle (from exposure and the like) that they don't play youthfully anymore, To be relegated to museums. But extensive study of dimensions, materials and how they were built has allowed all the generations since to produce great violins, new revelations come out all the time. As well as that great 300 year old discussion  "the Secret of Stradivarius Varnish" . John

Sounds like a book I'd like to read, Ned. Reminds me of the old philosophical question posed by some ancient Greek -"if, over time, every component of a boat is replaced, is it the same boat?"

I used to restore old mahogany runabouts, I can tell you that as long as the name plate is the same it is considered " original" / We used to get quite a kick out of this little fact.


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