I would like to start a discussion on what you think makes your acoustic guitar sound so good

 I have done some experimenting when building  acoustic Guitars with diferent braceing and so on and was just woundering what you builders and players thought made your Guitar sound so different.

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Bill my friend my guitars sound best when someone else is playing them.... ;)

Seriously though all of us do different things in search of our very own tone and although I'm not comfortable with anything that might cross the line with self promotion I can tell you some of the things that I do that impacts the tone of my guitars - for better or worse.

Early on I rejected scalloped bracing, which is rather unusual in and of itself, and instead worked with "parabolic" bracing or perhaps more accurately "tapered" bracing.  It took me a while to learn how to voice my stuff but once I liked what I was hearing I stayed with tapered bracing for what I personally like about the tone quality.

What I hear, others too since I have asked many folks for their impressions, is the tighter bass that seems to result from not scalloping, louder midrange, and pretty good highs with the right strings.  For me it's just not using tapered bracing but how I voice my tops too which is a lengthy process that like most things that work for me is highly structured and sequential in nature with specific steps that isolate certain braces and regions of the top.

Other things that I do is flirt with the concept of under building in so much as I like lightly built guitars and most of my OMs, dreads too, are barely over four pounds all up.  It's that very fine balance between building so lightly that the thing sounds thin and wants to fold in half and building strong enough that it can withstand the pull of the strings and some abuse.

Anyway one of my key beliefs, at the moment...., is that a guitar with less mass, all other things being equal, is more efficient in converting the strings limited and finite energy into tone/sound.

I've known folks who made their living out of hot-rodding acoustics and revoicing them to overcome issues that the owners don't like.  Things like wolf notes, poor string balance, etc.  There is a school of thought that favors certain bridge shapes too without hard edges but to some this is snake oil but I remain interested in the concept of no hard edges on bridges.

It all starts though with material selection and selecting the stiffest, lightest, most seasoned tops that I can find.  I also bake my tops which may not impact tone but some of us believe produces a more seasoned top that will resist RH changes a bit longer than a non baked top.

HHG is pretty important to me too and I use it where ever I want as much vibrational transfer as I can get such as bracing, bridges and bridge plates, etc.  I've heard people say that HHG for frets produces an audible improvement but I think that they are smoking the drapes and what they are actually hearing is a well seated fret opposed to a loose fret of which we can here a difference there.

From day one I have only used Adi for bracing too which I like for it's stiffness to weight ratio AND the vintage nature of Adi too.  My bridge plate are always BRW and I also view the bridge, top, and plate as a system where the entire thing must work well and play well with others.

Anyway this is some of the snake oil that I currently believe and I use the term snake oil because at the end of the day tone is a nearly impossible thing to quantify.  

I hope something here is what you are looking for Bill.

Thanks for the input Hesh, I myself use the scalloped bracing plus the forward shift on the ex braces with a hard maple bridge plate.I will use ceader braces on the bass side and spruce on the trebal side. I have tryed a lot of different thinks over the years. Bill................

Bill, Just like Hesh I go for the lightest guitar I can build. For me that means well seasoned stiff woods that allow me to thin to optimum resonance, at least to my ear. I'm also a big fan of stiff necks, which I seem to get way more often than I recall from my younger days LOL. I always build multi piece and usually use BRW as the center core. I seem to get more definition in the mid to high range out of that, but thats just my observation. I too use Adirondack as much as possible however I've also had great results with sitka and ebony laminations and two very fine dreadnoughts I recently restored made by Roy Noble had BRW as the main structural braces. My next three dreds will be done that way and I'll have to get back to you on those results later. I scallop but only because I love the look and know the geometry. I own a Don Muser dread that has no cross sectional taper and simply tapers longitudinally to nothing as the braces reach the sides. It's my favorite all around guitar so go figure. The real important thing is to train your ears and experiment with small incremental steps. Eventually you will find what works for you to produce what you consider the best results. In the end it's your sound that you seek, and the rest of us be damned.

Hey Bill -

Great topic!

I think a few things make my guitars sound really good -

1. Great setup. Those of us who put in hours of time tweaking the nut, saddle, and truss rod get a better sound, easier playing, etc. etc., are rewarded with a great tone and playability. Taking the time to use good materials and really nail the slots and angles makes a huge difference.

2. Good and appropriate strings. I can't believe what a difference this makes. I sometimes wonder if the guitars in the "premium guitar room" at Guitar Center sometimes sound crappy not just because they are crappy, but instead because of the lousy strings on them. Maybe those Gibsons aren't so bad after all, if they had decent strings on them. Seriously, I think string selection is way underrated for how a guitar plays and sounds.

3. Choosing the guitar for the music.

     I play a Guild D-25 for Hawaiian Slack-Key and Open G tuning, because the super-deep and powerful bass response works perfectly for Taro patch tunes, and the long scale really helps those notes sustain and sing. Like most Guild dreads, it's built like a brick craphouse - that rosewood bridge patch is huge! The archback seems to help it project a lot as well. It is strung with Bluegrass strings, though I might go back to standard lights to try to lighten up the bass response. These guitars take the notion of "Build them lighter and they will sound better" and crushes it completely.

For casual play with friends, I play a Hohner Gruhn design (GREAT GUITAR - a major sleeper). It has a sweet sound, and isn't too loud - the Guild would simply crush everybody else's instruments volume-wise, and that would be difficult to control.

I play a really nicely reset and setup Harmony Sovereign for D major tuning and country blues. The ladder bracing gives it a honk that can't be beat. Now, to most folks, it might sound terrible at first, but it matches the genres that I choose to play on it really well. I would NOT use it for, say, a bluegrass jam.

(Huh - all three guitars are spruce top mahogany guitars.)

Choosing a guitar that fits a style of music based on how the guitar sounds and plays seems pretty critical as well. Whenever I hear of somebody modifying their braces or something else drastic, I can't help but think that they are gambling that their sound will somehow mystically improve.

And, I hate to say this, but I really, really suspect that the impact on one's wallet and the bragging rights thusly earned seems to be a big factor in the perceived quality of an instrument. I'm not sure what makes me sadder - people paying too much for guitars that just aren't that great, or kids taking lessons on sub-$100 instruments that fold up into a taco after a couple weeks of play.

Well Mark the reason for me starting this topic is to give some one just thinking about starting to build some idea what they mite start of with. There  are a few things I would still like to give a try but my age just seems to be getting in the way if you know what i meen. Thanks for your help Bill...........

There is a lot of mumbo-jumbo spoken about guitar sound - because it is a very subjective phenomenon if the only instrument that you use to evaluate it is your ears.  Fortunately there are now some ways to actually measure what is going on acoustically in a guitar that you really love, or in one that you hate, so that you can then try to build to that acoustic specification.  I have recently been dipping a toe into this by reading the brilliant explanations Trevor Gore and Gerard Gilet's book (Contemporary Acoustic Guitar Design and Build).  Trevor has an engineering background and he has completely demystified the assessment of guitar sound by applying some science and reproducable measurement.  It is true that you need to come to grips with some theory and equations here - and there are slabs of Volume 1 of the book (the design volume) which look like a physics text.  However, in practice you can get past the theory and use some fairly simple tools and free software to analyze the acoustic properties of assembled instruments or free plates during the construction of an instrument.  I went to a weekend course with Trevor (it helps that we live on the same continent, and in fact in the same city) which made the whole thing make sense and seem usable to this non-tech-head amateur luthier.  If you are interested in reading a bit more there is a whole section of the ANZLF devoted to discussion of these theories from down-under. 

Of course, most guitar building factories do not build a guitar to a sound specification.  If you are doing a tour of the Taylor or Martin factory, ask them where the plate tuning department is, or the brace optimization section?  Of course, they have to run their production according to a dimensional specification, not a sound specification.  With CNC machines thay can be very precise at making every 000-28 or 714-CE have precisely the same thichness top, and brace dimensions, and so on.  But every piece of wood is different.  Have you ever stood in a tone wood supplier and held 20 sitka soundboards in your hands one after another and felt the variation in their weight and stiffness?  There is a lot of variation - so when they get turned into 20 guitars with exactly the same dimensional specifications they won't sound the same.  Some might be great, but many won't. 

One of my players is a 12th fret, forward X with scalloped braces. In all honestly, it not my favorite but it's a very close second. My Favorite is much lighter in build with an semi-scalloped X brace in the standard position. I like both guitars for different things. Both have a lot of volume and  wonderful tone but the light one is much louder without killing tone.  I usually run light to extra light gauges of strings and both are plenty loud without moving to heavier strings. I like the first for fingerstyle playing with some flat pick and do the opposite with the second. What I have found is that the lighter guitar affords me a wider range of style than the heaver guitar. It responds very well to a light touch but can also be pushed harder than the other with a pick. 

Over the years, I've grown pretty fond of the X forward/short scale format. I like the feel of these even if the neck sometimes gets a bit short. While I haven't tried one, I'm fairly convinced that this would be a very good combo for a smaller bodied guitar ( both of the guitars I mentioned here are dreds.)  If I EVER get around to actually building a guitar from scratch, rather than spending my time fiddling around with broken bits, I think this is the format I would like to try.  A couple of years ago, we had a thread or two about 13th fret model guitars. Paul H. has great information about them on his site. This might be a good trade off on the neck "space" issue.  

It seems a bit cliche on this forum but my experience has been that great building technique will usually win out over great materials. Usually a guitar made with good building technique will be a superior guitar regardless of the materials used. I have guitars with rosewood, mahogany, maple and Mystery wood bodies. Some are plywood and some are hardwood. I like most of them for different reasons but I do realize that different materials impart different characteristics. I have to wonder just how many players can really hear the difference. I know that most of my friends, admittedly casual players, can't hear the difference between my two best guitars, one rosewood and the other mahogany.  They haven't been as exposed to many different guitars as I have and don't come primed with the knowledge of construction and materials I have so maybe it's only to be expected. It does make me think about how much marketing dictates what people "like" and that this is why martin can sell plastic/pressed paper guitars as well as some amazing solid wood guitars. 

First of all... the info and personal perspectives from all the posters have been not only interesting but rooted in real world facts and experience. Good & interesting stuff guys :)

As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a builder...just a tech. I view dedicated builders as deserving of the most prestigious thrones on Olympus. If I built an acoustic, I’m pretty sure it would sound a lot like a cinder block with a neck & strings attached.

My comments are based solely upon my experience as a player. For the sake of context, I flatpick with an admittedly medium to heavy touch.  My finger style is much more refined and dynamic.

Important aspects to me are:

Playability: Not necessarily the ‘lowest action possible’ but an action that allows the player’s personal technique to integrate with and maximize the response of the instrument. My personal acoustic instruments have a medium action that some players consider “excessively high”. I guess they never played a Bluegrasser’s pre-war D-18, eh? I espouse the notion that the higher the action can be set on an acoustic [without affecting playability or intonation], the better the tone.

Also, neck shape & feel are my personal “deal makers & deal breakers”. I think you all understand that one without further explanation needed.

Structural integrity: ‘nuff said.

The ‘comfort’ factor: size, shape, balance and scale length so the instrument melds into the player.

Tonal balance: I am not a personal fan of a Dreadnaught’s ‘boom’. For me, all frequencies should combine to produce a homogenous range of fundamental tones. I am also a sucker for instruments with what I call “overtones (harmonics) that dance in front of you”. These overtones add “high definition” sparkle and ambient depth. For me, overtones are the most important aspect of a quality acoustic guitar.

Fresh strings: not new strings, but ones that have a couple hours of playing time on them. Y’know..ones that have had the ‘exaggerated high frequency zinginess’ played out of them.

Although this may be OT:  There’s also a significant environmental factor that few consider when discussing sound -- the room in which the instrument is played. I have played brilliantly designed & built guitars in rooms with “good’ acoustics” and they sounded like the wooden wonders they are.  I have played those same instruments in rooms with “lousy acoustics” and they sound like a $59 beginner’s pack special. It is an important interactive factor.

As many of you know, I am NOT ‘brand loyal’. With that in mind, the only other thing I’d like to add is...I find examples of great sounding and playing instruments in ALL price ranges. The same can be said about “stinkers”. I also truly believe that, thanks to the builders on this forum & elsewhere, we are in a new “Golden Age” of acoustic instrument building & design. I think the best is yet to come.

So, in closing, I offer a collective “thanks sooooo much” to all builders for designing and building instruments which allow me to enjoy one of my life’s GREATEST pleasures.

Like Mark McLean above, I have been incorporating Trevor Gore's principles and methods into my latest builds.

Modal tuning, Falcate bracing, heavy sides, live back, material testing etc.

I am finding it really makes a difference.

The last steel string guitar I built (on my classical body shape)  is a huge sounding little guitar.

I have offten wunderd if there wasn't some sort of way you could test say a brace or a top or any part of the Guitar for that matter. A nd get a graft of the sound like they do with so many other things , Bill............. 

I would just to thank all you fine people for all your interest in the subject of building a fine Instrument Bill............

The Gore method uses a simple form of tap testing on raw materials recorded into Visual Analyser which enables you to determine material properties and make decisions on plate thickness etc

It also uses analysis of tapping at the bridge on the completed guitar for fine tuning of the resonant modes. VA gives you a graph of the response which shows the resonant peaks

NOT to be confused with other tap tuning methods.


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