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> What Gives The Guitar It's Sound? Only The Picks? Or The Wood?
Fran
post Dec 4 2007, 11:50 PM
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Hello all,

Since a long time ago I ask myself this question, and though I believe I know the answer sometimes I can't help but to wonder if the wood gives any special sound to an electric guitar.

Given the fact that they are not hollow, why would it make any difference what material the guitar is made of? It's not the same thing as an acoustic guitar.

But I believe the wood *must* be important, the materials of the guitar have to be important and have to affect the sound that a good guitar produces.

I'm aware that the sound comes from the picks, which generate an electric current with the movement of the strings. But I suspect that the movement of the strings must somehow be related to the overall construction and materials of the guitar.

Now if someone with a better knowledge of these facts can clarify it a little bit more, I'll be happy to learn some facts about how an electric guitar gets it's sound.

Thanks in advance!


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Bogdan Radovic
post Dec 5 2007, 12:17 AM
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Great topic ! Yes wood is very much important , different woods produce different sounds..Wood transfers the vibrations from the strings..And also wood tends to dry out over time , thats why people like old guitars wink.gif I would like to see some more in depth answers to this topic because I'm interested to know more about it..Also I know that wood is a little more important in overall sound in guitars which have passive pickups and electronics rather than with the active ones..

This post has been edited by Bogdan: Dec 5 2007, 12:18 AM


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David.C.Bond
post Dec 5 2007, 01:39 AM
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The tone comes from a variety of different things, the wood affects how the strings resonate, sustain, harmonic clarity etc. The pickups and amp affect the general tone created when plugged in, high gain active pickups sound better when distorted, whereas single coil pickups tend to be more successful for bluesy and clean tones. The amp itself plays an important role, tube amps tend to give a warmer, richer tone.

But the player him/herself is also very important, a good player should be able to make any guitar/amp setup sound good. Pick attack and vibrato both affect the overall tone.


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Owen
post Dec 5 2007, 06:28 PM
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Yes, different woods give a variety of different tonal qualities!

Ibanez use basswood on their guitars (all the way up to the Gems!) because it is possibly the least inhibiting on your tone ie you can get a wider range of sounds - a good pickup combination with basswood will be very versatile. The downside to basswood is that it is also very soft and does not have a strong bass sound - unlike the name would suggest, its softness also means that it will chip and damage very easily and that tremolo contact points are more likely to be easily damaged.

Alder wood has a similar tonal quality to that of basswood but produces more notable high range frequencies which is better for guitars like Telecasters.

Mahogany is a much more solid wood than basswood or alder so it produces deeper lows and more high pitched mids for soloing, its quite versatile - got a thick strong sound.

There are different types of Maple but generally they have quite bright high sounds with not very much in the way of lows, also ranges quite a bit in quality, be wary!

I dont know much about pickups other than that you will get a very different sound depending on how tight each pickup is wound and whether it is a humbucker or not, actives also pick up a larger frequency of sounds in general and have more features like electronic preamping, active EQ & filters etc etc to refine the sound.


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Resurrection
post Dec 5 2007, 10:10 PM
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QUOTE (Owen @ Dec 5 2007, 05:28 PM) *
Yes, different woods give a variety of different tonal qualities!

Ibanez use basswood on their guitars (all the way up to the Gems!) because it is possibly the least inhibiting on your tone ie you can get a wider range of sounds - a good pickup combination with basswood will be very versatile. The downside to basswood is that it is also very soft and does not have a strong bass sound - unlike the name would suggest, its softness also means that it will chip and damage very easily and that tremolo contact points are more likely to be easily damaged.

Alder wood has a similar tonal quality to that of basswood but produces more notable high range frequencies which is better for guitars like Telecasters.

Mahogany is a much more solid wood than basswood or alder so it produces deeper lows and more high pitched mids for soloing, its quite versatile - got a thick strong sound.

There are different types of Maple but generally they have quite bright high sounds with not very much in the way of lows, also ranges quite a bit in quality, be wary!

I dont know much about pickups other than that you will get a very different sound depending on how tight each pickup is wound and whether it is a humbucker or not, actives also pick up a larger frequency of sounds in general and have more features like electronic preamping, active EQ & filters etc etc to refine the sound.



Good summary Owen. My PRS is mahogany and your description of the tone associated with that particular wood is pretty accurate. On the subject of pickups, it should be noted that most pickups change tonally with age, which is another reason why certain vintage guitars are sought after. I also think that it's worth mentioning the type and construction of the bridge as well as that can influence how the guitar sounds, both in terms of tone and sustain.


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Dec 5 2007, 10:29 PM
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Every part of the guitar has the role in making a sound of that guitar. IT is very complicated and precise-built instrument wiht a lot of parts. THe most important parts are obviously:

- WOOD : The dryer the better. Would resonates along with the strings and transfers vibrations from itself back to the strings. IT is a two-way very complex process that goes on every time you pluck the string. But it happens so fast we don`t even notice it, because strings vibrate at very high frequency rates. Quality wood has the best tonal characteristics in terms of transfering vibrations on strings. When this wood gets dry it transfers those vibrations even better, so the more qulaity wood and the more dryer it gets it is more likely that it will make a great tone. Every part of the guitar must be made out of qulaity wood. THe whole guitar transfers this string vibrations, including, fretboard, neck and the body.

- PICKUPS: the pickups have to pick up the vibrations that strings "send" in order to get the sound from it.

- STRINGS: Quality of the strings is very important. On a quality made guitars you can really hear the difference beetwen bad and good strings since that guitar transfers the sound from strings better.


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Muris Varajic
post Dec 6 2007, 12:44 AM
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It's all of great matter,absolutely.
But please,don't forget the player,yeah,I know,might sound stupid to someone wink.gif


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Dejan Farkas
post Dec 6 2007, 10:16 AM
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I agree Muris, the player is the most important PART of the guitar cool.gif

I remember when I was starting with electric guitar, had a copy of Gibson LP, brand Eko (Italian) and I was not happy how it sounded, until it got into hands of one excellent guitarist ( a friend of mine who tought me a lot), it sounded so amazing that was unbelivable blink.gif Then I took it home and practiced, practiced, practiced.. laugh.gif


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Dec 6 2007, 02:55 PM
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True, True, the player (human) is THE most important part of music - but not of the guitar.


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Gerald
post Dec 6 2007, 03:58 PM
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There is a video of Vai talking about tone that I think applys. He was telling a story of when he first started playing with Zappa and asked him one day about his playing to see what Zappa thought. Zappa answered that yes Vai was a good player but his tone sounded like an electric toaster. Zappa then commented that tone is in your "head".

Later Vai continued to comment about tone and that he had someone over with him jamming and handed him his guitar to play. Even though this player, (sorry cannot recall who it is), was running through Vai's setup, when he played it didn't sound like Vai, it sounded like himself. Therefore reinforcing that tone is something internal with each player not necessarly the equipment one plays.

As for the guitar itself; from what other players I know have said, (real huge 57-59 Les Paul geeks), the wood is critical to the tone. As said previously that's a major reason why players like older guitars. The old les pauls had a finish that allowed the wood to breath over time, and Gibson makes their VOS les pauls with the same finish now as they did back in the late 50's for this reason. Those orginal les pauls, which are worth HUGE dollars, like half a million or so usd for bursts, are nice and crispy. That's why page, slash, perry, etc. go for them along with other reasons.
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Chris Evans
post Dec 6 2007, 04:14 PM
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QUOTE (Gerald @ Dec 6 2007, 02:58 PM) *
Later Vai continued to comment about tone and that he had someone over with him jamming and handed him his guitar to play. Even though this player, (sorry cannot recall who it is), was running through Vai's setup, when he played it didn't sound like Vai, it sounded like himself. Therefore reinforcing that tone is something internal with each player not necessarly the equipment one plays.


I`ve seen that video too m8, its from the guitar exhibition in london this year, he was talking about Eddie Van Halen just "popping" round and picking up his guitar and through Vai`s set up sounding exactly like EVH smile.gif how cool, EVH just "popping" round smile.gif


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Gerald
post Dec 6 2007, 04:45 PM
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QUOTE (Smells @ Dec 6 2007, 10:14 AM) *
I`ve seen that video too m8, its from the guitar exhibition in london this year, he was talking about Eddie Van Halen just "popping" round and picking up his guitar and through Vai`s set up sounding exactly like EVH smile.gif how cool, EVH just "popping" round smile.gif



Ahh ya know I had Eddie over for some tea and biscuits and we played a little guitar "popping" around cause what else would you do on a Sunday? smile.gif
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Chris Evans
post Dec 6 2007, 04:47 PM
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QUOTE (Gerald @ Dec 6 2007, 03:45 PM) *
Ahh ya know I had Eddie over for some tea and biscuits and we played a little guitar "popping" around cause what else would you do on a Sunday? smile.gif


laugh.gif laugh.gif that would be cool cool.gif


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at lights end
post Dec 7 2007, 05:52 PM
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There are pages on Warmoth.com all about different woods and their tonal qualities.

http://www.warmoth.com/guitar/options/options_bodywoods.cfm

hope it helps biggrin.gif


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misha
post Dec 7 2007, 06:25 PM
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i've heard that 90% of tone do the pick-ups and only 10% do the wood......but i dont really know if thats true!
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Lurgen
post Dec 8 2007, 02:49 AM
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The materials your guitar is constructed from are definitely very important. The entire principle that guitars work on is vibration - you pluck a string, it shakes around a whole lot, and the pickups translate that into sound. On top of that basic string vibration though, the pickups also collect the vibrations resonating through the body of the guitar. Think about how the guitar feels when you play it - you can feel the notes through the guitar's body, and that is where a lot of the sound actually comes from.

Give it a try if you like, play unplugged and feel how much the body conducts the sound.

Pickups are probably the next biggest contributor in my view - they are the microphone after all, and good electronics can make a huge difference. Even pickup settings make a huge difference, after all.

Your amp accounts for another large chunk of the overall sound. I have a few amps, and they all sound quite different. The cheap fender sounds cheap. Lousy frequency response, and a metalic (not metal) sound to it. The expensive Fender sounds expensive. Great freq response, and a nice rich tone. So it's a factor.

But as a few people mentioned, the meat-layer makes the biggest difference of all. If you were to break it all up into percentages, guitar body might be 10%, pickups might be 5%, amp might be 10% again, the other miscelanous bits and pieces (cables, strings, pick, etc) might account for 1%. That leaves you with 74% being defined by you - the guitarist.

I found early on that buying an expensive guitar did make me sound better. Back when I could only contribute a tiny bit of skill to the overall sound, good hardware made me sound better. But then I got better, and suddenly I sound better on my original (dirt cheap, rubbish) hardware than I did on my expensive gear when I got it.

To put that into specific terms, I sound better on a $100 guitar connected to a $50 10W el-cheapo amp now than I did on my $1500 Strat and $800 amp 6 months ago.

Fortunately, the hardware still plays an important part so buying a good set of gear is never wasted. But if I had to choose between buying a fancy new pedal (or set of pickups, or guitar) and a subscription to GMC (which makes me into a better guitarist) I'll take the subscription every time.


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David.C.Bond
post Dec 8 2007, 02:56 AM
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QUOTE (Dejan @ Dec 6 2007, 09:16 AM) *
I agree Muris, the player is the most important PART of the guitar cool.gif


So true, in theory a good player should be able to make any plank of wood with some strings strapped to it sound half decent! In practice it may be a bit different, and a decent guitar will always make the player shine even more, but the principle still stands - a lousy guitarist will still sound dire on a 3 grand guitar! smile.gif


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Saoirse O'Shea
post Dec 8 2007, 11:00 AM
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And it's supposed to be the same idea with amps - put a bad player through a Marshall stack and they will just sound like a very loud but still bad player.


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Dec 8 2007, 05:48 PM
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True, on a Marshall stack you can hear ALL the mistakes clearly wink.gif Only the true master can play the stack hehe smile.gif


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nickmarx12345678
post Dec 9 2007, 04:51 AM
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Well im sorry to have to tell you but your all wrong. Its not the wood or the pick-ups or the strings or cable or any of that that gives a guitar its unique sound. Its your unique power of ROCK!!!!!!!!!! the energy flows into the guitar and it sounds better if you start to feel it more smile.gif!!

This post has been edited by nickmarx12345678: Dec 9 2007, 04:51 AM


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