True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

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Mark Featherstone
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True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by Mark Featherstone » Fri May 31, 2019 11:28 pm

I read or heard recently that even excellent classical guitars, unlike excellent violins, have a short(ish) lifespan. That is to say, they will get better with some months? years?, but the sound will then begin to degrade. So my questions are (a) Do people agree that this is generally true? (b) And if so, how old is too old for a classical guitar? I realize that there must be a ton of variables that might make it difficult or impossible to generalize. Let's say we are talking about guitars from respected luthiers in the $3000 to $5000 USD range (new and in today's dollars).

I ask because I am seeing used guitars on sale on e - b a y and Craig's list that were made by reputable luthiers, but going back to the 80s or even the 60s. Are these guitars likely to be past their prime?

Thanks!
Mark
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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by richtm » Sat Jun 01, 2019 12:26 am

That is not true, if you keep a guitar in good conditions they survive like violins.
Look at the Torres guitars from the 19th century. They survived, but most of them were heavily restored because they were not kept in good conditions (humidity, temperature, …). I would go for a good used one, because you know the Sound. Check out under which conditions they were kept!!
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Mark Featherstone
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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by Mark Featherstone » Sat Jun 01, 2019 12:50 am

Thank you for the quick response and good advice!
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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by soltirefa » Sat Jun 01, 2019 12:54 am

Here's an 1864 guitar.


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Mark Featherstone
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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by Mark Featherstone » Sat Jun 01, 2019 3:20 am

Wow! Just wonderful!
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Michael.N.
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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by Michael.N. » Sat Jun 01, 2019 8:23 am

Not so fast! Many of those 19 th century guitars have had extensive restoration work.
Classical guitars that are in the 30 year and older range start to suffer from losing the neck angle and therefore suffer from action issues. In reality it's a very gradual process and starts the very first day that the instrument sees a set of strings. It's virtually impossible to predict the severity of this because much depends on the individual guitar and how heavy or lightly it was constructed in the first place. To some extent this can be corrected by lowering the saddle but there comes a point when that no longer becomes an option. Of course this situation can be rectified but it can be costly. The very first thing to check when buying a used instrument is the action and how it corresponds to the bridge/saddle height.
In terms of tone I'm not convinced guitars have a short life span. Providing they are structurally in good condition and maintain the neck geometry they should be fine for two or three hundred years. Doubt any get to that age without needing some type of repair or restoration work.
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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by Rasqeo » Sat Jun 01, 2019 9:36 am

Michael.N. wrote:
Sat Jun 01, 2019 8:23 am
Not so fast! Many of those 19 th century guitars have had extensive restoration work.
Classical guitars that are in the 30 year and older range start to suffer from losing the neck angle and therefore suffer from action issues. In reality it's a very gradual process and starts the very first day that the instrument sees a set of strings. It's virtually impossible to predict the severity of this because much depends on the individual guitar and how heavy or lightly it was constructed in the first place. To some extent this can be corrected by lowering the saddle but there comes a point when that no longer becomes an option. Of course this situation can be rectified but it can be costly. The very first thing to check when buying a used instrument is the action and how it corresponds to the bridge/saddle height.
In terms of tone I'm not convinced guitars have a short life span. Providing they are structurally in good condition and maintain the neck geometry they should be fine for two or three hundred years. Doubt any get to that age without needing some type of repair or restoration work.
I think the OP was only referring to sound quality.
Last edited by Rasqeo on Sat Jun 01, 2019 9:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by Rasqeo » Sat Jun 01, 2019 9:36 am

.

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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by Keith » Sat Jun 01, 2019 9:38 am

It would be interesting to see what percentage of violins actually have survived the ages. Of course they have some structural advantages guitars do not. As to guitars and age, I would say guitars made in the 60's and on had the advantages of relatively good climate control which gives them a leg up on survivability compared to their older cousins. I can only imagine how people and guitars survived in the olden days when things like humidifiers/dehumidifiers and AC were considered luxuries. Guitars built before the 60's had a big disadvantage coming out of the gate in that many luthier shops and guitar factories were not climate controlled. Think about a luthier trying to make a living and only working a few days a year due to most days not being guitar climate friendly. I would imagine a lot of guitars were built on humid days and sold to people who lived in cold climates which required indoor heating for many months. The perfect storm!

As for sound--there is nothing better than a older guitar that has been well played for decades.
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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by Michael.N. » Sat Jun 01, 2019 10:26 am

Rasqeo wrote:
Sat Jun 01, 2019 9:36 am
Michael.N. wrote:
Sat Jun 01, 2019 8:23 am
Not so fast! Many of those 19 th century guitars have had extensive restoration work.
Classical guitars that are in the 30 year and older range start to suffer from losing the neck angle and therefore suffer from action issues. In reality it's a very gradual process and starts the very first day that the instrument sees a set of strings. It's virtually impossible to predict the severity of this because much depends on the individual guitar and how heavy or lightly it was constructed in the first place. To some extent this can be corrected by lowering the saddle but there comes a point when that no longer becomes an option. Of course this situation can be rectified but it can be costly. The very first thing to check when buying a used instrument is the action and how it corresponds to the bridge/saddle height.
In terms of tone I'm not convinced guitars have a short life span. Providing they are structurally in good condition and maintain the neck geometry they should be fine for two or three hundred years. Doubt any get to that age without needing some type of repair or restoration work.
I think the OP was only referring to sound quality.
I know. My answer is exactly the same.
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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by Denian Arcoleo » Sat Jun 01, 2019 11:10 am

In my personal experience it is true. Every classical guitar I've ever owned has reached a peak and then degraded in sound quality after ten to fifteen years, sometimes quite dramatically.

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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by Christopher Langley » Sat Jun 01, 2019 11:15 am

Denian Arcoleo wrote:
Sat Jun 01, 2019 11:10 am
In my personal experience it is true. Every classical guitar I've ever owned has reached a peak and then degraded in sound quality after ten to fifteen years, sometimes quite dramatically.
How long to hit the peak Denian?

How did the degradation show itself?

I'm sure the answer is a little different for the different guitars, just trying to get an idea of what you are experiencing.

What an interesting phenomena. I wonder why some guitars hold up bettter than others.

That 1864 Torres sure does sing. I wonder if there are any clear cut examples of guitars that were once good but lost their glory. Segovia's Hauser comes to mind.. Didn't something go wrong with his main guitar? I feel like this has probabaly happened to a lot of players. It must be a terrible feeling to realize your instrument has taken a turn for the worse.
Last edited by Christopher Langley on Sat Jun 01, 2019 11:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by Trev » Sat Jun 01, 2019 11:26 am

I feel the question to ask is; has the guitar stayed as the luthier intended, if it hasn't, then sound quality could be affected.
I would have thought a guitar from a good luthier using proven build techniques and good materials, and to add looked after, is unlikely to change much.
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Last edited by Trev on Sat Jun 01, 2019 12:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by segobreawill » Sat Jun 01, 2019 12:01 pm

Denian Arcoleo wrote:
Sat Jun 01, 2019 11:10 am
In my personal experience it is true. Every classical guitar I've ever owned has reached a peak and then degraded in sound quality after ten to fifteen years, sometimes quite dramatically.
This is an interesting statement. I wish other skilled and experienced players such as yourself would weigh on this, based on their personal experience of course, as you have Denian.

Since you say that "every classical guitar that [you've] owned has reached a peak and then degraded in sound quality", I assume it made no difference whether it was a spruce top or cedar top then, correct? I am reminded of the debate that centered around the idea that cedar topped guitars just simply "died out" after a while and where people cited instances of Segovia having worn out several of his cedar topped guitars where the sound/volume degraded to the point that he had to get rid of it. Again I'm only assuming - perhaps wrongfully - that this is the same thing that you experienced with your guitars then?

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Re: True that classical guitars have a short lifespan?

Post by Beowulf » Sat Jun 01, 2019 12:32 pm

Christopher Langley wrote:
Sat Jun 01, 2019 11:15 am
Denian Arcoleo wrote:
Sat Jun 01, 2019 11:10 am
In my personal experience it is true. Every classical guitar I've ever owned has reached a peak and then degraded in sound quality after ten to fifteen years, sometimes quite dramatically.
How long to hit the peak Denian?

How did the degradation show itself?

I'm sure the answer is a little different for the different guitars, just trying to get an idea of what you are experiencing.

What an interesting phenomena. I wonder why some guitars hold up bettter than others.

That 1864 Torres sure does sing. I wonder if there are any clear cut examples of guitars that were once good but lost their glory. Segovia's Hauser comes to mind.. Didn't something go wrong with his main guitar? I feel like this has probabaly happened to a lot of players. It must be a terrible feeling to realize your instrument has taken a turn for the worse.
Segovia's Hauser I suffered a recording studio microphone accident. The top was repaired/refinished by Hauser II and afterwards Segovia stopped playing it as he felt the the top e had lost its former glory. Richard Bruné (who examined the instrument in great detail) hypothesized that this might have been due to the delamination of a layer of wood between the fret board and the sound board...or to the refinishing process.
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