How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

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CG-phile
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Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by CG-phile » Mon Oct 04, 2010 12:44 am

alexphyd wrote:...so one must choose with a limited amount of time playing it:(
Approaching any guitar purchase feeling that one must choose within a limited time frame is the first thing I would try to avoid. Perhaps a better approach to trying different classical guitars when buying one is to first try different classical guitars when not buying one. Make every effort to sample as many high quality guitars as possible, preferably with someone you trust and has a lot of experience, such as a good guitar instructor, and over time you will naturally develop a good understanding of what attributes make a great guitar.

With enough experience under your belt, you will be able to tell, in relatively short order, whether a potential purchase has any underlying faults which will limit your ability to express yourself musically. Conversely, the right instrument will elicit an emotional response and will bond with you allowing for natural musical expression while minimizing the degree of technical difficulty required to achieve such expression.
"Classical guitar... my escape from everyday technocentrism!"

need2Practice

Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by need2Practice » Mon Oct 04, 2010 5:45 am

alexphyd wrote:...what pieces would you play, depending on the guitar, to make sure that e.g.

1) they are flawless

2) they have very good sustain/sound
I understand that you're mainly asking what pieces to play to reveal both the flaws and strengths of a guitar. Having just completed my own quest for the "perfect guitar" I'd like to share a few thoughts that I hope will help even if they don't directly answer the question.

Maybe there's such a thing as a flawless guitar out there, but I've played a lot of very nice guitars and can't say that any were "flawless" (ok, maybe one, but I'd have to sell a kidney or two to buy it). Just like searching for a mate, the trick is the identify the flaws early and make sure the pleasure far outweighs those few little annoying foibles. :D The best way to find these (hopefully small) flaws is to make sure you play every note on the fretboard before you buy. Don't just play each note, but play each one in different ways (right hand near the bridge, above the soundhole, soft, loud, free stroke, rest stroke, etc.) and make sure you can live with it if that note played in that way becomes important in some piece you've yet to learn.

The best pieces to play are ones that you've worked hard on and have a clear idea how you want them to sound. Can you get the sound you're looking for out of the guitar you're auditioning? Can you make the guitar sound like that great recording by (insert favorite artist here) that you've always wanted to emulate? Try to be honest with yourself about what features are really most important to you and make sure the guitar meets your needs before you buy. Most of us shop for guitars the same way we date (here I go with that analogy again): We don't give much thought to what we're looking for until a chance encounter leads to infatuation, premature commitment, and maybe regret. Take your time and develop a list of what features are important to you.

In my case I discovered that I was a bit obsessed with intonation. I found that many guitars, even very expensive ones, don't play in tune around the 5th to 7th frets even when perfectly in tune on the open strings. I developed a simple test of playing octaves around the middle of the fretboard to quickly weed out the guitars I knew I could never be happy with. I've discussed this issue with some very competent players and luthiers and my concerns have mostly been met with a shrug. Other luthiers (Sebastian Stenzel for one) clearly agree that this is an important criterion when selecting a guitar. My point is not to start a debate about whether or not intonation is overvalued by the modern guitar buyer, but to emphasize that this was an important issue to me so I was careful to develop a test for each and every guitar to pass before I would consider buying it.

What issues are most important to you? What do you hope to achieve by buying an expensive "concert" instrument? Get all this clear in your head before you go shopping and you won't wonder what to play when you get there. The pieces will follow as a natural consequence of learning whether or not a particular guitar satisfies your requirements.

I hope this doesn't sound to "preachy." I'm sure the OP is a competent player who was just raising an interesting topic of conversation, but I went into my search for a new guitar thinking that if I spent a few thousand dollars I could hardly go wrong. It took me a few purchases on "that auction site" and several visits to high-end guitar stores before I figured out what really mattered to me and had the confidence to buy the "one" once I finally found it. Hopefully, others will find my observations useful in their own pursuits.

alexphyd

Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by alexphyd » Tue Oct 05, 2010 11:38 am

Hi all,

I actually have another question, somehow unrelated but I thought I would keep it in this discussion, as in the end it is something I thought of when thinking to buy a concert guitar:)

Given that Luthiers always struggle to improve their guitars over time, is it fair to assume that (without considering the changes in the materials etc) a Luthier's latest guitars will always be better than the previous ones? Or can it be that (for whatever reason) certain guitars in a certain period of time are somehow better? Again, I am ssuming that the maker does not change in the meantime (e.g. no Bernabe senior vs his Son etc)...and of course I know that one's taste may change, and so can the feelings/preferences of the Luthier, which may result in the fact that certain players might start not liking their guitars anymore...

Thanks again!

Cheers,

Ale

jstroud

Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by jstroud » Tue Oct 05, 2010 12:05 pm

Darrell, great posts, could you tell us what you bought and what others were close seconds and what put you over the top in your decision. thanks Jim

alexphyd

Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by alexphyd » Tue Oct 05, 2010 1:20 pm

Hi Darrell,

I should have probably also answered your post first, apologies.

I am also curious about which guitar you opted for. And I find the point about the intonation around the 5th fret interesting (never thought of it).

Cheers,

Alessandro

ps: I am an amateur guitarist, and so I will never go beyond a certain level.

'What issues are most important to you? What do you hope to achieve by buying an expensive "concert" instrument?'

I am after one that sounds truly beautiful (and the aesthetic of the sound is already something difficult to describe) and which is "easy" to play. The sound is probably the first most important criterium for me, after which I look at the intonation (you raised an interesting point!) and playability.

Naively I would hope that a better guitar would allow me to improve my playing, technically and not: this is the ultimate goal in the end i.e. be able to play better, as well as be able to approach pieces that were too challenging until now.

Of course a real good concert guitar must also not suffer from buzzing, wolf notes etc etc...

ps2: I never played a truly great guitar, even when I played really expensive ones (and these only for too short a time actually) so it is difficult to define what I want, despite having heard many guitarists, live and not. In shops I have played many guitars in the range between 4000 dollars up to 13000 dollars max. I also believe in the trial and error idea, there is always space to learn new things:)

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CG-phile
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Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by CG-phile » Tue Oct 05, 2010 2:19 pm

alexphyd wrote:I never played a truly great guitar, even when I played really expensive ones (and these only for too short a time actually) so it is difficult to define what I want, despite having heard many guitarists, live and not. In shops I have played many guitars in the range between 4000 dollars up to 13000 dollars max. I also believe in the trial and error idea, there is always space to learn new things:)
If your motivation for pursuing classical guitar is centered on the music, and your ability to express yourself musically, then what you would naturally want in a new instrument would be defined as those attributes and characteristics of the instrument which allow you to bring out the level of expression and emotion you seek with a minimum of technical difficulty. This really centers on your abilities as a musician and goes beyond the simple criteria of perfect intonation, no buzzing or wolf notes. Any good quality instrument should meet these criteria but what makes a guitar truly great is often in the hands of the musician. I think this is where you should focus your efforts.
"Classical guitar... my escape from everyday technocentrism!"

need2Practice

Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by need2Practice » Tue Oct 05, 2010 11:12 pm

alexphyd wrote: I am also curious about which guitar you opted for. And I find the point about the intonation around the 5th fret interesting (never thought of it).

ps: I am an amateur guitarist, and so I will never go beyond a certain level.
Maybe I shouldn't have brought up the intonation issue because it's a bit of a black hole that can suck the light out of your enjoyment of playing if you obsess over it. I'm also an amateur and don't expect anyone will ever pay me to play for them, but I do enjoy playing with a community ensemble once a week and we give public performances 4 or 5 times a year. I've found that intonation problems that are perfectly acceptable to me when playing solo become excruciating when playing the same line with one or two other guitarists, especially if I'm the one whose Bb is 22 cents sharp. This may or may not be important to you, but if you're interested in learning more about it I'd recommend starting with the information on Sebastian Stenzel's website. You might also want to look up the well-known article on intonation and compensation written by Greg Byers in the late 90s.

I absolutely agree with CG-phile that what you really want to concentrate on is the musicality and expression you can conjure out of an instrument. I also agree that "any good quality instrument should meet these criteria" (perfect intonation, no buzzing or wolf notes). Unfortunately, my experience has been that about 1/3 of the guitars I tried in the five to eight thousand dollar range had unacceptable flaws in these areas that immediately took them out of the running.
alexphyd wrote: 'What issues are most important to you? What do you hope to achieve by buying an expensive "concert" instrument?'

I am after one that sounds truly beautiful (and the aesthetic of the sound is already something difficult to describe) and which is "easy" to play. The sound is probably the first most important criterium for me, after which I look at the intonation (you raised an interesting point!) and playability.
I think most of us are after that beautiful, elusive sound first and foremost. What ultimately sold me on my current guitar was rich, buttery trebles with subtle haunting overtones, especially in 7th and 9th positions. My understanding is that this is the hardest part of the sound for a luthier to get right, and I certainly played many more guitars with great bass than with good trebles.

As for playability, I've found that this is an area where most luthiers have no trouble at all. I can't recall trying a single high-end guitar that didn't feel comfortable after a minute or two of playing. The only exceptions were the old Ramirez 1A's that are noticeably more difficult to play for those of us born without Segovia bear paws. My experience may not be the norm in this area as many people seem to find big differences in playability that, frankly, elude me.
alexphyd wrote: Naively I would hope that a better guitar would allow me to improve my playing, technically and not: this is the ultimate goal in the end i.e. be able to play better, as well as be able to approach pieces that were too challenging until now.
I don't think this is naive at all if for no other reason than that you're likely to play more if you fall in love with the sound of your own guitar. I've had my new guitar for a couple of months now and I still marvel at the beautiful tones I'm able to get out of it. I don't see how it can help but make you a better player to play an instrument capable of producing a wide dynamic range and rich shades of color with a beautiful timbre.

JStroud asked what I tried and what I ended up with, so I won't keep you in suspense any longer. I won't mention any of the guitars I didn't like as I'd hate to harm someone's reputation based on a single sample that might not even be representative of most of their work. Some of the guitars I did like and could have been very happy with were made by (in no particular order) Christoph Sembdner, Sebastian Stenzel, Richard Howell, Peter Oberg, Pepe Romero, and Fritz Ober. However, the one that stole my heart is a spruce top with CSA rosewood back and sides, Rodgers tuners, and the coolest rosette I've ever seen made by Oscar Trezzini, who happens to based in Lausanne, Switzerland, not too far from where alexphyd lives.

Of course, there are so many great luthiers out there (including several who hang out on this forum) that's it's nearly impossible to try everything. The list of guitars I haven't played and would like to is much longer than the list I have played. At some point you just have to trust your ears that you're hearing something special and take the plunge even if you might eventually find something you like better.

Here's a picture of the rosette on my Trezzini.
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alexphyd

Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by alexphyd » Wed Oct 06, 2010 8:01 am

Interesting! Believe it or not I was living in Lausanne at one point:) The web site even mentions a guitar shop I have been to where it is possible to try his guitars, which I will of course do! It seems Switzerland is not a bad place to come across nice Luthiers!
Darrell, may I ask how much did you pay for your guitar?(apologies if it is an awkward question)
Did you buy it in the US?

Cheers,

Alessandro

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James Lister
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Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by James Lister » Wed Oct 06, 2010 8:43 am

alexphyd wrote:Given that Luthiers always struggle to improve their guitars over time, is it fair to assume that (without considering the changes in the materials etc) a Luthier's latest guitars will always be better than the previous ones? Or can it be that (for whatever reason) certain guitars in a certain period of time are somehow better? Again, I am ssuming that the maker does not change in the meantime (e.g. no Bernabe senior vs his Son etc)...and of course I know that one's taste may change, and so can the feelings/preferences of the Luthier, which may result in the fact that certain players might start not liking their guitars anymore...
Hi Alessandro,

I think in general it would be true to say that in the early part of a luthiers career, there is likely to be a significant improvement as the luthier builds more guitars. As with many things, you begin on the steep part of the learning curve, and after a while it starts to level out, and the improvement over time slows down. There is also of course a variation from one guitar to the next, and this too can start out as a significant variation, but over time the guitars should become more reproducable. The result of this is that it should be rare for any one guitar to be a significant step backwards in quality. The exception might be when a luthier tries something quite experimental, but in this case, no luthier with any reputation would allow an unsuccessful experiment onto the market. It can also be the case that a maker bows to market pressures and changes their design (for example from building solid top guitars to double tops). This sort of dramatic change will certainly produce a different guitar, whether it is better or worse is mainly a matter of personal taste, but at the very least, it may take the maker some time to learn to get the best from the new design.

There may also come a time when a luthier decides that their guitars need no further improvement - but I've yet to meet one of those!

James
James Lister, luthier, Sheffield UK

need2Practice

Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by need2Practice » Wed Oct 06, 2010 4:05 pm

alexphyd wrote:Interesting! Believe it or not I was living in Lausanne at one point:) The web site even mentions a guitar shop I have been to where it is possible to try his guitars, which I will of course do! It seems Switzerland is not a bad place to come across nice Luthiers!
Darrell, may I ask how much did you pay for your guitar?(apologies if it is an awkward question)
Did you buy it in the US?
Alessandro,

I bought mine at Guitar Salon International in Los Angeles. I wouldn't mind telling you what I paid but I have a good relationship with them and am not sure they'd appreciate me posting that on a public forum. Let's just say that I paid a bit less than the list prices on Mr. Trezzini's website, but still comfortably over 10K, including a very nice BAM case. It's worth every penny and I have no regrets.

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Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by Doug Ingram » Fri Oct 08, 2010 1:39 pm

alexphyd wrote:Hi all,

I actually have another question, somehow unrelated but I thought I would keep it in this discussion, as in the end it is something I thought of when thinking to buy a concert guitar:)

Given that Luthiers always struggle to improve their guitars over time, is it fair to assume that (without considering the changes in the materials etc) a Luthier's latest guitars will always be better than the previous ones? Or can it be that (for whatever reason) certain guitars in a certain period of time are somehow better? Again, I am ssuming that the maker does not change in the meantime (e.g. no Bernabe senior vs his Son etc)...and of course I know that one's taste may change, and so can the feelings/preferences of the Luthier, which may result in the fact that certain players might start not liking their guitars anymore...

Thanks again!

Cheers,

Ale
What James said!

Good luthiers will get goo quickly. Mediocre luthiers may get good, but slowly. A good luthier will always strive to get better, but in reality, in professional practice the effort becomes one of getting consistently good, and occasionally excellent. Of course, their "good" is a pretty high level!

The other effort is one of service. Some clients know what they are looking for in a new guitar very well, others either don't or have difficulty describing it. A good luthier will try and take the clues that the client provides about what they are looking for in a new guitar and turn that into reality. A good luthier will be able to do this consistently.

Its kind of like the difference between somebody taking potshots at a target and getting a lucky bulls-eye and a skilled marksman hitting very close to the mark every time, occasionally hitting the bulls-eye.

Derry

Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by Derry » Fri Oct 08, 2010 3:24 pm

sounds like your in information overload and trying to sort it out,,

since your not a novice buying their first CG you do have background and understanding for the selection,, unfortunately if you ask five other players to rate what preferences would be most of us would have a few of the same items on our list but not in the same priority,, sounds like you have made your list but want to see how it compares with others, which many do but just adds more confusion,, with many good guitars you could nit pick and find something that was only at 95% in lieu of being 100% making the hunt an endless journey,, even when trying them out in a store or owners home a change of string brands & tension can make a big difference which could be that missing link your on the hunt for,,

I have listened to others play on their favorite CG and some sounded great and some just so so but yet the owner thought it was the best sounding CG they have heard and played,, if your seeking perfection the journey will never end but their are a lot of CGs in that 95+% range that many will never be able to find fault with,, even concert guitarist can find small faults with their instruments but it is what it does correct that we all enjoy at the performance,,

some pianist would rather play on a $150K Borsendorfer than a $150K Steinway,, different touch, different sustains in the bass and more,, they each have many qualities but every player has to trust their senses which makes the final selection a personal choice, not what others say,,

Derry

alexphyd

Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by alexphyd » Mon Oct 11, 2010 8:19 am

I finally managed to go to Geneva to try a Trezzini:) The one I played was made in 2004 (spruce), and it is not double top. The sound is really nice, even though the guitar itself needs re-fretting (was buzzing on the basses after the 12th fret). I think I can describe it as "brillante", with the basses somehow "black" (cedar like).
The other thing that I found curious was that the fretboard looked " stained/streaked"...I am not sure if this is the wood quality, or something actually bad happened to the wood: funningly enough I also tried a Hanika special 1a in the same shop (nice guitar) whose fretboard also looked streaked (any comments from the luthiers?)
I would like to try his double top guitars (next time I am around Lausanne:)
I can also say that the price that was offered in the shop is very competitive.

In the same shop I also tried a guitar by young French luthier

http://www.bastienburlot.com

who is also a member of this forum I believe. This guitar (spruce) had the hole on the side, not on the top, which remains flat (aesthetically lacking somehow, but we only care about the sound afterall:) This guitar really impressed me and was the nicest of all (in spite of some buzzing on the very last frets) (the Hanika had more sound power though). The interesting thing is that the side hole is so big that one can actually easily look inside, and it seemed as though no bracing was to be seen....

Plan for the near future is to visit Philippe Jean-Mairet nearby Bern, whose guitars I also really like (judging from the sound of some examples in youtube) and which I might consider buying (despite the 2 year waiting list:( and maybe also try Simon Ambridge's guitars:)

Cheers,

Alessandro

need2Practice

Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by need2Practice » Wed Oct 20, 2010 1:26 am

Alessandro,

I'm glad you were able to try a Trezzini. I love mine, but there are so many great guitars out there I'm not surprised you found a couple you like better. We're lucky to live in a time when the works of so many great luthiers are readily available in so many parts of the world.

The guitars of Bastien Burlot look very interesting. The style seems similar to the Clarita Negra by Boaz Elkayam. This guitar also has no sound hole in front and a large oval one facing the player. A friend of mine has one and I've played it a little. The sound reaching the player is nothing short of amazing, but I find it a bit disorienting to play as everything sounds so loud and rich that I can't vary my tone or dynamics very well. Maybe you get used to it over time but I decided to opt for a more traditional instrument. If you get serious about that design be sure to have someone else play it for you as the sound the audience hears is very different from what the player experiences.

I believe Boaz originally developed his design primarily for recording. Newer versions have a small sound hole around the 14th fret on the treble side where a mic can be placed without picking up the player breathing, which was apparently a problem when the mic was placed above the oval hole. It's intriguing that Burlot's guitar seems to have no bracing since Elkayam's version has by far the most extensive and complicated bracing system I've ever seen. There are little struts and curved pieces of wood all over the place. There's a picture at the bottom of this page on his website (mods, hope it's okay to include the link here): http://www.boazguitars.com/mainContaine ... arita.html

In any case, it sounds like you're on the right path by playing lots of guitars and not being in a rush to buy the first thing you like. Best of luck with your search!

alexphyd

Re: How to try different classical guitars when buying one?

Post by alexphyd » Wed Oct 20, 2010 12:02 pm

Hi Darrell,

Indeed interesting! When I played the Burlot I could not find somebody play it for me, but I think you are right that you want to check how the sound is perceived in front.
I also find interesting the picture on the web page you posted, with the strut structure: can it be I just "missed" them then somehow?
I wonder how many professional guitarists regularly play these kind of guitars...

And yes, I have started playing as many guitars as possible (I think I really tired at one point the people at the shop where I bought the latest one, which is of course only a "passage" one towards a more professional instrument):))

Cheers,

Alessandro

ps: I am also delving into guitar making, I find some of the books available as truly interesting (just bought a few online), who knows, I could even give it a try one day;)

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