Does Less Wood Mean Better?

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
nuuanupali

Does Less Wood Mean Better?

Post by nuuanupali » Mon Jan 01, 2007 6:22 pm

I have a theory I thought I would put to the luthiers in the house.

My favorite guitars that I have owned have been extremely light weight. I have found them more resonant, expressive, tonally transparent, and with a noticeably better and extremely responsive dynamic range. Does this mean that less wood in the construction creates a better instrument?

My theory that it indeed does is based on my experience with some superb lightly constructed guitars, and the fact that one of my favorites fell - when this instrument hit the ground, it literally 'exploded'. There was an amazing degree of 'tension' built into this guitar necessitated by the minimal use of materials. So what I am thinking is less wood combined with designed tension creates a winner?

Azalais

Post by Azalais » Mon Jan 01, 2007 8:15 pm

That has certainly been my experience too... Lutes are even thinner and lighter than guitars and they certainly have an ephemeral sound... especially with light tension gut strings. The resonance and variety of sound that they can produce is so amazing.

Here are some scary photos that might amuse you:
http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/~lsa/old/Cl ... oring.html

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James Lister
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Post by James Lister » Tue Jan 02, 2007 3:08 pm

I'm a great fan of lightly built instruments too. When I get the time, I hope to built a guitar as light as possible just to see what I can get away with, and how it works.

There are (at least) two approaches to this:
(a) build the whole guitar as light as possible
(b) make the soundboard as light as possible, but make the rest of the guitar really heavy (as Smallman)

I personally feel that (a) gives the most responsive instrument (although not the loudest), and also the most tone variation.

James
James Lister, luthier, Sheffield UK

Uwe

Post by Uwe » Wed Jan 03, 2007 12:08 am

Yes, james, also my experience. I have build guitars with very thin tops until they brake, sometimes i used very cheap wooden plates. The tone will be louder the thinner you build a top and i also made the experience that the rest - the sides, the back and the bracing - must be not too thin, more stable. But i dont think that a best sounding guitar must have a very thin top. In 1978 i bought my first semiproffessional guitar, a yamaha grand concert 7 (GC7), the whole guitar was build from solid wood except the sides, it was - or is - a very heavy instrument. Now 29 years old it sounds very very good. What i try to say is, the volume will be bigger or greater - sorry for my english - when building a top thinner, but there are many guitars with an outstanding tone like bernabes for example with thicker tops. For me the very important thing is the bracing of the top.
Of course, the guitar will be louder, but also will sound better when building the top thinner?

Pepe Vergara

Post by Pepe Vergara » Wed Jan 03, 2007 12:13 am

Most of the guitars featured in a collection publish in a book Classical Guitar are very light, in the three pound range. For flamenco, even less. The heavier shown is the Greg Smallman owned by JW. I personally like light guitars. For flamenco, they HAVE TO BE light. For classical, you can get away with whaterver works for you. Curiously, the best known flameno guitars have very thin tops (hence, the reason they break so much after getting the GOLPE!) :D

Uwe

Post by Uwe » Thu Jan 04, 2007 1:22 am

Have you ever played, heard or owned a bernabe guitar? Excellent sound but not a light guitar, also torres guitars and most older spanish guitars.
A light guitar is mostly a lowder but must not be a better sounding guitar than heavier, older instruments, in my opinion.

Ramirez 1a Rio

Post by Ramirez 1a Rio » Thu Jan 04, 2007 7:25 pm

Torres Guitars were extremly lightweigt, about 1.2 Kg and lighter. The wood of the body of his guitars was nearly half as thin as todays Guitars are build.

I agree that there are examples of heavier good sounding Guitars. Yesterday I met a friend who owns a Ramirez 1a too, but Indian, lighter than mine, four years younger. When you play both Guitars, it seems his Guitar is louder and has more bass.

The diskant of the older one is louder, it is close to a Fleta above the twelves fret and has more Parts sounding Liquer like. But playing both, you might decide to prefer the newer one. When you are listening to both guitars in front of them, the bass is at the same level of noise but seems little more stable, say massive at the older heavier Ramirez.

It seems in general, that lighter guitars sound louder to the player and more perkussiv, but to the audience in front, they are not.

I own a very lightweight Flamenca wich is partly useable for Flamenco. I like it very much but I know for a Classical I would allways have prefered a more massive sound and feel.

On the other Hand, when you look at Guitars made by Armin Hanika, then you will notice that his most expensive Guitars, I played his 1A/FB, it costs twice as much as a Hanika 60PF, is extremly lightweigh and the bass dominates her sound too. It lacked a brilliant sound to me because of that.

The bass should under-paint the melodie and not dominate it. That is what my heavy old Ramirez 1a does best.

Cheers,
Ulf

Uwe

Post by Uwe » Wed Jan 24, 2007 12:05 am

Sorry, i disagree with that. I have copies of the plans of Torres guitars. His plates (tops, backs, sides) are thicker than guitars from builders working nowadays. When a Torres guitar wheights less than a guitar from a builder today is the reason that torres had made smaller guitars as we builders made today. He had made his tops 3mm thick, a builder of today will make the top only 1,8 mm thick or less and eventually will use a bracing of glassfiber (sorry, i do not know the word in english. its a very strong material used from boing and airbus for building planes). Also his backs and sides. He was a pioneer. We must imaging, he tried to make the guitar sounding louder, but every instrument he builds, he must sell, every try costs money. He spend his live for the classical guitar.

PaulRegis

Post by PaulRegis » Sun Jan 28, 2007 7:41 pm

Hello

I built a guitar with an Englemann Spruce top, thickness of 0.08 inches (very thin) and after a few months it caved in. It was an expensive lesson (in terms of the amount of time to rebuild it.) My thinnest before that was 0.09 inches with no problems. Subsequently I've learned to vary the thickness based on the type of wood (Red Cedar and Englemann spruce need to be thicker than Sitka spruce) or Doug Fir.

Bottom line is thinner is better but only up to a point just beyond the cave in point.

regards

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James Lister
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Post by James Lister » Sun Jan 28, 2007 8:47 pm

PaulRegis wrote:Hello

I built a guitar with an Englemann Spruce top, thickness of 0.08 inches (very thin) and after a few months it caved in. It was an expensive lesson (in terms of the amount of time to rebuild it.) My thinnest before that was 0.09 inches with no problems. Subsequently I've learned to vary the thickness based on the type of wood (Red Cedar and Englemann spruce need to be thicker than Sitka spruce) or Doug Fir.

Bottom line is thinner is better but only up to a point just beyond the cave in point.

regards
It's not just the thickness of the top, of course. You can get away with tops significantly less than 2mm (0.08 inches), as long as it has enough bracing to support it.

James
James Lister, luthier, Sheffield UK

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