steel string guitar fitted with nylons

Discussions relating to the classical guitar which don't fit elsewhere.
Alan Carruth
Luthier
Posts: 2985
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2007 6:56 pm

Re: steel string guitar fitted with nylons

Post by Alan Carruth » Sun Jun 10, 2018 10:29 pm

It's interesting to look at the way a guitar top plate without any bracing vibrates. Either on or off a rim it does pretty much the same things as a properly braced plate, but just at a lower frequency, because the bracing adds more stiffness than it does weight. When I'm trimming the braces on a top that is not glued down I essentially try to make the resonant mode shapes look like the ones on a top that has no braces; that usually results in a good sounding guitar. The acoustics researchers who have looked at the effect of bracing on tone tend to agree that it doesn't do much unless it's badly done: if it's too heavy or 'lumpy' it hurts the sound.

So my take on it is that bracing is a necessary evil for the most part. If you make a top thick enough you won't need to use any bracing, but it will be so heavy it won't make much sound. Bracing allows us to lighten up on the top and get more sound, but then you have to be careful to get it balanced just right or it will hurt the balance of sound in some range.

Note that I say 'for the most part'. You can use bracing to alter the basic timbre to some extent, but only in a limited way and with care. My understanding of the difference between steel string and nylon string guitars suggests that the added cross stiffness of the X bracing that is commonly used on steel strings helps to produce a 'fuller' tone, which is needed to balance the 'brightness' of the strings. Flamenco guitars, on the other hand, often use fewer fans than their Classical brothers, leaving the outer two off. This reduces the cross stiffness of the top in a way that helps to produce a more 'cutting' timbre that is helpful in Flamenco music.

In all of this we have to remember that we're dealing with very highly developed designs. The difference between an average 'good' guitar and a 'great' one is very small in objective terms, but also very important. There is a sense in which the bracing doesn't do much, but in this case small differences matter a lot.

soufiej
Posts: 174
Joined: Fri Jan 12, 2018 3:46 pm

Re: steel string guitar fitted with nylons

Post by soufiej » Mon Jun 11, 2018 3:10 am

"There is a sense in which the bracing doesn't do much, but in this case small differences matter a lot."




If bracing doesn't contribute "much" to the sonic signature of a guitar, what does?

Various guitars with similar specs; spruce, rosewood, scale length, body shape and dimensions, etc. What makes them sound different?

What gives a certain line of guitars a recognizable "house sound" that transcends materials?

Alan Carruth
Luthier
Posts: 2985
Joined: Mon Dec 24, 2007 6:56 pm

Re: steel string guitar fitted with nylons

Post by Alan Carruth » Mon Jun 11, 2018 6:01 pm

soufiej asked:
"If bracing doesn't contribute "much" to the sonic signature of a guitar, what does? "

IMO, most of the character of the tone of a guitar derives from the size: big guitars are more 'bass balanced'. Much of what I think of as the quality of the tone, how good or bad a guitar it is given the size, depends on how well it's made. This is not simply, or even mostly, a matter of precision workmanship, but rather whether the various elements are well balanced and work together. Thus, for example, getting the top thickness and bracing 'right' tends to produce a more even and clear tone. Note that what is 'right' for one top may not be for another, which is one reason it's difficult to make consistently good Classical guitars in a factory. Things like materials and finish are far down the list of influences IMO.

"Various guitars with similar specs; spruce, rosewood, scale length, body shape and dimensions, etc. What makes them sound different?"

It's instructive, and humbling, to try to make a 'matched pair' of guitars that actually sound the same. I've tried several times, using wood that was cut 'in flitch' for the parts, with measured properties that are well within measurement error, carefully controlling the thickness, mass, and resonant pitches of all the assemblies, and finishing them together so that they are as much 'alike' as two wooden objects can be. They still don't sound the same. In the most recent case, a friend looked at spectrum charts showing the response between 50-1000Hz, and commented that if they were electronic devices, you'd say they were the same. But in 'blind' listening tests audiences could readily distinguish them. They were, of course, very similar in sound. Audiences expressed no particular preference in average between them when asked.

The problem is that there are always small differences in the materials and construction that are difficult to measure and impossible to control fully. Even two slices of wood cut next to each other from a very large tree will vary somewhat in the exact distribution of stiffness and mass from one place to another. These small differences don't alter the way the guitar responds in the low range, below 600-800 Hz,, say, but do have increasing effects as you go higher. The way the different parts of the guitar work together to produce sound diverges more and more, producing measurable, and audible, differences. Your hearing is very sensitive to these sorts of small changes in the high frequency range. You are, after all, the descendant of the people who could hear the tiger sneaking up through the bushes, and he's trying to be quiet.

"What gives a certain line of guitars a recognizable "house sound" that transcends materials?"

In some sense you can think of building a guitar as being a complex problem with a number of major variables. The 'correct' value for many of these is not a fixed thing, but rather co-varies depending on what the other variables are: they are 'codependent' variables. It sometimes seems to me that if there are, say, a couple of dozen of these, you can make a very fine instrument if you get something like 20 of them 'right', whatever 'right ' is in the particular context. What's interesting is that it almost doesn't matter which ones you concentrate on; if you get those 'right' you'll end up with a guitar that most people will say is 'good', and the others can be pretty much ignored. The 'house' sound is then a function of which things the maker chooses to concentrate on getting right. You can use a thicker top, as Hauser did, or a thin top, like Ramirez, and end up with an instrument that Segovia would find satisfying. They will sound different, of course, and may prove to be better adapted to different sorts of music, but both are still good instruments.

All of this is, of course, informed opinion. Take it for what it's worth.

Adam
Posts: 578
Joined: Thu Sep 15, 2016 3:51 pm
Location: USA

Re: steel string guitar fitted with nylons

Post by Adam » Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:14 pm

Why would anyone even consider doing this? If you want a classical, get a classical ... sell the steel string and get a used classical of comparable value.

ddray
Posts: 1118
Joined: Sun Apr 23, 2017 3:10 pm

Re: steel string guitar fitted with nylons

Post by ddray » Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:21 pm

Adam wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:14 pm
Why would anyone even consider doing this? If you want a classical, get a classical ... sell the steel string and get a used classical of comparable value.
It was a gift from his wife. Come on.

Adam
Posts: 578
Joined: Thu Sep 15, 2016 3:51 pm
Location: USA

Re: steel string guitar fitted with nylons

Post by Adam » Mon Jun 11, 2018 11:44 pm

ddray wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:21 pm
Adam wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:14 pm
Why would anyone even consider doing this? If you want a classical, get a classical ... sell the steel string and get a used classical of comparable value.
It was a gift from his wife. Come on.
Ok. So he should continue to play a guitar he doesn't like or do a nonsensical conversion just because it was a gift. My mind (and my wife's) doesn't work that way, thankfully.

ddray
Posts: 1118
Joined: Sun Apr 23, 2017 3:10 pm

Re: steel string guitar fitted with nylons

Post by ddray » Mon Jun 11, 2018 11:46 pm

Adam wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 11:44 pm
ddray wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:21 pm
Adam wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:14 pm
Why would anyone even consider doing this? If you want a classical, get a classical ... sell the steel string and get a used classical of comparable value.
It was a gift from his wife. Come on.
Ok. So he should continue to play a guitar he doesn't like or do a nonsensical conversion just because it was a gift. My mind (and my wife's) doesn't work that way, thankfully.
Good for you. I don't think the man ever said he doesn't like the guitar.

soufiej
Posts: 174
Joined: Fri Jan 12, 2018 3:46 pm

Re: steel string guitar fitted with nylons

Post by soufiej » Tue Jun 12, 2018 12:44 am

Thanks for the opinions, Alan, though I'm not entirely clear on why I can pick up a Martin and a Gibson or a Ramirez and my Kremona and determine each has a sonic signature which can be attributed to each builder as their "house sound". Is that a difference that exists between factory built guitars but not so much in hand built instruments? You've mentioned the "overbuilt" construction of factory built guitars, which only seems natural given their location of origin vs their final destination and unknown ownership.


"But in 'blind' listening tests audiences could readily distinguish them. They were, of course, very similar in sound."


Coming from decades spent in high end consumer audio, I have my hesitations about "blind" tests. First, they are notoriously difficult to successfully set up and carry out. Second, they make the judges listen in a different manner than when they are enjoying music for pleasure. Perception is pretty fragile and may result in very different conclusions on another day or when the listener does not feel they must make a determination of values in "X" amount of time.


"These small differences don't alter the way the guitar responds in the low range, below 600-800 Hz,, say, but do have increasing effects as you go higher. The way the different parts of the guitar work together to produce sound diverges more and more, producing measurable, and audible, differences. Your hearing is very sensitive to these sorts of small changes in the high frequency range. You are, after all, the descendant of the people who could hear the tiger sneaking up through the bushes, and he's trying to be quiet."


"The cocktail party effect" comes to mind.


Thanks again, very interesting stuff!

soufiej
Posts: 174
Joined: Fri Jan 12, 2018 3:46 pm

Re: steel string guitar fitted with nylons

Post by soufiej » Tue Jun 12, 2018 12:53 am

"Why would anyone even consider doing this? If you want a classical, get a classical ... sell the steel string and get a used classical of comparable value."



I can't find where the op stated a preference for a "classical guitar", just a guitar that fits his hands. Have you never experimented with your guitar? If not, you'd be the rare bird among guitarists. We're an inquisitive lot (for the most part) and we do things that sometimes don't work out. As long as we don't wreck a rare instrument; no foul, no harm.

It's his guitar, he can do pretty much whatever he cares to with it and to it. He can light it on fire and smoke some ribs if he likes, it's his guitar.

Maybe the op's wife reads this forum and will grace him with another gift. Maybe some of us will show this thread to their significant other and mention how wonderfully "thoughtful" her gift was. Until then, better to back off, shut up and not get involved in discussions between two married folk you don't know at all.

djwilliams
Posts: 32
Joined: Fri Jun 09, 2017 3:06 pm

Re: steel string guitar fitted with nylons

Post by djwilliams » Thu Jun 14, 2018 1:53 pm

Hi All
I didn't think this thread would attract so much interest. Apologies if I gave the impression that I do not like the guitar as I do, but there are slight things that I mentioned mainly the closer spacing of the strings that result in sometimes catching unwanted strings when playing. I have strung the guitar with these strings Ernesto Palla Nylon Ball end Black strings. They were recommended to me by String Direct. I think the sound that they produce is very good. I started this thread not to have a moan about the guitar (sorry if it gave that impression) but to see if anyone had experimented and what kind of result they obtained.
Thank you for all the responses
Cheers
Dave

ddray
Posts: 1118
Joined: Sun Apr 23, 2017 3:10 pm

Re: steel string guitar fitted with nylons

Post by ddray » Fri Jun 15, 2018 2:03 am

If you're satisfied with the sound and it's comfortable to play, then happy playing! :)

Return to “Public Space”