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A new concept is blowing my mind. (Resonance: unplugged vs plugged tone)

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  • A new concept is blowing my mind. (Resonance: unplugged vs plugged tone)

    I'm late to the party on this one.

    The discussion originates from the question "is this a good sounding electric guitar"? My whole playing life, I've owned bolt on guitars. If you asked me to pick a Strat or a Les Paul, I would always, 100% pick the strat, because its "bright" and "resonant". I have judged electric guitars sound quality on how resonant they are unplugged. If a guitar is making more noise acoustically when you play, it must be a better design, a more resonant piece of wood.

    I recently got my first neck through (maple) and it has a different kind of sound. There isn't as much brightness or jangle. What you hear is smoother and there appears to be more fundamental tone. Its not as loud acoustically, however, plugged in the guitar is very alive sounding and has an airy top.

    Google has the answer and it seems to be an open debate among guitarists. From what I gather, when a guitar is resonating acoustically, that represents energy from the strings translating into vibrating the body, which means that there is less energy in the strings. And of course, how much the body is resonating means nothing to the guitar pickups; only what the string is doing matters.

    (If a guitar was made of titanium and you plucked the strings, it would sound much less resonant and appealing than a wood guitar, although we "know" that the strings are still vibrating with as much or more energy.)

    Which is something I hadn't drilled down on before, but it makes sense. When you are playing a resonant guitar, you aren't hearing the strings, you are hearing the vibration of the body/neck/bridge.

    As this applies to strats and bolt on guitars, while the guitar itself may be bright and jangly acoustically, the amplified sound is warm. When you think about it, is it any surprise that strats are equipped with bright single coil pickups? And Les Pauls are equipped with dark humbuckers? In my collection of bolt ons, the most acoustically resonant guitars also seem to be the "warmest".

    Furthermore, so many strat players are known to shim their necks without adverse affect on the tone. If the wood is decoupled at the neck joint, you would think it would make the guitar less resonant, but this is never reported to be the case. People can shim their strats all day long without compromising the "strat sound".

    My operating theory (from what I have read online) is that when a guitar is more acoustically resonant, that means the mid and high frequency energy is converting into the guitar body, essentially siphoning off from the strings. An acoustically resonant guitar may sound louder and brighter unplugged, but will be warmer sounding plugged in. This is obfuscated by the fact that strats are regarded as "bright" guitars, but this comes from the pickups and pots installed; the guitars themselves (the strings actually) are warm.

    That said, there is alot of value in having a resonant guitar in your hands that you can feel acoustically. And there is nothing wrong with a guitar that is siphoning off the mid/high frequencies so that the signal to the pickups is warmer.

    I had never before thought about the physics of what is happening. A loud/bright/resonant guitar, doesnt mean the strings are vibrating with more energy in the mid/upper frequencies, it just means that the body is picking up those frequencies. The energy has to come from somewhere; which means there is less of those frequencies in the strings.

    Which of course means that a guitar that is not acoustically resonant will not necessarily sound bad when plugged in. The opposite may in fact be the case.


    Last edited by Top-L; 01-15-2021, 08:04 AM.

  • #2
    Similar to my understanding and experience

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    • #3
      You are correct, every time I post something like this I get people trying to argue who don't get this concept .. If getting tone into a transducer is the goal -then woods that close the resonant loop more efficiently into that condition would be more effective. If your guitar wood is loosing waveform energy through creating waveforms that are nice to hear with your ear -its wasted energy that could be used to transduce to your amp with a more efficient design.

      Now that said, the nuance of tone isn't necessarily reflective of "more information" to the circuit -but you can bet more information gives you much better options and possibilities of getting good tone.
      Last edited by NegativeEase; 01-15-2021, 01:58 PM.
      “For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when adventure starts.” Yvonne Chouinard

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      • #4
        Bit of a rabbit hole, fun to think about. You can get into different string materials, sizes, method of plucking, plectrums, bridge construction, etc as well. I've given up on trying to compartmentalize the "why" of tone and just go with the "sum of its parts" idea.
        Originally posted by crusty philtrum
        Anyone who *sings* at me through their teeth deserves to have a bus drive through their face
        http://www.youtube.com/alexiansounds

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        • #5
          Originally posted by alex1fly View Post
          Bit of a rabbit hole, fun to think about. You can get into different string materials, sizes, method of plucking, plectrums, bridge construction, etc as well. I've given up on trying to compartmentalize the "why" of tone and just go with the "sum of its parts" idea.
          I suspect guitar pickups evolved around the kinds of guitar materials used.

          If guitars were made from solid metal (or concrete, or...), pickups would probably evolve to filter more information and make them sound more pleasing amplified.

          Which is along the lines of why strats ended up with single coils and LPs with double.

          At this point, I cant make a statement about what is a "better" guitar from a tonal standpoint. I can say that I'm accustomed to having the resonance of a basswood/alder body with bolt on neck, and my pickups are chosen to work in that kind of setup.

          I do think its kinda BS where PRS is seen physically knocking on pieces of wood before he decides to build it into a guitar. That lends credence to wrong think, even though each piece will have its tonality. Its just much more subjective than anyone would have you believe.

          if we aren't judging electrics by how much acoustic resonance they have, then it gets harder to pin down good and bad.
          Last edited by Top-L; 01-15-2021, 01:13 PM.

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          • #6
            I find very little correlation between unplugged and plugged in tone. Plugged in tone is the only one that matters.
            Join me in the fight against muscular atrophy!

            Originally posted by Douglas Adams
            This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

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            • #7
              I've noticed this as well. Both of my frankenstrats resonate really well with a big sound when plugged in, regardless of pickups. I think part of it has to do with the fat neck they have (Warmoth Boatneck contour). My SG Jr has a 60's Slim profile as does my LP Trad Pro and they are brighter sounding. I was surprised that the LP sounds brighter than one of the Strats even though they both have 500K controls and a CC in the bridge. The Strat has a roasted maple neck / fingerboard and alder body. The LP is the standard fare with a plain maple top. You'd think the LP would sound warmer. Not in this case.
              The SG Jr is a kit guitar that came together better than I could have hoped for. I had to glue the neck in and all that. If all goes well with the LP Jr DC build (kit from same company), lightning should strike twice, just like it did with my frankenstrats (same body woods, neck profile and hardware on them). The LP Jr DC has the baseball bat neck. It'll probably have a fatter sound.

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              • #8
                This is why a 335 if softer sounding on the attack -even without a Bigsby -the guitar is purposefully designed to transmit energy into the air using the chambering as well as a portion into the transduction circuit.

                It's a trade off.... the denser and more efficient the resonant loop of a guitar is -the more energy the strings are imparting into the magnetic field of the transducer. -also the more the pickups themselves are physically moving sympathetically (hopefully) to the sting action.
                “For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when adventure starts.” Yvonne Chouinard

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by ErikH View Post
                  I've noticed this as well. Both of my frankenstrats resonate really well with a big sound when plugged in, regardless of pickups. I think part of it has to do with the fat neck they have (Warmoth Boatneck contour). My SG Jr has a 60's Slim profile as does my LP Trad Pro and they are brighter sounding. I was surprised that the LP sounds brighter than one of the Strats even though they both have 500K controls and a CC in the bridge. The Strat has a roasted maple neck / fingerboard and alder body. The LP is the standard fare with a plain maple top. You'd think the LP would sound warmer. Not in this case.
                  The SG Jr is a kit guitar that came together better than I could have hoped for. I had to glue the neck in and all that. If all goes well with the LP Jr DC build (kit from same company), lightning should strike twice, just like it did with my frankenstrats (same body woods, neck profile and hardware on them). The LP Jr DC has the baseball bat neck. It'll probably have a fatter sound.
                  Its interesting, what is a "fat" sound? Is that a sound with more mids? More bass? That would suggest treble is being attenuated.

                  If my theory holds (and it seems to) anything that is more solid contruction would yield a more "hi fi" sound plugged in. It wouldnt have the same snap/hum that a strat has acoustically. SO I would anticipate a fat neck would have more high end (marginally) when plugged in, and sound deeper more subdued acoustically. Some of my thinnest necks are most resonant, but the guitars are also warm when plugged in, meaning they have a roundish sound, screaming harmonics sit well for instance. I think that is why basswood body, bolt on maple is the winning combination for shred guitars.

                  I like thicker necks for feel, and perhaps stability, but neck joint/material seems to make much more difference. A neck-through maple is basically a maple guitar with wings. Very different than a bolt on maple. Another variation I've seen is in the width of the maple core. Ive seen a thick maple core with the trem mounted to the maple, and a thin maple core with trem mounted to wings.

                  A mahogony neck glued to a mahogony body could be nearly identical to mahogony neck through. I just dont know.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Top-L View Post

                    Its interesting, what is a "fat" sound? Is that a sound with more mids? More bass? That would suggest treble is being attenuated.
                    Another way for me to put it is a fuller sound. Not thin.

                    Originally posted by Top-L View Post
                    If my theory holds (and it seems to) anything that is more solid contruction would yield a more "hi fi" sound plugged in. It wouldnt have the same snap/hum that a strat has acoustically. SO I would anticipate a fat neck would have more high end (marginally) when plugged in, and sound deeper more subdued acoustically. Some of my thinnest necks are most resonant, but the guitars are also warm when plugged in, meaning they have a roundish sound, screaming harmonics sit well for instance. I think that is why basswood body, bolt on maple is the winning combination for shred guitars.

                    I like thicker necks for feel, and perhaps stability, but neck joint/material seems to make much more difference. A neck-through maple is basically a maple guitar with wings. Very different than a bolt on maple. Another variation I've seen is in the width of the maple core. Ive seen a thick maple core with the trem mounted to the maple, and a thin maple core with trem mounted to wings.

                    A mahogony neck glued to a mahogony body could be nearly identical to mahogony neck through. I just dont know.
                    It's not just the construction but the quality of that piece of wood or pieces. A plank cut from the top of the tree is going to be different than that from the middle or even the lower part. Sure, same species and same tree but there could be a difference in the density. From tree to tree it'll be different. Once they are all dried out that could change everything and even things out some but there's still that factor.

                    Basswood w/ maple caps is what helps off-set the thin necks, IME and what my ears tell me. Many have mentioned that fatter necks contribute to a fuller tone. IME, that is the case. Basswood (REAL quality basswood) can be very warm, almost too warm. Adding a maple cap gives it some snap back. I used to have a Fender Contemporary Tele from the 80's made of basswood. It has a decent sized neck profile (maple with rosewood fretboard) that thicker than the standard C shape. No maple cap. It sounded massive no matter what pickups I put in it. A big, full, round sound. The resonance was really good too but not as good as my original frankenstrat.

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                    • #11
                      How about adding something like carbon fiber into the mix?

                      Sent from my SM-A115A using Tapatalk

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                      • #12
                        My current thinking on what is "good sounding" guitar, is something that is consistent and doesn't have any dead spots.

                        Plugged in, you can work around it with EQ and pickup swaps. I am less inclined to think that acoustic resonance is a good gauge of quality electric guitar. For instance, you might think the piece of wood you got is "better" because it (must have ) come from a better part of the tree.. obviously because its more resonant. While I might think that was a lesser piece of wood because its bleeding treble frequencies and sounds less substantial or hi fi when plugged in.

                        There are too many variables.

                        I'm enjoying the neck through guitar and am looking forward to getting more of them, even if the acoustic tonal response is different. I anticipate that a neck through guitar will be much more stable and be able to hold a consistenly low action over the years without requiring fret work. IOW, I am caring less about acoustic resonance and more about stability, upper fret access, and appearance/quality.

                        Obviously I don't have all the answers, but I am more open to accepting different kinds of guitars. If I pick up a LP in a music store, strum it and its not casting sound throughout the room like a cheap indo strat would, I won't dismiss it offhand.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Demanic View Post
                          How about adding something like carbon fiber into the mix?

                          Sent from my SM-A115A using Tapatalk
                          Super stiff -about 2x that of steel -so it would be really efficient in getting the energy into the circuit indeed. You can make cool guitars for sure.

                          The reason woods are easy for sound application is because of the material variation and imperfections which prevent exaggerated and missing bandwidths and instead a nice diffuse blend of the spectrum.

                          -but in reality any artificial material could accomplish something pleasant with planning -you just have to make it with that in mind by either breaking up the uniformity/homogenaity of the substance in the construction process or plan how to use that material uniformity in a way that is a desired tone to you.
                          “For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when adventure starts.” Yvonne Chouinard

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by GuitarStv View Post
                            I find very little correlation between unplugged and plugged in tone. Plugged in tone is the only one that matters.
                            This is a very good point.

                            I point out a couple of things:

                            1. You can subtract frequencies that are there, but not really add those that are not
                            2. The pickup modifies those tones substantially...maybe in ways you like, maybe not.
                            Originally posted by Bad City
                            He's got the crowd on his side and the blue jean lights in his eyes...

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by NegativeEase View Post

                              Super stiff -about 2x that of steel -so it would be really efficient in getting the energy into the circuit indeed. You can make cool guitars for sure.

                              The reason woods are easy for sound application is because of the material variation and imperfections which prevent exaggerated and missing bandwidths and instead a nice diffuse blend of the spectrum.

                              -but in reality any artificial material could accomplish something pleasant with planning -you just have to make it with that in mind by either breaking up the uniformity/homogenaity of the substance in the construction process or plan how to use that material uniformity in a way that is a desired tone to you.
                              If it weren't for the cost, I would have a Chapman stick printed with carbon nanotubes with Lace Deathbar pickups.

                              Sent from my SM-A115A using Tapatalk

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