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  1. #1

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    I had an ash American Strat. Later I built an Alder Warmoth Strat. I was surprised how different they sounded. Ash one sounded warmer, more bass with mellower attack and was very scooped with ringing highs. Alder one had more mids and sounded more balanced. Due to the weaker bass, alder also sounded brighter than the ash one.

    I didn't know what was making the difference. I swapped the necks and electronics. The basic characteristics remained the same. The Alder one is chambered so I thought it must have been the hollowness of the body that caused the difference. Later I discovered that other alder and ash guitars I tried in stores also shared the respective characteristics.

    Here are alder vs ash comparison videos I found. In every one of them you can hear these characteristics. Tele or Strat, maple or rosewood fretboard, clean or distorted doesn't matter, the difference comes through even in a Youtube video. I don't know why there was ever a debate about that.









    Last edited by Tal_175; 05-26-2020 at 07:51 PM.

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  3. #2

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    What wood is not 'tonewood.'

  4. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by icr
    What wood is not 'tonewood.'
    Wikipedia article about tonewood is pretty good. Though I'm not really making a distinction between tonewood vs regular wood. More between different species of wood.
    Tonewood - Wikipedia

  5. #4
    Fender recently announced that they are discontinuing ash on the bodies of regular production guitars. They had to make that decision due to the infestation and various other environmental conditions that have limited the supply of instrument grade ash significantly.

    They'll use Alder and other alternatives from now on except the special reissues and custom orders etc.

    Fender to Discontinue Using Ash Bodies for Production-Line Guitars | GuitarPlayer
    Last edited by Tal_175; 05-26-2020 at 07:51 PM.

  6. #5

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    The good thing is that you have one of each so you can enjoy the characteristics of both of them. You will probably find that a particular song works best on one or the other simply because the tone suits it. I have an Alder clapton strat and a PRS swamp ash special. Different makers but exhibiting the same characteristics you mention. Both great.

  7. #6

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    This is an argument as old as water. As I have mentioned before, I have a 40th Anniversary (1994) Fender Stratocaster made with an all-aluminum body. Plugged into the same amp I use for any other guitar, its sound is indistinguishable from any of my wood-bodied guitars.

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Just Fred
    This is an argument as old as water. As I have mentioned before, I have a 40th Anniversary (1994) Fender Stratocaster made with an all-aluminum body. Plugged into the same amp I use for any other guitar, its sound is indistinguishable from any of my wood-bodied guitars.
    Yeah, I have a lexan strat that sounds unmistakably like... a strat. Identical to any of my others? Maybe not, but a blind test would pick it out as a strat by anyone not hearing impaired.

    Tonewood matters for solid bodies-clear_strat_f-jpg

  9. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by GNAPPI
    Yeah, I have a lexan strat that sounds unmistakably like... a strat. Identical to any of my others? Maybe not, but a blind test would pick it out as a strat by anyone not hearing impaired.

    Tonewood matters for solid bodies-clear_strat_f-jpg
    Would you be able to pick out your lexan Strat from a wood strat if you play them blind-folded?

  10. #9

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    I 've always spent most of my practicing time with electrics at home playing unplugged, and the differences in acoustic sound, vibration, sensitivity, evenness, richness, overtones, etc, are impressive between similar styles of guitars. When you really get to know the acoustic sound of an electric guitar you realize that the only thing pickups do is carry that sound to an amp, colouring it according to their nature. But all the good and bad things about the guitar are there already, in the acoustic sound the woods and its construction create.

  11. #10

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    This WIKI below seems to indicate any wood used for a musical instrument is a "tonewood." Why not just say "wood" because "tonewood" = "wood"
    Even Balsa wood is used for guitars, and by those definitions would be "tonewood."

    Many woods used in musical instrument construction are chosen because of qualities remote from "tone." Such as availability, size, strength, grain pattern, ease of manufacture, acceptability to a finish, color, legality, durability, smell, freedom from parasites, water content, etc..

    Tonewood[edit]
    Spruce is the standard material used in soundboards for many musical instruments, including guitars, mandolins, cellos, violins, and the soundboard at the heart of a piano and the harp. Wood used for this purpose is referred to as tonewood.

  12. #11

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    Master violinists cannot tell the difference between modern builds and Strads, statistically. This is an acoustic instrument, perched immediately next to an ear, played blindfold by professional violinists with an average of 27 years of playing experience, supplied by people who had no idea which violin they were giving the musician.

    Swapping necks and playing the guitars oneself is a zero-blind "experiment" and therefore demonstrates nothing. Most everything in the signal chain influences tone -- including the wood, in a limited fashion, sure. And all bets are off once you go through a few gain stages. I'd want to see double-blind, single-variable studies before I buy the OP's claim.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, to paraphrase Sagan.

  13. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by icr
    This WIKI below seems to indicate any wood used for a musical instrument is a "tonewood." Why not just say "wood" because "tonewood" = "wood"
    Even Balsa wood is used for guitars, and by those definitions would be "tonewood."
    I mean not that this distinction matters for the purposes of this thread but tonewood is a terminology used by wood instrument makers. The emphasis in the meaning is not any wood that has ever been used in any instrument. It's more about certain properties (stiffness to weight ratio, flexibility vs brittleness, speed of sound etc) that are deemed desirable by instrument makers.
    The first sentence of the WIKI says just that:
    "Tonewood refers to specific wood varieties that possess tonal properties that make them good choices for use in woodwind or acoustic stringed instruments."

  14. #13

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    Supposedly the LP body was supposed to combine the soft warmth of mahogany with the hard brilliance of maple. But I always wondered if they just cancel each other out.

  15. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Thumpalumpacus
    Master violinists cannot tell the difference between modern builds and Strads, statistically. This is an acoustic instrument, perched immediately next to an ear, played blindfold by professional violinists with an average of 27 years of playing experience, supplied by people who had no idea which violin they were giving the musician.
    I think you misunderstand those studies. It's not that they cannot tell the difference between violins and they think all the violins sound the same. They just can't identify the maker consistently. There is a difference.

    Quote Originally Posted by Thumpalumpacus
    Swapping necks and playing the guitars oneself is a zero-blind "experiment" and therefore demonstrates nothing. Most everything in the signal chain influences tone -- including the wood, in a limited fashion, sure. And all bets are off once you go through a few gain stages. I'd want to see double-blind, single-variable studies before I buy the OP's claim.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, to paraphrase Sagan.
    I think it's pretty obvious in the videos I posted there are certain common qualities imparted consistently by the 2 types of woods. In some cases otherwise identical guitars. I would consider the extraordinary claim to be saying that "wood makes no difference, hence any difference heard in comparisons must be mostly product of other factors".

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by GNAPPI
    Yeah, I have a lexan strat that sounds unmistakably like... a strat. Identical to any of my others? Maybe not, but a blind test would pick it out as a strat by anyone not hearing impaired.
    Maybe the different woods *feel* differently vibrating against your body, but don't sound different through the pickups?

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    I think you misunderstand those studies. It's not that they cannot tell the difference between violins and they think all the violins sound the same. They just can't identify the maker consistently. There is a difference.
    Of course that's the finding. And you know what that means? The woods used by Stradivarius weren't identifiable , consistently, by trained professionals; and that they often confused those woods (which would presumably be drier, and therefore lighter) with newer woods. And that means they could not identify the difference between new wood and old beyond a statistically random success rate.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    I think it's pretty obvious in the videos I posted there are certain common qualities imparted consistently by the 2 types of woods. In some cases otherwise identical guitars. I would consider the extraordinary claim to be saying that "wood makes no difference, hence any difference heard in comparisons must be mostly product of other factors".
    Well, it's a good thing I didn't claim that, then. Indeed, since you obviously missed it, I'll reiterate what I wrote:

    Quote Originally Posted by Thumpalumpacus
    Most everything in the signal chain influences tone -- including the wood, in a limited fashion, sure.
    Now, living out in the country, I get my internet through the phone, and so cannot watch the video at this time due to data limitations. I don't know how they've got things set up, whether the pickups were dialed in identically when they were swapped, and so on. Ron Kirn, a noted builder of fine S- and T-style guitars, asserts that simply the act of removing a neck and reattaching it will change a guitar's sound. I don't know.

    What I do know is that a couple of youtube videos made under uncontrolled conditions aren't very rigorous, and therefore not very evidentiary, and certainly not explanatory.

    How would the wood species dramatically alter the interaction between pickups and strings? What mechanism would explain these differences? And do we see that mechanism at work in any experiments? Is it measurable?

  18. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Thumpalumpacus
    Of course that's the finding. And you know what that means? The woods used by Stradivarius weren't identifiable , consistently, by trained professionals; and that they often confused those woods (which would presumably be drier, and therefore lighter) with newer woods. And that means they could not identify the difference between new wood and old beyond a statistically random success rate.
    The discussion is not whether there is audible, consistent difference between aged vs new wood. It's difference between different species of wood.

    Quote Originally Posted by Thumpalumpacus
    Well, it's a good thing I didn't claim that, then. Indeed, since you obviously missed it, I'll reiterate what I wrote:



    Now, living out in the country, I get my internet through the phone, and so cannot watch the video at this time due to data limitations. I don't know how they've got things set up, whether the pickups were dialed in identically when they were swapped, and so on. Ron Kirn, a noted builder of fine S- and T-style guitars, asserts that simply the act of removing a neck and reattaching it will change a guitar's sound. I don't know.

    What I do know is that a couple of youtube videos made under uncontrolled conditions aren't very rigorous, and therefore not very evidentiary, and certainly not explanatory.

    How would the wood species dramatically alter the interaction between pickups and strings? What mechanism would explain these differences? And do we see that mechanism at work in any experiments? Is it measurable?
    May be after you see the videos (if you choose to) you'll have a better sense of the OP.

    Dramatic is not really the word I would choose. If you're asking about the mechanism, it is generally understood to be a substractive interaction. Acoustic resonance of the body changes vibration characteristics and attack on the strings. Bridge provides a complex feedback mechanism between the body and strings. Some frequencies are absorbed, some are cancelled out, some are even further amplified by the matching resonance.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    The discussion is not whether there is audible, consistent difference between aged vs new wood. It's difference between different species of wood.
    That's a distinction without a difference. This discussion is about the ability to audibly detect differing physical qualities in woods reliably. Whether or not the differences arise from species or age is irrelevant. If professionals cannot hear the difference between old, dry wood and newer, wetter wood, what makes you think some guy on youtube can hear the difference between species?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    May be after you see the videos (if you choose to) you'll have a better sense of the OP.

    Dramatic is not really the word I would choose. If you're asking about the mechanism, it is generally understood to be a substractive interaction. Acoustic resonance of the body changes vibration characteristics and attack on the strings. Bridge provides a complex feedback mechanism between the body and strings. Some frequencies are absorbed, some are cancelled out, some are even further amplified by the matching resonance.
    How does the wood type subtract some frequencies and not others? And why are you mentioning the bridge of a solid-body guitar at all? That's metal, not body-wood. As for acoustic resonance, how much energy would you guess a the E two octaves above middle-C imparts to 1 3/4" of solid wood, and what might be its amplitude as it propagates through the body? And why isn't the pickup picking up the string directly above it and thereby getting a full range of frequencies?

    Also, I'm not sure you understand "resonance" very well. Resonance is where the material substrate sympathetically vibrates. As such, it is not an energy amplifier, it is an energy sink; it absorbs energy.

    No offense intended, but this mechanism you propose is so vague as to be useless without some serious clarification.

  20. #19

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    I think a better explanation may be different wood types have certain characteristics. And even within the same species differences can occur from weight, etc.
    It also come's down to the neck and body liking each other. Ive had so many builds I stopped counting. Sometimes all the wrong things produced a spectacular sounding guitar. And other times all the right things sounded terrible!

  21. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Thumpalumpacus
    That's a distinction without a difference. This discussion is about the ability to audibly detect differing physical qualities in woods reliably. Whether or not the differences arise from species or age is irrelevant.



    How does the wood type subtract some frequencies and not others? And why are you mentioning the bridge of a solid-body guitar at all? That's metal, not body-wood.

    Also, I'm not sure you understand "resonance" very well. Resonance is where the material substrate sympathetically vibrates. As such, it is not an energy amplifier, it is an energy sink; it absorbs energy.

    No offense intended, but this mechanism you propose is so vague as to be useless without some serious clarification.
    Sorry but your questions are very basic and it would take a long time to get into all the details. Ampifiying a frequency is a relative effect in relation to other frequencies. It's a well known phenomenon called wolf tones:

    "A wolf tone, or simply a "wolf",[1] is a sustaining sympathetic artificial overtone that amplifies and expands the frequencies of a played musical note, and is produced when the original note matches the natural resonant frequency of the body of the musical instrument"
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_tone

  22. #21
    Simply put, when the body vibrates it takes energy from the strings. But the energy is not taken uniformly across the entire frequency spectrum available in the strings. Not all frequencies resonate the same in a given material, shape, construction etc. Different pieces of wood react to the strings differently hence basically sculpt the frequency spectrum of the overtones in the strings based on their acoustic properties.

    Pickups detect what's left on the strings. Hence the substractive effect.

    The bridge is the interface between the body and the strings. Providing a gateway to the interaction. The higher the acoustic impedance of the bridge, the less interaction would occur.

    None of these are my theories.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 05-27-2020 at 04:18 PM.

  23. #22

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    No wonder many here like Music Theory so much! LOL ,

  24. #23

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    Fools rush in where angels yada yada ...

    Elite Violinists Fail to Distinguish Legendary Violins From Modern Fiddles | Science | AAAS

    There may indeed be blind experiments in which violinists have been unable to distinguish one violin from another, but the one that is typically cited did not demonstrate that. Rather, it demonstrated that they COULD distinguish violins, could not guess correctly which were modern or old, and preferred the ones that turned out to be modern after the reveal. Many guessed that the ones they preferred had to be old because they preferred them, but these guesses turned out to be wrong.

    OK, on to alder vs ash. I accept as plausible that if you take two Strats that have identical body dimensions and shape, identical pups and controls, identical necks, identical hardware, identical set-ups, and identical signal chain, but one's body is ash and the other's is alder, there will be audible differences between the two. But I think you have to put an asterisk or air quotes or something around ash because the density of ash varies much more than alder (especially according to where it was grown).

    The first video above underscores that. The guy talks about his ash guitar being so heavy he can't play it any more (which jives with my experience of late 70s/early 80s Fenders). But ash can also be lighter than alder especially "swamp" ash (which is not a different species, but an indictor of where it was grown), or the same weight. Alder varies in density, too, but SFAIK not by as much. So I don't think these videos (or our experiences) are truly tests of one species versus another. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think there are blind tests that show that alder and ash of the same density consistently sound different.

    John

  25. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by John A.
    Fools rush in where angels yada yada ...
    Are you the fool or the angel?


    Quote Originally Posted by John A.
    Elite Violinists Fail to Distinguish Legendary Violins From Modern Fiddles | Science | AAAS

    There may indeed be blind experiments in which violinists have been unable to distinguish one violin from another, but the one that is typically cited did not demonstrate that. Rather, it demonstrated that they COULD distinguish violins, could not guess correctly which were modern or old, and preferred the ones that turned out to be modern after the reveal. Many guessed that the ones they preferred had to be old because they preferred them, but these guesses turned out to be wrong.

    OK, on to alder vs ash. I accept as plausible that if you take two Strats that have identical body dimensions and shape, identical pups and controls, identical necks, identical hardware, identical set-ups, and identical signal chain, but one's body is ash and the other's is alder, there will be audible differences between the two. But I think you have to put an asterisk or air quotes or something around ash because the density of ash varies much more than alder (especially according to where it was grown).

    The first video above underscores that. The guy talks about his ash guitar being so heavy he can't play it any more (which jives with my experience of late 70s/early 80s Fenders). But ash can also be lighter than alder especially "swamp" ash (which is not a different species, but an indictor of where it was grown), or the same weight. Alder varies in density, too, but SFAIK not by as much. So I don't think these videos (or our experiences) are truly tests of one species versus another. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think there are blind tests that show that alder and ash of the same density consistently sound different.

    John
    I generally agree with what you say here. But one has to understand that these are generalizations and not put the bar to impossibly high levels and take things too literally. Of course there are different types of ash (northern and southern swamp) and every piece of wood is different. You can have cases a where a piece of alder and ash have opposite properties. Same is true for even acoustic guitars. A rosewood guitar may sound more like a mahogany or vise versa. Doesn't mean generalizations do not have a point.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 05-27-2020 at 03:00 PM.

  26. #25

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    This guy is a bit annoying, but the experiment is pretty interesting: