How to choose the best guitar, factors to take into account according to science
This is a guest post by Ray Beck.
Browsing through the plethora of guitars available at your local music store or online retailer can be an overwhelming experience. The sheer number of models, shapes, and sizes is confusing. However, there may be a way to simplify the experience of using science.
The guitar, as a handcrafted instrument, relies heavily on science in both its construction and the sound it produces. The measurements and adjustments required to build a guitar are extremely precise.
Understanding the science behind the guitar is therefore an invaluable tool in gauging quality, and therefore determining which guitar is the best.
tonewood and sound waves
Sound propagates differently through different materials. It moves through wood almost thirteen times faster than air. This makes it an ideal material for musical instruments where responsiveness is key. We know that sound waves cannot propagate in a vacuum. They need molecules to interact with to create what we recognize as a bird singing, a car engine, or music.
The first instrument makers searched for the best material and decided on wood. We have all heard of Stradivarius violins. Luthier Stradivari was obsessed with quality and only used spruce wood from the Fiemme Valley in the Italian Alps. His violins are now known for their unique sound and price tag, with some examples selling for millions of dollars.
Wood is preferred for its ability to carry sound effectively. It also has tonal characteristics that vary by type. Some produce brighter sounds, while others produce warmer, deeper harmonics. In guitar jargon, it's called a tonewood. A particularly dense wood, prized for the resonance of sounds penetrating it and for its propensity to shape the tone of a finished instrument.
Choosing the right wood is an important scientific reference for the best and worst guitars. However, this is hampered by the availability of certain woods, which directly affects the price of a guitar. The rarer and more endangered the wood, the more expensive the instrument. It is best to rely on the specific properties of tonewoods to determine which one best suits your needs.
Another aspect is the structural value of wood. A guitar needs to hold together and produce a great tone. Guitars have been known to withstand stresses of hundreds of pounds. Therefore, guitar builders look for a good compromise between tone and power.
Here is a list of the most common woods and their grades. This is not exhaustive and there are many other scientifically proven variants with similar properties.
Ashes:A bright sounding common wood known for its ability to sustain chords and notes. Ash is one of the strongest and most economical woods used in guitar making. Originating in Europe, it is widely available and very affordable.
Bee:It is also found in Europe and is known for its light weight and rich, balanced tone with a generous amount of high, mid and low frequencies. Alder is preferred for blues and rock styles. Cheap compared to woods like mahogany and readily available.
Linde: Basswood is one of the softest hardwoods and is native to the Americas. It is used for the balanced but slightly warmer quality of its tone. Very affordable and often seen on mixed guitar models.
Mahogany: Mahogany is an extremely resonant hardwood that favors warmer tones. It is strong yet malleable, making it a favorite of luthiers around the world. It is preferred for its durability, its pleasant red color, and its ability to produce a rich yet crisp sound. Mahogany is heavy, so be prepared for extra weight when you play.
should: Mainly used for the neck and fingerboard, maple produces an extremely bright sound due to its hardness. Found primarily in North America, Maple resonates well and produces crisp, snappy tones. Maple is used primarily for fingerboards or used with woods to balance dark, muddy tones.
Rosenholz: Rosewood is a visually stunning, heavy wood that is most commonly incorporated into the construction of guitar fingerboards. It produces a rich, strong and velvety sound, although at a high price given its rarity. This is definitely not for the more environmentally conscious gamer.
Electric Guitars and the Fallacy of the Tonewood
The importance of tonewood on an acoustic guitar cannot be underestimated, but does it have the same effect on an electric guitar? Although hotly debated to this day and tainted with conflicting history, the short answer is a science-based resounding no, or at least the impact is very small.
Electric guitars use magnets and electronic circuitry to transmit the sound of vibrating strings to an amplifier. Wood does not significantly affect the quality of the vibrations that create sound.
Unlike an acoustic guitar, which uses wood to amplify and amplify sound, an electric guitar doesn't rely on wood to do this. The wood simply acts as a solid base that can withstand the tension of the strings and to which the other components are attached.
Therefore, choosing an electric guitar depends much more on the components, the quality of the finish, and how these two affect the tone.
The basic requirement of acoustic guitars is the transmission of the natural sound from the strings to the body of the guitar. This cavity then acts as a resonance chamber in which sound waves from the strings cause the wood of the guitar to vibrate. The air in the chamber is then distorted, creating compression waves, which are then amplified. This reaches our ears, which translate it into sound or music.
In general, the wood used in the back plate and the front plate will interact at different frequencies. The front generally prefers higher frequencies, while the back tends to vibrate when in contact with lower frequencies. The two panels balance these two frequency ranges into a unified sound. This balanced sound determines the overall tone of the guitar.
The way the plates interact with the vibration of the string is called the resonant pattern. In other words, the sound waves create a pattern in the wood. A luthier's job is to find the right wood and shape it into a shape that produces the best possible pattern for the desired tone.
Due to the complexity of measuring the intricacies of these patterns, the science behind how sound waves interact with the wood of a guitar is limited. It is generally accepted that violin making is more of an art form using elements of science than the other way around. Because of this, it is difficult to scientifically evaluate a guitar's construction to determine its quality.
Opinions and judgments are the only real measure and cannot be quantified. It just doesn't translate into an equation. It all comes down to personal preference and what everyone considers "good" or "bad".
With that in mind, and beyond the basic premise that a guitar amplifies sound enough, it's up to each consumer to decide what sounds best. It is highly recommended to follow your instinct. Word of mouth and help from more experienced guitarists are also invaluable.
harmonics and tone
Imagine a single musical note played on a guitar. It is a unique sound to the ear. It is actually made up of several related frequencies that vibrate simultaneously to create that particular note. These are called overtones. When they are multiples of the originally played note, they are called harmonics.
A guitar string is a coiled bundle of different metals with a specific weight, gauge, and tension. This means that any vibration produced is imperfect due to these real world properties, as well as environmental considerations such as resistance.
When the vibration of a string is initiated by a finger or plectrum, the sine waves produced are affected by the string being held in the machine heads and bridge. These contact points mean it can't vibrate perfectly: the ends of the string change the shape of the vibration, creating harmonics that lag behind the main frequency being played.
If the wave were to be examined mathematically and its entire frequency range analyzed, you would see a large spike at the center frequency of the note, and then less pronounced spikes for the harmonics. In a perfect world (or using a computer) where the string has no imperfections and the environment is unaffected, you would theoretically see a large spike in the center frequency, but nothing else. This would result in a false, artificial and clinical sound.
On the other hand, if there were too many harmonics, the guitar would sound thunderous and sodden, almost oversaturated with frequencies. Therefore, a guitar's tone is determined by how well the instrument handles the mix of these frequencies, and how quickly they decay audibly.
While it is clearly impossible to perceive all variations in sound frequency level, the human ear is capable of discerning general characteristics. This allows the listener to determine if the sound is pleasant, overpowering, weak, or different. When buying a guitar, trust the information in your ear.
If you are thinking of buying an electric guitar, pay attention to the pickups. The acoustic vibrations of the unamplified strings are quite quiet, producing only low-volume treble. An amplifier allows the pickup to translate the vibration of the strings into a much higher amplified output.
The quality of the pickups is directly related to the characteristics of the sound produced. With that in mind, it's clear that they have a huge impact on the tone produced by a guitar. Scientifically speaking, a well-made cartridge with high-quality magnets and carefully installed internal wiring inevitably leads to better performance.
The location of a pickup in relation to the strings has a huge impact on tone. Likewise, the number of collections. Two pickups capture the vibrations of the same string in two separate positions to produce a consistent tone. A pickup near the bridge will produce a high tone, while one near the neck will pick up the lower frequencies.
There are a wide variety of types of pills, but they are based on the basic principle of the two most common, which are described below:
The single coil is a classic pickup with a crisp tone and brighter characteristics. Define the sound of the world's most famous guitars and artists. It is the most important factor in the birth of the electric guitar.
As early as the 1930s, luthiers were experimenting with different ways to capture musical notes and convert them into an electrical signal that could be amplified. The most encouraging iteration was the magnetized single-coil pickup. The natural oscillation of the strings creates variations in the "flow" of the magnetic field. A coil of wires detects this and, in turn, generates an electromotive force or current that incorporates the vibrations of the string as a signal.
Although the single coil is a versatile pickup, it does suffer from electromagnetic smog issues. According to James Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism, the use of a magnet and electricity inevitably results in unwanted residual magnetic waves that permeate sound. There is a slight buzz that can be fatal to even the most patient guitarist. Then there's the humbucker.
As the name suggests, the humbucker is a new solution to annoying single-coil pickup hum. While techniques vary by manufacturer, the basic principle involves two coils with opposite magnetic poles and wiring. The hum picked up by the two coils is cancelled, allowing only the actual sound of the vibrating strings to be converted into an electrical signal.
Therefore, humbuckers are preferred for their cleaner signal, although the tone produced is often described as warmer, fatter, and heavier than single-coil pickups. Therefore, it is preferred by heavy metal and hardcore guitarists.
An understanding of the science behind these two types of pills is helpful in determining which one will suit your needs.
Internal wiring and components
Basic electronics require a stable and constant signal to maximize the efficiency of a circuit. The same goes for a guitar.
Due to the relatively low voltage required to operate an electric guitar, the quality of the cable used does not affect the guitar. The deciding factor is the quality of the soldering work and the components used to transmit the signal from the pickups to the output jack.
By components we mean the knobs, switches, and dials that control each pickup. They allow the player to adjust the tone and volume, switch to a specific pickup, or mute it to produce a specific sound.
Many low-end guitars offer basic models of these components that are prone to failure. Loose cables due to poor manufacturing, improperly secured jack inputs that degrade the signal, and unresponsive toggle switches that won't turn on the pickups are all common problems. There is a direct correlation between the cost of the guitar and the quality of the wiring/components. To avoid problems, be prepared to spend a little more.
Guitar hardware is loosely defined as any component other than internal wiring, components, and wood. This includes the mechanics, the bridge, and the finish. Different types of hardware have different functions. There is a correlation between price and quality. Therefore, hardware is a reliable measure of a guitar's overall quality. This is because better hardware improves tuning accuracy and keeps strings in tune longer, especially after temporarily changing pitch with a tremolo or vibrating bar.
Also known as tuning pegs, these vital mechanisms essentially keep a guitar's strings in tune. Mounted on the head, they hold the strings securely by means of a protruding metal shaft through which a string is passed and then wound tightly. The knobs allow the player to change the note/pitch by changing the tension of each string. More tension corresponds to a higher pitch and less tension to a lower pitch. This makes them one of the most important pieces of hardware.
Cheaper models are often temperamental and will only hold a tuning for a short amount of time before the player is forced to readjust. Being able to trust mechanics to get the job done should be of the utmost importance for beginners and virtuosos alike.
There are several types of machine heads. Therefore, it can be difficult to visually distinguish a quality part from an inexpensive mass-produced product. The best way to address this hurdle is to physically play a guitar and see how quickly it goes out of tune.
The bridge is located at the bottom of the guitar and is used to stabilize the strings on the fingerboard. The height of the strings determines the action described below, which has a huge impact on guitar playing.
The strings are attached to the bridge itself or run through it and are held in place by a tailpiece. Most guitars do not have a tailpiece. They typically appear on guitars with tremolo or vibrato bars, with the tailpiece acting as a moving component that modulates the strings to create unique variations in sound.
Bridges are also an important part of tuning the intonation of a guitar. Basically, intonation is all about finding the ideal position for each string so that the notes are in tune no matter where they are on the fretboard. The intonation naturally changes over time due to the deformation of the wood. It is important to have a good bridge that allows for small adjustments to realign the strings from time to time.
The bridge of an electric guitar is usually made of metal or some type of composite material and can be adjusted using screws to lower or raise its height. Each string is assigned a bit that can be lengthened or shortened with a screw.
Electric guitar strings come with a ball end. The strings are passed through holes in the bottom of the bridge. The end ball prevents slippage. Once the other end of a string is attached to the machine head, it is held firmly in place.
Although the bridge is fully adjustable, it does have an impact on the overall tone and playability of the guitar. With that in mind, a well-designed fixed bridge improves the overall quality of a guitar, and more generally helps you determine the best guitar for your needs.
Guitar bridges consist of two components.
The saddle behaves similar to the bridge of an electric guitar and sets the strings at the desired height on the fingerboard. Historically, saddles were made of ivory or bone. Newer models include plastic due to its lower cost of production and immediate availability. The idea here is to provide a smooth surface so as not to damage the strings.
The saddle is attached to the second component, the connector block, which in turn is attached to the body of the guitar. The string block is where the strings end, each one knotted through a hole to secure it to the guitar.
On the vast majority of acoustics, the bridge height cannot be changed. The desired rope height is determined during the manufacturing process. However, modifications can be made by removing the thin wedges from the seat. It is risky work and it is best to buy a guitar as tall as you want.
For more information on other factors to consider, see the link:https://beginnerguitarhq.com/mejor-guitarra/
This is a guest post by Ray Beck.