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Mark2

Posts: 1908
Joined: Jul. 12 2004
From: San Francisco

Breaking in a new guitar 

I’ve always read that guitars sound better after a period of playing them but honestly I’ve never experienced it. I bought a new flamenco guitar about five years ago and played it a lot. It’s a high quality instrument but it sounded great from day one. I can’t say for sure it sounds any better today but the truth is I don’t know. How much better can a guitar get? Like from a decent sound to a great one? People assert this is true with electric guitars as well. I came across a device that rests on your guitar and vibrates, simulating playing in order to “open up the guitar “ I know little to nothing about guitar building so I don’t want to say this is snake oil. It’s interesting that some people believe a 1964 Stratocaster sounds better than a new one. That has not been my experience. Many pro flamenco players seem to prefer newer guitars and while a 1930 Santos or other vintage instruments have tremendous collector value, you don’t see many top players recording with them.
How long does it take to break in a guitar?
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 11 2023 21:17:03
 
Morante

 

Posts: 2222
Joined: Nov. 21 2010
 

RE: Breaking in a new guitar (in reply to Mark2

You are right.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 12 2023 0:13:02
 
RobF

Posts: 1621
Joined: Aug. 24 2017
 

RE: Breaking in a new guitar (in reply to Mark2

I think well made guitars that sound good generally will improve with age, but a dog will probably be a dog forever. I’m not convinced playing them has anything to do with it, however. I think the wood just ages on its own, regardless.

Some examples…

I have an old Gibson steel stringed acoustic that’s never sounded good. I’ve played the living daylights out of it over the years. It records well and also responds well to an old-style sound hole magnetic pickup, but it’s never sounded any good. I used to keep it right beside loudspeakers and PA systems, in the hopes that would help. It didn’t. The guitar is 60 years old now, and it still sounds like crap.

My 1963 Gibson Firebird doesn’t seem to sound as good as it used to. I think the pickups might have degraded a bit? It doesn’t play as well, either. I’m going to have to restore it, I guess. The electrics I play are all relatively new. I actually think some of the Fenders made between 2012-16 are the best they’ve ever made, ever.

On the other hand, the first flamenco Blanca I made didn’t sound good at all when I first strung it up. I was really disappointed. I had used Turkish cypress, and I was too green to realize that so was the wood. Over the course of about four years the wood cured and the guitar turned into a really outstanding sounding instrument. I still have it and I’m keeping it.

During the pandemic I saw an ad from a person looking for a slot head Martin 000-28. I had one, it had sat in a closet for about 18 years because it wasn’t very inspiring. It was good, but nothing special. I had purchased it second hand and it was still in mint condition. When I put new strings on it to prep it for the sale I was absolutely blown away by how good it sounded. It hadn’t been played in close to twenty years, but it was way better than I had recalled. When I showed it to the client I took it out of the case and strummed an E chord. I looked up and he was standing there with the money in his hand. He said he didn’t even have to try it, he had heard enough.

Another similar example was the first steel stringed acoustic I made (second guitar, actually). I frikken hated the sound of that guitar. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything nice to say about it. It looked really good and the neck was great, but the sound simply wasn’t happening, it was thin and trebly. It just sat in its case taking up space so finally I decided I’d give it away to a homeless person. I actually was walking down the street with this in mind when I came across an old friend who was looking a turn for the worse for wear. He had had a stroke and I think one of his sons had passed. Over the years he had bugged me about fixing his guitar, a luthier made dread that he never could get to play right. I told him I had no interest in fixing other people’s mistakes but he was more than welcome to have one of mine. When I got home I pulled it out of its case, it hadn’t been played in close to 15 years, put new strings on it and, once again, was blown away. I couldn’t believe how good it sounded, it was nothing like I recalled it being when I first made it. Being a man of my word, I gave him the guitar. The next day a wind came up and blew my fence over. It cost me just about what I could have sold that guitar for to get a new one put in. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 12 2023 0:52:18
 
silddx

Posts: 634
Joined: May 8 2012
From: London

RE: Breaking in a new guitar (in reply to RobF

Love these anecdotes, Rob.

Do you think it's likely that your hearing discernment/taste/ability improved with age too?
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 12 2023 9:42:22
 
RobF

Posts: 1621
Joined: Aug. 24 2017
 

RE: Breaking in a new guitar (in reply to silddx

quote:

ORIGINAL: silddx

Love these anecdotes, Rob.

Do you think it's likely that your hearing discernment/taste/ability improved with age too?



Maybe discernment. I suspect my hearing ability has diminished, however. I’ve been tested for pitch differentiation and the like and I’m still good, but I have tinnitus and that gets in the way. I know I’m less tolerant of highly processed sound than I used to be, but I suspect part of that is more due to the current levels of processing itself and less to a reduction in my hearing ability. I’ve found overly processed sound can trigger my tinnitus, too. It doesn’t even have to be loud, it just strains my ears, it seems.

This is a huge topic. How do we trust our hearing? How do we remember sound? For trust, I sanity-check my hearing with technology. One of the things I use is an App called VisualAudio, which has a spectrogram that is useful, as well as other analysis tools. I also will look at processed sound with programs like Audacity or FFT spectrum analyzers. Mainly to confirm that what I think I’m hearing is actually matching what is being picked up by a microphone.

Sound memory? There’s so much discussion about that on the internet, with different camps. My take is, just like with the physical characteristics of guitars I’ve examined, one tends to remember the differentiating features, rather than the norms. How does one recognize the sound of a voice? Why can a parent pick out the cry of their baby in a room full of crying babies? How is it we can hone in on the sound of a familiar voice in a crowded room and even distinguish some of the words? Why can we do this even when it’s a recording? Difficult questions.

Bell Labs did a lot of research on this back in the middle of the last century. They determined a bandwidth of 300Hz to 4KHz was sufficient for voice transmission (less than 4K actually). They also did extensive testing on voice and pattern recognition in the presence of noise and the loss of bandwidth. It’s crazy how easily people can recognize a voice in extremely adverse transmission conditions. How can we do this? I suspect it’s because our brains recognize and remember distinguishing features and store that. It’s not necessary to remember the typical (not sure if that the right word) features, they’re just assumed to be there. It’s the absences or additions outside the norm we probably remember. Just my speculation but I think that’s why we can remember the distinguishing characteristics of an instrument we’ve examined many years after the initial examination.

Do I remember every guitar? No, of course not, no more than I remember every person I’ve met. But if I’ve evaluated something and made mental notes about it I tend to remember it pretty well, even many years later.

For example, quite a few years ago Felipe Conde Crespo showed me a guitar he made. I think it was his number 17. I don’t think I’d recognize it today, unless I was told that was it. At that point I’d check the heel cap for a distinguishing characteristic in the binding, I’d remember the neck carve, and I would expect a certain sonic quality and bloom. It was a classical and it sounded good, and if I tried it today and it sounded different I would make a mental note of that. Same with the neck, if it felt different I would suspect it had been adjusted and would expect a corresponding change in tonality due to that. But if you asked me what the rosette looked like or the back and sides, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 12 2023 15:42:33
 
Ricardo

Posts: 15032
Joined: Dec. 14 2004
From: Washington DC

RE: Breaking in a new guitar (in reply to Mark2

I have experienced it. I have a friend who had broken his takamine and could only afford a $500 cordoba. It sounded really bad. A friend installed a fishman pickup so we could do gigs. Every time I picked it up it was really stiff and awful. Well, after a full year of beating rumba on it, I happened to be over at his house and since it was the only instrument around I tried it expecting the worse. It was SHOCKING how amazing it sounded. Really great tone and response. Now to me it is obvious the guitar sounded BETTER, or “opened up” or whatever you want, but the real question is why? Was it vibration, Golpe, humidity changes? Or perhaps a combination of those? I don’t know. I feel that my guitars change depending on humid quite rapidly so I would venture the guess that the whole “opening up” business is about expelling the water content from the wood. Those people that over humidify their guitars don’t realize what they are missing. And so, if guitars develop cracks, it is likely due to expulsion of water that happened too rapidly for the wood to shrink gradually, however, I bet these guitar with little humidity cracks sound BETTER than when they were swollen with water.

_____________________________

CD's and transcriptions available here:
www.ricardomarlow.com
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 12 2023 16:46:43
 
AndresK

Posts: 333
Joined: Jan. 4 2019
From: Patras, Greece

RE: Breaking in a new guitar (in reply to Mark2

Humidity really plays a major role. I live in a city with quite high humidity over all seasons.

Whenever I go to the capital here in Greece, which is Athens, and has very low humidity
compared to my city, all my guitars during the years sound completely different.
More vibrant, dryer sound, louder.

Another thing that really changes a guitar's playability is string tension.
Almost all cheapish factory guitars come with hard or extra hard strings.
Change these with lower tension and voila, you have a playable instrument.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 12 2023 17:02:59
 
devilhand

 

Posts: 1654
Joined: Oct. 15 2019
 

RE: Breaking in a new guitar (in reply to Mark2

Are we talking about mellow sounding guitars again?

quote:

The flamenco guitar is built for what you call a tinny tone. Most front-rank flamenco guitarists change their instruments frequently because in time any guitar mellows.


_____________________________

Say No to Fuera de Compás!!!
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 12 2023 21:20:07
 
Richard Jernigan

Posts: 3436
Joined: Jan. 20 2004
From: Austin, Texas USA

RE: Breaking in a new guitar (in reply to Mark2

I have at least twice experienced guitars improving with age.

The daughter of my good friend Dave S. was attending university in Madrid. He asked her to buy him a guitar. She enlisted a well known classical pro--whose name I don't remember. They bought him a new 1973 spruce/cypress Conde Hermanos media luna from the Gravina 7 shop, and shipped it to him in Austin.

When I first played it I thought it had all the tonal qualities of a yellow pine two-by-four plank. It was really dead. I felt sorry for Dave, but didn't say anything.

A year or two later the instrument had bloomed into a very lively and loud guitar with a distinctive flamenco voice. At the time It was the only guitar I played that I liked better than my '67 Ramirez cedar/cypres blanca. Over the next few years I tried more than once to buy the Conde from Dave, without success.

I theorized the Conde was made with wood that was insufficiently cured, which dried out in a couple of years--but it was just a theory.

The other case was far less obvious. I bought a cedar/Indian classical "Rodriguez model" from Tom Blackshear a few years ago. He had posted videos of its construction here on the Foro. I drove down to San Antonio, played the instrument, compared it to my Abel Garcia spruce/Brazilian, and bought it. I was quite happy with the guitar.

Playing it extensively I noticed a very slight unevenness. The guitar is loud and responsive. Unplucked strings resonate with the ones that are played. The sound is rich with overtones. Except the "c" at the 8th fret on the first string was not quite as lively as the rest of the notes on that string. It was just a subtle difference.

Talking to Tom a few months later I mentioned it. He acknowledged the possibility, asked whether it was a serious problem. I said it wasn't. Over a year or two of fairly regular playing, the note improved markedly, but still was just very slightly dead compared to its neighbors.

On a later visit Tom suggested I bring the "Rodriguez model" along. He tried it out and declared himself satisfied with its development. He always said his guitars developed with playing, as the woods adjusted to their new situations. All the woods in the guitar had been aged for at least a decade before it was built.

I was laid up for a while due to getting bunged up in a car wreck back in May. Now I'm pretty much back as I was, except at my age lack of practice for a few months really plays hell with technique. A couple of days ago I got out the Blackshear and played a few scales, starting the long road back. I couldn't tell any difference in the "c" on the first string from is neighbors.

My 2006 Abel Garcia has been without any complaint whatsoever since I received it new, and I haven't noticed any change in it at all. That's not to say it absolutely hasn't changed. But if it has it's been gradually and evenly enough that I haven't noticed.

How long does it take to break in a guitar? It depends....

RNJ
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 12 2023 21:56:44
 
constructordeguitarras

Posts: 1692
Joined: Jan. 29 2012
From: Seattle, Washington, USA

RE: Breaking in a new guitar (in reply to Mark2

quote:

snake oil


I think basically it is snake oil. My first flamenco guitar was a 1970 Contreras that I bought in 1970 while living in Spain. It never sounded great to me. People told me it needed to be broken in. It never changed. The guitars I make sound good right away and change only a tiny bit over two weeks as the finish shrinks and things settle and the action needs to be readjusted.

_____________________________

Ethan Deutsch
www.edluthier.com
www.facebook.com/ethandeutschguitars
www.youtube.com/marioamayaflamenco
I always have flamenco guitars available for sale.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 12 2023 22:25:59
 
RobF

Posts: 1621
Joined: Aug. 24 2017
 

RE: Breaking in a new guitar (in reply to constructordeguitarras

Snake oil or not, I would never suggest to anyone that they buy a guitar in the hopes that it will ‘open up’ or improve with time. If it doesn’t work for a person right off the bat they are better served to move on.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 12 2023 23:54:03
 
Richard Jernigan

Posts: 3436
Joined: Jan. 20 2004
From: Austin, Texas USA

RE: Breaking in a new guitar (in reply to RobF

quote:

ORIGINAL: RobF

Snake oil or not, I would never suggest to anyone that they buy a guitar in the hopes that it will ‘open up’ or improve with time. If it doesn’t work for a person right off the bat they are better served to move on.


I agree. If you buy a guitar you like that is soundly constructed, it’s unlikely to get worse. If it should improve even a little, that’s just icing on the cake.

I would also advise that when you try out a guitar, take along one you are familiar with to compare. The room and other surroundings can have an effect on the guitar’s sound, and on your perceptions. Or if you’re a beginner, take along someone whose experience and advice you trust. But be aware that the best guitar for me may not be the best one for you.

RNJ
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Nov. 13 2023 11:23:17
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