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March 18, 2011

A Plea For Traditional Construction

I thought we’d follow up last week’s post of Marcelo Kayath’s article on the current state of guitars with this piece by luthier Sebastian Stenzel titled “From a Guitar Maker’s Notes: A Plea For The Traditional Construction of Classical Guitar Soundboards”. Stenzel has an affinity for physics, and he seems to come at this from as much a scientific point of view as an aesthetic one.


by Sebastian Stenzel, Guitar maker

Again and again I have been asked for my opinion of modern classical guitars with “double top,” lattice bracing, carbon-balsa-laminated soundboards and similar features of construction. While it is everybody’s good right to see these guitars as an improvement, I do not. This is why.

For those not familiar with this relatively new type of classical guitar, I will explain the underlying concept of construction. The aim is, simply put, to make a louder guitar. As the input of energy into the string is limited, the output of sound can only be increased by increasing the efficiency of the instrument. This is done by two means: First, by reducing all sources of energy loss, i.e. when energy is used up but does not contribute to the sound radiation from the soundboard. Second, by maximizing the ratio of sound velocity to the mass of the soundboard (which correlates more or less directly with stiffness to mass) and by reducing the internal damping of the soundboard (mainly internal friction). The first is done for example with “double sides,” which are simply two sides glued together. This typically yields a very heavy and stiff side with a thickness of 4 mm and is usually, but not always, coupled by an extremely massive back. (These double sides were, to the best of my knowledge, first introduced by Daniel Friedrich, but he never used thick backs.) Back and sides this thick will not vibrate much, and therefore very little energy from the string will be “wasted” in these parts.

The maximization of the stiffness-to-mass-ratio is achieved by constructing a lighter but stiffer soundboard. One possibility, for example, is gluing a sandwich of two very thin cedar soundboards back and front onto a very light and stiff synthetic honeycomb-structure made from aramid fibers, or by laminating carbon fibre with balsa wood (the lightest wood there is) and/or by using struts laminated in the same way, or by any combination of similar methods. The result is a louder guitar.

So what’s wrong with this new approach to guitar construction? Nothing is wrong. I just heard one of these guitars in concert the other day. It was really loud, and I got headache and bellyache, and just hoped the concert would be over soon. I really suffered physically from the sound of the guitar, but said to myself that this is an example of déformation professionnell. But to my surprise, I found I wasn’t alone: after the concert I heard several people, who I knew were not guitarists, relate the same symptoms. Later, three guitarists, who had been among the audience, too, confessed that they had not liked the concert at all, but would have never dared to say so openly, because the artist is a highly respected player in the guitar community. There were many more guitarists present at this concert. What will be their honest opinion? But I don’t want to start a discussion about the genesis of “mainstream” here, but rather get on with a more scientific criticism.

Along with an increase of efficiency comes almost unavoidably an increase of admittance of the soundboard. That means energy from the string is transferred faster to the soundboard. The admittance depends on frequency and even if the resonance frequencies of the soundboard are well placed, the balance of the guitar will suffer dramatically just from this effect. Wolf notes and “holes” (see footnote 1) become much more audible, but even more severe is a tendency to general overcoupling. Overcoupling means that the string is not telling the soundboard what to do, but rather the other way round, as it were. This causes a distortion of notes or of partials of notes. Such notes sound somewhat queer to the listener, but it takes a very trained ear to distinguish the precise nature of the distortion. Often, it is only one inharmonious partial note, but with a surprisingly high sound level. In extreme cases, overcoupling is enough to render a guitar impossible to tune, especially when it is one of other sources of faulty intonation (see footnote 2).

A high average admittance is what the player calls a fast attack of the guitar. Explosive or percussive sound are other common equivalents, and I want to emphasize that these elements of sound are vital for the guitar to be a guitar. “Percussive” means containing a lot of noise, i.e. non-harmonic or chaotic oscillation. High admittance also means that due to the very low impedance of the air, there is a strongly increased radiation damping (loss of energy in the string/soundboard through radiation of sound). In other words, the energy is fired off quickly and the additional power is mainly showing in the first milliseconds of a note, amplifying also all the side noises caused by the initial touch of the string by either hand. So although there is more energy available from such soundboards, the sustain is usually not longer than that of traditional guitars, but the relatively faster decrease of the sound level is well heard. All in all, a percussive sound with a high peak level at the beginning of the note is produced.

(I cannot resist to open a paragraph here to add a thought about the development of plucked instruments as such: I consider the classical guitar the queen of the family of plucked instruments, because it attempts, so to speak, to rise beyond its nature of having a plucked and therefore limited, more or less percussive tone, aiming at a long, sustained one. The lute, for example, is not in the least ashamed of its more percussive sound, reminiscent of the goat skin of its ancestors. It is the electric guitar, which finally succeeded in this respect, but that’s not cricket, boys. Be that as it may, the balance of percussive and “clean” elements of sound are especially important in the design of sound of the guitar in comparison to other instruments.)

Of course some makers working in this new style are perfectly aware of the problems described above. They will give additional stiffness to the soundboard, to get the overcoupling under control. So far, so good, but they cannot change the impedance (the opposite of admittance) of the air, the next vehicle for the sound on its way to our ear. For this reason alone, a guitar with a higher efficiency in sound radiation, will inevitably have a very different sound characteristic. Only time will tell if this will be generally accepted as the typical guitar sound. Personally, I doubt it.

The most important point I would like to make, and maybe the most misunderstood of all, concerns the loudness of the guitar. First of all, loudness or volume is not something you can physically measure, but rather a psychoacoustic phenomenon. A tone that sounds loud to the player is not necessarily loud to the audience. Vice versa, a guitar of apparently little volume, e.g. an old Hauser, may exhibit surprising projection. So loudness and projection, the ability to carry far, are two different things. There are mainly three reasons for this: The first is that the direction of sound distribution depends on frequency: low frequencies are distributed more or less in all directions evenly, that is spherical around the player. The higher the frequencies are, the more directional, focused, the distribution is in a perpendicular direction from the soundboard (whoever has sat sideways of the player at a guitar concert knows what I am talking about.) That means that the decrease with distance in sound intensity is much higher in the bass.

The second reason is that the loudness we hear is the result of a complex calculation performed by our brain on the basis of the various levels of excitement in separate nerves connecting the basilar membrane of the inner ear, each in charge of its own frequency group. But unless we make a conscious effort (and have a trained ear) we hear only one loudness attributed to one note: the average loudness of all partial notes.

The third reason is that the human ear has its highest sensitivity in the range around 2.5 kHz. In this frequency range, we will still hear even very week partials of notes to which our miraculous brain is capable of adding the missing partials, even the fundamental frequency. But this sensitivity decreases dramatically with frequency: for the fundamentals of the low E- string for example, it is approximately 20 times less.

For these reasons, a guitar carries well, when it has a high average sound level in the range of the lower overtones, especially between 2 and 4 kHz. These frequencies are high enough to be projected fairly focused, and they meet the highest sensitivity of the ear. Lower partials that get lost on the way because they are too busy showing off to all the nice ladies in the first row, can be substituted by the brain, but of course only to a certain extent.

As it is, the achieved increase of efficiency of the guitars in question is found almost exclusively in the bass range and not in the range between 2 and 4 kHz. As a result, there is no improved projection.

The big difference in sound intensity between the initial peak and the following steep decrease has still other negative effects: typical is a poverty in sound colours, variation of timbre, and a general lack of modulation capacity (I have phrased this term to describe the ease with which sound properties can be varied by the player.) This deficiency occurs, because most of the energy is used up before the player even begins to initiate , for example, a vibrato. In addition, the ear of the listener is, so to speak, calibrated on forte, while the vibrato is then happening in the part of the note which is rather piano. The poverty in sound colours has similar reasons: most of the energy goes to the percussive section of the note, and the higher overtones do not have enough energy and/or sustain to really play with.

If the reader finds my arguments convincing, one has to wonder why guitars of the type described above have become more and more popular. In an attempt to avoid the old theme of art versus mainstream, I still would like to elucidate two points which may help to understand why this is so. The first and very obvious is that the low volume is limiting the use of the guitar in chamber or orchestral music, which has caused some kind of collective inferiority complex among guitarist, making many very susceptible for any promise of redemption from this Achilles’ heel. The second point, as strange as it my sound, is that a truly great guitar is a very rare thing. I believe that even many professional players never came across one. And if I had to choose between two guitars of average (high) quality, I would of course take the louder one, too. Still another aspect is that many of these guitars are bought, because a famous guitarist is playing one in concert, assuming the instrument was chosen for its sound properties. But a guitarist touring the world and playing in front of large audiences often has quite different priorities than the average player, such as reliability regarding different acoustical surroundings, extreme climatic conditions, or sensitivity to transportation in an aircraft.

So far, I have spoken only about sound properties, but there are other aspects, too. The longevity of the modern constructions is not known, and the prognosis is not good at all: it can be assumed that a “double top” or laminated soundboard will last only as long as the glue, usually epoxy resin or polyurethan, which keeps it together. Far from any scientific research, the deformation of my carbon fibre/epoxy windsurfing mast when left under tension tells me enough to stick with hide glue, which has proofed its durability for centuries.

What actually determines the life span of guitar? The vast number of old violins shows that the aging process of the wood is not what is setting the limit. I believe that in addition to the physical properties of the specific piece of wood used and the construction and thickness of the soundboard (see footnote3) there are two major sources of strain, causing material fatigue which finally weakens the soundboard so much that the guitar cannot carry the strings any more. One is string tension and the vibrations when the guitar is played, the other is the tension build up with changes of the relative humidity of the air. In the “double top” or laminated soundboards, the wood cannot react to the tension build up by changes in the relative humidity of the air by swelling or shrinking, so the full tension goes to the cell-structure of the wood. The sound quality decreases usually a long time before it becomes too weak to carry the strings. This process happens faster or slower, depending on many things, but cedar (thuja plicata), usually preferred by the makers of these guitars, is known to last not as long as spruce and for a tendency to show sudden “acoustical death.” It has to be noted, that cedar was not used for guitar soundboard before 1964, so we still cannot say anything about how long a guitar with cedar soundboard could last, but unfortunately example of decrepit cedar guitars are already abundant.

The guitar is considered by some as a still young instrument, and certainly it is developing much more than the violin for example. Although I would not agree with the common opinion that there have been no new achievements since the early 20th century for the classical guitar, I do not think it is very far from the truth, either. History shows that the development of musical instruments is happening rather in leaps than as a continuous process. Certainly Antonio de Torres represents such a leap. But his guitars opened new musical possibilities to the players and new possibilities of reaching the heart of the listener. I doubt that this can be said for the new style of guitar discussed here.

Of course, one can maintain that my arguments against constructions which aim at maximization of sound radiation are mere generalizations. This is true and I apologise to any colleague who, like all of us, is just striving to make a better guitar and who feels I have done injustice to his work. The classical guitar is one of the most complex musical instruments, making general judgements on single components rather meaningless. There are, no doubt, excellent guitars built with the methods I have questioned here, examples of the skilful art of their makers to compensate for the deficiencies these constructions are prone to. I hope that my criticism is considered well-founded and taken as a contribution to help make more of these rare, truly great guitars, no matter how they are constructed.


1 – Both imply a too strong resonance, but when there is a “hole,” it simply means that the energy “sucked out” of the string is not used up in effective sound radiation. This is the case e.g. by a bipolar mode of the soundboard where one side is “pumping” air, while the other is “sucking”, thus neutralizing the effect of sound radiation.

2 – This does not refer only to badly set frets or wrong compensation at the bridge. Almost all guitars have an inbuilt deviation of pitch in the area around the 6th fret and in the highest frets. This is described in detail in my article “Intonation and playability”, first published in “Gitarre und Laute”, 1995.

3 – The thickness relates to stability, the moment of inertia of the cross section, to be precise, to the third power. Beware of very thin soundboards from the hands of inexperienced guitar makers!

Comments (68)

Dear Sebastian ,although I agree with much of your thesis ,you are to some extent wasting your energy ,much like a plucked guitar string. Guitarists ,for some strange reason ,are attracted to and wish to buy these “modern ” type guitars ,australian lattice and german double top etc .For my ears ,the traditional guitar can not be beat . Modern guitars have a bit more volume but they lose a lot of tone quality and beauty compared to traditional guitars .Stenzel is correct ,but a bit long-winded and too scientific. John Williams said that a violin works properly even if it is not a stradivarius but the guitar does not .I say Williams is wrong . To my mind ,even a modest Loriente guitar has more quality of sound than these modern guitars ,but not so loud of course. What say you ??

Seriously ,these new modern double tops and lattice do guitarists no favors .They are ,IMHO ,so inferior to traditional guitars .If Segovia were alive today he would have a field day .There are ,by the way ,so many wonderful traditional makers making fantastic guitars today .But it all boils down to individual taste in the end : “Chacun a son gout .”

Traditional guitars such as Ramirez ,Hauser and Fleta were plenty good enough for Segovia ,the worlds’ greatest and most demanding guitarist ,so they are good enough for the rest of us ,John Williams and Russell and Barrueco included.

I’m glad to hear the support for the ‘traditional’ classical guitar.

I was drawn to the classical guitar in the late 1960’s after (by chance) hearing a Segovia recording. I sought out more Segovia, and soon discovered Bream, Parkening, Diaz and others. I was hooked for life, and I have always thought that the classical guitar is the most beautiful of all instruments. The guitar cannot do what the piano, violin, cello or most other instruments can do, but it can do things that those instruments cannot do. In my opinion, the physical beauty of sound and palette of tone colors (and a guitarist who can use those qualities to bring poetry and life to the music) are what justifies the classical guitar’s existence.

I have played ‘modern’ guitars of two different makers (one a well known Australian), and heard many in concerts and recordings, and I simply do not care to listen to them. I am quite sure that if one of these guitars was the first classical guitar that I ever heard I would not have been drawn to the instrument.

I agree with you all and can add that a large Romanillos-style guitar can be as loud or even louder than the most powerful Australian guitars (owned both and compared for several months). Such power and Romanillos-type sound — whi needs those other guitars.

I totally disagree with Sebastian regarding : ‘A truly great guitar is a very rare thing ” .What does he mean by a truly great guitar ? .I have played many great guitars and anyway ,the concept of “GREAT ” is a very jumped -up concept.

A guitar does not have to be “great ‘ at all. It just needs to be able to do its job .And Julian Bream sounds like Julian Bream regardless of which guitar he plays .Guitar Salon ,amongst other dealers ,has dozens of fine guitars ,any one of which would be fine for any concert .

Sebastian Stenzels’ article has a whiff of sour grapes about it perhaps. Young whizzkids / whippersnappers may not be very interested in his guitars .They are interested in superguitars as played by their heroes David Russell and Manuel Barrueco . Lattice , double tops and bubble tops are the order of the day ,and makers of hauser type guitars are regarded as old fashioned and irrelevant dinosaurs but hey….DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER.

Thank you, Sebastion Stenzel, for your lucid and reasoned article. I agree with you. I have been a luthier, making “traditional style” instruments for 30 years, seriously played guitar for 25 and also have a scientific background. I do find that there may be a return to widespread interest in traditionally designed guitars: certainly among guitarists seeking out the poetic and musical aspects of the repertoire. Perhaps the desire to make a loud, fast impression will not predominate after all. I meet many guitarists who are stimulated by the sonic fascination and variety under their fingers when they play a fine traditional guitar. It’s similar to the effect of a fine actor who speaks with a presence and allure well beyond the acoustic volume of his voice. It’s pointless shouting the words!

I am not so sure that violins have not progressed as much as guitars. In fact, the long evolution of bowed string instruments relies on a DNA centered on arching and thicknessing: an area of design which has equally dramatic effects on guitar design, I am finding that very careful use of doming and arching with classic guitars can be one of the most effective elements of sound quality and real power. On classic guitar I’m referring to minute values compared to those of violin, but very small changes in doming and thickness can lead to a remarkable variety of colours and overall sound quality. The instruments thus acquire vitality of expression and nuance.

agree with Mr. Stenzel.

Smallman and lattice-braced guitars just boost the low frequencies in spectra.
It’s called a “fundamental” sound (which is when fundamental and LOWER frequency overtones are preferred), as opposed to more focus on the overtones.

Now one must realise that a Torres guitar is also rather fundamental (when compared with historical ladder-braced guitars). But a Torres is NO WHERE NEAR as fundamental as Smallmans.

Smallman takes it to a whole new level, at the cost of “beauty of sound”.
Smallmans and lattice-braced guitars have extremely thin tops… This directly results in the smooth ultra-fundamental sound. A sound which at close-range is perceived loudly; but lacks carrying power and interesting tonal colour quality.

Quoting Stenzel: “As it is, the achieved increase of efficiency of the guitars in question [lattice-braced] is found almost exclusively in the bass range and not in the range between 2 and 4 kHz. As a result, there is no improved projection.”

If you want a really good guitar… there are numerous good luthiers around the world… particularly in Germany, which is where Stenzel is from.

Truly great guitars…
Lawrence there is such a thing, and while it is not everyday that you see such instruments, there are makers who succeed in building them. If ever you have the chance, try guitars by the likes of: Andrés D. Marvi, Mario Gropp, Eberhard Kreul, Joachim Schneider, Karl-Heinz Römmich, Sebastian Stenzel, Michael Brück etc. etc.
But perhaps you’ve heard these caliber guitars already, in which case it might not seem to you, that they are so rare afterall.

‘The aim is, simply put, to make a louder guitar.’ That is maybe too simply put. The aim, more generally, is to make a guitar that guitarists want to play – that is to say guitarists of high ability. The ‘traditional’ guitar is usually tonally unreliable due to its great susceptibility to climatic changes and, in some circumstances, needs too much strength in the left hand, which unbalances the playing. I believe that when David Russell was asked by a maker what he was looking for in a guitar, he said one that was easier to play so that he could play the music better. You can’t argue with that point of view from a virtuoso. If traditional guitar makers could achieve that, no one would be looking for alternatives.

you make me laugh…

The players of Andrés D. Marvi’s guitars seem to like them:
Aniello Desiderio, Duo Kaltchev, Graham Anthony Devine, Goran Krivokapic, Gerardo Núñez, …

Good point Tom.
Ease of play is very important and lattice and double tops offer this in spades.

To Mr. Stenzel

I agree with you that the traditional guitar is still the king of tone, but,
It does not follow that it will be king forever.
Luthiers are aware of the tonal problem as you stated and are trying to improve that aspect of their instruments.
“lattice and double tops” are better at everything else except tone.IMHO.

Interesting that you bring up the String.
“Overcoupling means that the string is not telling the soundboard what to do, but rather the other way round, as it were”

So, if the string is getting bullied by the soundboard in lattice and double tops.
Perhaps what we need is an improvement in string technology.
A new type of string that will not be bullied by the soundboard.


Who are Aniello desiderio ,Graham devine ,goran krivopacic ?? I have never heard of them .I have ,however ,heard of Bream ,Williams ,Segovia and Yepes .The marvi guitar I heard sounded like rubbish and it had very poor sustain

I have tried hundreds of guitars ,and each and every one of them was easy to play . Any easier to play and the guitars would need to play themselves. I would safely estimate that every single guitar in the inventory at Guitar Salon ,for example ,had excellent and easy playability. This is not an issue so I do not know what David Russell is on about .And I think he is overrated as a player .


Just one addition:

There may be some confusion in the way you use “fundamental” as an adjective.

The fundamental (noun) is one part of the spectrum of a sound: the lowest component, i.e. the base component.

While overtones are very important (particularly for makers of historical guitars: Lacote, Stauffer), this does not mean that the fundamental-component is not needed. It is important too.

But I do agree that in modern lattice guitars, the higher components (higher overtones) don’t feature so prominently. This gives far too much power to the fundamental… and is the reason for a particular lack of tonal character, that people can sometimes hear.

So it may be misleading to speak of a guitar as fundamental (adjective) … Every guitar has and needs the fundamental (noun). But not at the expense of the overtones!

Perhaps it’s better to speak of the spectral characteristics of lattice guitars having “more energy in the fundamental”… than using the word fundamental as an adjective to describe this.

Tom ,with respect ,I imagine that modern guitarists are wanting a guitar which sounds loud from a considerable distance away in a concert hall .But even a piano sounds distant if one is sitting near the back of a hall. I have never found any traditional guitar difficult to play ,lacking in loudness maybe ,but not hard to play for the left hand.

Federico ,if you ever have the chance ,try guitars by the likes of antonio Marin ,Jose marin Plazuelo ,antonio Raya Pardo , Teodoro Perez ,Brian Cohen , Jose and Liam Romanillos ,Ignacio Fleta ,Paulino Bernabe ,Mariano Tezanos .Rafael Moreno Rodriguez .Paco Santiago Marin .

Hi Tom,

yes, ease of playing is important… but it can be had on any guitar. It’s simply called ‘playability’ and top luthiers work hard at making guitars with real easy of playability.

Then you say something about ‘traditional’ guitar being “tonally unreliable due to its great susceptibility to climatic changes”.
Ever heard about wood? It’s organic material. 🙂
I believe that lattice guitars with their ultra-thin tops are much more unreliable. If you’re not careful, you can easily push your nail right through the soundboard. Lattice-braced guitars don’t have a very high “life-expectancy”.

Good traditional guitars however can be had for years. And Sinier de Ridder have just recently released information stating that antique guitars (lets say pre 1860) can also be played without any problems, debunking a lot of myth.

No lattice-braced guitar will ever survive more than 50 years. I hear top players using new ones every few couple of years or so.

Thank you Jason ,The way some people talk one would think only Lattice / double top guitars had good or easy playability .That is untrue , pure propaganda .

You cannot get it all. There is no such thing as a guitar with all good features packed into it:
beautiful tonal character, endless sustain, loud volume, etc.

A simple explanation is the following:
If you want loud volume and sustain, make the top stiff and thin… but lacking will be its tonal character (lack of overtones… as Peter and René L. have explained above)
If you want it to have beauty of tone, keep the top thicker … but guitarists looking for ultra-loud guitars will go elsewhere.

In the end there are all kinds of different guitars. And for all the different types… you can find top makers:
Lattice: Simon Marty etc.
Traditional: Karl-Heinz Römmich, Mario Gropp, Joachim Schneider, Andres Marvi, Franz Butscher, Simon Rovis-Hermann, etc.
Double-Top: Matthias Dammann, Gernot Wagner, etc.
Antique: Bernhard Kresse, Frank-Peter Dietrich, Erik Pierre Hofmann, etc

Add to that, that it’s easier to make lattice braced guitars that have the sound for which they are known: uniform, loud, powerful, sustaining

…than to make guitars that have a beautiful voice.

Personally I liken lattice braced guitar-making to engineering: In the words of Smallman who said something more or less to the extent of: “I want to get the top as thin as possible, this necessitates the lattice bracing.”

Guitars with tonal character require more of an artist. The artist is working with a palette of tonal colour: It’s the spectrum, made up of fundamental and overtones.
Now fundamental and overtones are not something you can rationally control. It necessitates an intuitive guitar maker with experience. A good ‘hand’ worker…

The good guitar maker goes about shaping the instrument to give the sound character: a nice overtone mix.
But he’s not directly aware of the overtone mix. Though you can afterwards hear a fine sound (and there are many different ways of doing this), the actual spectral footprint can only be analysed by physicists and audio-engineers once the guitar is build. Thank god for that, or you’d have luthiers tinkering about with spectral FFT software, believing that they can control how to mix the relative strength of overtone-components, during construction, which is of course impossible.

Wood is organic and complex: It needs a living breathing thinking intuitive guitar-maker; not an uncreative fact-and-rule based engineer.

Tom, if it was as easy as that then I would already know about such makers because so many well-known players would be playing their guitars. The guitar world is small and news travels fast.On the other hand, I have no doubt that you give great priority to playability but the Rodriguez sound is not for everyone any more than the Smallman sound, no comparison intended.

Perhaps the player is the best judge of what is the best guitar. If you really want loud you can always plug in. I personsonally like traditional guitars, but a double top in the right hands sound excuisit.

Anyone who thinks great guitars are common has never heard one. I had owned several Grand Concert level guitars, but until I had one built by Lorenzo Pimentel, I would not have known what Mr. Stenzel is talking about. A great guitar is almost a different thing; you will hear things that you have never heard from a guitar before. You can’t know what you’ve been missing until you hear it. There is a certain randomness in guitars, even from great luthiers. Some just turn out better than others.

I understand what you’re saying… “a kind-of plea for traditional construction”, and not science-lab tinkering 🙂

It’s like Stradivari… he just built his instruments by hand feeling the wood and the sound…

… and today people analyze his old violins and can recognize the wonderful overtones, due to resonance peaks corresponding to the formants of vowels… that are present in bel-canto singers.

But Stradivari did not intend a “matching of resonance characteristics with vocal formants of vowels” when he made his instruments… this would be modern science talking…

His aim was to make a really beautiful character-full sound; and he succeeded.

If the old masters did it without lab-tinkering, then lab-tinkering is not strictly necessary; in order to get a good voicing.
The only conclusion for me is: voicing an instrument must be possible by the sensitive alert thinking-feeling-intuitive maker.

In the words of Torres: “my secret is one you have witnessed many times, and one that I can’t leave to posterity, because it must with my body go to the grave, for it consists of the tactile senses in my finger pads, in my thumb and index finger that tell the intelligent builder if the top is or is not well made, and how it should be treated to obtain the best tone from the instrument.”

A superb observation about differences in guitars is given here:

Ultimately the variances in guitar-building, achieve different ‘tonal aesthetics’ (favouring differing qualities) which are suitable to the different tastes (or repertoire-choices) of performers.

Personally my preferences lie with traditional-built and more old-school sound… so I’m sorry about that too hasty comment above, regarding “lacks carrying power and interesting tonal colour quality”. I should have qualified it more clearly, to be my OWN choice and preference; in particular… carrying power is not really lacking in any lattice-guitars (!), but favours a transmission of different tonal colour.

I fully respect fellow artists and makers to make their own choices and welcome diversity; and dislike the type of dictatorial “I’m-right-You’re-wrong” views that some commentators here propagate.

“In the words of Torres: “my secret is one you have witnessed many times, and one that I can’t leave to posterity, because it must with my body go to the grave, for it consists of the tactile senses in my finger pads, in my thumb and index finger that tell the intelligent builder if the top is or is not well made, and how it should be treated to obtain the best tone from the instrument.”

As I was reading this, I was expecting the secret ingredient of fairy dust sprinkled at the right moment.

Seriously, one has to take Mr. Stenzel’s article into the proper context which is based on an understanding of the physical world. In how it works via the language of Physics and Mathematics. As an engineer, one’s hypothesis can only be proved or disproved using data and not one’s gut feelings.

I had a wonderful guitar by Simon Ambridge that would fall in the traditional category. It was the easiest playing guitar I ever played. Can I then unequivocally state that the easiest playing guitars are traditional built guitars and Mr. Russell is wrong in using a double-top Damman?
I don’t think so.

I have to agree with Mr. Stenzel’s premise that the genesis of modern guitars (i.e Lattice, Double-top etc…) is to get more power, sound, loudness in order to project more towards a large concert setting.

Growing up listening to Segovia, Bream, Diaz and Willams I lean towards those interpretations based on traditional guitars. It is my roots if you will. However, as an engineer I see a problem as an opportunity to learn, to improve to solve. So what is the problem? Is the guitar not loud enough to project in a large concert hall environment? What are the constraints to the solution? In other words, what qualities must the new modern guitar have or not sacrifice from the traditional guitar?

So where do I stand on this subject. I’m an old fart traditionalist guitarist that loves the old world Torres-Ramirez-Hauser sound. I’m an engineer that looks for innovation but not at the expense of what I love about the old world sound guitar.

The “scientific” APPROACH is important: observe, judge, modify

But a stale scientific-only manner, that seeks to put the luthier in the background and describe luthiery purely by scientic aspects will fail.

The reason is that the guitar is too complex, to analyse in such a manner that one can give exact rule-based methods of how to build a brilliant top performer’s instrument.

In the end it’s a luthier who builds that instrument. And the luthier needs to be a sensitive thinking human being, in touch with sound and touch. The words of Torres are the words of a wise man.

Am Ende kehren die Weisen dahin zurueck… die Seele der Sache (das Gefuehl) zu ehren.
Beispiel: Martin Schleske (ein Physiker!) beschreibt in seiner Buch “Der Klang: Vom unerhörten Sinn des Lebens” nicht etwa kalte wissenschaftliche Aspekte. Diese koennen ja nie alleine dahin zu den edlsten Bestrebungen fuehren. Der “Sinn” kann nie in einem kargen rein-wissenschaftlichem Gerippe ueberleben.

Firstly I ‘m not a classical guitar fan, that is until I heard a recording by Presti and Lagoya. I am a lute maker and as a lute is a soft instrument (and therefore superseded by the guitar) I agree with Mr Stenzil with regard to projection verses volume.

All instruments are aiming to become louder. This seems to be part of a natural development that has occurred over hundreds of years. New innovations have all been shunned or accepted by various members of the community according to their tastes. It was once said that the telephone would be the downfall of “art of conversation”.

But to my point! My first love is the steel string guitar. I own and still perform on a 1937 Martin and although not loud it still turns heads. Many manufacturers and luthiers have tried to improve the volume of there products, some with more success than others using a varity of bracing and materials but ultimately have returned to the X bracing first developed by C F Martin in the early 30’s.

This bracing has been modified over the last 15 years and now produces a much louder guitar but I feel it is at the cost of tone. There are other costs too. Much higher string tensions that are required to drive the heavier bracing and thicker soundboards, give the left hand a real work out. Very slick actions help but I find many modern guitars almost unplayable.

Changes in string composition have changed and a Phosphor bronze compound is now favoured. These strings retain their brilliance a long time but I find them to harsh. Other compounds have all but disappeared from the Australian market.

These guitars and strings are preferred by artists like Tommy Emanuel and many rock singer/songwriters because they can be played hard. I personally feel that this is a fashion and will pass in time with a new generation of guitarists. Classical guitarists and makers are not the only ones who are struggling with these issues.

I apologise for the second last paragraph it should read;

The composition of the materials used in strings have changed and a Phosphor bronze compound is now favoured. These strings retain their brilliance a long time but I find them too harsh. Other compounds have all but disappeared from the Australian market.

Sebastian Dumas you are a truly anal character ,along with your partner in crime misconception or Elmer Fudd or whatever his stupid name is. Get lost and play your crappy Simon Ambrdige guitar.

To Lawrence Tendler.

Your true colors come out in grand fashion for all to see !!!
One day you will be horrified and embarrassed by what you have written.

Dear Elman , perhaps you should feel embarrassed by what you have written ,insulting me for no good reason .Why is that ? I retaliated. Do to others as you would want done to you.

To Elman Concepcion and Sebastian Dumas . If you do not want others to insult you ,do not dish it out to others. I am happy for others to disagree with me and you are entitled to your opinions ,you may even think badly about me if you please but kindly do not call me names in a public forum .You are both in the wrong by calling me “an idiot “.

To Elman ,NOT NICE TO BE INSULTED IS IT ? So learn some respect and don’t dish it out to others. I have no regrets ,had you not attacked me publicly I would not have responded in such a nasty manner.

Lawrence Tendler wrote on March 23, 2011 at 9:23 am
“Dear Elman , perhaps you should feel embarrassed by what you have written ,insulting me for no good reason .Why is that ? I retaliated. Do to others as you would want done to you”

Well Lawrence.
Since you are asking so nicely I will answer your question.

1) I backed up what Sebastian said about you for the same reason he said it.

You said “Please leave engineering and physics out of guitar construction . Scientific guitars always sound like crap.”

This is in IMHO something only an idiot would say.
Perhaps idiot was too strong.
Perhaps ignorant would have been a better choice of words.
At the very least “Please leave engineering and physics out of guitar construction . Scientific guitars always sound like crap.”
is an inconsiderate statement.

2) last sentence to the introduction to this blog “Stenzel has an affinity for physics, and he seems to come at this from as much a scientific point of view as an aesthetic one.”

3) You were very rude and attack Sebastian first

Lawrence Tendler wrote
March 22, 2011 at 10:09 pm
Sebastian you are a total idiot and a twat .

And for What – Sebastian Quoted Torres –
And then proceeded to advocate a balance between science and art.

4) If I missed something please correct me.

To Lawrence

You started it with this:

Lawrence Tendler wrote on March 22, 2011 at 10:09 pm

“Sebastian you are a total idiot and a twat .”

So take your own advice and “If you do not want others to insult you ,do not dish it out to others”

Elman , yes I am rather embarrassed by much of what I have written ,I do not wish to go around being permanently nasty ,it is not good for my soul at all . I admit to being somewhat ignorant regarding guitar construction , makers such as Fleta and Ramirez seemed to have understood physics and science to a degree ,but they were primarily guitar makers and not scientists .Few guitarists played guitars designed by Kasha for example ,and makers such as antonio Marin Montero are not scientific .I was also wrong to disparage the guitars of Simon Ambridge ,even in my foulest of moods I admit that his guitars are beautiful .I played one belonging to a pupil approximately 20 years ago and the Ambridge was an exceptional sounding guitar , and I do not use that term lightly. I am not crazy about english guitar makers in general but there are a few exceptions ,and Ambridge is a wonderful guitar maker . I admit to being opinionated ,but I know what I like. Modern design guitars are not necessarily bad ,but I doubt the playabilty of them is any better nor worse than a traditional guitar such as the Ambridge ,I am referring to the left hand etc.

Hey folks ,let’s keep this civil please . It is unimportant who started what , it is history . Please let us all treat each other with a modicum of respect.Thank you.

Hay que tener ganas de pelea
A nice discussion, but also a little late. Traditional guitar making will not be in the world for a long time. We depend on wood, on good wood, which had time to grow a long time. Spruce for example, trees that has grown for hundreds of years, not the 60 to 80, which the wood industry allows the new planted trees to grow until cut. We are the last generation, which has access to traditional tone wood for guitar. So the future will be other kinds of woods or plastics, as modern guitar builders use yet,
There is another thing, which makes, that traditional guitar building will disappear. Traditional guitar builder are starting to die. And with them will die their methods and their knowledge about wood and how to treat it. The younger ones will have to have to be modern. To make you a name, as guitar builder, you have to be a son of a famous father, or you have to be an inventor and make publicity with your inventions. Or you have to make louder guitars than other guitar builders. It is yet no more possible, for example, to make smallman stile guitars, without being named smallman for poor man.

Well y will say, what I mean, that modern guitars are so asked for from modern guitarists. They are considered loud.
That is Mr. stenzel talking about, trying to explain, and hoping to convince, that traditional guitars are at least as loud as modern guitars.
Supposing, that it is an aim of modern guitar builders, to build lauder guitars, I ask me, what an aim is this? Is this a musical aim?
Well, the new generation of guitarists wants to make music with other instruments, that’s an argument, and the guitar is not loud enough against a trumpet, a violin or a piano. Or a whole orchestra
And guitarists are asking for guitars which are able to be heard in auditoriums from 5000 persons upwards. The guitar player feels himself under armed.
For these two reasons, they ask for louder instruments.
Well there are two reasons more: their teachers or stars play these guitars, and they are very rare and expensive.
Well, the louder guitar exists, so it is used. I call this the aesthetics of the atom bomb.

A guitar builder in some moments has to decide, what he wants to do.
That depends, where he comes from. A guitar builder in Granada for example is surrounded by thirty other guitar builders. A guitar builder for example in Australia is living free, and I imagine countryside where you have to speak loud. In Spain, we call this kind of talking: voz de cortijo, the voice, which uses your wife, when she wants you to hammer in a nail, while you were digging a whole on the other end of your land.
The guitar builder’s decision is also based on what he has learned and in which way.
And he has to make his living. He must to be rich and famous.

In this decision also could have influence some ethic and political thoughts.
In spain we say: take care with your wishes, you wish. They will become true. I wrote a year ago, to a friend and college, who is making the most beautiful graninian stile guitars: Do not leave us. The one, who wants to build a loud guitar, will obtain it one day. And he will be successful. Power is sexy and attracts. The one, who wants to make beautiful guitars, can not hope to obtain it. We need you and your company.
Every instrument has his political an social surroundings. The trumpet stands for war and chasing, the piano for bar, the violins for nobles.
And the guitar? What stands the guitar for?
Hot summer nights? Love? Whispering? Seducing? Having a nice chat with your god? Playing your daughter a sleeping song?
The classic guitar is an orchestral instrument, and her strength to other instruments is, that she is able to whisper in your ear.
Some people say, that the guitar is relative young instrument, and that she has not reached her end. I agree. She has got here very educated and polite. Let’s help her in her further way.
It is a matter of decision, that you take, not only a matter of taste. Or your taste is the expression of your decisions.
I heard Roberto Aussel saying ten years ago;
Fortissimo, hasta que uno pueda.
Pianissimo hasta el infinito.

BETTER or WORSE is certainly an important criteria/comparison, as we attempt to gage the “value” of guitars, be they modernist or traditional. As a luthier, I understand that each builder is entitled to her preference. Tone and playability aside, traditional lutherie is certainly better for our health. How many pounds of petrochemicals, motorized “horse” power, or industrial machinery is needed to produce a three pound guitar???

Very interesting article

This reminds me of an interview John Williams He said that the reason for him using smallman was that is was less percussive you get more note and less plonk.
The percussiveness is also due to the type of music the guitar was originally used forwich is the flamenco it relies on that
The volume according to him is a side effect of non percussiveness of the Smallman.
The distortion of sound with the guitar is too much when you try to play louder.
The persons in the back row do not get the same quality of sound those in front get.
I completely agree with him on that but I also do think we should try to find a middle ground.There are guitar builders combining both styles for example a regular top thickness but with wood lattice bracing.

Elman Concepcion caling people names, acting like a child, crying like a girl when people point out his errors…and you want people to think you can make a decent guitar? That would first take a decent man.

Please read Lawrence Tendler last post from March 23, 2011 at 10:13 am.
Please be aware that this thread has been heavily edited
and some of Lawrence’s offensive comments have been deleted.


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