08 April 2011

Guitars Tuned to a Deep Fundamental Resonance

What is better? So I will give you my personal view about what I learned in recent years.

I started to play guitar about 45 years ago and worked myself up to classical guitar. But being a ham radio operator waves, frequencies, filters, resonances were my friends, so I started to look for acoustical properties of my guitars with technical tools. 

I used in the beginning traditional methods, like recording and analyzing ( Gitarrenakustik) switched later to computer assisted methods like fast fourier transformation (FFT) analyses, which could be done with software available on the PC.

With these methods you get a unique "footprint" of an instrument, but I must admit, that it is sometimes not easy to interpret. But when you do it in comparison to other instruments you will see and hear the differences.

Understanding the basics of acoustical properties of the guitar was crucial to see the direction in which Meyers book pointed. Here I found the idea of tuning the fundamental resonance of a guitar, by appling some physical basics to the different parts of the guitar. 

So I started to build guitars by myself, but to make that long story short: I had a hard time to direct my wood-working (dis)abilities into the right direction so that I had no space left to dig into mathematical based optimation processes.

That was when I got into contact with a group of luthiers which already hat adopted the idea to keep on building traditional guitars but tweaking the intonation to get a different sound image. It was Achim-Peter Gropius  how started the new 'Testing Setup'. Every three months we met in his workshop and he presented his batch of new guitars and we brought with us the guitars we had a chance to lay our hands on. Egi Danzl, the former director of the Nürtinger Gitarren Festival, was the soloist.

The setup was:

  • We had 4-5 Master Guitars (Gropius, Dammann, Langenbacher, José Lopez Bellido, Paco Santigo Marin) 
  • Egi played a short piece of music on each guitar
  • We analyzed the basic resonance
  • We listened and tried to describe the differences
 These sessions lasted for 2-3 hours and Achim Gropius always had one guitar as a test guitar, on which he applied the one or two insights of the sessions in the next batch. So that we could see and hear what had changed. 

What did I learn apart from getting a better ear for guitars:

  • The overall acoustic impression which is stamped by the luthier on his instrument is unique. It does not change although individual guitars may change in optics and dimensions
  • Guitars (I call them "Spanish Guitars) have a special sound characteristic which can even by a experienced soloist not be altered
  • Instruments tuned to a deep fundamental resonance 
    - make less problems with "wild" resonances
    - must be played with more control by the player
    -- but achieve thereby a wider range of sound capabilities
    - when played by a "normal" guitarist will sound "neutral", for they do not bring by themselves
      e.g. the sweet sound of a "Spanish Guitar" as an incorporated sound feature
    - seem to have a better projection
    - seem to have a sound which makes it easier to differentiate polyphonic music
Our test setting was reproduced in a larger scale during festivals, were handmade guitars from luthiers from all over the world were tested in public auditions by e.g. David Russell / Scott Tenant. And you can guess: Tuned Guitars won. (OK win is the wrong expression, for the other guitars had also their qualities, but the player and the public voted for these guitars.)

For me it had consequences: I sold my wonderful Bellido with Rio-Palisander and discussed with Urs Langenbacher about 3 hours what kind of sound my guitar should produce. (I like to play JS. Bach and counterpoint music, but did not want to play lute.) But I wanted to have the separation effect not only in the high registers. And that round / full tone as basic characteristic. And he built that guitar. (No, I do not get money for that and had to pay the full prize)  
So, coming back to the Question:

A: In my opinion: YES!