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Contemplating a classical build

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Contemplating a classical build

Postby Brian Evans » Wed Jun 07, 2017 8:05 am

Only ever having done archtop guitars I am now contemplating a classical build. I'm searching the archives, reading about styles, and see that as usual the design matters less than the wood and the build. So many styles of bracing to achieve the same goal, and someone can make every style do very well. I am currently leaning towards the Jose Ramirez III bracing style, for no particular reason other than it was developed somewhat modernly and is reported to produce a very good tone, with redwood or cedar top and back and sides of some nice spalted maple from a tree I got a few years ago.

My question or point of discussion is this: what is the magic, the mojo, the mystery of a good or great classical guitar? What in the building process differentiates the result? What in the sound tells you that you got it right?

Brian
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Re: Contemplating a classical build

Postby Alan Carruth » Wed Jun 07, 2017 1:02 pm

As far as I can tell the main consideration in producing a good Classical guitar is getting enough treble. Nylon strings produce far less high frequency sound than steel, because they have higher damping. If you pluck a nylon string and a steel string in the same place the initial sound produced has the same amount of energy in all the partials for both strings. Within a second or so the nylon string has lost all the energy above about 4-6kHz, while the steel string will still be going strong in the high range. So the main issue in making a good steel string guitar tends to be getting enough low end to balance out all of the highs, while with nylon strings it's getting the most out of the little bit of high frequency energy you have.

Nylon strings do normally carry less tension than steel, but that's not as much of an issue as people think. The energy in a vibrating string goes as the tension and the square of the amplitude. Nylon string guitars are generally set up with higher action, so it's possible to put about the same amount of energy into the string without buzzing as it is with steel. Again, it's not the lack of power that's the problem, it's the lack of treble, and, to some degree, sustain.

Since the string height off the top is usually about the same for both types of guitar the nylon string, with lower overall tension, can use a lighter top and lighter bracing. Don't over build! At the same time, you want to keep the top fairly stiff to help with the high end sound.

Even more important IMO is getting the bracing and the top to work well together. Some form of tap tone tuning can help with this: I use Chladni patterns, which is the 'tech' version. The usual Torres-inspired fan brace systems tend to work well right out of the box, but can be improved with some judicious brace shaving. As withy any guitar top, reducing the braces at the lower end has the most effect. Don't shave them much, if at all, above the bridge line.

Classical players can be fussy, and the guitars often seem to be balanced on the point of a pin. With the lighter top construction even very small changes can affect the tone noticeably.

I could probably go on, but it's lunch time...
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Re: Contemplating a classical build

Postby Clay Schaeffer » Sat Jun 10, 2017 5:11 pm

Cedar tops can make very nice guitars, but to me, seem to lean toward stronger bass notes. The lower density of maple might lend itself to a flamenco type sound. But build it to suit yourself (that's what I do). No matter how it turns out, someone will love the sound.
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Re: Contemplating a classical build

Postby Randolph Rhett » Sun Jun 11, 2017 2:55 pm

Building a top sounding and playing classical guitar is simple. Here is the one thing you need to do to guarantee you have a master class guitar....

No, of course not. People have been building these guitars for a couple of hundred years. Archtop guitars, by comparison, were invented by Orvile Gibson about 100 years ago and were morphed into electric instruments soon after. As acoustic instruments they probably only had 30-40 years of mainstream development. Frustratingly to me because I love and build acoustic archtops, many archtop players actually WANT an acoustically dead sounding instrument. They call it the Gibson "thunk". A top of the line ES-175 with a plywood top will set you back $6,000. It is useless as an acoustic instrument, and is the object of endless lust and desire for many.

Classical guitar players are MUCH pickier about tone, and the theories on how to consistently get that tone are as varied as there are builders. An acquaintance of mine, Pepe Romero, builds and sells $20,000 classical guitars. He learned the trade apprenticing in Spain. I asked him once what he was looking for when voicing tops. He honestly couldn't say. He wasn't being coy, he just didn't have a simple way of conveying what his experience and senses told him about what tops to choose, how thin to make them, or how heavy to brace them. He did, however, stick to the traditional building techniques pretty closely.

So that is what I would advise. Stick very close to the accepted blueprint (Torres/Houser) and take the time to be thoughtful and clean in your build. You will likely end up with a very nice instrument. But don't expect anyone to be able to provide you with "the magic, the mojo, the mystery of a good or great classical guitar".
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Re: Contemplating a classical build

Postby Brian Evans » Sun Jun 11, 2017 5:18 pm

Randolph, I was more asking what is the sound or tone that differentiates the good from the OK. That I don't know, and I'm not sure I could tell if I played a great instrument. Everything I've found out so far leans towards clear, clean and articulate high notes., along with balance across the instrument and a lack of dead/wolf notes to the extent possible. Completely agree with you about archtops, and your advice on the classical build! The research continues. Coming from the archtop world I am looking into cantilever fretboard extensions in the classical world.
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Re: Contemplating a classical build

Postby Randolph Rhett » Sun Jun 11, 2017 10:43 pm

Probably dozens of answers to that question too. I can tell you what I look for:

1) LOUD. The best classical guitars I have played were weirdly loud. You keep looking at it going, WTF? How does it do that? Absolute cannons of sound.

2) BALANCED. Unlike a Dred that is usually voiced with scooped mids to allow for vocal accompaniment, really good classical guitars have the same timbre from the low F up four octaves to a high F on the 13th fret. Piano like in that sense. Somewhat like a good marimba. Every note sounds like it is from the same instrument.

3) RICH. The overtones of a good classical give each note a sense that it is bigger, fuller, richer than it's less well built counterparts. Bad classical guitars somehow sound like they are strung with nylon. They have a weird plasticky sound. Good guitars the character of the string is gone and they are characterized by a pureness of tone.

4) PLAYABLE. Effortless. Well made instruments are not hard to move to from a steel string guitar. Despite a 2" nut and relatively flat neck profile your hand just seems to know where to go. Super light weight guitars that sit on your fretting hand knee perfectly balanced at 45deg or so. Buzz free action that doesn't feel as high as it actually is.

See.... Easy!
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Re: Contemplating a classical build

Postby Brad Heinzen » Sun Jun 11, 2017 11:10 pm

I'd agree that the toughest thing is getting the trebles right. Bass is easier. Getting a nice sounding 3rd string is always a problem.

If I can get trebles that are clear, sweet, a little punchy, and with relatively even timbre across the three nylon strings, I'm happy. I don't mind a guitar that has clear differences between the bass and treble strings. I consider that to be a bit of a stylistic thing. Some folks want the timbre to be relatively equal across all strings. I don't mind dealing with some differences in tonal character across the range. Seems more traditional to me. Basses can growl like basses, and trebles can ring like bells, and I'm ok with that.

One of the most important things for me in the overall sound of the guitar is dynamic range, or headroom. Some guitars top out quickly, and can't give you any more, no matter how hard you play them. I'd like my guitars to respond in linear fashion with regard to demands for increased volume, and that's something I'm always working on. I also think that timbral range is desirable. A nice, full tonal palette is a good thing, and it seems to almost come along for free when I get the dynamic range I'm after.

In my evolution and experience as a builder, the above characteristics are listed in order of difficulty to achieve. Good basses come most easily, then nice trebles, then even trebles and good 3rd strings, then dynamic and tonal range.
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Re: Contemplating a classical build

Postby Brian Evans » Mon Jun 12, 2017 8:39 am

This is excellent feed back and gives me a lot to think about. Thanks!
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