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EdwardMarlowe

Things we'd like to see in guitars?

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Me, I'd love to see a high quality, solid body electric guitar.... made from plywood. 

I've come back to the material after years of looking down on it as a green, sustainable wood that actually looks great in the sort of furniture that appeals to me (mid-century modern; I hope to move house in the next few years, and my intention is to give it a very late 50s and earlier aesthetic). This has made me look back on the era of affordable, plywood guitars. When I first took up guitar in late 1991, plywood was the norm. Then Yamaha hit the marketing triumph of selling the Pacifica 112 with a natural finish to emphasise that they were solid wood, and everyone else soon followed suit. As I've come to find the ply aesthetically pleasing, I've come to wonder whether a truly great guitar could be made from it - an extension of the "tonewood is a superstition and nothing more" philosophy, I suppose. I'd love to see someone with crazy money have a Strat made from ply by Fender's custom shop, and then play it off against the one-piece, exotic swamp ash types. Of course it's not in the industry's interests at present to do something like that in case it undermines years of marketing expensive woods, but I can't help but wonder if necessity will bring it round again one day, perhaps from the environmental perspective. I mean, twenty years ago who expected bamboo guitars would be available now? 

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One of my favourite basses was a Dano '63, with a (most likely) plywood frame and a Masonite top / bottom. I think historically the frame was poplar but modern Danos have a plywood core/frame. 

I don't know much about Masonite, but it seems like it would be quite green and sustainable in the same way that ply is!

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Dano are interesting that way: they do seem to have created a niche for themselves with something that does buck the overriding trend. I guess part of that is people wanting their unique sound, part of it the effect of photos of folks like Hendrix and Page wielding one... 
One of my big regrets is that when I moved to London in 1999 and went looking for a new, budget guitar. I didn't originally want to bring over my US Fender as I started out in shared accommodation. Very quickly discovered just how limited the budget market was for left handers in those days (these days it's be Hellooo, Thomann...). When it came down to it, I could have had a Dano U2 for about £180, but ended up buying an Epi LP Std for much more. The Epi I still have - one of the later Korean models, very nice indeed, would be 'Epi Plus' stuff now. Thing is, I'm kinda over Les Pauls and humbuckers in general; I'd rather have that Dano these days. Ironically, the Dano would probably be worth more now too. 

Dano are back doing short runs now; some really nice guitars, but very few lefties. I do love their aesthetic - there's something very scuzzy rockabilly - punk rock'n'roll about them. 

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I saw an Andertons video the other day (I think the video was about 2 years old) where Lee and Rob were showing the new Danelectro range. At the start Lee was adamant that Danos are "a bit shit", but they had some of the coolest jams and I think he might have changed his mind (but maybe wasn't ready to admit it!)

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There are loads of products already out there that I think should be more mainstream.  The Wilkinson VS100C vibrato bridge for example.  Or any number of innovative modular pickup systems.  It's not the guitar or guitar makers that are the problem, it's the retro-obsessed market.  One part of it is retired middle class professionals with cash to burn.  Another part of it is young players with no clue about how gear works beyond brand names. 

But the net result has been a market that eschews technology and innovation (in guitars, less so in effects ironically) as if it's an anathema to 'authenticity'.   The only real innovation in guitars that I can see is in prog metal.  They've re-embraced headless guitars and active pickups.

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On 12/05/2021 at 02:30, Kiwi said:

There are loads of products already out there that I think should be more mainstream.  The Wilkinson VS100C vibrato bridge for example.  Or any number of innovative modular pickup systems.  It's not the guitar or guitar makers that are the problem, it's the retro-obsessed market.  One part of it is retired middle class professionals with cash to burn.  Another part of it is young players with no clue about how gear works beyond brand names. 

But the net result has been a market that eschews technology and innovation (in guitars, less so in effects ironically) as if it's an anathema to 'authenticity'.   The only real innovation in guitars that I can see is in prog metal.  They've re-embraced headless guitars and active pickups.

Totally get you on this. My own tastes are pretty caveman when it comes to guitars: I've tried but didn't cared for locking trems and active pups and such. Thing is, I gave them a go and decided they weren't for me. Aesthetically, I like my guitars to look like they could have been made prior to 1962, but even then I find the market very limited and closed minded - especially as a left handed player. (It's incredible how often some idiot these days still trots out the old lie about "guitar isn't handed", "you should find it easier with your dominant hand on the board" and such). Even within my own tastes, which do have their limits, I find the market narrow. I'm sick to the back teeth of hearing about "tonewood", or dogma that "guitarists should always buy the best [best meaning most expensive] they can afford." The worst I remember was when the first Variax was released, guys all over Harmony Central falling all over themselves to be the 3,009th say "Enjoy your toy" in sneering condescension. Even those who said they'd try one if they put fake pickups on it and made it look like a "real" guitar.... 

Honestly, I know Leo Fender had a time of it back in the fifties, but if he had to deal with selling something innovative to today's market, I don't know how he'd cope. 

Probably the one that drives me up the wall most is the abject refusal by so many to try something other than tubes - I've even seen many flat out reject the idea of even trying non-tube where it was guaranteed to sound exactly the same, simply because of, as you say, this misplaced notion of authenticity. The absolute worst are these fifteen year old kids who sound like their grandparents haughtily announcing "there's no good much like Led Zeppelin being made any more." You're bloody fifteen!!! Find your own thing, you have the time!!!  MARLOWE ANGRY! MARLOWE SMASH! RAAAAHHHHHH! Ironically, I'm going to end up with tubes myself for no better reason than I can find a small, simple Champalike much cheaper than anything else I've looked at, but I always have an eye out for the price coming down on those Roland BluesCubes, or a chance to try one of those  Session Blues Babies that claims to make SS sound like tube. If that works at the right price, I'll dump the tubes in a heartbeat. I'm already perfectly happy with SS for bass. 

I always have a laugh when some brand-snobs criticise the like of Tokai for not doing "something new", then when they do see something new (even from Tokai).... 
 

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On 07/05/2021 at 14:19, Rikki_Sixx said:

I saw an Andertons video the other day (I think the video was about 2 years old) where Lee and Rob were showing the new Danelectro range. At the start Lee was adamant that Danos are "a bit shit", but they had some of the coolest jams and I think he might have changed his mind (but maybe wasn't ready to admit it!)

I think it's that "tonewood" notion again. Danos are made with cheap components and not some fashionable wood type, therefore....  I do believe far too many players hear a guitar by casting their eyes over the spec sheets. How many players have spent years trying to get their Strat to sound perfectly like Jimi's on the Purple Haze leads, only to discover he recorded that with a Tele? Or how many obsess over buying a Les Paul to sound like Page on Led Zepp I, when even Page himself can't remember which of those numbers he played on an LP and which were on a Tele? 

Don't get me wrong, if folks like and want to pay for a particular guitar, that's fair enough, but 'headstock ears' should at least be honest, shurely... 

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On 07/04/2021 at 16:19, EdwardMarlowe said:

Me, I'd love to see a high quality, solid body electric guitar.... made from plywood. 

I still remember instruments from the late 80's with plywood bodies.  They were terrible...

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On 26/05/2021 at 16:04, Kiwi said:

I still remember instruments from the late 80's with plywood bodies.  They were terrible...

I do recall having mixed experiences, but I'm not fully ready to rule out the possibility that many of them were crap because they were budget, starter guitars built down to a price, rather than because of the plywood. (The Taylor pallet-wood guitar springs to mind here.) Not unlike the three-bolt neck on a 70s Strats got the blame for lesser quality in that period, when in reality it was far more to do with CBS's poor attitude to QA. A lot of high end semis use ply / laminate, partly because it's easier to mould, yes, but also because it's apparently less prone to feedback... What I keep coming back to is that with a Strat especially, the pick-ups are mounted in plastic, ultimately - the pick guard, which surely reduces the significance of the wood.... 

One thing I thought was fascinating was the Switch guitars. German company, I think. They were a bit HR Geiger in look for me, but the technology was a fascinating idea. They reckoned with the polymer they could cut out the organic variation common in wood guitars. By changing the make-up of the polymer from which they made their bodies, they could simulate different wood types, and once locked on something that sounded good, they could reproduce it every time, guaranteed. They bombed on the market, though. A mix of being too different on one hand and aesthetics on the other, I think - they had a very 80s Superstrat vibe at a time when that was very much not a big seller. Never got a chance to try one (never saw a lefty), but the concept was fascinating. In some ways, not a million miles from what Steinberger were trying to do with carbon fibre, or Ovation's fibreglass bowlbacks. It does make me wonder about the future of 3D-printed bits. If it played and felt the same, how many here would be up for a plastic guitar? I think it would be a hard sell to the mainstream, but for those who like something a bit different like Jack White's Airplane... They also sold the Switch guitars as environmentally friendly in the same era when Gibson were backing off some woods and experimenting with the 'Smartwood' guitar. Not sure how truly green the polymer plastic was - though the perception of plastic not being EF might have been a challenge for them. Interesting to see now there are more wood-types being considered - I remember seeing a Yamaha bamboo acoustic. I have a feeling though that aside from the odd exception, non-wood becoming a norm is a ways off yet. At least unless there's a new guitar hero of the level of a Hendrix emerges playing ply or plastic... 

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23 minutes ago, EdwardMarlowe said:

I do recall having mixed experiences, but I'm not fully ready to rule out the possibility that many of them were crap because they were budget, starter guitars built down to a price, rather than because of the plywood. (The Taylor pallet-wood guitar springs to mind here.) Not unlike the three-bolt neck on a 70s Strats got the blame for lesser quality in that period, when in reality it was far more to do with CBS's poor attitude to QA. A lot of high end semis use ply / laminate, partly because it's easier to mould, yes, but also because it's apparently less prone to feedback... What I keep coming back to is that with a Strat especially, the pick-ups are mounted in plastic, ultimately - the pick guard, which surely reduces the significance of the wood.... 

I think we're talking about different kinds of ply.  One one hand there's construction grade marine plywood and on the other there's high quality laminate from exotic woods.  The two are pretty different in most respects.   I can pick up a bass and tell just by playing it acoustically whether it has a cheap ply body because I lived with two of those basses for five years. 

I came very close to buying a switch guitar once.  The original Parker Fly was laminated as was the neck on a Kubicki bass.  I think there are limitations with plastic 3d printed guitars due to the structural qualities of the thermoplastic used but with metallic sintering there might be some opportunities.  It's quite expensive to invest at the moment though.

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On 28/05/2021 at 09:21, Kiwi said:

I think we're talking about different kinds of ply.  One one hand there's construction grade marine plywood and on the other there's high quality laminate from exotic woods.  The two are pretty different in most respects.   I can pick up a bass and tell just by playing it acoustically whether it has a cheap ply body because I lived with two of those basses for five years. 

I came very close to buying a switch guitar once.  The original Parker Fly was laminated as was the neck on a Kubicki bass.  I think there are limitations with plastic 3d printed guitars due to the structural qualities of the thermoplastic used but with metallic sintering there might be some opportunities.  It's quite expensive to invest at the moment though.

Oh, for sure there's a difference between laminate and ply - I think I was more getting at the notion there that a good guitar doesn't have to be all-solid. What intrigues me is the idea as to whether a really great plywood guitar could me made. Like say Fender threw their custom shop at it, absolutely everything totally high end - would the ply render it crap, per conventional wisdom, or is it the case that low end build and other components made as much or more of a difference. 

I agree that for the industry to find an eco-friendly plastic that sounds good would be a huge shift - obviously changing wood-type is easier as it's still wood, still requires the same skills... which probably makes it unlikely to catch on for now, as if there's no demand, I can't see anyone wanting to make the investment... 

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11 hours ago, EdwardMarlowe said:

What intrigues me is the idea as to whether a really great plywood guitar could me made. 

If you're talking about using construction grade ply then it really depends on how far it's short comings could be compensated for in the other components.  Things are different for guitars compared to say, basses.  Less string tension so potentially guitars could use cheaper materials with less compromise on sound given for most guitars a lot of the character comes from the pickups.  

I'd say slap a set of EMG's on a ply body with a carefully laminated neck of say soft mahogany with some maple for structural stiffening and a richlite fingerboard and it might sound OK.

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On 30/05/2021 at 05:41, Kiwi said:

If you're talking about using construction grade ply then it really depends on how far it's short comings could be compensated for in the other components.  Things are different for guitars compared to say, basses.  Less string tension so potentially guitars could use cheaper materials with less compromise on sound given for most guitars a lot of the character comes from the pickups.  

I'd say slap a set of EMG's on a ply body with a carefully laminated neck of say soft mahogany with some maple for structural stiffening and a richlite fingerboard and it might sound OK.

Yeah, that's the general idea... a sort of grand experiment to see whether the notion of "tonewood" really is bunk. Though I can see why a lot of companies would have a vested interest in squashing that....! 

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11 hours ago, EdwardMarlowe said:

Yeah, that's the general idea... a sort of grand experiment to see whether the notion of "tonewood" really is bunk. Though I can see why a lot of companies would have a vested interest in squashing that....! 

I don't think it's bunk but it really depends on terms of reference.  If someone just wants an instrument to make a noise, well...yeah.  A piece of driftwood will do that...or cardboard...or concrete.  All it proves is the importance of rigidity.

If someone wants to talk about the influence of structural rigidity, mass, density and dampening on timbre then I think there's plenty of room for discussion.  But there's also a lot of misinformation out there as well...like the influence of species.

At the end of the day, I'm aware that a number of manufacturers like Dingwall and Ernie Ball (and maybe PRS) just weigh a piece of wood from a desired species and if it's within acceptable range, it goes into an instrument.  Their instruments, on the whole, are remarkably consistent in sound given how variable wood can be in its characteristics.  

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Plywood trumps most if not all tonewoods for rigidity and stability, it just falls down on three counts -  aesthetics for most people, weight and cost - using cheap materials undermines pricing strategies.

I have two plywood guitars, they both have several faults but none of them are plywood related, rather to other budget aspects of their designs. I also have a blockboard bass which is very nice, thank you.

And if this sort of thing is superior to a single piece of wood, surely even more plies would be even more superiorer... 🙂

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRKxaOnaORbrjYBSuTktNB

 

 

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Wow it pays to research this...

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... and don't forget most acoustic guitars are plywood where the timber choice is more critical...

Edited by Stub Mandrel
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