Where does the tone come from in an electric guitar?

Velokki

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I just watched this video today.

I have to say I think it's ridiculous. And everyone's just jumping on the bandwagon of "haha, you nailed it, you don't need to get an expensive guitar" or "It was always known scientifically... wood doesn't matter".

I have to say that I've had some guitars with dead spots, and jesus christ, it's so irritating if a certain frequency is missing from the wood of your instrument. In my Washburn WM-526 some frequencies play great, but you can't sustain a certain note past 2 seconds - and I'm not talking about a dead fret problem either - the same note is unsustainable even when picked from 3 different strings.

Also, I know playability is key, but I also have a partscaster Tele that is a dead plank. It just doesn't sustain at all and it isn't bright. It feels great to play, the notes ring out with no fretting problems, but I just feel the body or neck wood is damp as a swamp. It sounds super dead acoustically too. I could easily get through a busy lead line playing with it, but anything with long-sustaining notes, I'd have a shitty time when compared to an Aristides or a great wooden guitar.

Now - if this video's point was 100% valid, that "wood doesn't matter", then I wouldn't have any of these problems.

Wood's mission in a guitar is to act as feedback device to the strings - to keep it ringing, and sustain the played note. So in effect the pickup can pick up the sound for longer. Everyone knows that if it's just the strings and nothing else, it wouldn't sustain for long, and the sound is very different.
 

nickgray

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to keep it ringing, and sustain the played note
Doesn't really make sense. The energy that makes the wood vibrate comes entirely from the string, i.e. it takes away the string's energy.

it's just the strings and nothing else
A major issue could be the coupling between the neck and the body, the bridge and the body, the nut and the neck, and the frets and the neck. Basically, any contact point between any two pieces that are involved with string vibration.
 

/wrists

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I think if we're looking at it from what we hear post production (usually), it pretty simply comes from the pick up.
 

Velokki

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Doesn't really make sense. The energy that makes the wood vibrate comes entirely from the string, i.e. it takes away the string's energy.

Try this; take a tuning fork of exactly the frequency of the string. Put it under the string. Pluck the string. Now do the same without.

I tried this with an A-string on a guitar in my friend's studio. It resonated much longer with the fork, since acoustic feedback is a thing.

On a guitar, if there was no wood to resonate, the vibration energy would just go into thin air. The wood captures the resonance and feeds it back, which results in longer sustain.
 

nickgray

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exactly the frequency of the string
That's a massive caveat though. Guitar body isn't tuned to resonate at every single frequency the guitar can produce.

I tried this with an A-string on a guitar in my friend's studio. It resonated much longer with the fork, since acoustic feedback is a thing.
Did you completely mute the other strings?

The wood captures the resonance and feeds it back
The physics of it just doesn't make sense to me. The string gets 100% of the energy from you plucking it. Body vibrating means it captured some of that energy, meaning the string now has less energy. What you're suggesting is that body wood prevents the string from decaying as rapidly. But it's entirely unclear by which mechanism it would do that.

Look, I'm no physicist, so it's all above my pay grade, but I keep seeing this argument occasionally and I don't think I've ever found any kind of concrete experimental evidence for this idea.

What I do know is that solid body guitars use all sorts of wood, all kinds of bridges, 3 common types of neck joints with variations in design for each, different thicknesses for body and chambering, and the market seems to be completely fine with all of this variety. Surely, if some combination was noticeably superior people would've noticed by now. But all you get are the same old guitar myths like LP has the best sustain, bolt on necks have the best attack (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean), and so on.

In practice, in recorded music, no one would in a million years would be able to guess what kind of wood and what kind of construction the guitar has.

I'll even amp it one notch - solid body guitars are crappy sounding instruments. It's ancient technology, they don't sound even close to acoustic guitars, it's a hacky instrument designed to take advantage of equally primitive sound amplification at the time. Yet this is exactly the reason for why electric guitars persist - they sound so different they're basically their own thing. Same deal with synths - the idea was to imitate real world sounds, but they sound so far off they became their own thing and they're widely used even though high quality sampling has been a thing for ages now.

On a guitar, if there was no wood to resonate, the vibration energy would just go into thin air.
I remember looking this stuff up a while ago. Here's something I've found now after quick searching:


But even then, what you're saying can be debunked via simpler means.

Consider an acoustic guitar with a piezo pickup. Acoustics resonate way more than electrics, right? But not only the piezo signal is virtually identical to a piezo signal from a solid body in terms of sound (this is also a very good argument against tonewood in general, imo), but there are no drastic sustain differences either.

What's more, consider bass guitars. The build itself is quite similar to solid bodies, yet if you use roughly the same string tension (feel wise, the absolute tension will still be higher on the bass), compared to low notes on the guitar there is no drastic difference. In fact, there is no drastic difference in general between a solid body guitar and bass. Yet with acoustics, a proper acoustic bass should have a massive body, which isn't done because it's just not practical. But in the violin family, for example, this difference is implemented - look at the cello and the double bass.
 

Gain_Junkie93

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Tone is stored in the balls. In the event an electric guitar is being played by someone without balls perse then the tone is derived from the next available gonadic organs. This has been my Ted Talk
 

gnoll

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That video is crap.

And all this physics stuff is so useless.

Guitar internet is completely saturated with this "it can't change tone because physics" even when it clearly sounds different.

Like, just play the guitar and see if you like how it sounds or not.
 

drool1419

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That video is crap.

And all this physics stuff is so useless.

Guitar internet is completely saturated with this "it can't change tone because physics" even when it clearly sounds different.

Like, just play the guitar and see if you like how it sounds or not.
It's not useless though. If you're playing guitar with distortion, then things like wood and pickups and hands aren't going to make NEARLY the difference people are lead to believe. If you're spending tons on pickups because you can't get a sound you like or entire new guitars so you can get the "best" wood, you could waste a shit ton of money, when all you needed was a new speaker.

Now, take distortion out of the conversation and then sure, other things start to pay a larger role, but it's still less of a change than people would expect.

It's not that things like wood or humbucker A vs humbucker B don't do anything to tone, but it's just a much smaller change.

But I'm also not going to tell people they shouldn't buy things they want. I bought new pickups last month because dammit I wanted them lol
 

Un1corn

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This is an old topic and old video but I kinda think there's something more to be desired.

Note that I'm not even trying to say that you should matter about 'tonewood'.

I see people saying lots of misconceptions everywhere. There should be a clarification of facts and thoughts. Here's what things actually going on:

1. You can't saying a home made experiment YouTube video as 'science' if seriously. There are actually tons of academic researches that are showing anything attached to the body, the body will affect the string's vibration in some way. This is measured by very complex methods and tools, not just by ears saying 'I can't hear a difference'. Even the number of nuts on a bolt on neck will have some effect. (Note again i'm not saying you will hear this very obviously) Some people I've seen even said 'strings are not even touching the wood so wood make absolutely 0 effect', and the prove is this YouTube video. Whether it's the tone or not, this statement looks like he's not living on the earth as this is very basic physics.

2. There are lots of examples show that with the same hardware, same type of body, only one different material on the neck or body, there's a noticable difference. But this doesn't exactly mean which is better, it's just different.

3. There are some indicators of how a material's acoustic performance is, including factor of modulus of elasticity, density, how damp it is, etc... It's more of a research to acoustic instruments but the mechanics are the same, as wood will always radiate vibration more than something like metal.

So fact wise, anything that strings and bridge are attached to will have some degree of effect on the string's vibrations, and ultimately picked up by pickups. And in some degree wood will have a better/worse performance, acoustically.

HOWEVER, there's a big however, that everything above is purely viewed at the perspective of research, not actually what we matter or what we will exactly sound. Here's what things going on, when considering a guitar as a player/mixer:

1. Although wood will affect the string's vibration, and picked up by pick up, usually this is minor on the whole tone because electrical guitar's tone is more depend on pickups, bridges, and pedals, amps. The material is only one small factor that involves in a big system. So this difference could easily be compensated, by like turning a knob or EQ afterwards.

2. No wood is same as the other. As said above, modulus of elasticity, density, how damp it is, etc... wlll effect on the acoustic performance, and all these will be different from one piece to another piece. Wood is not a consistent thing, so you can't say one type of wood will always have more mids than the other.

3. The extra charge of exotic woods usually come from import price and difficulty on working with the woods, not the tone. If a luthier says one wood will have better tone than the other, and charge you extra for the 'tone', then he is liar.

Thoughts wise, wood is not something you can consistently believe in the sound, and usually the difference is small enough to be compensated. Extra cost are from import and extra working.

To summarize: different type, or different piece of wood will definitely make different sound, but this is NOT something you should consider at first when buying a guitar. It's all down to whether you want to pay for the exotic wood (for look, strength, or potentially something else), and if you believe in the luthier you are working with.

So the real thing is, the woods will have effect on tone but it's small enough that can be ignored by another things, not every random statement else. It's pretty normal to see people saying they can know the difference, because they didn't compensate for that with knobs on pedals and amps, and sometimes the difference is big enough. But it's not something you should look for when considering tone, just objectively it exsists.
 
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Wiltonauer

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Ninety-five percent of it is probably just a tragi-comic delusion, but life is too short, and guitars are too cool, for me to care. It is altogether fitting and proper that guitars be made out of giant fucking trees that we killed. How do we know the trees wouldn’t kill us and craft musical instruments out of our dead bodies if they could? It’s like the circle of life or something.
 

DECEMBER

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The wood (shape, density) gives it its fundamental tone. It determines how it resonates. The strings cause the body to resonate and that resonance is transferred back to the strings, influencing the vibrations that are picked up by the pickups. The pickups have a huge influence on how it sounds amplified. If it has muddy pickups it doesn't matter how good your amp is, it's gonna sound muddy.
I moved the same set of pickups between 3 guitars with the same strings: a Gibson LP, an Epi LP, and a PRS SE. They all sound very different, even the two LPs. They both sound like LPs, but still very different. The PRS sounds nothing like the LPs.
They sound the way they sound acoustically when they're unplugged, so the difference is in the wood/body and bridge.
 
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