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System for objective evaluation of guitars


jdrnd

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Okay I give up... For now

I still like Myers Rum.

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Damn, This thread scares me. After readin' thru this I'm afraid to touch my guitars now!...... I usually just pick up a guitar, if I love the way it sounds and plays.....I buy it. Course after goin thru every make, model, brand, and type known to mankind Ive settled on "Thee Hameth" as my guitar of choice. Only took me 30 yrs to realize. Better late than never.........

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Basically my system is this:

I check it out to see if it sounds and plays great.

Then regardless, I ultimately make my decison based on:

1. The cosmetic appearance of the guitar.

2. The brand name on the headstock

3. If it's all original (no solder points can have ever been touched, etc.)

4. How cool I think it will make me look

5. Who I'm sure it will make me sound like

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So Matt,

You mean

you check it out to see if it sounds and plays terrible.

Then regardless, you ultimately make your decison based on:

1. The worse the cosmetic appearance the better.

2. The brand name on the headstock ...so epiphone, harmony over hamer or gibson

3. as many solder points that can be seen the better

4. How dorky you think it will make you look

5. How sure you are that it will make you sound like Brittany Spears???

I still think objective measurments would be useful. Wouldn't you like to know how good Britany Spears action is and the length of her sustain. Not to mention her frequency response at her open frets.

Jeff

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I still think objective measurments would be useful.

When everyone's ears are tuned the exact same, they'll be useful . . .

You can have all the measurements and math you want -- doesn't take into account the various woods, moisture content, string length, tuning, training of the operator, pickup ohms and synchronization to the other pickups, type of pickups used, age of string preference and metal type, and many more which are all more important than the name on the headstock. Many players use a particular name on the headstock because they are paid (either flat rate, custom deals, paid by headstock appearance in magazines, film, etc., sales of their model) to do so in public. (That's why we see statements like: "Johnny Thunders would never play a Hamer . . ." I didn't know Johnny, but doubt he or many others took a slide rule to a guitar and announce it overall best and they'd only play that particular brand).

I'll certainly look at whatever system you all come up with -- and then buy what I like regardless (and everyone else will too).

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I find it hard to map a guitar's price/value to my preference of playing it.

I have an import Dean Tonic S. I bought it new for $100 (MF closeout) and put another $120 (Bill Lawrence pickups) into it after the original pickups imploded. It looks cheap, it is cheaply made and the finish is terrible. But the guitar is just a gas to play and sounds great. Despite everything going against it, it just has a cool vibe.

I also have a Hamer 30th Anniversary LTD that I bought new for upwards of 3 grand. It is stunning to look at, exudes quality and feels and sounds great. But for some reason I reach for the Dean more often. I also write more songs on the Dean...my muse just wakes up when I play it.

I don't know how you quantify that. If you measure dollars spent vs time played, then I completely overpaid for the 30th and the Dean was a steal. But I have no regrets buying either.

Those Deans didn't sell well and were quickly discontinued. They would have failed any quantitative test you applied. But then I would have missed out on a great guitar.

Rock 'n' roll is about attitude. That Dean's got 'tude, man!

-Jonathan

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Jonathan,

You basically made my argument. The $120 Dean Tonic probably sounds better then the Hamer 30th Ann LTD because it is better. Objective measurments of playing characteristics would probably support your subjective findings. The 30th anniversary model is a marketing ploy. Like the 50th anniversary of Disneyland, the limited edition Ford (not fender) Mustang with the fancy fins. Disneyland or the Ford Mustang are not any better because 50 years have passed or the car has fins, their just marketed these things to generate excitement and thus more sales. The fact that Hamer allows a connection between the HFC and its web site is for marketing purposes. The HFC is doing Hamer a favor (I think I may have gotten myself in trouble with this last statement... should I leave it in and risk getting ostracized, I guess we'll all found out after I press the "Add Reply" button).

I realized after going through this thread that my perspective is different than the 30 or so people that commented. The AK P-90 that I bought a few months ago, is now my good guitar. I'm not going to buy another one (despite my bravado). I have limited experience playing the width and breadth of guitars that many people in this forum have played. During my buying adventures, every "experienced" person that I asked advice from about which guitar to buy had a different opinion. The reason that the suggestion that "I buy the guitar that sounds best for me" is silly, is in the store they all sounded great. Remember I was coming from what was considered, in its day, to be a student guitar (Fender Mustang) and Compared to the AK P-90 it clearly is... even if the mustang twang is crystal clear. I wanted to buy a professional guitar that I wouldn't outgrow. With objective data I might have elected to buy a non USA Hamer, or a high end Ibanez. I don't have the time to go to every store and try out every guitar. 224 guitars, wow. and according to darc thats nothing! I don't own or work in a music store, I haven't played a gig since 1968 when I was a senior in high school (Oops I giving a way my age), and my chances of becoming a rock star before I have my first stroke are less than being abducted by aliens. I just want to sit in my basement and play guitar and know I have a good instrument. Objective measurements of guitars would have given me a selection of guitars in a certain range. From their my subjective mode could have kicked in and I could pick the guitar that sounded best to me from that group. I wonder how many people are similar to me. That is they like to play, usually play by themselves or occasionaly in small informal groups, never played more than 7 guitars in their life, own 2 or 3 guitars ( their first one, a good one and a better one) and never evolve past that point. I aspire to be like those of you who play professionally, but its not going to happen.

...and lastly the guitar makers are never going to use engineering to make better instruments if they get the impression that those of us buying them, don't care, Or that we are easily susceptible to fancy marketing. Instead of improving the instrument, they'll take a guitar like the Artist Korina P-90, add a turtle inlay at the 12th fret and call it the Artist Special addition Turtle Anniversary model... a model that soundwise is no better than the standard Artist Korina P-90 but because of the hype it will be sold for $1000 more.

Jeff

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do you know how much R&D goes into putting that turtle on a guitar? especially if you only do it 15-30 times, it could very well cost that much just to pick a guitar to change the inlay on.

this is getting wordy :o

I like to think companies ARE using better engineering to make guitars better! but somewhere out there someone is telling everyone technology is evil, and nothing does it better than a sharpened rock.

:o

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During my buying adventures, every "experienced" person that I asked advice from about which guitar to buy had a different opinion. The reason that the suggestion that "I buy the guitar that sounds best for me" is silly, is in the store they all sounded great. Remember I was coming from what was considered, in its day, to be a student guitar (Fender Mustang) and Compared to the AK P-90 it clearly is... even if the mustang twang is crystal clear. I wanted to buy a professional guitar that I wouldn't outgrow. With objective data I might have elected to buy a non USA Hamer, or a high end Ibanez. I don't have the time to go to every store and try out every guitar. 224 guitars, wow. and according to darc thats nothing! I don't own or work in a music store, I haven't played a gig since 1968 when I was a senior in high school (Oops I giving a way my age), and my chances of becoming a rock star before I have my first stroke are less than being abducted by aliens. I just want to sit in my basement and play guitar and know I have a good instrument. Objective measurements of guitars would have given me a selection of guitars in a certain range. From their my subjective mode could have kicked in and I could pick the guitar that sounded best to me from that group. I wonder how many people are similar to me. That is they like to play, usually play by themselves or occasionaly in small informal groups, never played more than 7 guitars in their life, own 2 or 3 guitars ( their first one, a good one and a better one) and never evolve past that point. I aspire to be like those of you who play professionally, but its not going to happen.

...and lastly the guitar makers are never going to use engineering to make better instruments if they get the impression that those of us buying them, don't care, Or that we are easily susceptible to fancy marketing. Instead of improving the instrument, they'll take a guitar like the Artist Korina P-90, add a turtle inlay at the 12th fret and call it the Artist Special addition Turtle Anniversary model... a model that soundwise is no better than the standard Artist Korina P-90 but because of the hype it will be sold for $1000 more.

Jeff

Guitars, in general, do not sound better in the store than they do at your house. If you're playing it acoustically, meaning not plugged in, it won't sound any different in the store than it will sound in your house. If you plug it into a $2000 amp and then plug it into your $100 pignose at home, chances are very likely that it's going to sound different. Very different.

The AK P90 is not really made to sound twangy because of the very hot SD pickups. The same way that the mustang won't growl like the AK. You're really comparing apples to hamburgers. Construction is different, materials are different, etc...

Go tell Hamer, McNaught, Thorn, Driskill, Koll, Heatley, Baker, Robin, PRS, McInturff, etc that they are not interested in developping a better guitar and let me know what their reply is.

I don't know how to say this without coming off as rude, but man, you know how to take the fun out of this very cool hobby. :o

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Guest Mike Lee

Well, it took me quite a while to read through all this stuff, and now I have a better understanding of why I was avoiding this thread in the first place. But a couple people asked me to interject so here it goes:

You can objectively quantify the playing surface of a guitar - string gauge, tension, fretboard radius, fret height, fret width, scale length, string height over the frets, relief, headstock angle, nut width, nut material, string break angles, fretboard width, neck thickness, neck profile, etc.

But for the most part, this doesn't tell you how "playable" the guitar is because of differences in preferences. The ideal neck is the one that fits your hand best, the ideal fretboard radius is the one that feels best and fits your playing style. Some people like loose feeling strings, while others complain that there isn't enough resistance and you have to push further to bend up to a given pitch. It's ALL subjective, but many people do generally prefer lower action to higher action.

The one thing that is almost universal is the quality of the fretwork. Properly crowned and polished frets will intonate and play better than roughly finished frets. This is one place where Hamer consistently eclipses Gibson. If you want, we could measure the surface finish of the frets with a profilometer, but all you have to do is bend a string or two and add a little vibrato to see for yourself. We can also judge quality based on semi-objective measures - overall fit and finish, fit of the binding, finish bleed on binding, excess glue at joints, amount of filler around the inlays, neatness of wiring and soldering. These are the things we talk about when we say a Hamer is built better than a Gibson, and for the most part, these things are consistently better on Hamers. Before I owned a Hamer I tried to buy a Gibson and was disgusted at the poor quality of workmanship for the price asked. Hamer was better and less expensive. And this is based on someone who was biased in favor of Gibson to start out with.

Now, does any of this have ANYTHING to do with the intrinsic sound quality of the instrument? Unfortunately, not very much. That depends almost entirely on the acoustic properties of the wood used in construction. Selecting the right species and cuts of wood gets you going in the right direction, but you really don't know until you build the thing, string it up, and listen to it. And even then, sound quality is entirely subjective. Otherwise, people would not prefer Strats, or Teles, or Les Pauls, or 335's, or Juniors, etc. Now you can color the tone with the pickups and again that is pretty subjective.

Hamer wood selection criteria allows them to be more consistent than a larger builder who uses a lot more wood, but there is still a lot of variability.

I favor objective measurements for setup purposes. I use a machininst's scale to set my action, fretboard relief, and pickup height where I know I like them. This allows consistency rather than trial and error. This is a lot better than trusting a tech to do it for you, because many go by feel (theirs), and that's subjective. But it takes trial and error to find out what you like best.

I've even plugged a guitar into a computer running a spectrum analyzer with a waterfall plot. I was able to see in real time the frequency cancellation that occurs when pickups are mixed together, especially the neck/middle combo on a Strat. It was neat, but it doesn't explain why I like that sound so much, and some other people don't.

To Johnny B's points:

I do agree that objective measures end up causing manfacturers to build to the specs rather than overall performance. When Consumer Reports reviews speakers I've seen them select Bose models as the best. But Bose speakers are almost universally regarded as so-so among audio enthusiasts. Sure, the Bose had the most accurate frequency response when fed sinewaves from a tone generator and sweeped from 20-20K. But that says nothing about the dynamic performance and transient response of the same speaker when fed something other than a steady state sinewave.

And I place a lot of weight on double blind subjective testing of things like interconnects and speaker cables to determine if they have an audible effect on sound quality, not just objective measurements.

To jdrnd:

Your AKP90 is a great guitar. It is built as well as anything at double the price (or more), and the fretwork is some of the best in the business. If the neck shape fits you well, all the better. Hamer did its best to select excellent quality wood but in the end, it's up to you to detemine how much you like the tone. Hamer makes the same guitar in mahogany, mahogany/maple, or even mahogany/spruce. All sound different, and appeal to different ears. If you don't like the tone of the stock pickups (I don't), I can recommend a P90 for whatever tone you are looking for.

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Jonathan,

    You basically made my argument.  The $120 Dean Tonic probably sounds better then the...etc. etc. blah-blah...a model that soundwise is no better than the standard Artist Korina P-90 but because of the hype it will be sold for $1000 more.

jdrnd, maybe you need to ask your doctor if tranxene is right for you. :o

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sw686blue,

I'm having fun! I really enjoyed Mike's comments. I'm technically inclined. I I don't think your rude at all, my wife is a lot more nasty towards me when I get carried away, She would have used alot more colorful language than you did. I am sorry that your not finding this interesting.

By the way, just to show no hard feelings let me add a joke:

Why do rabbits do it Quietly? (answer at bottom)

"Go tell Hamer, McNaught, Thorn, Driskill, Koll, Heatley, Baker, Robin, PRS, McInturff, etc that they are not interested in developping a better guitar and let me know what their reply is."

Its one thing to say your developing guitars, its another to actually do it. I would be interested in seeing axactly how much technolpgy is actually used by these companies to develop guitars.

To Mike:

I've even plugged a guitar into a computer running a spectrum analyzer with a waterfall plot. I was able to see in real time the frequency cancellation that occurs when pickups are mixed together, especially the neck/middle combo on a Strat. It was neat, but it doesn't explain why I like that sound so much, and some other people don't.

Where can I get a spectrum analyzer. Are there any computer programs that function as one. Is there really something called a waterfall plot? and I am happy with my AK P-90.

Answer They have cotton balls!

Jeff

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I really enjoyed Mike's comments.

Mike is an anal retentive prick too (spectrum analyzer with a waterfall plot....sheeesh)! :o

Jeff, no hard feelings. You, too, Mike. :o

Good luck in your quest.

Nick

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Guest Mike Lee

Here are a couple spectrum analyzer programs for the Mac:

http://www.dogparksoftware.com/iSpectrum.html

http://www.channld.com/sshot/index.html

For PC programs do a Google search and I'm sure you'll find some. A waterfall plot is a real time 3D plot that shows amplitude as a function of frequency and time.

Here are some waterfall plots:

http://www.channld.com/sshot/s11.html

I found a program like this about 10 years ago when I got my first PowerMac. I had been working with some of the sound lab guys at Ford on some NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) testing and they had lots of DSP hardware based analyzers, mostly HP stuff. At that time, only the PowerPC 604 had enough floating point performance to do this stuff in real time on a desktop computer, but just about any computer can do it now. I was playing around with the program and needed a sound input, so I grabbed my guitar nearby and plugged it in.

Mike is an anal retentive prick too (spectrum analyzer with a waterfall plot....sheeesh)!

You have no idea...

I once had a Ford sound lab guy go to a plant and take readings off some machines to diagnose which rotating parts were out of balance and causing vibration that resulted in a bad surface finish on the machined parts. I measured the waviness on the part with a surface tracer and calculated the frequency, and then we looked for that frequency in the machines. I predicted it was a difference frequency (aka beat freqency) between an intermediate shaft and a spindle that were both out of balance, and the spectrum analysis proved it.

And one of the reasons I understood how to do this stuff was because of playing, tuning, and using harmonics on guitars. College physics helped too...

jdrnd,

You say you're technically inclined. What do you do for a living?

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Jonathan,

You basically made my argument. The $120 Dean Tonic probably sounds better then the Hamer 30th Ann LTD because it is better. Objective measurments of playing characteristics would probably support your subjective findings. The 30th anniversary model is a marketing ploy. Like the 50th anniversary of Disneyland, the limited edition Ford (not fender) Mustang with the fancy fins. Disneyland or the Ford Mustang are not any better because 50 years have passed or the car has fins, their just marketed these things to generate excitement and thus more sales. The fact that Hamer allows a connection between the HFC and its web site is for marketing purposes. The HFC is doing Hamer a favor (I think I may have gotten myself in trouble with this last statement... should I leave it in and risk getting ostracized, I guess we'll all found out after I press the "Add Reply" button).

I think by every measure I can conceive of the 30th Anniversary is an excellent instrument, and by similar measure the Dean Tonic is a cheap instrument. Any objective measurement would indicate this. I think each was a good deal. The fact that the Tonic has a funky vibe doesn't make it better or more valuable, it just make it unique among my collection. The 30th is an heirloom quality instrument. The Tonic is a fun toy. My conclusion was actually the reverse of your premise: that a guitar that would measure sub-par under any objective scrutiny can still be rewarding to play. And that is why the kinds of tests you propose would have little practical value.

-Jonathan

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MTM105

What did the elephant sat to the naked man? (answer below)

Mike,

I'm a Neurologist... (I also have a PhD in Biology (neuroscience) which I obtained prior to medical school). What do you do?

Jonathan,

What do you mean by "funky vibe"? If someone said to me, buy this guitar because it has funky vibes, how could I evaluate what that means. If someone said buy this guitar because 1. it has interesting overtones in the lower registers, 2. that person produced some sought of printout, and 3. the waveform of the printout correlated to a particular sound that I could recognize, I could at least get an idea of what that person means. Its the type of indistinctness that I came across when I was guitar shopping that drove me crazy. (I admit that it sounds like I'm driving everyone else crazy with my crusade to standardize guitar descriptions, but everyone would benefit). I don't understand why there's so much resistance. Knowledge is power.

Answer: "Its cute but can you beathe through it?"

Jeff

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And there's the rub: what I call a "funky vibe" somebody else might call an "annoying twang". And depending upon our playing styles, we might both be right.

I play with a choppy, rhythmic style, so long sustain doesn't matter much to me. My style of playing works great on that Tonic. Somebody who plays long fluid lines might be frustrated with the response because the guitar doesn't "sing". But because I have that 30th, I can start to squeeze those long, sustaining lines out myself and explore a musical territory that eluded me for 25 years because my other guitars played to my existing strengths.

Even if all this response could be listed and charted in a way that would make some sort of sense to a guitarist, he still wouldn't know if it worked for him until he played the instrument. And then there's the surprise factor: when I went out shopping for a Strat 10 years ago I stumbled across a Parker Fly in a store and came home with that. Completely different animal, and I didn't know I'd love it until I actually picked it up.

One of the things that's fun about this group is that we've got players across the musical spectrum. After you've been here a while you learn who's tastes jibe with yours and those are the people who's opinions you start to pay the most attention to. So while I'll enjoy reading the posts of a metal head raving about how great his new pickup is, I won't be as tempted to go out and grab it as I would be after reading the post of a power popper saying how he's getting a ringing, chimey tone from his rig.

The guitar is only half the equation: the other half is the person playing it. Until you match them up you can't tell how the combination will work.

-Jonathan

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