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Old 14th October 2019
Gear Guru
Karloff70's Avatar

Vintage acoustic tone affected by dirt on the body?

Ok, so I am interested in discussing this to see what you guys have to say. I have a little story here, goes something like this. Please humour me, if you can muster the energy to take it in:

I bought a 1963 Gibson CW about a year ago that instantly woo'd me into bed in a way I have never had with any other acoustic before. The thing was at the time caked both on the top and even more so on the sides with what looked like matted filth. So basically the guitar wasn't shiny, but matted. And stank of rock'n roll. As in similar to ashtray, yet somehow amazingly appealing. The back was clean, hazarding a guess form the luthier that it had hung on a wall in a VERY smokey rehearsal room for a good long time in its life somewhere, caking it in nicotine and gunk.

Thing is, the way it behaved was magical! It was like a sort of muted trumpet kind of thing, where it would push back at you when you lean into it, and the tones emanating even with completely new strings were super mellow and husky, yet alive. A foggy, magical world would emanate as soon as you let your fingers pass the strings, fretted or not.

It also had a burring/buzzing sound thing going on when fretting bass notes though. It wasn't the frets, but what later turned out to be the plastic (only one year in 63 they put actual plastic bridges on these) bridge. I took it to a (top) luthier who shall remain nameless, and told him to 1.swap the tuners for now, as originals very heavy moving, 2. hunt down the brrrr sound that was catching some bass notes, and 3. do the frets, thinking I want zero extra, just the great tone. Silly me.

I got her back, and the luthier had cleaned the sides and top, saying how amazed he was at the amount of filth on the thing, had never seen anything like it. I felt like a family member had died as soon as I heard on the phone he had also cleaned her. I just knew. If he had asked me whether I wanted it cleaned I would have told hm if he cleans that guitar I will have to chop both his hands off, but he didn't ask. So, then, now, the guitar looks perfect for its age. Superb nick, posh old 60's Gibson.

Plays great, sounds amazing. BUT, it is an entirely different guitar. It now rings out for absolute years of sustain. Which to most I guess would be a total 'wow', and yes it is still a seriously good old Gibson, unlike all the ****e ones that don't sound at all. It sings. But not the way it sang when I chose her. At all. Runs away with me with all the sustain instead of leaning back at me when I lean in. And now new strings sound as aggravating as I always tend to find them on most guitars. Have to play them in a little bit before the sweet spot of tone arrives. And when it does, it is still not at all the same thing as before. And also, it is fleeting, as opposed to before, when brand new ones (same strings D'Addario NB's) on sounded perfect straight away.

Now....I have by now had THREE top quality luthiers tell me independently that muck on the body 'doesn't affect the sound'. Including the man who did the work. Who reckoned it was the frets that changed things. I am thinking it likely was to a degree and am KICKING myself for asking him to do them, as it was really only the bridge making problems. But, it isn't just the frets, as it is also different without fretting. I play open tunings only with rather little being fretted so mostly a lot of strings are ringing open anyway. But the world it created before, which I was insanely looking forward to recording with for the rest of this life, is gone. Gone.

So. I have been told be these three very capable top pro luthiers 'it doesn't work like that', as in, 'no, a little dirt on the body does nothing to the tone'. But it wasn't a And I know what I am experiencing here, and I can't help feeling like I am on the end of some serious gas lighting. How can a fairly liberal layer of muck NOT be dampening the guitar?? I mean, of course it fcuking does, right??

Please share your thoughts if you can be bothered.....this has been like bloody mourning for about a year now, and still stings like bastards every time I remember how she was and what recording would have been like. It made me goose. Goose. Doesn't now.

If anyone can think of something I could apply to the body to dampen it a little without doing any damage to the guitar (i.e. that comes off again) and that doesn't smell of shoe polish, to get her back to where she was, slowly, please speak up.....