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Vintage acoustic tone affected by dirt on the body?
Old 14th October 2019
  #1
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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 little....lol. 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.....
Old 14th October 2019
  #2
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I dunno how thick of a funk we are talking, but you could probably experiment with painters tape or something before committing to frosting it with filth. My first thoughts would be some kind of wax but then I would think that would attract dirt in an unholy way.
Old 14th October 2019
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kslight View Post
I dunno how thick of a funk we are talking, but you could probably experiment with painters tape or something before committing to frosting it with filth. My first thoughts would be some kind of wax but then I would think that would attract dirt in an unholy way.
Yup, my first thought was wax, so I ordered some, but the stuff smells like shoe polish and there is no way in hell this crap goes onto my baby.

The previous owner said he occasionally put a tiny amount of coconut oil on it. I am assuming the fretboard only, but perhaps he meant on the body too, and that ended up attracting the muck, or helping to. Unlikely to be the sole reason though as it really was decades worth, and he didn't own it as long as that.

Tricky one, as of course I don't want to stop the guitar singing, only alter/mute the voice slightly. Subtle stuff.
Old 14th October 2019
  #4
Reminds me of a patina (like the green plaque on aged copper)...hopefully the guitar can be saved by time in the right environment.
Old 14th October 2019
  #5
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Thanks for the heads-up. I have a 1914 Gibson mandolin that's like that. You can dig ruts in the goo with your fingernail. It needs some putting-back-together and a new fingerboard and frets, but I'll avoid overcleaning.
Old 15th October 2019
  #6
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You should take up smoking in your guitar room.

What a shame your luthier cleaned her up. It only makes sense that a layer of gunk would dampen the guitar's resonance.

I love those old CW's. The tone is so beautiful. Congrat's.
Old 15th October 2019
  #7
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rob S's Avatar
Those strings need to go dead
Old 15th October 2019
  #8
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rob S's Avatar
Put the old tuners and old bridge back on.
Old 15th October 2019
  #9
Store it in a dirty place for another 25 years.
Old 15th October 2019
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rob S View Post
Put the old tuners and old bridge back on.
Yup, done that already. They need to be on there. Trying a combo of Deep to clean and then Boeshield to lube to get them useable, with decent results.

This is the thing, the strings do now need to go a bit dead before it sounds of more wood than metal again, whereas before it was perfect from the off with new ones which is just sooooo much more useful for recording. I hate chasing that fleeting sweet spot between shrill and on the other side numb slop.



News today is I got hold of the previous owner, and he confirmed he very lightly did put coconut oil on the body occasionally........so I just did too, yesterday. Like a tiny amount rubbed out on the top and sides. Totally dry again today and perhaps just a little less shiny and just a little less brittle and crisp sounding, unless I'm tripping. Will give her some coconut therapy a few times over the next while and see how much I can smuggle into the wood, might get me back closer to where it was, although it certainly won't build up a layer on top like it had in a hurry.


Question for all here: do you think it normal for a luthier to clean a vintage instrument of value before consulting the owner? I mean to me that felt like unbelievable wrongness......but it seems some people think that it's the other way round, if you don't want it cleaned, you have to say before?

Never been in this situation, so I just assumed it being naturally off limits to change an old instrument in this way without asking. Also, when we first met I asked him upon checking the guitar what he thinks, and his words were 'the only things I would do is swap the tuners and do the frets and that's it, lovely guitar'......to which I responded 'EXACTLY'.....sadly that day was the last day of the previous guitar.....
Old 15th October 2019
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TurboJets View Post
You should take up smoking in your guitar room.

What a shame your luthier cleaned her up. It only makes sense that a layer of gunk would dampen the guitar's resonance.

I love those old CW's. The tone is so beautiful. Congrat's.
Thank you. Yes, the tone is very cool indeed, very similar to a good Hummingbird this one. Afraid I'm done with smoking since my lung collapsed on one side 9 years ago, so that's out for the rest of this run unfortunately. Otherwise I would have been blowing all over her since day one already
Old 15th October 2019
  #12
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Hopefully you'll find that after 3 coats of oil and a little time to cure, the guitar will sound the same as the day you bought it.

I personally would not have expected a luthier to make any alterations to a vintage guitar like that without having my agreement first. The thing is, the dude surely had good intentions. It's just a shame that it went the way it did. But all is not lost.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Karloff70 View Post
Question for all here: do you think it normal for a luthier to clean a vintage instrument of value before consulting the owner? I mean to me that felt like unbelievable wrongness......but it seems some people think that it's the other way round, if you don't want it cleaned, you have to say before?

Never been in this situation, so I just assumed it being naturally off limits to change an old instrument in this way without asking. Also, when we first met I asked him upon checking the guitar what he thinks, and his words were 'the only things I would do is swap the tuners and do the frets and that's it, lovely guitar'......to which I responded 'EXACTLY'.....sadly that day was the last day of the previous guitar.....
Most good luthiers would have cleaned that gunk off unless you had told him how much you loved the gunk and that you didn’t want it removed. Otherwise, you’re going to have to assume that they’re going to hit your guitar with some Naphtha out of respect for your guitar. I understand finding a guitar that really speaks to you, and then attributing that magic to something that may or may not be the cause of said magic. But even you yourself said that you knew he was going to say he cleaned it before he even told you he did. Once you had attributed the guitar’s magic to the gunk, and once you realized the gunk was gone, it becomes very easy for the mind to remember the gunkful guitar as more magical than maybe it was. I’m not saying this was the case with you — I have no idea. It does truly suck to have the character of a beloved instrument change on you overnight. I’ve experienced it many times. But I also have to speak up for your luthier in that - if you said nothing about the gunk; if you didn’t say anything about leaving it on - then he did what most good luthiers would do. I’m only playing devil’s advocate because I sell vintage flattops for a living, about 90% Gibson or Martin. And looking at my books this year, I’ve sold 93 guitars that were 1963 or older. I’ve cleaned all of them. I’m not refinishing them or over-spraying them, I’m just cleaning them. I can always control attack, sustain and resonance with plenty of approaches: string choice; dead strings; saddle material; general setup; and pick choice. The problem for me with leaving gunk on a guitar is that it can mask cracks in the spruce that might just appear as textbook Gibson crazing through the gunk. The guitar deserves to be cleaned unless otherwise stated. If you stated that, then by all means, your luthier dropped the ball. Otherwise, he did what any luthier I know would do.

The bottom line is, though, that you’re unhappy, and you’re certainly entitled to that unhappiness — you’re the one who fell in love with the guitar and shelled out the clams for it. I think letting strings go dead and basically letting it get filthy (by whatever means) will get you back in the right direction. CW’s are great guitars. I’d put my focus on where it is now and whether it sounds better or worse tomorrow. I’d try to drop the obsession of how it sounded when you bought it — unfortunately, it’s wasted and unreliable energy at this point. Be patient with it, and I guarantee that guitar will surprise you. I’d probably take it easy on your luthier, too. If you really think he’s that bad, then just find another. But, to me, it sounds like he just did what he should have. I really don’t mean to come off like I don’t empathize with you. I do, 100%. Plus, I’ve found your posts informative time and time again. Hope you figure out a way to love that guitar. It’s a good one.

Best,

I.A. Newhart
Old 4 weeks ago
  #14
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Did it have old strings in it before?
Had you changed the strings after you bought it? You could try some of the coated strings like the D’Addario EXPs or elixers. They tend to sound dead, to my ears. Or maybe find an old set of strings from some old local store. They tend to go dead quicker. Martin switched up packaging on their strings a lil while back. Fairly recently.
The SP’s. The ones in the boxes are older and in my experience, the older the quicker the strings go dead.
Also maybe a bit of foam under the strings behind the nut.
Another thing, don’t wash your hands before you play or use some lotion or some kind of oil on your hands, build up a sweat and play.
Basically all the things you don’t generally want to do before play guitar.
Or just practice a bunch while waiting for the strings to deaden.
Quite possible with all the dirt on the guitar, the top and body wasn’t really resonating but the strings being dead is more likely.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by I.A. Newhart View Post
Most good luthiers would have cleaned that gunk off unless you had told him how much you loved the gunk and that you didn’t want it removed. Otherwise, you’re going to have to assume that they’re going to hit your guitar with some Naphtha out of respect for your guitar. I understand finding a guitar that really speaks to you, and then attributing that magic to something that may or may not be the cause of said magic. But even you yourself said that you knew he was going to say he cleaned it before he even told you he did. Once you had attributed the guitar’s magic to the gunk, and once you realized the gunk was gone, it becomes very easy for the mind to remember the gunkful guitar as more magical than maybe it was. I’m not saying this was the case with you — I have no idea. It does truly suck to have the character of a beloved instrument change on you overnight. I’ve experienced it many times. But I also have to speak up for your luthier in that - if you said nothing about the gunk; if you didn’t say anything about leaving it on - then he did what most good luthiers would do. I’m only playing devil’s advocate because I sell vintage flattops for a living, about 90% Gibson or Martin. And looking at my books this year, I’ve sold 93 guitars that were 1963 or older. I’ve cleaned all of them. I’m not refinishing them or over-spraying them, I’m just cleaning them. I can always control attack, sustain and resonance with plenty of approaches: string choice; dead strings; saddle material; general setup; and pick choice. The problem for me with leaving gunk on a guitar is that it can mask cracks in the spruce that might just appear as textbook Gibson crazing through the gunk. The guitar deserves to be cleaned unless otherwise stated. If you stated that, then by all means, your luthier dropped the ball. Otherwise, he did what any luthier I know would do.

The bottom line is, though, that you’re unhappy, and you’re certainly entitled to that unhappiness — you’re the one who fell in love with the guitar and shelled out the clams for it. I think letting strings go dead and basically letting it get filthy (by whatever means) will get you back in the right direction. CW’s are great guitars. I’d put my focus on where it is now and whether it sounds better or worse tomorrow. I’d try to drop the obsession of how it sounded when you bought it — unfortunately, it’s wasted and unreliable energy at this point. Be patient with it, and I guarantee that guitar will surprise you. I’d probably take it easy on your luthier, too. If you really think he’s that bad, then just find another. But, to me, it sounds like he just did what he should have. I really don’t mean to come off like I don’t empathize with you. I do, 100%. Plus, I’ve found your posts informative time and time again. Hope you figure out a way to love that guitar. It’s a good one.

Best,

I.A. Newhart
Fair dues. But I think you must have misunderstood. I did definitely not know he was going to clean it, as he had said three things as the ONLY things he would do, and they didn't include cleaning it. Curiously though, as I was driving away after dropping it to him (who I didn't know at that point, first job off a recommend) I did have this mad energy thing happen inside where I started panicking about whether he would somehow take her away from me. I unfortunately talked myself out of it, reasoning rightly he's a very well known guy, he can't afford to throw bull**** tricks, so all is safe. Well, as it turns out my waters had it down, just couldn't see which way it was about to happen......and yeah, the difference is definitely not something you can get back via playing control.

The only thing that gets it closer to before is worn strings, which is impractical in many other ways for recording. And even that doesn't act the same anyway. I understand that it might sound like my memory is playing romanticising tricks on me, but all I know is before the thing would regularly make me goose up when playing it, and also that is what happened to more than one person I first played it in front of. It doesn't do that now. And it virtually sucked my left hand onto it like a home, and after the fret job that is also different and not better. It's like it's magic spell powers have been stripped and it's back to 'just' being a great vintage acoustic. I was insanely looking forward to recording those spells. Hey ho.

But yes, I will either have to find a way to love her again or pass her on to someone else, cash in my chips, and start again with another one that doesn't remind me of something better every time I get it out.

Last edited by Karloff70; 4 weeks ago at 03:32 PM..
Old 4 weeks ago
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tnevz View Post
Did it have old strings in it before?
Had you changed the strings after you bought it? You could try some of the coated strings like the D’Addario EXPs or elixers. They tend to sound dead, to my ears. Or maybe find an old set of strings from some old local store. They tend to go dead quicker. Martin switched up packaging on their strings a lil while back. Fairly recently.
The SP’s. The ones in the boxes are older and in my experience, the older the quicker the strings go dead.
Also maybe a bit of foam under the strings behind the nut.
Another thing, don’t wash your hands before you play or use some lotion or some kind of oil on your hands, build up a sweat and play.
Basically all the things you don’t generally want to do before play guitar.
Or just practice a bunch while waiting for the strings to deaden.
Quite possible with all the dirt on the guitar, the top and body wasn’t really resonating but the strings being dead is more likely.
lol

The first thing I did when buying it is what I always do when getting a 'new' acoustic, it's string shootout time, to see what she likes for a tone and playing feel to suit me. So I went through loads of sets. I keep sets for reference in a box. So I don't have to buy them all again in case of a new guitar. The thing had Elixir 80/20's on when I bought her and yeah, they were well worn. So then I added Elixirs to the testing, 80/20 and Phosphor, although I normally hate the things. Turns out they fret really well, and sound fat when fretting them in a way that appeals. But their overall zingy thing is hateful to me. D'Addario NB 12-56's with a Thomastik Plectrum 061 on bass is what won.

So no, what lost magic I am talking about was utterly and goosingly happening with brand new strings on there before. Now my only way to an even cozy place is wearing them in, and yes, I slide my hand up and down the strings like a ****** a lot, to get some finger oil gunk on there, but worn strings and muted guitar body are completely different effects. I don't really want all the harmonics to go away, I just want them to land in a friendly way that keeps space intact to sing into in a natural way. Before the ting was insanely inviting to sing over, it literally made you an amazing bed of mood with all the space in the world. Now, it's like most guitars.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #17
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Oh and yes, whilst the luthier's name is going to stay unmentioned I can say that he most definitely did the clean in good intentions and is both very knowledgeable, basically top layer (I expect many of you would know him), and also a quality human being. So, there is that.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #18
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Don't forget about Thomasik Infeld's.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #19
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Eat some fried chicken then play the guitar
Old 4 weeks ago
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rob S View Post
Eat some fried chicken then play the guitar


The odour of the Colonel's buckets causes me unrest though.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TurboJets View Post
Don't forget about Thomasik Infeld's.
Already has a Plectrum 061 on the bass string. The others are nicer in nickel bronze for my taste.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #22
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I would be way more concerned if a luthier did not clean a guitar like that. At least the right way (just dry cloth, or if necessary naptha).

I'm with the comment that said you need to let the strings go dead in order to get back to the place you prefer. Cleaning the guitar protects the instrument, but would not have that much of an impact on the tone of the guitar.

No way would I work on an instrument and send it back to the owner with a bunch of filth all over it. Never in my wildest imagination would I expect that the owner prefers to have a neglected instrument than one that is cared for.

And please - don't go making it filthy again. That's not going to make you happy and it is going to eventually ruin the finish.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Karloff70 View Post


The odour of the Colonel's buckets causes me unrest though.
Guess you guys don't have Popeye's. Yet. But Oxford St. looks more and more like Ventura Blvd. every day.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bstapper View Post
I would be way more concerned if a luthier did not clean a guitar like that. At least the right way (just dry cloth, or if necessary naptha).

I'm with the comment that said you need to let the strings go dead in order to get back to the place you prefer. Cleaning the guitar protects the instrument, but would not have that much of an impact on the tone of the guitar.

No way would I work on an instrument and send it back to the owner with a bunch of filth all over it. Never in my wildest imagination would I expect that the owner prefers to have a neglected instrument than one that is cared for.

And please - don't go making it filthy again. That's not going to make you happy and it is going to eventually ruin the finish.
The thing must have been like that for decades, so clearly someone left it on there. The previous owner bought it out of one of the shops in Denmark st, so on its stop there they clearly deemed it valid to leave it alone. Also, when it came off, the finish underneath is very good indeed for the age of the guitar. Almost as if the layer of muck protected her, if anything.

But yes, you sound exactly like my man here, he also said afterwards that if I had said for him to not clean it he would have passed on working on it. And that 'it doesn't have any impact on the sound'.

Only, my experience in reality goes 100% against that theory, and to me does not make any sense whatsoever. It's a resonant box of wood with thin walls. How can a layer of muck on that NOT dampen the tone?

And don't worry I am not about to ruin the guitar.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Karloff70 View Post
The thing must have been like that for decades, so clearly someone left it on there. The previous owner bought it out of one of the shops in Denmark st, so on its stop there they clearly deemed it valid to leave it alone. Also, when it came off, the finish underneath is very good indeed for the age of the guitar. Almost as if the layer of muck protected her, if anything.

But yes, you sound exactly like my man here, he also said afterwards that if I had said for him to not clean it he would have passed on working on it. And that 'it doesn't have any impact on the sound'.

Only, my experience in reality goes 100% against that theory, and to me does not make any sense whatsoever. It's a resonant box of wood with thin walls. How can a layer of muck on that NOT dampen the tone?

And don't worry I am not about to ruin the guitar.
When I worked on instruments for a living I got all kinds. Your guy sees neglected instruments all of the time and I’m sure you are the first to raise objections to cleaning it.

I never once looked at a filthy instrument and thought, “oh this guy must like his guitar being covered in **** - I better leave that crap on there”
Old 4 weeks ago
  #26
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Everything affects tone, I'm not surprised the gunk gave the Gibson less sustain. I feel for you, as I know the old muted magic that you're talking about.

Try these 2 strings: Martin Titanium, and Martin Monels. They speak to the wood in the guitar, not the steel of the strings. Best of luck!
Old 4 weeks ago
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BluesTrain View Post
Everything affects tone, I'm not surprised the gunk gave the Gibson less sustain. I feel for you, as I know the old muted magic that you're talking about.

Try these 2 strings: Martin Titanium, and Martin Monels. They speak to the wood in the guitar, not the steel of the strings. Best of luck!
Thanks man! I find it quite startling actually how people who have spent a lifetime repairing and sorting guitars don't know about said 'muted magic'......the thing sounded like a Gregory Alan Isakov record. It still nails that vibe now, but minus the magical fog.

Think I already tried the Monel's on this before, but not since it's back and not the Titanium either. Thank you.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #28
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You could try wearing a balaclava when you play?.......seriously though, I feel for you, it's awful when you feel that the essence of a vintage instrument has been compromised.

I know it's hard, but try looking at the positives, you still have the instrument,and it's still beautiful.....imagine if it had been stolen or fire damaged.

I'm such a comfort.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #29
Here for the gear
 

Not quite on topic, but:

I had a '59 0-15 that was a decent sounding vintage guitar- I sold it because it wasn't super, super special. Just went to the local music shop and it was there on consignment (from the guy I sold it to). It sounded amazing.

I'm pretty sure it had Martin titaniums on it. I use D'addario EJ16's exclusively, no matter the instrument. Perhaps I learned a lesson...I guess I could buy it back!
Old 4 weeks ago
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BluesTrain View Post
Not quite on topic, but:

I had a '59 0-15 that was a decent sounding vintage guitar- I sold it because it wasn't super, super special. Just went to the local music shop and it was there on consignment (from the guy I sold it to). It sounded amazing.

I'm pretty sure it had Martin titaniums on it. I use D'addario EJ16's exclusively, no matter the instrument. Perhaps I learned a lesson...I guess I could buy it back!
EJ16's used to be my most used strings, depending on guitar. Sometimes Thomastik Plectrum. Now mostly D'Addario NB or Santa Cruz Low Tension. Mostly with the Thomastik 061 bass string. But the little FG75 still loves EJ16's best. Strings definitely make or break the party with acoustics.
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