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Is a '59 Les Paul really any better than a modern one?
Old 25th November 2014
  #91
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I do think the '59 frenzy is mostly due to nostalgia/boomers with money.

Good evidence? Look at the used prices on every other guitar made by Gibson in that time period. Same workforce, same 'rare' materials and mojo - but somehow this:

1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard Sunburst > Guitars : Electric Solid Body - Rumble Seat Music Southwest

is ~6 times the cost of this(185K vs 32K):

1958 Gibson ES-335 Sunburst > Guitars : Electric Semi-Hollow Body - OK Guitars

New, they were about the same price. Eric even played both models The 335 is in +9 condition.
So what makes the LP so, so, so much better than the 335? Six times as good?

And for the players, here's a PAF-equipped '58 selling for not much more that a _new_ ES-175:

1958 Gibson ES-175 (#GAT0254) Sunburst > Guitars : Archtop Electric & Acoustic - Gary's Classic Guitars

So, I am sure the 59 bursts are great guitars, but that much greater than everything else Gibson made that year? I don't think you can explain the huge price delta with just features.
Old 1st December 2014
  #92
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cliffman View Post
I do think the '59 frenzy is mostly due to nostalgia/boomers with money.
I would agree if they only started going up in price when the boomers retired and decided to spend the money.

I bought my first one for 5 figures in the 1990s and they have been going up since then.
Old 1st December 2014
  #93
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Originally Posted by noah330 View Post
I would agree if they only started going up in price when the boomers retired and decided to spend the money.

I bought my first one for 5 figures in the 1990s and they have been going up since then.
For the past 6-7 years the trend seems to be downward though. They peaked right before the crash... while they are still higher than the 90s even in real terms, the highest height appears to have been hit.

I think it is a boomer thing, it's not necessarily related to retirement. In the 90s some of the boomer generation were coming into their first real serious money and hitting the mid-life crisis phase. Some bought fast cars, some bought genuine 59 Les Pauls.
Old 1st December 2014
  #94
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Originally Posted by Whitecat View Post
For the past 6-7 years the trend seems to be downward though. They peaked right before the crash... while they are still higher than the 90s even in real terms, the highest height appears to have been hit.

I think it is a boomer thing, it's not necessarily related to retirement. In the 90s some of the boomer generation were coming into their first real serious money and hitting the mid-life crisis phase. Some bought fast cars, some bought genuine 59 Les Pauls.
I think it's more of a dot com boom thing myself. Everything went a little nuts there for a while.

The thing about vintage guitars is there are people of all ages that like them. As long as there are a couple thousand people in the world that have a bunch of money and want one the demand will be there because they're not making any more of them. Some people (like me) even want to own more then one.

There are about 7 billion people on Earth. The odds of 2000 or so people who can afford to buy one is pretty good.
Old 1st December 2014
  #95
I would say also Jimmy Page had a lot to do with the 59 burst mania.
Old 1st December 2014
  #96
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Originally Posted by Musiclab View Post
I would say also Jimmy Page had a lot to do with the 59 burst mania.
Sure, that's the thing. As long as there are people loving music that was made on those instruments they will be in demand.
Old 1st December 2014
  #97
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Perhaps boomers was the wrong choice of words -
My point is simple.
What I see is that 58-59 Les Paul's are still selling for way, way more than any other guitar Gibson made in those years.

Why is a 1958 LP worth 6x the cost of a 1958 ES-335 ?

I can't see any reason beyond hype. Can someone explain why the 1958 Gibson Les Paul is so very, very, much better than a 1958 Gibson ES-335?
Six times better?
Some real, musical reason? I certainly can't.

You can't argue workmanship or materials-that-can-no-longer-be-found, because the two instruments came from the same factory during the same year. And use the same pickups.

I think it is mostly due to Jimmy Page, and Duane Allman. I suspect it's also because some people think playing a 335 makes you look like Roy Orbison (VH)
Old 1st December 2014
  #98
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cliffman View Post
Perhaps boomers was the wrong choice of words -
My point is simple.
What I see is that 58-59 Les Paul's are still selling for way, way more than any other guitar Gibson made in those years.

Why is a 1958 LP worth 6x the cost of a 1958 ES-335 ?

I can't see any reason beyond hype. Can someone explain why the 1958 Gibson Les Paul is so very, very, much better than a 1958 Gibson ES-335?
Six times better?
Some real, musical reason? I certainly can't.

You can't argue workmanship or materials-that-can-no-longer-be-found, because the two instruments came from the same factory during the same year. And use the same pickups.
They're different. That's really the best answer I can give you.

There are other cool vintage guitars that are a lot less and some are a lot more. They're going to cost what the market will bring.

Like I said in my original poast, I think the Historic guitars are great. I have a few Bursts (also have a bunch of old Junior/Special models and some Goldtops from the 50s).

For myself I like old guitars. I have been buying old guitars since I had a paper route. Some of my stuff I paid cash for, a lot more I traded for.

The LP was made for about 3 years as a Burst. The 335 was made for a really long time, so my guess is there are a lot more great ES-335s floating around, but who knows.

Electric guitars are still a bargain if you compare them to acoustics, violins, etc....
Old 1st December 2014
  #99
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Obviously, a 59 isn't 350 X better than a good new guitar. It's collectors that drive the price up. A 98 Camry will get you to Philaelphia in the same amount of time a new BMW will, use about the same amount of gas, you will be kept warm and comfortable...so why would you ever spend more for a car? Car guys will give me a million reasons. I did not get the car gene...they are low on my list of luxuries.

That said, I have a '54 tele in near mint condition that's 100% original. I told my wife that I'd sell it if we ever really needed the cash. I love the guitar and use it on virtually every song I record. If I sell it, I'll buy a decent $1000 tele to replace the hole my arsenal. Will my recordings be any worse for it? Probably not. I gotta say though, I effin' love this guitar! Bought it for $11K...might be worth $25-30 now. There are a lot more 50's teles out there than LPs.

I did sell a near mint 63 strat 5 years ago to help fund my son's college. I don't really miss it...but I like teles more than strats. I have a Custom Shop 62 reissue that give me Strat tones that do the job.

Tom
Old 1st December 2014
  #100
Nrt
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Vintage guitars almost always sound better than new ones, unless one has tuning issue or such.
But for the price difference, I would spend more money on the amp.
Old 1st December 2014
  #101
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nrt View Post
Vintage guitars almost always sound better than new ones.
Would you like to quantify that statement?
Old 2nd December 2014
  #102
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Kingofspain, to cycle back to your initial questions a bit:
- In most cases, vintage guitars sound better simply because old tone wood sounds better than new tone wood. I am not so sure this applies to solid bodies.

1. How much better were the earlier guitars?
- I think a modern luthier can build an instrument of equal quality, and many do. You can still get good mahogany and maple. Some of the price jump around the 58-59 models is due to desire, some to the small number of instruments built.
Some is due to the same magic that makes people pay $$$ for a '32 Ford.

2. Why were they so much better?
Mainly because they weren't fscked up like all the guitar's Gibson made in the mid-70's-80's. That period is what started all the legends, because almost any used Gibson was better than a new one.. And there's a whole list of bad decisions responsible for the badness. Speaking as someone who lived through those years, the improvement in quality since the 80's has been wonderful.

For a luthier, i think the features of a good Les Paul are well understood and documented. Neck joint, headstock angle, neck mass, body wood and mass, things like that. I think modern pickups are actually better - there's more variety, better quality control and some seriously obsessive people making them now.

But, people do have their biases - just be glad you are not making violins.
Old 2nd December 2014
  #103
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Well it could also be that the guys playing original owner vintage '59's have been playing for more than a half a century, so the guitar does sound better.
Old 2nd December 2014
  #104
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cliffman View Post
Kingofspain, to cycle back to your initial questions a bit:
- In most cases, vintage guitars sound better simply because old tone wood sounds better than new tone wood. I am not so sure this applies to solid bodies.

1. How much better were the earlier guitars?
- I think a modern luthier can build an instrument of equal quality, and many do. You can still get good mahogany and maple. Some of the price jump around the 58-59 models is due to desire, some to the small number of instruments built.
Some is due to the same magic that makes people pay $$$ for a '32 Ford.

2. Why were they so much better?
Mainly because they weren't fscked up like all the guitar's Gibson made in the mid-70's-80's. That period is what started all the legends, because almost any used Gibson was better than a new one.. And there's a whole list of bad decisions responsible for the badness. Speaking as someone who lived through those years, the improvement in quality since the 80's has been wonderful.

For a luthier, i think the features of a good Les Paul are well understood and documented. Neck joint, headstock angle, neck mass, body wood and mass, things like that. I think modern pickups are actually better - there's more variety, better quality control and some seriously obsessive people making them now.

But, people do have their biases - just be glad you are not making violins.
At last, a sensible response

As a modern luthier it's frustrating to have people tell you the best guitars have already been made. I personally know at least 3 luthiers who make (in my opinion) much finer guitars than Gibson - or Fender, PRS etc. for that matter.

When I started this thread, I had a list in mind of the reasons old Gibsons are so highly prized. That list is more or less exactly mirrored in your post.
In particular, it seems the numerous dips in quality over the years have been responsible for giving the better more recent instruments a bad rap.

The one thing I hadn't considered was the relative qualities of the wood. Obviously Brazilian Mahogany is relatively scarce and massively overpriced nowadays, but was the wood they had access to in the '50's really 'better' than the stocks available now?
Does Brazilian Mahogany even sound any different to it's African or Indonesian counterparts? (Actually, I've never found any Indonesian Mahogany I'd like to make a guitar out of, but I haven't looked too hard).
I've always judged a piece of wood on it's physical properties (grain structure, moisture content, weight, density) rather than what country it's from. I digress...

Any other opinions on the woods? There seems to be a suggestion that naturally seasoned woods are superior to kiln dried. Lets imagine you have two 'identical' pieces of wood, both at 6% moisture content. One has been seasoned naturally over many years, one has been kiln dried - will they sound different? Why?
Old 2nd December 2014
  #105
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Collings, Tom Anderson, Sadowsky & Suhr are all building great guitars.
Old 2nd December 2014
  #106
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FFTT View Post
Collings, Tom Anderson, Sadowsky & Suhr are all building great guitars.
Pray elaborate on why these guitars are great or better than a Gibson (comparative model and price) as I'm interested in these brands.
Owned any/many of these?
Old 2nd December 2014
  #107
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deng View Post
Pray elaborate on why these guitars are great or better than a Gibson (comparative model and price) as I'm interested in these brands.
Owned any/many of these?
I've only tried one Collings and one Sadowsky, but also own a Tom Anderson USA Schecter Custom Shop.

Attention to detail, fit and finish, woods, pickup selections, all appointments available built to order.

'As if I haven't hinted, I really want a Collings 290 BAD!

I wouldn't mind an I-35 either.

A 290 might not interest you since you kinda have LP Junior covered.
Old 2nd December 2014
  #108
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The wood question is very interesting these days. There are certainly some people trying some new methods, and the kiln-drying seems to be getting more sophisticated. I suspect because wood differs piece-by-piece regardless of how you dry it would be very difficult to really compare methods. Maybe if you split the same log and dried half each way..
Even with vintage instruments, where the supply of wood was supposed to be better and more consistent, you see variations in sound down the road. So you'd probably have to build a few guitars, then play them for about 10 years, then compare

And I really question how much of the sound of a solid body is really wood, vs just mass. Fender during their 'classic' years used every piece of wood that came through the door, if the wood was really ugly, they used a opaque finish.
But, you don't hear people with early Fenders complaining. Some old Fenders are better, but they all turned out pretty good.

Picking the wood by hand, and testing by ear still seems to be the best method.
Old 3rd December 2014
  #109
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cliffman View Post
Even with vintage instruments, where the supply of wood was supposed to be better and more consistent, you see variations in sound down the road. So you'd probably have to build a few guitars, then play them for about 10 years, then compare

And I really question how much of the sound of a solid body is really wood, vs just mass. Fender during their 'classic' years used every piece of wood that came through the door, if the wood was really ugly, they used a opaque finish.
But, you don't hear people with early Fenders complaining. Some old Fenders are better, but they all turned out pretty good.

Picking the wood by hand, and testing by ear still seems to be the best method.
I think if we're being brutally honest - in an electric guitar - the type wood is far less important than we'd like to think. There's a real emperors new clothes vibe around certain (mainly Brazilian) woods - perhaps a case of too many people reading about guitars and not enough playing them?

If a piece of wood is heavy/wet/dead, it'll probably make a crappy guitar - if it's light/dry/resonant it'll probably make a good one. Most guitarists would be able to spot the good from the bad, but could they separate a nice piece of Mahogany from Ash?
A different question for a different day perhaps...

As an aside - a couple of years ago I built two virtually identical guitars (not on purpose, just so happened that's the way it worked out). Both had maple necks, cut from the same piece of timber, both were finished with AC lacquer at the same time. Both had Bareknuckle Abraxas humbuckers, etc...
The only real difference was one had a Guatemalen Mahogany body, the other American Walnut.
Played side by side, they did exhibit subtle tonal differences, but I'll be damned if I could have said which was which in a blind test.

Edit:
I'm aware that truss rod/action/distance of pickups from strings etc. will all have had an effect on the overall tone. Whilst I wasn't specifically trying to get the two guitars 'Identical', I've performed enough setups over the years I'm confident they were close enough for comparison.
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Old 3rd December 2014
  #110
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kingofspain View Post
I think if we're being brutally honest - in an electric guitar - the type wood is far less important than we'd like to think. There's a real emperors new clothes vibe around certain (mainly Brazilian) woods - perhaps a case of too many people reading about guitars and not enough playing them?

If a piece of wood is heavy/wet/dead, it'll probably make a crappy guitar - if it's light/dry/resonant it'll probably make a good one. Most guitarists would be able to spot the good from the bad, but could they separate a nice piece of Mahogany from Ash?
A different question for a different day perhaps...

As an aside - a couple of years ago I built two virtually identical guitars (not on purpose, just so happened that's the way it worked out). Both had maple necks, cut from the same piece of timber, both were finished with AC lacquer at the same time. Both had Bareknuckle Abraxas humbuckers, etc...
The only real difference was one had a Guatemalen Mahogany body, the other American Walnut.
Played side by side, they did exhibit subtle tonal differences, but I'll be damned if I could have said which was which in a blind test.
Yup, and if you had swapped the humbuckers in one guitar for a set of Filtertrons, or P-90's, you'd have been able to tell the difference with one note.
Now with an acoustic guitar, it's very different. Compare a Martin D-18 to a D-28 - identical guitars, except one is mahogany back/sides, the other rosewood. When you play the two side by side, the difference is obvious.

I visited the Carvin factory showroom and had the chance to play several guitars that were identical in construction with different body woods, and I would agree with you that the differences are subtile.

I think on a solid body, the choice of pickup has the biggest effect on the sound, after that I think the stiffness and mass of the wood has a big impact on the envelope of the sound and sustain, but much less on tone. I actually think neck mass and stiffness matters a bit more than body material, which is why I like maple necks.

The best example I've seen is from Zachary Taylor, he's built guitars by dumpster diving at Home Depot: Zach guitars

His quote: "The word "tone-wood" is a misnomer. I do not discriminate against different species because I consider every piece of wood to be a "tone-wood". I do not reject wood and for bodies I use almost any type, including wood with knots, insect or wormholes and even rot, as long as its structurally sound. Some diseased wood make for the most unique and interesting pieces. "
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Old 3rd December 2014
  #111
I think that the age of the wood does make some difference on two accounts - first the older wood is drier and well cured and second, most older instruments are created from old growth woods that have superior grain structure. That being said, I think that the importance of wood in a solid body is somewhat exaggerated by some people.

I think there are also some subtle differences in other areas.
Old 3rd December 2014
  #112
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cliffman View Post
Yup, and if you had swapped the humbuckers in one guitar for a set of Filtertrons, or P-90's, you'd have been able to tell the difference with one note.
Almost certainly.
Quote:
Originally Posted by cliffman View Post
Now with an acoustic guitar, it's very different. Compare a Martin D-18 to a D-28 - identical guitars, except one is mahogany back/sides, the other rosewood. When you play the two side by side, the difference is obvious.

I visited the Carvin factory showroom and had the chance to play several guitars that were identical in construction with different body woods, and I would agree with you that the differences are subtile.
I learned my trade with Fylde Guitars in the UK. We made 3 models (still do as far as I'm aware) from the same mould - The Orsino, mahogany back and sides, cedar front. The Falstaff, rosewood back and sides, spruce front and the Ken Nicol Signature, rosewood back and sides cedar front. All 3 had a solid mahogany neck, same bracing and so on. I was always fascinated with the differences in tone between the 3. I spent many a happy lunch hour A/B(/C)-ing them. All were obviously yet subtley different. Again, I cuold never reliably say which was which.
Quote:
Originally Posted by cliffman View Post
I think on a solid body, the choice of pickup has the biggest effect on the sound, after that I think the stiffness and mass of the wood has a big impact on the envelope of the sound and sustain, but much less on tone. I actually think neck mass and stiffness matters a bit more than body material, which is why I like maple necks.
Let's not forget the amplifier - 'the other half of Rock 'n' Roll'. I forget who said that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cliffman View Post
The best example I've seen is from Zachary Taylor, he's built guitars by dumpster diving at Home Depot: Zach guitars

His quote: "The word "tone-wood" is a misnomer. I do not discriminate against different species because I consider every piece of wood to be a "tone-wood". I do not reject wood and for bodies I use almost any type, including wood with knots, insect or wormholes and even rot, as long as its structurally sound. Some diseased wood make for the most unique and interesting pieces. "
Couldn't agree more. I wish more guitarists felt this way. Not too sure about his body shapes mind you, but that's a matter of taste.

I was recently made aware of Gus Guitars:

welcome to the gus guitars website

He uses Western Red Cedar for bodies AND necks - although he does encase it all in carbon fibre. I don't think I'd trust it for necks otherwise

I still really want one...
Old 3rd December 2014
  #113
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Eppstein View Post
I think that the age of the wood does make some difference on two accounts - first the older wood is drier and well cured and second, most older instruments are created from old growth woods that have superior grain structure.
Is the older wood really drier? If your moisture meter reads 5% on a piece of old growth timber and a kiln dried piece, are they not equally dry? I'm aware of a consensus amongst cabinet makers that air dried is better, but I get a lot of my timber from a cabinet maker who kiln dries his own wood - on a grand scale - and here's nothing wrong with his work.
I seem to remember reading something about how drying too quickly can lock moisture into the wood, making it appear drier than it is?

Also, what's superior about old growth grain structure?
I've never actually worked with old growth timber - I have worked with a LOT of brazilian mahogany though. 3" boards, quarter sawn with a tight, straight grain.
I'm not saying it's not possible - but without directly comparing a more recently felled/dried board with some pristine old growth, I don't see how much better it could get.

I only wish it were mine...
Old 3rd December 2014
  #114
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deng View Post
Pray elaborate on why these guitars are great or better than a Gibson (comparative model and price) as I'm interested in these brands.
Owned any/many of these?
I have at least a couple of each of these in our studio collection (many more Giobsons though). All the boutiques have a better fit, build, paint and mainly sound. Streight out the box, unmodded. of the 9 VOS LP guitars we keep here all required upgrades (new bridges, pickups, nuts, pots, caps setups) to make a similar grade. All were chosen in hours of testing in the shop. All are much more expensive then the Suhrs, Andersons, Melancons... I can also say that the guitars my luthier here makes for me are way superiour to my customshop fenders. He has access to some old wood also, naturally dried....
Old 3rd December 2014
  #115
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kingofspain View Post
At last, a sensible response

As a modern luthier it's frustrating to have people tell you the best guitars have already been made. I personally know at least 3 luthiers who make (in my opinion) much finer guitars than Gibson - or Fender, PRS etc. for that matter.

When I started this thread, I had a list in mind of the reasons old Gibsons are so highly prized. That list is more or less exactly mirrored in your post.
In particular, it seems the numerous dips in quality over the years have been responsible for giving the better more recent instruments a bad rap.

The one thing I hadn't considered was the relative qualities of the wood. Obviously Brazilian Mahogany is relatively scarce and massively overpriced nowadays, but was the wood they had access to in the '50's really 'better' than the stocks available now?
Does Brazilian Mahogany even sound any different to it's African or Indonesian counterparts? (Actually, I've never found any Indonesian Mahogany I'd like to make a guitar out of, but I haven't looked too hard).
I've always judged a piece of wood on it's physical properties (grain structure, moisture content, weight, density) rather than what country it's from. I digress...

Any other opinions on the woods? There seems to be a suggestion that naturally seasoned woods are superior to kiln dried. Lets imagine you have two 'identical' pieces of wood, both at 6% moisture content. One has been seasoned naturally over many years, one has been kiln dried - will they sound different? Why?
I would guess that sudden drying techniques will stress the wood fibre differently then a natural long term process. There maybe a cutoff point though where kiln drying over an extended period of time , done gently, will not result in too different result
Old 3rd December 2014
  #116
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Wood density does affect the sustain qualities.

It wouldn't make any difference if you were mounting a pre-loaded pick guard into a bathtub routed Strat, but routed close to the wood, with a solid bridge into dense wood and a vibrant neck, the instrument will sing.

Consider how mahogany back and sides make an acoustic mellow where Brazilian Rosewood is punchier, louder and clearer.
Old 3rd December 2014
  #117
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Originally Posted by kingofspain View Post
Also, what's superior about old growth grain structure?
Supposedly it made for lighter, more resonant pieces of wood than the newer mahogany.

Terry McInturff (who has made guitars for Clapton and Page and has played and taken measurements on Page's #1 LP) had a lengthy Q&A on the the Gear Page not too long in which he discussed Les Pauls, mahogany, and maple - I think the thread started at the bottom of this page:

Ask Terry McInturff anything that you want to...right here - Page 2 - The Gear Page
Old 3rd December 2014
  #118
(old, close grained wood)
Quote:
Originally Posted by indravayu View Post
Supposedly it made for lighter, more resonant pieces of wood than the newer mahogany.
Actually it makes for higher density (think about it), but the wood is more uniform and the older wood was cured naturally over a longer period.

Newer growth, wider grained wood has a higher water content but does become lighter when it finally dries out. (Trees grown in wet years have wider grain than the same species grown in dry years. Also growth is slower in dry years, so trees that are farmed with modern irrigation techniques tend toward wider grain.)
Old 3rd December 2014
  #119
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you are so lucky to have a '58...i was looking for one for a long time...but finally i got a '60...
Old 3rd December 2014
  #120
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kingofspain View Post
what's superior about old growth grain structure?
As John mentioned, the grain of old growth timber is tighter and more uniform. I've been around long enough to see a decline in the quality of South American mahogany over the years. I don't know if you can even get genuine Honduras mahogany at all anymore.

The real advantage of an old guitar is that after a few decades of being subjected to string tension, the wood has completely finished twisting, warping, and shrinking. Therefore, if you plane and refret a 50 year old guitar, you can be certain that in ten years, the fingerboard will be as straight as it was the day you planed it out. This is not the case with a new guitar, which takes several years to stabilize. I've done literally hundreds of fret jobs, and I've never encountered a level fingerboard on any guitar that still has its original frets.
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