Crazy about Guitars

Standard

(Guitar Acquisition Syndrome)

Nowadays one can easily find musical instruments like electric guitars and basses in the market coming in from China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, India, Indonesia and the United States.

Some guitar brands are quite heavy for ones pocket yet some are economical, a great deal, or just a steal and light on the budget.

Although a guitar’s price may be nominal, not to mention it’s brand new. Before purchasing one though, here are a few things one may want to consider:

  1. The kind of wood used

Most solid body guitars use species of tonewood that have been commonly used for a long time to make guitar bodies, neck, and fingerboard like Alder, Ash, Basswood, Ebony, Korina, Mahogany, Maple, Poplar, Rosewood, Walnut, and other Exotic woods.

However, some manufacturers may use alternate species of tonewoods depending on availability.

Since guitars are mass produced, with increasing demands in the global market, sometimes newer guitars may end up with wood that may not be well seasoned.

Well seasoned in a sense that they are Kiln dried, using heat to dry the wood and accelerate the aging process.

Unlike vintage guitars that use more stable wood that have been “air dried” and aged for a long time.

Kiln dried wood doesn’t retain as much moisture as air dried wood . Without enough moisture guitars are prone to warping and cracking.

So when checking out guitars, if you see a slight bow in a piece of neck wood this might signal that the wood had stabilized in the proper orientation for resisting string pressure.[1]

neck relief

Neck relief (retrieved from haloguitars.com)

If a fingerboard has that tiny amount of up-bow/forward bow or relief then the amount is just right because a little more than that may mean it’s a warped neck.

 

warped_neck learningtoplaytheguitar.net

Warped neck (retrieved from learningtoplaytheguitar.net)

 

Another factor also is that since guitars have become world travelers, the different climates also play a major role on a guitars “wood” health.

This is due to ones atmosphere’s relative humidity.

When guitars are introduced to a high-humidity environment like in tropical areas, a backbow may occur as well as the deterioration of glue or wood itself.

And the smallest amount of fingerboard straightening or backbow may cause considerable adjacent fret-buzzing.

basic set-up instructions adjusting up-bow backbow stewmac.com

basic set-up instructions, adjusting up-bow, backbow (retrieved from stewmac.com)

In a very low humidity area like in temperate regions the effects are more serious. This can cause moisture loss in tonewoods that produces wood shrinkage, uneven stress that relieves itself by producing one or more cracks plus glue joint failures.

Solid wood are more vulnerable to humidity change and may twists, warp, or crack. With changes in humidity they have the tendency to shrink or expand and this expansion and contraction ultimately affects the sound.[2]

twisted neck closeup littleguitarworks.com

twisted neck (retrieved from littleguitarworks.com)

Electric guitars come in different brands, shapes and colors and it’s really hard to tell the kind of tonewood used judging by the body’s weight alone.

Even if the guitar’s body has a natural finish, if one is not an expert or knowledgeable on the appearance of the different common tonewoods used, it’s pretty difficult to determine its kind.

Some guitars use Plywood for its body. Although plywood is only a mediocre as a tonewood, surprisingly plywood can withstand considerable atmospheric abuse.[3]

There are even guitars that have “Hardboard,” a type of fiberboard used for their body.

If you are living in the Philippines and plan on having a guitar custom-made for you, one of your best choices for body tonewood should be Mahogany.

For Mahogany is a wood that ages really well, it becomes better sounding every year, it’s a stable wood with less chances of warping over time than most other species.[4]

mahogany ratcliffe.co.za

Mahogany body (retrieved from ratcliffe.co.za/articles/bodywoods)

  1. Who is the Manufacturer?

If the guitar you’re planning on buying is made by a world famous Guitar Company then most likely you’ll be getting a good one.

Because these famous guitar makers are not only known for the quality of work and materials used but are also known for the type of tonewoods that they use.

High-end guitars may be expensive but one can at least be sure that the tonewood used is good.

And one should always think twice before purchasing a brand new guitar of the well known brands here.

If the price of the guitar is not right, if it’s a cut-rate then definitely it is a copy.

It may look genuine… a genuine copy.

In spite of that, we may see guitars that are moderately priced in the market that are of the top of the line brands that are made in Asian countries like China, Indonesia, Vietnam or Korea.

Although these guitars are crafted in these countries the materials they use are from the famous Company itself.

“Companies like Fender, Gibson, Washburn, Tanglewood actually get a large percentage of their guitars made at the same few companies in China. Washburn for example get some guitars made at a company which is known as Aiersiguitar, Devonmusik and Sinomusik.”[5]

Washburn Guitar

Washburn Guitar-Made in China

The factories that build them are either a franchise or branch of the larger company. And the guitars that are assembled there may use wood parts that are locally available in that country.

If you are from the Philippines and get this kind of guitar coming from another Asian country, this may actually be a good thing since the wood used come from an area of the same climate zone, i.e. tropical.

This is in fact advantageous in regard to your guitars “wood” health concerning relative humidity and its effects compared to a guitar that is brought in from a country that belongs to a different climate region, temperate like the United States.

Be that as it may, this still doesn’t mean one should just leave ones guitar readily exposed to the elements.

  1. How long do you plan on using it?

If you’re just starting out and plan on getting a better brand later then a cheapo may be worth it.

There are a lot of good cheapo’s out there, some of which are as good as their U.S. counterparts.

Because branch companies like those in China for one, make and export guitars to the U.S.A. as well as in other countries.

But the downside to other cheapo’s is that, their bodies may not be as resonant or sustaining and capable of enhancing any particular frequency range and overtones because of the kind of wood used.

If by some mathematical error the bridge of the guitar is not properly positioned or the bridge slot has not been routed accurately this can cause poor or inaccurate intonation and is not easily fixed.

Fact is, a high action can be remedied but inaccurate or poor intonation that result in bad scales are not uncommon among cheapo’s.

A misplaced nut that throws the entire scale off is also a problem that cheapo’s have, some of which may never be able to get corrected.[6]

If you ask any serious musician you know of, who takes their instruments seriously, they’ll surely ask you this query, “Is it quality? Will it be worth your every penny?”

So if you plan on becoming a serious musician and if your budget permits then you should get a good brand or save up for the good one.

Will a second-hand or used musical instrument of a known brand be just as good?

Used instruments at a bargain price may just be around you waiting to be found. If you go around you may find one with a great sound.

They may be old… but looking at them you’ll find a story is told.

DSC05948

And if you’ll find one that’s authentic then that would be fantastic!

Old means vintage and wood seasoned and aged.

So when choosing a guitar, one should consider its wood stability, sound quality, and overall durability, or better still its playability.

References:

[1] http://www.pjguitar.com/articles/humidity-guitars-health/

[2] http://www.ratcliffe.co.za/articles/bodywoods.shtml

[3] http://tonewood.com/luthier-resources/care-of-wood.html

[4] http://www.ratcliffe.co.za/articles/bodywoods.shtml

[5] https://www.guitarzone.com/forum/topic/194808-so-where-was-my-guitar-actually-made/

[6] http://www.koivi.com/guitar-intonation.html