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I own a Simon & Patrick Woodland Cedar acoustic guitar, and the manufacturer claims that it will sound better the more I play it. I suppose it will sound better since the more I play it the more my skills will improve, but I'll assume that is not what they mean.

Is there any truth to this claim?

"...its sound (as with all S&P models) will only get better the more the guitar is played over time."

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  • The strings get better over time (and then worse when start getting older), this I have found in first hand, the instrument I doubt it.
    – jackJoe
    Nov 23, 2011 at 9:20
  • For classical guitars it is usual to spend a lot of time playing chromatically all over the fingerboard to bring a new instrument to life and set it resonating evenly. .
    – PeterJ
    Oct 5, 2019 at 11:45
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    Yeah, sounds like a load of B.S. to me too. Seems like an objective claim w/out scientific evidence to back it up.
    – Dogweather
    Jan 15, 2020 at 23:03
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    It sounds like a huckster's sales pitch. Btw, what do they mean by "better|"? Is your "better" the same as my "better"? Jan 27, 2022 at 1:21

8 Answers 8

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Yes, this is probably true. As you play a new guitar (or other wooden instrument), the fibers in the wood settle somewhat due to the vibration, and over time this causes the wood to become stiffer, more stable, and more resonant, which in turn improves the sound.

Different woods experience this phenomenon differently; for example, spruce takes about a year of playing to break in, and a guitar with a spruce top will sound better after a year of playing than it did right out of the box. After that, the aging process is slower and the marginal improvements smaller. Cedar, on the other hand, breaks in both sooner and more steadily---you may notice a slight improvement in resonance earlier than you would with a spruce top, but the overall improvement after a year may not be as much as with spruce.

All of this is subjective, of course, but it reflects a lot of people's experience with wood instruments.

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  • 1
    I've also heard such explanations from luthiers as: the glue on the braces relaxes a bit, the bent wood of the sides relaxes into it's shape, and the molecules of the finish gradually relax. I think it's one of those things that's a combination of so many different factors, we'll never really know for sure. But it happens! Nov 22, 2011 at 12:39
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    I am actually one of those people who thinks new strings sound awful. So yes, after a while, your strings will oxidize and become unspeakably dirty, mellowing the sound as well. Two other people agree with me ;)
    – horatio
    Nov 22, 2011 at 18:42
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    This would mean that ALL decent guitars would get better over time, not just those from the manufacturer in question. So it means that this manufacturer tries to take advantage on a general concept that is true for all, but they want to give impression that their guitars are better because of it...
    – awe
    Nov 23, 2011 at 14:44
  • Thanks for the info. I just bought a spruce parlor from the mentioned manufacturer. I can still smell the glue from the sound hole so I assume it's brand new. I wonder if I'll hear a difference a year from now? :-)
    – MdaG
    Dec 29, 2011 at 10:53
  • The phrase 'Different woods experience this phenomenon differently; for example, spruce takes about a year of playing to break in' is ambiguous. Is this with, say, two hours of play per day for 365 days? I also don't buy the notion that ' fibers in the wood settle somewhat due to the vibration'. Lots of luthiers claim this, but they are in the business of selling instruments. I've not seen a scientific paper that supports this notion.
    – ABragg
    Jul 27, 2017 at 14:15
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The conventional wisdom is that the sound will improve over time only if the top is a solid top (a single layer of carved wood), as opposed to a laminate top (plywood).

Note that virtually all solid tops are made of two pieces of a single layer of wood cut and glued side-by-side. This is still considered a solid top.

A laminate top is like a piece of plywood. Several thin layers of wood veneer are glued together under pressure.

The point is that cheap guitars are usually made with laminate wood tops, and these do not improve with playing and with age. This guitar manufacturer whose advertisements you are reading is making the point that this is an inexpensive guitar, yet it has a solid top, and this will confer the advantage of its tone improving with use.

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    Simon & Patrick guitars are inexpensive? Could have fooled me. ;-)
    – MdaG
    Dec 29, 2011 at 10:51
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    @MdaG, yes, this is a US $600 guitar. Many professional-calibre guitars from the C. F. Martin company cost $3,000 or more. This is an inexpensive guitar aimed at novices and beginners.
    – user1044
    Dec 29, 2011 at 15:03
  • From my point of view $600 isn't inexpensive, but I'll agree with you if compared with Martins and other high range guitars.
    – MdaG
    Dec 29, 2011 at 15:38
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    $600 is the top end of low end, or the bottom of mid-range. More a 2nd guitar, unless you are well off :)
    – Mr. Boy
    Mar 5, 2015 at 10:13
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    There is absolutely no proof that laminate guitars do not improve with age. Some laminate guitars are very well made and they sound very good eg. those Yamaha from the 70s. All wood whether solid or laminates will undergo changes. They will sound different, usually more vintage when they age. Buy the guitar that sounds good to you. Don't buy simply because it is solid wood. Many plywood guitars can sound better than solid wood guitars. Feb 26, 2018 at 3:25
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I am normally a skeptic about this type of stuff, so I provide these hypotheticals knowing full well that the placebo effect cannot be discounted. But, why would a vintage guitar sound better than a new one?

  1. The wood was better back then. The new CITES rules on endangered species trading now list all species of rosewood, the standard material for acoustic guitar back and sides, as protected, and the most rare variety, Brazilian rosewood, with its legendary sound characteristics, has been effectively off-limits to builders for years. Ebony has been logged to death, and even more "common" top and side woods like spruce and mahogany are under pressure. In the Golden Era of guitar making, firms like Gibson and Martin could source first-growth Adirondack spruce just by driving out of town; all that old wood is gone now, and newer trees, farmed trees, have not had time to grow the same way. (Never mind global warming, etc.) A 1940s guitar, if it was built well, was built out of wood you just can't get anymore. Whether or not the wood has "opened up" over years of playing isn't really the point. It was better wood to start with.

  2. Badly made and badly designed instruments tend to break, to be abandoned, and to disappear from the scene. A guitar that has lasted and been kept playable for 60-70 years was probably one of the "good ones" when it was new. The one great pawnshop find I ever made was because I turned over what seemed to be a no-name acoustic and found a neat, elegant home-made patch of a jagged hole in the back, deep under the varnish. I didn't know that much about guitars, but it seemed logical to assume that someone cared about that guitar enough to fix it, so it probably wasn't a throwaway Japanese piece of junk. (It turned out to be a 1943 Gibson J-45, traveling incognito with the finish stripped off and no serial number. It sounds pretty good.)

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Guitars are very subjective. I don't like it when sales people prey on people's ignorance to sell a guitar. I feel that this is what is happening.

Here is my first problem with this assertion. The idea that a guitar will sound better after you play for a while is not provable. It's difficult enough to figure out what you like with a rack of guitars that are right in front of you. Trying to figure out how a guitar compares to what it sounded like 6 months ago is virtually impossible. Marketing is split between tangible features and intangible. Perception of sound is mostly intangible. That is why you see a lot of focus on the best sound with higher end guitars. If you can't tell the difference, do you want to rely on the salesperson to tell you how much to spend?

Second, there are a million little things that people focus on to get the "best" sound. There are big things and there are little things. Focus on the big things first.

  1. Focus on you and what you like. Spend some time figuring out what sound you are trying to achieve. You have to play a lot of guitars to discover this. Know for yourself and don't believe the person trying to sell you something.
  2. Look at your amp. Even the best guitar will sound like crap with a poor amp.
  3. Look at your pickups. Different pickups sound different: dark, bright, crisp, noisy, noiseless, etc.

After you have spent some serious time in these things, then consider pickup placement on different guitars. All these things make a lot more difference than "playing the guitar for 6 months."

I am not trying to dodge the question. I am just saying that it is not important when compared to these other things. Maybe there is something that changes the sound over time (vibration, moisture, moonlight, etc.), but who can legitimately confirm that this will make it sound better? Maybe it will sound worse. If guitars sound better after they have been played, then buy used. Again, it just sounds like marketing. I recommend focusing on whether you are happy with the guitar today, not possibly some time in the future.

I hope this helps. ;)

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It would be interesting to set up a blind test, comparing the sound of a new instrument with a 'broken in' one. I suspect the results would be inconclusive :-) And when it's YOUR instrument, the whole thing becomes impossibly subjective. When something really happens, scientific evidence is easy.

I think we can agree that new strings sound different to old. Some prefer one, some the other.

I'm a trombone player. Back in the day, a respected London trombonist named Denis Wick did a lot of buying and selling of used instruments from his home in Kenton. (As all brass players will know, his business later developed greatly into mutes and mouthpieces.) The story was told of a student who, trying out an instrument for sale complained that high C was weak. Denis picked it up and played a series of high C's, at all dynamic levels. Henceforth, the instrument played that note just fine. Well, maybe... :-)

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There is no solid scientific evidence that playing a guitar will make it sound better but it seems reasonable to assume that more vibration may alter its sound characteristics.

It is likely true that old guitars sound better because aged wood has different physical properties and hence sound characteristics.

I dont think it is true that only solid top guitars improve with age. Plywood and laminated wood are also wood. Their moisture and cellulose content changes with time too. Guitars makers just made those up to sell you a more expensive guitar. If you have those old laminated yamaha guitars from the 70s you will understand how fantastic they sound. Personally i have an old cheap plywood guitar that is over 30 years old and it sounds superior to my new solid wood guitars.

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  • "...but it seems reasonable to assume that more vibration may alter its sound characteristics." How does it 'seem reasonable'? It seems 'reasonable' to me that aged wood makes no difference and that there is a placebo effect in place.
    – ABragg
    Jul 27, 2017 at 14:17
  • Well, maybe not. See my answer above. On the other hand, the people selling devices that you attach to your new guitar to vibrate it for hours and hours to "open up the sound" are probably selling snake oil. Jul 29, 2017 at 1:03
  • Maybe we should round up everbody's guitars and put them in a big room with a pink noise generator blasting at 80 db for a week and see if theres a difference. Hope it wouldn't ruin everybody's good sound. Feb 21, 2018 at 2:23
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The answers to this question have no chance but to fall under the same category as "who is the greatest guitar player of all time?" It requires an answer based on one's opinion or preference. Even if the answer is based on "the opinion of many, or , experts", it still is open to not being shared by all.

If you ask the "Greatest Guitar player" question to blues enthusiasts you wouldn't hear the name Randy Rhoads and asked of hard rock or metal fans, mention of the name Robert Johnson would likely be followed by "Who is Robert Johnson?"

The best information coming out of the "old guitar" question is evidence that some old guitars were made well; their woods and glues don't disintegrate after 10 years and the sounds they produce today are, at least by the opinion of many, not so displeasing to the ear as to render them useless.

If there were a measurable science to provide an answer, the difference measured over a decade may be so minute that a slight variation in temperature or humidity from location to location would likely negate the results of the study.

If it plays well years from now history has provided that the design elements and wood characteristics that created the once-loved sound will not degrade much over time.

0

When you play a guitar, it kind of breaks the wood in. It doesn't make much sense because most people have this idea in their head that new stuff is better, but some of the best sounds I've ever gotten were off some really old and very heavily used vintage guitars. each guitar, over time and depending on how you play it, develops it's own unique sound. I've never really understood why new guitars are higher priced.

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    “Never understood why new guitars are higher priced” – lots of reasons they sometimes are, but, erm... vintage guitars from certain years are much more expensive than anything sold new! And while some of these are surely quite good, I call rubbish on the idea that older is automatically better. Older guitars, even of the same model, vary strongly in quality mainly because back then there weren't as consistent production techniques as available today. If some of them are perceived as exceptionally great it may be more fluke than anything else, and some are simply a rotten unplayable mess. Jan 31, 2017 at 20:39
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    OTOH, while some new guitar models are also bad because the manufacturers saved in the wrong spots (e.g. wood dried too fast), you get overall much more consistent, reliable quality. And it's also not necessary for an instrument to have been played for decades to develop its best sound; if a guitar has been played for a couple of months then it won't change much further, at least not for the better. Jan 31, 2017 at 20:39

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