19

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."

  • 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 '11 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 '19 at 11:45
  • 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 at 23:03
15

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.

  • 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! – Josh Fields Nov 22 '11 at 12:39
  • 1
    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 '11 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 '11 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 '11 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 '17 at 14:15
11

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.

  • 1
    Simon & Patrick guitars are inexpensive? Could have fooled me. ;-) – MdaG Dec 29 '11 at 10:51
  • 3
    @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 '11 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 '11 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 '15 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. – Harmankardon Feb 26 '18 at 3:25
3

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.)

2

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.) 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... :-)

1

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.

  • "...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 '17 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. – Robert Fink Jul 29 '17 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. – skinny peacock Feb 21 '18 at 2:23
1

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.

  • “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. – leftaroundabout Jan 31 '17 at 20:39
  • 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. – leftaroundabout Jan 31 '17 at 20:39
0

What about smoke? I arrived on this board from a Google search for “smoke” or other things used to enhance acoustic’. I was only thinking this way because I am watching a documentary on Kentucky bourbon and the manufacture of charred barrels, which are mandated to be new barrels under bourbon law, but then sent to Scotland where they use these same bourbon barrels to make scotch. Scotch law has no mandate on the reuse of barrels, only that they be made of oak. Then I get here and start reading the arguments on aged versus new wood and started thinking about the life of guitars built in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s and how much smoke they were probably exposed to in bars, concert halls, living rooms, etc. Think smoke affects how (non-laminate) acoustic instruments age? I really can’t think of a good reason why it would unless you plan to drink out of it, but who knows, maybe there is something to it.

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