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Why do some acoustic guitars have more bass?

I have a 1973 Alvarez Yairi acoustic that sounds awesome. It has a beautiful bass resonance and brilliant highs. I judge all other acoustic guitars by the sound of this one. I paid about $500.00 for it in '73.

I bought a 2002 Alvarez Yairi that is a Limited Edition guitar that doesn't sound as good. Not as much bass. It retailed at 3000.00.

I've also played expensive Martins and Taylors and sometimes the expensive guitars don't have the bass either? I can play one chord and know whether it has the sound I like or not.

My point is: Why can a $1000.00 guitar have more bass than a $2500.00? Or? ... Am I incorrect in assuming that a good bass resonance is always desired and that it is actually, just MY Preferance. Thanks

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Well, first off, many affordable instruments actually are very good, and some absurdly expensive ones are totally not worth the money. Guitarists are somewhat notorious for making irrational purchase decisions – many seem to like buying guitars because they are expensive, “vintage”, status symbols. Oh well. (They're not the only ones...)

However, quality of a guitar is not something you can universally and objectively rate anyway. What sound is best depends a lot on what context you will use it in.
Now, I am in fact quite sceptic of guitars with strong bass resonance: such a resonance may feel very satisfying at first, but it often comes at a sacrifice of tonal clarity, response time, sustain and sound-consistency across different keys. So even when only playing alone, excessive bass resonance is not necessarily a good thing.
It gets worse when playing with other musicians. Unless the guitar has to fulfill basically a bass role, the LF capability is not only superfluous (a real bass can still out-oomph even a fat jumbo guitar) but actually can be severely harmful for the collective sound, because rythmic part may feature bass sounds that are just strong enough to get in the way of the bass lines and distract sonically, but not strong and consistent enough to actually take work off the bassist's shoulders.

It's relatively easy to build an instrument with a strong bass resonance. What's tricky is building an instrument with even, solid, and just-as-strong-as-ideal bass resonance. With e.g. a Martin dreadnought you get a pretty good compromise – fat sound but still very versatile, more so than most jumbo guitars.
I (cellist) actually tend to prefer playing with guitarists using smaller instruments, leaving lots of LF-space while offering great tonal and rhythmic clarity.

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Price isn't the best indicator of how good a guitar will sound.

The tonal quality of a guitar can vary greatly along the same model line, especially when considering solid top models.

The tonality is influenced significantly by the top wood, which varies due to it being a naturally grown product and having much variance from tree to tree.

Manufacturing processes have changed as more automation is put in, and bracing and layout changes are made to make it easier to use the new technologies. This also affects the tonal profile of the guitar. The earlier guitars were more likely to be mostly hand made, and quality control of the materials would be better than automated mass manufacturing.

High quality spruce is also becoming more rare and costly, and new guitars are using a different quality of wood than you will find in earlier models.

The wood also gains more tone and "warmth" as it ages, so a 40 year old guitar is usually going to have warmer and more open tone than a newly built guitar.

The price to quality difference may be because a "limited edition" guitar isn't being sold just on its sound merits, but also on the reputation of the manufacturer and its potential collect-ability. In many cases an established brand such as Fender will be a higher price than an equivalent quality of guitar that does not have the brand name.

After a certain price point you are no longer paying for the materials and workmanship, but paying also for the branding and marketing of the guitar.

In some cases the tonal difference is part of the marketing of the guitar model. Flamenco guitars are designed to be brighter and clearer than the similar classical guitar, so you may find some difference in a brand's models depending on what the market for that model is.

Cheap guitars can often sound better than an expensive one. Find one that you like the sound and play-ability of, and get that one.

  • guitaradventures.com/taylor-pallet-guitar-story I wouldn't overrate wood itself – teodozjan Mar 27 '17 at 7:04
  • I can tell you that it is easier to build a good sounding guitar using high altitude spruce, compared to softer "swamp" spruce. I completely agree that the process and attention to detail during the build is really the main contributor to tone. Search Balsa wood violins. However, in a production guitar there is no consideration for making each instrument sound its best in the assembly process, so having better materials can help get better sound. For the price of a Special Edition, you could have a custom made instrument by a luthier that would have the exact sound you want. – Alphonso Balvenie Mar 27 '17 at 19:01
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A significant factor in bass response is also the size and shape of the body. Dreadnoughts with their wide waist and deep depth tend to boom in the lower frequencies. Small OO or parlor guitars on the other hand don't have the same lower range projection. Another consideration is sustain - how long does the string vibrate and how does it create overtones. That's a critical characteristic we work for when designing a new guitar. A booming dreadnought with poor sustain still booms but sounds rough. A small guitar with no sustain just sound tinny. In either case the result is a cheap sound.

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The smaller the acoustic guitar sound hole, more bass.

Like wise the larger the acoustic guitar sound hole more treble.

  • 1
    That's an extreme oversimplification, and in fact generally wrong. – leftaroundabout Mar 28 '17 at 19:30
  • Having dealt with hundreds of acoustic guitars, I should've mentioned this is well documented on many builders websites. You are the professional I respect your answer. Thank you... – Willabe Storms Mar 29 '17 at 0:10

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