Cedar top break in period

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Laudiesdad69
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Cedar top break in period

Post by Laudiesdad69 » Mon Dec 12, 2016 5:04 pm

Okay, so I've read some other posts regarding a guitars sound improving over time after some number of multiple hours of playing it. My question is this, how long does it take to notice improvement in the sound. I have two guitars, - cedar top and a spruce top. I have had the spruce top for going on a couple of years, and I just got the cedar top a couple of weeks ago. I have noticed that the cedar top, while sounding somewhat compressed and mid-range is now starting to sound more open and full already after playing for an average of 3 to 4 hours a day. I am really amazed. But the spruce top has been more subtle. It definitely sounds better to my ear as to when I got it, but it hasn't been a dramatic quick change, like with the Cedar top.
What is it about playing them that does this. Both guitars are Ramirez and bot sat in the shop for a few years before I bought them. Does the fact that they were already kind of old have anything to do with this?

Andrew Pohlman
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by Andrew Pohlman » Mon Dec 12, 2016 5:55 pm

This is controversial in therms of theory.

If you believe the theory, the wood fibers become sympathetic to the vibrations of playing, and f9orm the standing waves with less input energy. I read an article by a violin and cello maker stating that he hopes his instruments will be played by excellent players because just being played by excellent musicians is enough to improve these sympathetic wood fibers. To this end, there is that vibration generating device that you stick onto the top and it breaks in the top while you sleep or are at work. Sort of a sledge hammer approach to break in as compared to the German violin maker's claim of excellent players having an affect.

If you don't believe the esoteric and mystical theory, then in more tangible terms, normal experimentation with plucking technique to get the best sound out of your guitar goes a long way to improving the sound. The wood will fatigue over time, i.e., structural changes. It remains to be seen if that is synonymous with improved tone.

I'm sure some of the big boyz, like Alan Carruth, and Trevor Gore will have comments appropriate for this thread.
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cedartop
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by cedartop » Mon Dec 12, 2016 6:11 pm

According to my guitar maker, if I may paraphrase, spruce grain is more "thatched" and cedar is more "straight," so cedar opens up faster. He also notes that the guitar's sound characteristics and the nature of the sound doesn't really change, it just becomes easier to get it out. In other words, a guitar isn't going to become a different guitar. A poor instrument will not get better just because it is played a lot. The quality of the player also figures into the equation. My maker once made two guitars as closely to the same as possible. The woods were all from the same trees, everything was measured and weighed, etc. One went to a teacher and one to his student. He got them to agree to switch guitars after 6 months. At the time of the switch, the teacher's guitar was much more "open" than the student's. After they switched, the guitar that had beenthe student's opened up more and the guitar that had been the teacher's retracted.
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Pat Dodson
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by Pat Dodson » Mon Dec 12, 2016 6:54 pm

Andrew Pohlman wrote:This is controversial in therms of theory....
You are right Andrew; there could well be a measure of heat generated in this thread. :wink:

hanredman
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by hanredman » Mon Dec 12, 2016 9:29 pm

Pat Dodson wrote:
Andrew Pohlman wrote:This is controversial in therms of theory....
You are right Andrew; there could well be a measure of heat generated in this thread. :wink:
Correct, Pat. Luckily we are all allowed to theorize.........:-)

In my opinion, the age and dryness of the wood used for the top plays a very large role in the period it takes to maximize its vibration ability. An already bone dry top will sound broken in soon after it has adjusted and settled against the string tension. Now whether this holds true for both cedar and spruce, to some extend I would think so.

To further increase the potential measure of heat in the debate, I would venture and say that wood with wider grain opens up sooner than that with tighter grain, and in all top woods, of course, provided they are all the same age, and dried to the same extent, and similar dimensions.
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Bill B
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by Bill B » Mon Dec 12, 2016 9:40 pm

As the phenomenon takes place in the players imagination, the timeframe is dependent upon the individual player.
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Pat Dodson
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by Pat Dodson » Mon Dec 12, 2016 9:51 pm

Bill B wrote:As the phenomenon takes place in the players imagination, the timeframe is dependent upon the individual player.
Wicked! :lol:

hanredman
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by hanredman » Mon Dec 12, 2016 11:01 pm

Bill B wrote:As the phenomenon takes place in the players imagination, the timeframe is dependent upon the individual player.
Wunderbar!!!!!...:-)))
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petermc61
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by petermc61 » Tue Dec 13, 2016 12:23 am

My experience is that cedar tops break in and stabilise sound wise fairly quickly. Good spruce tops (particularly those that feel tight when new) take 2-3 years to really start to relax. There is a really nice sweetness to older spruce guitars (say 10 years plus) that I just don't hear in younger instruments.

Laudiesdad69
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by Laudiesdad69 » Tue Dec 13, 2016 4:16 am

Well the guitar in question had been hanging on the music store wall since 2011. Does the fact that it hung on the wall at the music store help the sound, or is it just the amount of playing done on it? Cause it seems to be opening up really fast.

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petermc61
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by petermc61 » Tue Dec 13, 2016 4:57 am

This is a question put here before. Never had concensus previously, so probably can't hope for it this time either.

There are probably two things happening, largely independent but complimentary. One is playing in, the other is ageing.

I believe they both happen.

A few of us on this forum bought 'new old stock' Manouk Papazian guitars. Mine was constructed in 1972. It was a finished guitar except for a final polish, fitting of tuners and stringing up. Those final steps happened over 40 years later! So the finished guitar sat unplayed for over four decades.

In my view it had a sweetness and openness of a mature spruce guitar from day one. It sounded far closer to a number of other fine vintage guitars that I'd owned than any other new spruce instrument I had heard. That was enough to convince me that guitars age, independent of play.

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Philosopherguy
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by Philosopherguy » Tue Dec 13, 2016 5:03 am

Laudiesdad69 wrote:Well the guitar in question had been hanging on the music store wall since 2011. Does the fact that it hung on the wall at the music store help the sound, or is it just the amount of playing done on it? Cause it seems to be opening up really fast.
Likely sitting around wouldn't help much for breaking in. It would help for acclimatizing the guitar and making sure the wood has adjusted to the area you are living in.

From my experience with my Ramirez guitars the 4NE that I bought used hadn't been played too much and sat in the case for much of its life. It took a few weeks to really come to life after playing it a couple hours a day. It was a relatively quick transformation. Each day you could hear it getting better and you could hear that the sound was less "choked" and more open. My 130Anos in spruce took quite a long time to really come around. It sounded nice from day 1, but as it aged the sound became more rounded and there was much more warmth and much more body to the guitar. The 130 Anos started coming to life within a couple weeks of me getting it, but it took a couple years to really start to open up and then all of a sudden you notice how much different it sounds. I think it is still slowly opening up some too. But, like any guitar, it's hard to say. Every day the sound is a little bit different because of humidity and everything. I find spruce guitars more sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and humidity for optimal sound. Cedar is much more forgiving to my ears to humidity levels and other variables.

Both are beautiful sounding guitars.

People may say there is no proof of guitars opening up and that it's all in your head, but I think the sound really does change from what I have heard with many guitars. This may be "getting used" to the sound or something, but that doesn't seem to explain it (especially the more rapid transformations). The guitar is a complex system and it makes sense to me that as you play it the system will become more accustomed to working with itself (just like you "break in" a transmission or engine so the parts work well together and slip where they need to slip and stay rigid where they need to stay rigid, or how you break in speakers so the cones move with less effort). It is very possible that the wood and joints become more flexible in the places they need it as the vibrations continually flex the pieces and stay more rigid in other places. Then again, who knows. I'm not going to measure this. But, it would make sense to me. I think a simple test is to take a thin piece of wood and bend it ever so slightly back and forth a few million times and see if it starts to get easier as time goes by (as would happen in a guitar). My guess is that it will as the fibres loosen up.
*************************************************************
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1998 Dean Harrington - Spruce
1977 Kuniharu Nobe - Spruce
1971 Yamaha GC3 - Spruce

Laudiesdad69
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by Laudiesdad69 » Tue Dec 13, 2016 5:19 am

Great posts everybody. Thank you.

Bill B
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by Bill B » Tue Dec 13, 2016 6:04 pm

Philosopherguy wrote: ....I think a simple test is to take a thin piece of wood and bend it ever so slightly back and forth a few million times and see if it starts to get easier as time goes by (as would happen in a guitar). My guess is that it will as the fibres loosen up.....
Thats a great idea. You should do it. film yourself and post it to youtube. you should count the few million flexes out loud so we don't get lost. Be sure to let us know how it turns out.
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Alan Carruth
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Re: Cedar top break in period

Post by Alan Carruth » Tue Dec 13, 2016 6:50 pm

There are things that happen in the wood over time that may alter the way it works in producing sound, even if it's not subject to vibration. These 'seasoning effects', such as stress relief and hemicellulose degradation, are part of the reason luthiers like to work with older wood; they tend to contribute to stability even if tonal benefits are not guaranteed.

'Playing in'; change due to vibration, is controversial for sure. I have some measurements taken over time on guitars that indicate there may be something to it. It's hard to nail down all of the variables that might be relevant, though, so the data I have is only suggestive. Ditto for some data on 'warming up'; short term reversible change from playing.

There are a couple of ideas about why this could happen that are less flakey than the one Andrew cited. It has, for example, been proposed that the heat generated by bending speeds up hemicellulose degradation in certain areas of the top, which could reduce the stiffness and mass of those areas slightly. Other explanations are possible. In principle it ought to be possible to measure changes in wood samples that have been vibrated, and do other tests that could narrow the scope of speculation. In practice this will take some time and effort, and since there's no likelihood of any big payoff for it nobody is rushing to do the research.

It would be fairly easy to address this if only it were possible to make identical guitars that actually sound the same. Then you could just play one and not another, and compare them after a time to see if they've started to sound different. This has proven to be trickier than you'd like. Wood is so variable that even 'sister' cuts from the same log can be enough different to alter the tone of a guitar in subtle ways. Failing that it would take quite lot of effort to show this directly, in a way that would allow an audience to hear it in a simple playing/listening test. Indirect tests, based on recordings and so on, are always less than satisfactory, and will be rejected out of hand by many aficionados who insist that only live playing can be trusted.

In short, this is one of those questions that is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Certainly we won't do it by discussing in here.

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