Guitar Waking Up?

Discussions relating to the classical guitar which don't fit elsewhere.
Andrew Pohlman
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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by Andrew Pohlman » Tue Feb 13, 2018 10:49 pm

To answer this question with objective data is possible - if you have unlimited funds to spend. The largest barrier in my mind is getting consistent measurements over time. Even 5-10 mins between measurements can make a difference. But testing "playing in" phenomena over the span of years would be brutally difficult.

For example, my practice chair squeaks when I first sit in it. After a few minutes, the creaks stop for the session. Is my chair "waking up" ? Will the microphones "wake up" ? Will the differences in the chair or mics affect the objectivity of the recording? Can you write a calibration curve to mathematically eliminate any known change effects for consistent objectivity over time ? Yeah, but it'll cost you. And due to cost, maybe other reasons too, nobody has done comprehensive research.

On this topic, I take the humanistic approach. If you think it sounds different or better, cool! I personally hear near zero differences comparing the first few minutes of practice, to the last few. Warm weather or cold? I can feel it my hands, but no sonic differences at all from the instrument. And I think Alan Carruth said a while back - paraphrasing - you may be able to prove differences occur, but those differences may or may not affect sound or tone.
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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by chiral3 » Tue Feb 13, 2018 10:59 pm

I gave the example, without explicitly naming it, of Tartini. Here’s a combination tone that will unequivocally be measured to not exist yet unequivocally be perceived by every human, that is present, to exist (humans without hearing loss... this is also used to test for hearing loss). The boxes of the 4x4 hear / no hear / measure / no measure grid are filled with endless examples.
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Alan Carruth
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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by Alan Carruth » Wed Feb 14, 2018 5:30 pm

There certainly are subjective processes in hearing, such at the Tartini combination tones, that are clearly heard by most people but do not exist physically. They're something that is built into our ear/brain system. As I see it, part of the question here is whether the phenomena of 'warming up' and 'playing in', which are widely, if not universally, credited, are similarly subjective or are actual changes in the guitar, and measurable. I have enough evidence to suggest that they're physical changes, but not enough to be really sure. I don't think 'unlimited' funds and time will be needed to demonstrate either, but certainly it will require some effort. The main issue is that there is no monetary pay-off for the work: the big factories who have the wherewithal to do the experiments don't see any reason to, and individuals who might see more practical use can't afford to do the experiments.

I will say that demonstrating that either warming up or playing in actually happens will be one heck of a lot easier than figuring out why.

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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by chiral3 » Wed Feb 14, 2018 7:42 pm

Alan, I cherry-picked Tartini as an example because it is a non-linearity in the human ear. In this regard, while technically subjective, they do exist physically. Maybe not for a tree sloth, but they do exist for humans. In measurement we tend to be very good at isolating individual slices (Chladni, (x, y=0, z=0), etc.), or solving for global systems assuming they are linearized. I see the same issues and measurement arguments in audio engineering. General relativity is probably the best large scale physical example of a system that is easy to solve when linearized but impossible otherwise. In my day job part of what I do is solve PDEs and SDEs via Monte Carlo simulation on very large GPU-grids. 95% of the time I can explain most of what I am seeing and thinking with all the linear first order terms that I calculate. This isn’t disimilar to the calculations that are done in violin, guitar, audio. Where things get interesting are in the higher-order and cross terms. The non-linearities. On most days my d^nY/dX^n terms aren’t very interesting, but on the most interesting days they are. I am not saying anything that hasn’t been said, but I have millions of dollars to spend on my systems and 30 PhD level researchers to code up and tweak my math so I know “why”. Since these resources will never be applied to a guitar, and barring some really clever shortcut, I can only assume that if we think these things are there, and we have our cognitive biases roughly accounted for, then they are probably present. So I agree that it would be possible to measure in some top-down fashion. But, to your point, I like to know why, and this bottom-up analysis probably never happen, so the answer, at least to me, will never be satisfying.
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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by Alan Carruth » Thu Feb 15, 2018 3:09 pm

All the best evidence I'm aware of says that the guitar is vanishingly close to linear, but it's still complex!

A few years ago I set up a simple rig to look at the forces a vibrating string puts on the saddle top. I wanted to verify the math relating the transverse force with the twice-per-cycle tension change. In the process of making the measurements I found a longitudinal compression wave in the string, which seems to be primarily driven by the off-center-of-length pluck. Naturally verifying and tightening up the quantities on this is requiring a major upgrade in my apparatus, and a bunch of time, which has to be stolen from my other, paying activities . All of the equations that describe this are linear, but when you stack them up things get 'interesting'. And the string is the simple part of the system.... ;)

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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by John Stone » Sun Feb 18, 2018 6:42 am

Alan Carruth wrote:
Wed Feb 14, 2018 5:30 pm
As I see it, part of the question here is whether the phenomena of 'warming up' and 'playing in', which are widely, if not universally, credited, are similarly subjective or are actual changes in the guitar, and measurable. I have enough evidence to suggest that they're physical changes, but not enough to be really sure.
This is fascinating to me because I've read about some of the related experiments you've done and I appreciate the ideal of objectivity that you bring to issues like this.
Bill B wrote:
Sat Feb 10, 2018 4:52 am
it seems like a more magical world sometimes. I almost wish i believed i could hear half the things so many musicians claim to hear. I have thought i could hear many of them at various points, but sadly i cannot.
Perhaps you don't hear particularly well? Seriously -- that's not intended in a snarky way.
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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by filmic » Mon Feb 26, 2018 6:15 am

rojarosguitar wrote:
Mon Feb 05, 2018 6:09 am
I've been saying this many times in similar posts: I think there is no possible separation line between you and the instrument. If you play it, both change. So it might not be possible to tell what changed more, actually: Is it the guitar that wakes up or is it you who wakes up to the actual guitar at hand and instead of playing with a kind of generic technique you start to play that specific instrument with an adequately adjusted and fine tuned technique bringing the potential of that actual instrument to the fore...
I'm a novice 'au debut'. Over the last three weeks my technique has certainly improved, but in no way in a sensitive enough way to objectively determine any real measurable difference as a trained ear could. I just notice my guitar sounding richer. I believe the top/sounding board is cedar..

I have no idea of the quality this model, compared to other's of this line for that date. But Kamouraska morphed into Godin, Seagull, La Patrie, etc. which are very very popular. It just sounds great and I can play it/learn without stress....

Boy did I stir up discussion here! Thanks all.....

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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by rojarosguitar » Mon Feb 26, 2018 11:02 am

Oh yes, these discussions come up in regular intervalls.
Personally I do not deny changes, I only do not believe in the possibility to separate out 'objective' factors' that could be convincingly demonstrated or even reliably measured in an 'objective' and quantifiable way.
My guess is that adaptation of the player with all its feedack loops are the more significant factor above the purely physical changes in the wood (though these certainly happen as well, nothing on earth stays always the same :D )

Of course the better the guitar is, the more potential for adaptation and discovery there is, a very enjoyable process that, if need be, can be called 'waking up of the guitar' or improvement...

Most important: enjoy playing!
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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by Alan Carruth » Mon Feb 26, 2018 6:53 pm

rojarosguitar wrote:
"Personally I do not deny changes, I only do not believe in the possibility to separate out 'objective' factors' that could be convincingly demonstrated or even reliably measured in an 'objective' and quantifiable way."

My response to that is always to ask why the guitar would be the only machine ever made that didn't wear in use? Granted, wood is generally considered in engineering practice to be immune to fatigue effects, but I'm not sure how much that means for us. Structurally they're mostly concerned with changes in the Young's modulus, and in crack propagation. All they're saying is that, in normal structural use, say, in a building, those things done change enough to be problems before the structure rots out. It would be entirely possible to for those to be totally unaffected by vibration and for there still to be changes that were musically relevant, say, in damping, or the shear moduli or Poisson's ratios.

A certain degree of skepticism is healthy and necessary in all of this. I keep reminding myself of 'Feynman's Dictum', that: "You are the easiest person for you to fool". I think it happens, and I'm trying to find the experiment that will prove that I'm wrong. If I cant' do that, I may be right. OTOH, to simply deny the possibility without looking for evidence is also a problem.

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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by rojarosguitar » Mon Feb 26, 2018 9:03 pm

Alan, what you say in the beginning of your response is exactly what I wrote one sentence later after the quoted part ... I absolutely agree with that part, but think it is not as important as the interaction part...
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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by Alan Carruth » Tue Feb 27, 2018 5:09 pm

rojarosguitar wrote:
"what you say in the beginning of your response is exactly what I wrote one sentence later after the quoted part ...

which was:
"Personally I do not deny changes, I only do not believe in the possibility to separate out 'objective' factors' that could be convincingly demonstrated or even reliably measured in an 'objective' and quantifiable way."

That's where we differ: I do believe that there are objective and quantifiable changes that can be measured. If the sound of the guitar is changing then there's a reason for it, and it can be measured. The measurement may not be obvious or easy to do: if it were it would have been done already. We can discuss the relative importance of the changes in the player's perception and approach as against the changes in the guitar itself, but that's another matter. I'm trying to address the folks who say that it's all the player; that guitars don't change at all with age or playing.

What's interesting to me is that I know of no guitar maker who doesn't believe that guitars change with age. We hear it all the time.

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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by rojarosguitar » Tue Feb 27, 2018 6:11 pm

Alan Carruth wrote:
Tue Feb 27, 2018 5:09 pm
rojarosguitar wrote:
"what you say in the beginning of your response is exactly what I wrote one sentence later after the quoted part ...

which was:
"Personally I do not deny changes, I only do not believe in the possibility to separate out 'objective' factors' that could be convincingly demonstrated or even reliably measured in an 'objective' and quantifiable way."

That's where we differ: I do believe that there are objective and quantifiable changes that can be measured. If the sound of the guitar is changing then there's a reason for it, and it can be measured. The measurement may not be obvious or easy to do: if it were it would have been done already. We can discuss the relative importance of the changes in the player's perception and approach as against the changes in the guitar itself, but that's another matter. I'm trying to address the folks who say that it's all the player; that guitars don't change at all with age or playing.

What's interesting to me is that I know of no guitar maker who doesn't believe that guitars change with age. We hear it all the time.
Well, actually I meant the sentence after that, where I concede that everything on earth changes ... :D

Here is another point: you write "If the sound of the guitar is changing ..." That's the issue I'm trying to touch: There is no (meaningful) sound separate of the player. Of course one could let some stupid machine pick the strings for centuries, and I'm sure there will be some registering changes, but I'm not sure if that is meant when players or luthiers state 'the guitar is waking up'. But yes, I agree with you: there are objectively measurable changes and one certainly could come up with some registering machinery to obtain a quantifiable representation of these changes. The thing I'm not sure of is, whether these registered changes can be associated with any of the treasured qualities of an instrument so that there would be a strong correlation between the numbers and the ohs and ahs of an enchanted payer :D But who knows?

The luthiers I've been talking about that (and they are not the least reputable ones) always seem to convey that they well believe that some things could be measured in some way or other but they wouldn't expect much improvement of their instruments from there just because the correlation is so loose...

The situation is maybe a bit analogue (though also quite different, because in electronics it's much more obvious which quantities are important for their behaviour) to that in electronics: for instance it's not always the equipment with the best specs that sounds best, and sometimes equipment that exhibits obvious weaknesses yields great result when used properly...

But yes, I totally honour your scientific approach and the attempt to find as much exact knowledge as is possible. I never meant to criticize that!
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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by Bill B » Mon Mar 26, 2018 3:25 am

John Stone wrote:
Sun Feb 18, 2018 6:42 am

Bill B wrote:
Sat Feb 10, 2018 4:52 am
it seems like a more magical world sometimes. I almost wish i believed i could hear half the things so many musicians claim to hear. I have thought i could hear many of them at various points, but sadly i cannot.
Perhaps you don't hear particularly well? Seriously -- that's not intended in a snarky way.
or perhaps the emperor really is naked. I don't mean that in a snarky way either. I really don't think that its a fault of my hearing, because nobody can demonstrate this phenomenon in reality. And i do see the appeal to claim to hear these things that so many think they hear. its fun, almost magical, and when you talk to people honest enough to say its not there, you can pretend to have superior perceptions or intellect. look, when two things really do sound different, like say your friends voice and the voice of a stranger, you won't have any trouble telling the one from the other, and you could certainly demonstrate this ability. why is it that it is so impossible for someone to demonstrate their ability to hear this difference with guitars?
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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by Bill B » Mon Mar 26, 2018 4:41 am

rpavich wrote:
Sat Feb 10, 2018 5:01 am


Actually, I would. It's late, I'm not sleeping (for now) so yeah...let's get some light hearted stuff into this conversation. :)
Im sorry i missed this. its a bit late, but better than never. so I thought i could hear these enormous differences between all of the common things guitar players like to think they can hear huge difference in. Ive had a few experiences that shook my confidence, and then I had to give up my previous beliefs and embrace reality. I think the first one I remember is when I was a guitar major, playing in a quartet, and I had a broken nail. I had used a bit of pingpong ball, or a kiss plastic nail, I don't remember which. the quartet was back stage and we were lamenting the unbalanced tone we all knew would result from one nail being false. I think i might have even considered putting false nails on all my fingers just to make it more even. in any case, we decided to see if anyone in the group could pick out the tone of my false nail vs the real one by having 2 turn around, and one watch so I couldn't pull any shenanigans. we all thought they would be able to tell. well, as you probably guessed, they couldn't. I was surprised.

the next one I remember was after arguing with a guy at the guitar store I worked in. we were debating how much the tone of an electric guitar had to do with the wood. I thought it probably had some effect, but he thought it made a huge difference. I had a pretty good way to test it I thought. I had made mounting ring that would hold a hum bucker in the sound hole of an acoustic guitar. I had thought I would record with it and then with the same pickup in one of my electric guitars and see how much difference there would be. I never did that, actually. I got side tracked. while i was playing with my acoustic guitar with the electric pickup, i plugged it into my digitec jam man looper pedal. i recorded half of a piece, and then recorded the other half with my electric guitar which had a similar, not even the same, pickup. I wasn't sure I could hear the difference. at first I thought i could, but as I knew what part I played with which guitar, I figured maybe I was fooling myself. I called my wife to listen. she didn't know that I had switched guitars in the track. I was surprised. not only could she not tell which guitar was which, she couldn't point out the seam. I was beginning to doubt. I listened to that loop for a silly long time, trying to grasp at some subtle difference.

I was starting to doubt some of the things I thought any real musician should be able to hear. I watched a youtube video made by paul graham. if you search "Alder vs acrylic strat paul graham" you should be able to find it. I watched and listened. I played the game, trying to pick which one I was hearing, then comparing. it wasn't working. but then nobody was able too. sure, after he revealed it lots of people claimed they were able to, but nobody did very well before he posted the reveal video. at this point I gave up the idea that the wood made a real difference in the tone of an electric guitar. I still figured there was a big difference in classical or acoustic guitars made of different woods, etc, but I did at this point become interested in trying to see how big a difference, and how dependably I could tell even my guitars apart. I don't have a lot of guitars. only two decent ordinary classical guitars. they are different. my ramirez is cedar and laminated sides and back. My aguado is spruce with solid rosewood. I do believe they sound different even to this day, but the difference isn't huge. I had made some recordings with both of them, and one day, probably while I was working on my website, I was listening to some older recordings, and I realized i wasn't sure which guitar I had made a recording with. i was listening, and couldn't remember, but I figured i should be able to tell just by listening. I was a bit surprised.

I think this was about the time I first read about the national academy of sciences study comparing stradivarius violins with modern ones in a blind test. google it if you aren't familiar. its worth the read. there is an npr bit about it on youtube if you would rather listen than read it.

so by this time I had become the obnoxious guy who always says "prove it" when one of my musician friends starts popping off about their super de duper new doodad that is so tonally superior to the old one. I was at a theater gig. I think it was tommy..... I don't remember. I was talking to the bass player about fixing up an old instrument. she had had the 1/4 inch jack replaced with one from an old amp and was swearing up and down that the bass sounded so much better now. the old one wasn't faulty, just the new one had better tone. I said "sure, I know. its just like my new strap. the leather has a richer tone than web strap anyday."
she and I don't speak any more.

There was a guy at my church that liked to play bluegrass. we were visiting and he had his martin, ( couple thousand dollars, all solid woods, and he had just paid a local luthier over a hundred bucks to put in some super duper new nut and saddle)and I had my cheap old washburn. I had him turn around and I would play each one behind his back. we did it a bunch of times. it was like flipping a coin.

so one day I took my oldest daughter to her flute lesson. Jill (the flute teacher) and I both taught music at the same college. Jill is very good, a great teacher, and a great player in the G.R. orchestra. Jill said my daughter needed a new flute. I asked her for some advice on what to look for in a good flute. she had a list of things, but one stood out to me. she said a nickel plated one wouldn't sound as good as a solid silver one, and that a gold plated head joint was again going to improve the tone.... so of course Im in "prove it" mode. it just so happened she had a silver flute with a solid silver head joint, and also a gold plated head joint, and very surprisingly, my daughters nickel head joint also fit the body of here flute. of course I had her demonstrate them with my back turned. of course I couldn't hear the difference. she was flabbergasted. she said there was a huge difference. she demanded I tell her which sounded better, "a,b,or c". I said I didn't think there was a real difference, but if I had to pick it would be "c". that turned out by pure luck to be the nickel one:) I asked if she would let my daughter play the three while she looked the other way to see if she could tell which was which. she decided we had wasted too much time with this so it was time to be done :)

so none of these is about guitars waking up or going to sleep, but I think there is some interesting similarity........interesting to me anyway.
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Re: Guitar Waking Up?

Post by Alan Carruth » Mon Mar 26, 2018 5:15 pm

Bill B. wrote:
" I really don't think that its a fault of my hearing, because nobody can demonstrate this phenomenon in reality. "

Again, I do have objective measurements that suggest that 'warming up' is real. As always, I'd like to get better ones, but that sort of thing is time consuming.

There certainly are a lot of legends in this field that have no basis in reality, and your subsequent post brought up several. OTOH, the fact that a lot of what people believe is not so doesn't make everything they believe untrue. The trick, and it's a hard one, is to figure out which is which.

Joe Curtin, one of the better modern violin makers, pointed out years ago that part of the professional qualification of a good player is that they can get the tone they want out of pretty much any fiddle. I'm sure much the same goes for good guitar players. He pointed out that they do this automatically; you can't get them to not do it. His point was that you can't learn much about how good an instrument is by handing it to a good player; they'll just make it sound the way they want. On the other hand, handing it to a poor player won't help either, since they won't be able to make anything sound good. That's why objective tests are necessary.

This brings up an interesting point. If the good players can make any instrument sound good, why do they spend all that money on 'good' instruments? They could just get some imported junker from WalMart and play that.

One answer could be that they find it easier to make the sound they like on a better instrument. That could be part of it, but the 'blind' playing tests with violins have cast some doubt on that: people seemed to find no real difference in that respect between the Old Italians and newer instruments that don't enjoy the exalted reputation. If that's true, then players are paying a lot of money for a placebo effect: they play better because they think they'll play better.

That's certainly one way that the legend of 'warming up' could work. You think the guitar will get better as you play, and it does, but not because of anything that happens with the guitar. But then there's the objective data I've mentioned. A guitar that's being 'plucked' mechanically, using a very repeatable mechanism, is recorded on a computer. When successive plucks are compared the later ones are systematically a little louder than the earlier ones. Other tests using other setups, and measurements of isolated strips of wood show similar changes. So what gives?

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