My guitars sound lousy lately!


#1

Anyone with more than one guitar (or any other instruments you may prefer) most likely enjoys comparing the tone of their different instruments, driving their spouse, kids and pets crazy by asking: “Which one sounds best to you”. It can even be as simple as different picks used on the same instrument.

Lately none of my four guitars (only three are of any quality, the fourth one being a 1983 Yamaha CJ-818 all plywood jumbo guitar that I bought when I was 19 stationed at Fort Polk Louisiana after basic training. Just can’t let that one go) seem to sound as good as they used to.

They all sound dull to me, even the Collings. Does anyone else ever go through this? I’ve been through it before but can’t figure it out. I try new strings, different strings, different picks, move to different rooms, nothing seems to help. I’ve even went as far as taking one or two to a high end store and comparing them to other guitars and suddenly they sound good again and even sound better than the ones I’m trying out… Until I get back home. Then one day, it seems to go away and the tone is back and I think how wonderful they sound.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe my ears are getting older, but this time it’s been pretty bad, kinda like being in a rut with practicing and you start losing interest.

I just wondered if anyone else ever goes through this. Maybe I’m just going nuts. :cry:

Thanks for your ear support,

J.W.


#2

Oh yeah, it happens to me too. Sometimes it’s humidity. In particular, rosewood sounds lifeless when humidity is up. Given the time of year I doubt you have too much humidity. I think you have some adirondack topped guitars. Those in particular are finicky. I have to play them for a bit before they sound good. Today, we are kind of iced in and we were having a few people over to pick. I was pulling out some instruments and my relatively humble sitka topped OM was blowing the sock off my “better” guitars. If they warmed up a bit, it might change. It’s just a weird thing. Other things that can throw things off an amazing amount: ceiling fans… makes the sound bad and warbly (amazingly so). Fans humming near the frequency of a string. But in general, guitars just go through “moods.” It seems to me the better an instrument, the more moody it is.


#3

It’s definitely not humidity. My hygrometer in my Collings case is showing 31% lately with a humidifier in the soundhole.

All my guitars are Sitka with Rosewood except for the Collings which is German Spruce. I think if I ever got an Adirondack guitar, I’d want it in a Mahogany. I’ve heard Adirondacks have to be played in awhile each time you pull it out of the case, but was always skeptical about that. You’d know since you have one. I’ve always wanted one though. Maybe next time.

You’re right about ceiling fans. They effect mandolins especially it seems to me. I only run the ceiling fan in the room with the wood burning stove in the winter, but it does give a warbly sound when I play in there.

They just seem lifeless lately. I’m going with the “mood” theory. That sounds scientific enough for me. :wink:

Thanks,

J.W.


#4

31% humidity is on the low side for humidity levels, especially considering if they have been at that level for a while (days to weeks). All solid acoustic guitars tend to prefer a level closer to 47% ( the ideal relative humidity level ). My guess is that if you can get the levels just above 40% for at least a solid week, you may find that your guitars sound better. I find that if I keep my guitars above 40% humidity (and lower than 55% humidity) they tend to sound their best.

Just a little bit more info. A level of 31% humidity is actually good for a guitar that has been slowly lowered to that level and played a lot during the process of lowering humidity (over the course of years). However, a young guitar (less than 10 years old) does not like a sudden drop to 31% humidity (or lower) during seasonal changes (things I have noticed over the last 45 years). They tend to lose their roundness of tone and warmth (they actually start to sound dull and dry).

YMMV.


#5

— Begin quote from "drguitar"

Just a little bit more info. A level of 31% humidity is actually good for a guitar that has been slowly lowered to that level and played a lot during the process of lowering humidity (over the course of years).

— End quote

I think that probably part of what makes some old guitars sound so special. From what I have read the natural drying (and slight chemical change) combined with being played in over many decades can make for a light, responsive guitar. That’s one of the things that has me intrigued about a torrefied wood guitar (they kind of bake the wood to dry it out much beyond normal kiln dry processing). If you could kick start the process that would be pretty awesome. I’d rather have a newer guitar that sounds just like a great pre-war dread than an actual $50k instrument. Even if I could afford it, I’d be afraid to have an instrument worth that much.


#6

Too funny! I love this topic. I also recently enjoyed following the “I’m Scared of Jams” topic. why? Because it is all too true and real. It is unbelievable to read this stuff and say “hey! I’m not the only one!!” I do think that most of this is in our heads. I suppose someone should name this hypochondriacal condition that makes us think our guitar sounds blah. I have heard tale that all musicians are nuts. Is this part of it???


#7

My guitars have sounded lousy lately as well, but only when I play them… :mrgreen: Course I have come to the realization that it aint the guitar… :nerd: it’s my lack of ability. Whenever I think I am getting better I see someone better,oh well, your right all musicians are Nuts! :bulb: or maybe just me.
I went to a small venue concert here last thursday evening in Eugene and saw Mike Marshall and Chris Thiel do a 90 minute set, just them, two mandolins, and a little speaker set up that looked like nothing’ and they freeking blew me away!!! What talent! These guys are just amazing, amazing, what made it extra special was I was only 10ft from them and could really get to see them up close…just a great show. Jerry


#8

— Begin quote from "Jerry M"

I went to a small venue concert here last thursday evening in Eugene and saw Mike Marshall and Chris Thiel do a 90 minute set, just them, two mandolins,

— End quote

:astonished: :open_mouth: :smiley: Wow! I bet their instruments didn’t sound bad. Of course, if I had a Loar F5… uhhmmmm, I’d still sound like garbage compared to Mike and Chris.

Did they do any of the Bach pieces? I still don’t know how Chris memorizes those things. A steady stream of 16th notes that are almost repetitive (but not quite). Of course, if he played something wrong, how would I know?


#9

Yes they did about three Bach pieces and some folk dance music I’ve never heard and some other stuff we were more familiar with, your right if they made a mistake I couldn’t tell, Marshall was reading part of the time, then when they finish a tune like that they got up and ran around the stage a couple of times, very funny guys. But it sure humbles you to see the level Chris is at and a young guy to. Anyway it sure was fun and if I ever get the chance I will go see them again.
Oh by the way, I played a VERY expensive vintage Martin a few weeks ago, they wanted many thousands for it , many many thousands, but it was a fraud :unamused: I played that thing for ten minutes and it still sounded like me… I give up, I told them it wasn’t worth the money, I can go home and play my cheap guitars to sound like that! :laughing:


#10

Chris seems like a pretty funny guy. If you don’t mind some adult language do a search for “too many notes Chris Thile” on youtube. Of course, he may have done that at your show as well.
It’s funny stuff and of course some wicked playing.


#11

I always chalked this up to a mental thing. Though, I totally see it being possible. I too find that my guitar has times it just doesn’t sound as good as it usually does.


#12

May I ask how often you guys change your strings? I know in all practicality my tone goes from a fantastic tone with new strings to a “dull boring” tone in about 12-14 hours (actual playing time).

I’d like to see the chart of string life vs tone. It’s probably some exponential function vs a linear one.

The good thing about what we all hear in the different “voices” of our guitars is that we are all definitely teaching our ears to actually hear or notice a difference…that’s a good thing in music.

As soon as my guitar starts sounding different I change my strings. The difference between 20 hrs of play strings and new is huge to my ears. Toss in a difference in humidity and man we are chasing our tails!


#13

I have found the humidity and temp have a huge effect on the guitars, not only sound wise but the way the neck moves which also makes the playability and sound change. I have a neck straight edge and every couple of months check my guitars, I found my Bourgeois had picked up about 12 thousandths relief over the months and wasn’t feeling right. A quick very small move of the tr and it was just like always.
In my music room i have a dehumidifier I run in the winter, a humidifier I run in the summer, and a aux. heater for the room as well as the forced air which is very dry. Living on the beach here we don’t use air conditioning as the hottest it gets in the summer is 70/80 degrees and the humidity runs about 60%. I keep the room at 46% all year and 68 degrees all winter. In the summer it gets a little warmer but never hot.
Works real well for keeping the guitars in condition. Jerry


#14

— Begin quote from "Oldhat"

May I ask how often you guys change your strings?

— End quote

It’s kind of hard to track as I play different instruments. The reality is it might be anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months with coated strings. With that said, it seems uncoated strings can be dead in less than a week of heavy play (I think the quickest I killed a set was 3 days). Lifespan coated strings seemed to last 3-4 times as much (hence my appreciation of them). The Elixirs I have tried seemed a bit less lively to start, but they took forever to get unusable. Of all the strings choices out there, for me the Lifespans offer a relatively long time of an enjoyable sound. Is it the best tone I have heard? Probably not, but it’s not too far off from what I like to hear and it does last a good long time. Not only is it a pain to change out strings, but also it puts wear and tear on it.


#15

I’m not sure how often I change strings either. I just change them when the mood strikes. Some sets seem to last longer than others. I’m sure it’s dependent on how I treat them. Fingering the strings after throwing a log on the campfire probably gets them dirty a lot faster than playing in my bedroom.

In my quest for a good sound I often end up playing while standing up in the bathroom. A few nights ago during a late night practice session, my wife woke up and found me standing in the shower stall with my guitar. I think she believes I’ve lost my mind, but I’ve got to say it sounded pretty good in there.


#16

— Begin quote from "ldpayton"

A few nights ago during a late night practice session, my wife woke up and found me standing in the shower stall with my guitar. I think she believes I’ve lost my mind, but I’ve got to say it sounded pretty good in there.

— End quote

I’ve got two words for you… composite guitar! They are impervious to moisture so you could use it while taking the shower. I’m just saying that’s another 20 or so minutes a day of practice time.


#17

I like your outside-the-box thinking! And my strings would stay clean, too.


#18

You must have a clean instrument if you are going to sound clean.