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Same scale, same action - why is one guitar easier to play..

Never understood this. Why is one guitar "smoother" or easier to play then another that has the same dimensions, action and quality build? Anyone ever notice that? Thanks - Dean
Wim Glenn
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  • Wim GlennWim Glenn oƃɐɔᴉɥƆVirtuoso 503
    edited June 1
    It's a good question! Yes, I've noticed it and wondered the same. A few things that occurred to me:
    • Fret ends, are they smooth and polished and lining up well on the end of the neck? Some have planed off frets, some use polished/rounded fret ends. The latter makes for more playable guitars (and it looks nicer) but it's more work for the luthier to do that.
    • Action at the nut i.e. height of the zero fret. If it's too high there, that can make it uncomfortable for the left hand.
    • Radius of the neck and/or bridge.

    I reckon several other factors are not about a guitar being inherently smoother or easier to play, it's about familiarity with what you have become accustomed to. So much of technique is repetition and muscle memory.
    • Distance between strings, if that's not the same as what you've practiced on it can really muck up your playing! And if it's not exactly uniform, that sucks for the right hand picking.
    • Curve of the strings (..radius of bridge again). Same as above.
    • The distance between the strings and the top, at the position you pick at. You might think this is related to action, but it's more about the break angle of the neck. Many players brush their fingers against the top lightly, and if the top is further or closer than you're used to it also makes the guitar feel difficult to play.
    BucoMattHenryJosechiky
  • constantineconstantine New York✭✭✭✭ Mateos Jazz A
    Wow Wim great observations, thanks!
  • Now here's a crazy thing.
    This exact change happened on my guitar by only replacing the bridge. The old bridge was a regular rosewood and the new one is adjustable with thumbwheels​ albeit hand made specifically for a GJ guitar. I expected some sort of change in sound but didn't expect this change in the feel.
    The guitar feels stiffer to play now, same action. This I have no idea how to explain except that the posts and thumbwheels added a hardness element that transferred to the overall feel.
    constantine
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • bluetrainbluetrain Finland✭✭✭ Barault, Cach, Epiphone Triumph 1956
    I've noticed that one big factor is simply how the guitar responses to the picking. Some guitars are very "open" sounding and with very little effort you can play the bass strings and get quite a lot of volume with sustain. Other guitars (that I don't like especially) are built very heavily and you really need to dig on the bass strings to get any response out of them. These guitars seem to be very heavy to play because you need to use a lot of force to get sound out of them. Actually most of the GJ guitars I've tried are built this way for some strange reason. High zero fret and lot of relief can also make the strings feel stiffer as you have to press them more on the lower positions on the neck.
    constantine
  • bluetrainbluetrain Finland✭✭✭ Barault, Cach, Epiphone Triumph 1956
    Buco wrote: »
    Now here's a crazy thing.
    This exact change happened on my guitar by only replacing the bridge. The old bridge was a regular rosewood and the new one is adjustable with thumbwheels​ albeit hand made specifically for a GJ guitar. I expected some sort of change in sound but didn't expect this change in the feel.
    The guitar feels stiffer to play now, same action. This I have no idea how to explain except that the posts and thumbwheels added a hardness element that transferred to the overall feel.

    I think what you did was that you replaced light bridge with a heavy one and that changes how responsive the guitar is. I would guess that now you have to pick louder to get the same sound out of it, right?

  • bluetrain wrote: »

    I think what you did was that you replaced light bridge with a heavy one and that changes how responsive the guitar is. I would guess that now you have to pick louder to get the same sound out of it, right?

    Actually it was sort of the other way around. With the new adjustable bridge, the guitar completely changed it's voice and you could say it opened up. I'm going to do a thread about it. It's a little bit heavier, weighs in at about 14-15 grams and I believe the old all solid wood was about 12, but I'll have to double-check that.
    With the old bridge, and any other bridge I tried, the guitar was kinda Selmer-ish in it's voice. Now it's all Favino. Tons of mids, lost some bassiness but the bass tightened up considerably. I feel it projects a lot more. I'm going to test that tonight hopefully, at the local jam. I'm going to ask some people to try to listen and tell me if they noticed a difference without telling why. Although the thumbwheels are a dead giveaway.
    This bridge is made specifically for a GJ guitar, by a friend luthier who plays this kind of music. His experience is the same on the other guitars he fitted with this type of bridge, it opened up the sound.
    It's about 15 grams like mentioned but there's space to get it lighter.
    And it takes less effort to pick.
    But this change in feel and stiffness, I'm at a loss with that. I'm going to go back and forth between the two, maybe it's the change in tone that makes me think it feels different. But past few days I've played it, I keep feeling like my fingers need to press down harder.

    Now, what I think you might refer to regarding needing to dig in with some of these guitars is when they're made with very dry sound in mind. At least that was my experience, the drier the sound, the guitar would give less to me as a player but would project very well. To the audience it would be very loud.
    I as a player still prefer to get some back from the guitar even at a cost of some loss of projection. Although with some exceptional guitars you get the best of both worlds.
    McQbluetrain
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • lutherie is still very much an art form.....lots to reflect on as to why the feel changes
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • constantineconstantine New York✭✭✭✭ Mateos Jazz A
    Great input, thanks guys!
  • Wim's post was pretty much a thread closer.
    One more thing, he mentioned it indirectly, is the neck angle. The steeper the angle the more tension is created. Strings can play a role too, D'addarios always felt very stiff to me versus say some of the silk and steel which are usually very supple.
    So many variables...
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • BonesBones Moderator
    Interesting thread and something I've also noticed. I think it is called 'playability'. Lots of stuff goes into that for sure and a lot of it is I believe if the luthier is a player or not. Not that that is a requirement but at least that helps because they personally know what a 'playable' guitar 'feels' like.

    Not trying to be too metaphysical about it (I'm an engineer by profession) but 'feel' does come into play especially in a hand built instrument. Funny thing, like with the neck shape, it is hand shaped but should LOOK like it was made by a machine (finish, symmetry, etc).

    Hey Buco, not to disagree too much but neck angle (and angle over the bridge really just changes the downward force on the top, the tension is pretty much just scale length and string gauge (assuming all other factors equal).
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