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Luthiers: what makes gypsy guitars sound so different from American acoustic guitars...?

Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
edited August 29 in Welcome Posts: 1,678

I don't mean to get into details of bracing etc...

... but in theory... what makes gypsy guitars sound so different?

American-style flat tops like Martins or Gibsons have what I call a very 'clean' sound.

But the sound of a gypsy guitar is somehow "raspy" or sometimes even downright 'snarly'.. so exactly what is that anyway?

Thanks,

Will

Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

Edgar Degas: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.... To draw, you must close your eyes and sing."

Georges Braque: "In art there is only one thing that counts: the bit that can’t be explained."
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Comments

  • pdgpdg ✭✭
    Posts: 249

    Maybe some of the following: a more percussive "attack" phase consisting of lots of upper partials, maybe more pitch variation ("boing!"), and less sustain of the fundamental pitch (as opposed to the harmonics). Just some thoughts!

  • vanmalmsteenvanmalmsteen Diamond Springs ,CANew Latch Drom F, Eastman DM2v, Altamira m30d , Altimira Mod M
    Posts: 303

    ”Raspy” yup

    all attack, no decay…..if a Martin guy picked up a gypsy guitar he would think “is this broken?”

    nope! Lol

    i can’t think of any acoustic that has that much attack and projection. I don’t know how it works but I can’t get enough!

  • jonpowljonpowl Hercules, CA✭✭✭ Dupont MD-100, Altamira M01F
    Posts: 630
  • billyshakesbillyshakes NoVA✭✭✭ Park Avance - Altamira M10
    Posts: 641

    @jonpowl Very funny that you posted that link. I was just listening to it from the other thread (was it earlier today or yesterday?) and noted the player with the traditional round hole (i.e. non-Selmac guitar) and definitely noted the different guitar tone. Now, I generally will admit without much urging that I'm tone deaf and not really that astute of an ear, but this video was the first where I really heard the juxtaposition of the two guitars and knew which was the outlier. (btw, that is not to take away from my enjoyment of the great playing and composition).

    As I was reading these posts, I was thinking about that video and then I saw that you had posted it. So, maybe my ear is learning a little something after all. Now, to Will's original question of the "Why?"

  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 584

    Back when I worked as an electronics bench technician, I put a couple of guitars to the test. I hooked a 1956 Gibson J-185 and a 1984 Favino up to a recording oscilloscope. The transducer was a piezo disc that was pretty popular at the time, placed in a similar location on the tops, the guitar necks were fixed in a wooden clamp and I used the same pick and same basic pick technique on each. It wasn't possible with the resources I had then to make a mechanical pick "hand" that would do any better than my own hand. This wasn't really a "scientific" test, but I felt like it would serve my purposes and it did. The results were as I suspected. Measuring each individual string, the Gibson had a fast attack and long decay, the Favino had a faster attack and a much faster decay. I have lost the waveform images somewhere over the years. The Favino seemed to have more amplitude but that was harder to verify because of pick attack variations. And at the time I did not know how to use the audio analyzer we had which was on another bench, so I couldn't get that data, which would be valuable. But I verified what I already suspected about relative attack and decay times. Favino= fast attack, fast decay; Gibson=fast attack, slow decay. Luthiers have known for a very long time how to get these results, and over the last 100 years or so they have refined the techniques a lot. Gibson=pin bridge, x-braces/slight dome, relatively shorter scale, Favino=transverse braces/preloaded top, movable bridge, relatively longer scale. There is no mystery here in my mind - these building techniques, whether in a Chinese factory or a small workshop in Canada seem to yield some measure of these typical characteristics. Why, I don't have a clue. I don't know if there even is a way to answer the "why" question like that in a way that makes any sense.

    To me the mystery is how and why some guitars sound so much better than others. It is especially interesting to me, that certain kinds of factory guitars, like Blueridge steel-strings or Saga Selmer styles sound pretty good if you just pick one up and play it - this wasn't always the case with an inexpensive industrial guitar. I suppose it's because they do have the "characteristic sound". But then if you play it next to a really good guitar, they don't sound so good anymore. The best Saga I ever played had nothing next to my Favino, which had a lovely dark and complex tone. The Saga was just "snippy" - the decay seemed to be almost instantaneous. And a Blueridge OM is nothing like my late 70s Martin OM.

    There are also Larsen Brothers guitars, which look like a regular American steel-string but have preloaded tops and backs. It has been decades since I've seen one and they are quite rare and cost a lot today. But that wasn't always true and I played several in the 70s. They sounded great with a ton of punch. And for the last few years Maurice Dupont has been making really accurate Larsen replicas that are said to have that Larsen sound. There is actually a Larsen that is said to have been played by Django himself in Chicago, and he liked it a lot. John Bajo owned this guitar for a while and told me the whole story which of course I never wrote down. But I believe it was true - John wasn't a BS-er at all on things like that.

    The mysteries of the guitar!

    billyshakesBucorudolfochristWillieBill Da Costa Williams
  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    edited August 30 Posts: 1,678

    Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts on this mystery…

    (…still waiting for some builders to chime in… paging the legendary Mr. Holo…?)

    My reason for asking this question is probably a bit weird but here goes…

    I’m hoping to re-jig one of my banjos to get a raspier, raunchier tone, so my hidden agenda is to seek out ideas to that end…

    Banjos don’t have any wooden bracing beneath the drum head to play around with… maybe I need to add some!

    Thanks,

    Will

    Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

    Edgar Degas: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.... To draw, you must close your eyes and sing."

    Georges Braque: "In art there is only one thing that counts: the bit that can’t be explained."
  • Bracing is a big factor on the sound but i think its the style of playing. Nick Lucas got a pretty snarlly tone out of his Gibson. Its the early plectrum style that does it i think. Picking close to the bridge with dispatch and vigor!


    -Nick

  • vanmalmsteenvanmalmsteen Diamond Springs ,CANew Latch Drom F, Eastman DM2v, Altamira m30d , Altimira Mod M
    Posts: 303

    I think the scale length is the key factor.

    fhanshar
  • Wim GlennWim Glenn oƃɐɔᴉɥƆModerator 503
    Posts: 1,222

    I'm reminded of the time I went to take a tour of the Maton factory - they're an Australian maker who builds guitars similar like those American-style flat tops. Invited my bandmate Jon, a big fan of snarly gypsy guitars, if he wanted to join the tour. I don't remember the exact words but he replied something like "no thanks, but can you ask them at what stage of the production they remove all the tone and volume from the guitars?"

    vanmalmsteennomadgtrWillierudolfochristBill Da Costa WilliamsbillyshakesJSantaBones
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 584

    Funny but also kind of sad and narrow-minded. Every Maton I ever played sounded great.

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