Welcome to the fourth edition of Resonance. 2014 was a great year for the acoustic guitar. Taylor offered models with Blackheart Sassafras and Tasmanian blackwood back and sides. Martin introduced Honduras rosewood and torrefied (temperature aged) Swiss spruce in their line. I expect 2015 to be a fantastic year for the acoustic guitar. All of the manufacturers will be showing off their new creations at the NAMM Show in California in January, and we will be there to see these models first-hand. Nothing beats the excitement of being there in person when these guitars are unveiled for the first time. Expect a report on the show in the next issue.
Amplifying Acoustic Guitars comes to it's conclusion in this issue with part 2. We will also take a close look at Englemann Spruce. Please feel free to leave any feedback or suggestions you may have concerning Resonance, including subjects you would like to see covered in future issues, by emailing us here.
Enjoy the issue, Joe Gavin
Amplifying Acoustic Guitars Part 2
In our last issue we looked at different types of pickups and microphones used to amplify acoustic guitars. Pickups and microphones transform the acoustic energy of your guitar into an electrical signal, which is the first step in amplifying your guitar. In this issue we will cover what happens with that electrical signal once it leaves your instrument. Some players prefer to send their signal straight to a mixing board or amplifier, while others enjoy taking an alternate route along the way.
A good starting point is the preamp. Preamps are electronic amplifiers that prepare small electrical signals for further amplification and/or processing. Many acoustic guitars come with preamps built in. Some are very simple, while others can be elaborate and full featured. If the guitar's built in preamp has the features you need, then an external preamp would be redundant. If your guitar does not have a preamp built in, or if it lacks features required to get the desired plugged-in tone, an external preamp can be a lifesaver. Several companies make preamps optimized for acoustic instruments, so you will want to do a little research before investing in one.
One of the most important features I look for is equalization. While some players can get by with the familiar bass, mid and treble controls, I need something a little more specific, especially for the mid-range frequencies. A preamp with sweepable mid-range control will prove handy for those who use a magnetic pickup. Magnetic pickups tend to have a more pronounced mid-range response, which can be difficult to tame. With sweepable mid-range control you can find the specific group of offensive frequencies and effectively remove them from your signal. Another useful tool for unruly frequencies is a notch filter. This handy filter allows you to zero in, almost surgically, on an offensive frequency and remove or reduce it. This is especially useful for removing feedback. Another useful feature found on many preamps and good direct boxes is a phase invert, or polarity reverse switch. This function is handy in getting the best tone when combining multiple pickup sources or pickup and microphone combinations. If the two sources are in phase, the frequencies will combine for the fullest tone. If they are out of phase the tone will still be good, but somewhat less full and resonant. The phase reverse switch is also useful for controlling resonant feedback on stage. Depending on where you are standing on stage, sound from the PA system can interact with the room acoustics causing certain frequencies to sum together when in phase (possibly causing resonant feedback), or cancel each other out when out of phase. Reversing the phase can often effectively remove the feedback with very little degradation to your signal.
Most DI's and preamps have a line out or "through" jack for routing your signal to a destination that accepts a 1/4" line level signal. This gives you the ability to send your signal to an amplifier or other destination in addition to the house soundboard. For the house you will want to use the xlr output found on all DI's and most preamps. Some preamps will run on phantom power if it is present in the mic cable used to route your signal to the board. This can be handy in open mic situations where there is virtually no set-up time between performers. Many preamps provide effects send and return jacks allowing the user to introduce effects into the signal path. This makes for the cleanest signal by getting the benefit of the preamp's circuitry before your signal passes through various pedals. This is because preamps are designed to boost your signal while retaining the highest possible signal to noise ratio. If you pass your signal through pedals first, your preamp will not only be boosting your pickup's signal, but any inherent noise your signal picked up from the pedals. The effects send and return is also a great place to insert you tuner pedal. On most preamps, all the signal leaves the unit at the effects send and returns on the effects return. If your tuner pedal is one that mutes the signal when engaged it will work the same here in this loop. Let's get back to using effects with acoustic guitars. There are no specific rules here. If it sounds good, it is good. Some of the most common effects for acoustic guitar are reverb, chorus and delay. Some experimentation will definitely pay off here. Effects can be put in any order you wish to achieve your desired sound. I typically like to put any modulation effects before delay, and delay before reverb. If you use a loop pedal you may want to place it last in the chain. This is useful if you want to have no effect on a looped passage and solo over it with an effected sound. Of course, you can loop your initial pass with any effects you have in your chain if you wish. If you place the loop pedal first in the chain, all the looped passages will be effected when an effect pedal is engaged.
While we certainly have not covered every aspect of amplifying acoustic guitars, hopefully enough information has been presented here to help those who may be beginning their plugged-in journey, and those who may be struggling to get a good plugged-in tone. My journey started over 20 years ago and I have enjoyed every day. I hope yours is enjoyable too!
If you have shopped for a quality acoustic guitar then you have no doubt come across guitars with Englemann spruce tops. Englemann is also known as white spruce, silver spruce and mountain spruce, although they are technically different species. Englemann is usually visually distinguishable from Sitka by its creamier complexion. It has a beautiful ivory sheen and occasionally exhibits some pink streaking. Englemann is known for its mature tone, with a slightly richer midrange than Sitka. Old growth Englemann tends to impart a sonic smoothness or refinement to the sound, but the days of older growth Englemann trees is essentially gone for now.
Engelmann spruce is one of the seven species of spruce indigenous to the United States. According to the US forest Service, it is distributed in the western United States and two provinces in Canada. Its range extends from British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, south through all western states to New Mexico and Arizona. In the Pacific Northwest, Engelmann spruce grows along the east slope of the Coast Range from west central British Columbia, south along the crest and east slope of the Cascades through Washington and Oregon to northern California. Although it is a minor component of these high-elevation forests, Engelmann spruce can be found abundantly in the high-elevation Rocky Mountain forests, growing in southwestern Alberta, south through the high mountains of eastern Washington and Oregon, Idaho, and western Montana to western and central Wyoming, and in the high mountains of southern Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, eastern Nevada, New Mexico, and northern Arizona. Engelmann grows in a humid climate with long, cold winters and short, cool summers. It occupies one of the highest and coldest forest environments in the western United States, characterized by heavy snowfall and temperature extremes of more than -45.6 degrees C (-50 degrees F) to above 32.2 degrees C (90 degrees F). Engelmann spruce is restricted to cold, humid habitats because of its low tolerance to high temperature and drought. However, solar radiation at high elevations heats soil surfaces [up to 66 degrees C (150 degrees F or more)] and increases water losses from both seedlings and soil by transpiration and evaporation. Because of its slow initial root penetration and extreme sensitivity to heat in the succulent stage, drought and heat girdling kill many first-year spruce seedlings. Drought losses can continue to be significant during the first 5 years of seedling development, especially during prolonged summer dry periods. The lumber of spruce is likely to contain many small knots. Consequently, it yields only small amounts of select grades of lumber, but a high proportion of the common grades. In the past, spruce was used principally for mine timbers, railroad ties, and poles. Today, much of the lumber is used in home construction where great strength is not required, and for prefabricated wood products. In recent years, rotary-cut spruce veneer has been used in plywood manufacture. Other uses of spruce include specialty items such as violins, pianos, guitars and aircraft parts. I'm happy that some of this beautiful wood finds its home as the soundboard of a fine guitar.
The next time you are at your favorite guitar shop be sure and ask which guitars feature an Englemann soundboard. Take one of these for a spin and listen closely as you play. Englemann may just have something to say to you.
Taylor Special Edition Walnut Grand Concert 12-Fret
In the fall of 2014 Taylor offered an extremely limited run of guitars with some really cool features. The Special Edition GCe 12-Fret features AA grade figured Walnut back, sides and backstrap, Sitka spruce top, figured Maple binding, backstrip and heel cap, Maple rosette, Maple neck, former 900 series Maple fretboard inlays, 24-7/8" scale length, 1-3/4" nut width, Gotoh gold tuners, Walnut truss rod cover, gloss finish body and neck, Expression System 2 pickup, hardshell case included. This guitar is striking visually but I have to say that its beauty runs much more than just skin deep. This instrument has a mature voice with resonant mids, great balance and a very sweet and smooth upper register. It is definitely one of my all time favorite Taylor guitars.
Welcome to the third edition of Resonance. Nothing beats the sound of an acoustic guitar played in a quiet space. While amplification is a compromise, it doesn't have to be bad. In fact, it can be quite good. In this issue we'll present part 1 of how to amplify an acoustic guitar. If you're new to playing amplified then you're about to discover a whole new world of possibilities.
We'll also introduce you to two very special guitars that just became available from C.F. Martin. The CS-00S-14, and the OM-ECHF Navy Blues. We mentioned both in a prior issue but will present them more fully here. Please feel free to leave any feedback or suggestions you may have concerning Resonance, including subjects you would like to see covered in future issues, by emailing us here.
Enjoy the issue, Joe Gavin
Amplifying Acoustic Guitars Part 1
Playing acoustic guitar in front of a live audience can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. While your guitar produces enough sound to be heard just fine in your living room, you'll probably need more sound than your instrument is capable of producing on its own to be heard in front of a live audience. This is where amplification comes in. There is an almost endless list of available gear and an equal number of opinions on how to achieve that elusive "sounds just like my guitar only louder" sound. With so many available gear choices and differing opinions it can seem like a complicated proposition to amplify your acoustic guitar. I have yet to hear an amplified acoustic guitar that sounds the same as it does acoustically. I don't believe it's possible with the currently available technology. That said, I believe there are many acceptable compromises and it's up to each individual player to determine which compromise best fits their playing style and desired sound. Let's take a closer look...
Microphones and pickups transform the acoustic energy of a musical instrument into an electrical signal. This is the first step to amplifying your acoustic guitar and different pickups and microphones will collect this energy in their own unique way. While a microphone in front of your instrument can be a great sound, it will be satisfactory in few performance situations due to the occurrence of feedback with the desired level of volume. If your performances will mainly be in Listening Room environments then a condenser mic in front of your guitar might be your best bet for an accurate representation of you guitar's tone. If you need to be louder than this you'll need to use a pickup of some type. Before moving on I should mention that are some products that use an internally mounted microphone combined with a preamp as the only source of sound to great success. The L.R. Baggs Lyric pictured above is one such system. Magnetic pickups have enjoyed a lot of popularity over the years due to the affordability and ease of installation of many models. These types of pickups capture sound vibrations through a magnetic field that pulses in time with the vibrations around it. They have a strong fundamental and are very resistant to feedback. Some manufacturers have active models that have active electronics allowing the user to define the sound further through equalization and output control. Some companies combine a magnetic pickup with a mic or other type of pickup in the guitar to capture the guitar's sound from multiple, combinable sources. Check out the L.R. Baggs and Fishman line of magnetics for good examples of high end magnectic pickups. Piezo pickups are very popular and come in a variety configurations. The most common type is the undersaddle pickup, which is the sound that most people are used to hearing when they see an acoustic performance. Pickups mounted directly under the saddle tend to have a very direct, bold, and feedback resistant sound due to the downward string pressure and energy transfer occurring at the saddle. Other types, such as the K&K Pure Mini, which mount under the guitar's bridge plate are not under the extreme pressure an undersaddle sensor would be and are able to "listen" to more of the top and therefore have a less direct sound. Piezo pickups are also sold alone, or combined with other sources, to create an elaborate and detailed amplified sound.
Ultimately the choice depends on the individual's perception of good sound and which compromises he or she can live with. There is more to getting your acoustic guitar to sound great amplified than just the pickup you've decided on. Preamps, direct boxes, effects and cables are all part of the equation and can have a profound effect on your ability to achieve a great sound in different venues. There is still a lot to cover so stay tuned for our next issue.
Sometimes a guitar comes along that is so special it's hard to ignore. The CS-00S-14, one of C.F. Martin's recent offerings, is one such guitar. The materials alone make this a guitar to covet. The back and sides are made from rare Honduran rosewood, renowned as being a more than acceptable replacement for Brazilian rosewood, which is protected and very expensive. Some claim it is superior, producing a well-balanced sounding guitar with great projection and strong lows and highs. The CS-00S-14 is the very first Martin model to feature this exotic tonewood. Martin acquired just enough sets to complete a scant amount of only 114 guitars. This guitar also boasts a Swiss spruce top that has undergone torrefication, an ancient process developed in Scandinavia where wood or grain stores are exposed to extreme heat in a low-oxygen setting to avoid combustion. The process removes any moisture the target material has taken on from the environment, and more importantly, the moisture inherent in its cells. This greatly changes the physical properties of the wood, dramatically increasing longevity and stability. The use of torrefied guitar tops is a new fad, as experiments suggest it may result in a top that behaves or possibly sounds like one that has been played-in for many years.
According to Fred Greene, Vice President of Manufacturing with C.F. Martin, the CS-00S-14 is a hide glue 00 slothead in Style 42. Style 42 includes the very highest grade tonewoods, along with abalone pearl inlaid around the top and fingerboard extension, as well as other premium cosmetic appointments. Martin is not the first to use torrefied spruce tops. Other instrument makers have used these tops in the past. They can be found on French violins from two centuries ago and more recently on guitars by small shop builders. This is the first Martin to feature a torrefied top, yielding a new guitar that sounds just like a vintage Martin from the days of legend. One thing is very certain: this guitar is resonant. It comes to life with the lightest touch and it actually feels alive. This guitar seems to enjoy the sound of its voice; from the warm lows that are impressive for this body size, leaving a substantial thickness in the mid voices, to the beautiful trebles adding a distinct chime that stands out with openness and clarity. With its rare woods, premium appointments and vintage tone, the new Martin CS-00S-14 is a striking guitar both to behold and play.
Martin OM-ECHF Navy Blues
The OM-ECHF Navy Blues is the third in a series of collaborations with Eric Clapton and Hiroshi Fujiwara. This OM edition incorporates the longer 25.4" scale for added string tension and tonal projection. The neck and body are lacquered and polished with a striking dark navy coloration combined with East Indian rosewood back and sides and a European spruce soundboard. Each OM-ECHF Navy Blues guitar includes an interior label that is individually numbered and personally signed by Eric Clapton, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Dick Boak and C. F. Martin IV.
Imagine a guitar cooperatively conceived by a British musical icon and a Japanese trendsetter, built by America's most respected guitar company. The new Martin OM-ECHF Eric Clapton/Hiroshi Fujiwara Navy Blues stands as one of the most stunning looking and sounding limited editions in Martin's long and colorful history. A legendary musician and performer for nearly 50 years, Eric Clapton needs no introduction. Hiroshi Fujiwara stands as one of modern Japan's most important cultural figures: a visionary artist, actor, musician, activist and DJ who is responsible for creating and introducing cutting-edge "club" music and fashion designs throughout Japan. The two became fast friends while working together on music projects. During one of Clapton's visits to Japan, he and Fujiwara began envisioning a series of custom acoustic guitars that blended the best in design and sound. Over time, the ideas were fleshed out, with Martin's Dick Boak facilitating the projects. This third edition follows the previous black "Bellezza Nera" and the white "Bellezza Bianca" models and features a polished dark navy blue lacquered body, neck and headplate, with a black ebony fingerboard and bridge in a long scale 14-fret OM Orchestra Model format. Clapton loved the prototype's tone and projection and opened the Crossroads Festival with the OM-ECHF at New York's Madison Square Garden on April 12th, 2013. The unique two-ring rosette that adorns the soundhole features a center ring of Martin's traditional small Mother Of Pearl slotted square inlays set against a black Corian background. Fine pattern herringbone encircles the top, while bold pattern herringbone bisects the back. Grained ivoroid body binding is accented by black/white/black fine line purfling on sides and back. The grained ivoroid heelcap and end piece sport matching black/white/black line inlays. The polished headplate provides an elegant backdrop for Martin's elaborate "alternative torch" inlay, a design originally created on one of the first Martin 00-45s in 1902, inlaid here in colorful abalone pearl. This pattern was revived for the Eric Clapton 000-42ECB Signature Edition issued in 2000. The fingerboard features Martin's Style 45 abalone snowflake inlays. The black bridge pins and end pin are topped with abalone pearl dots. To allow its elegance to shine unrestrained, this guitar comes without a pickguard. Within the OM-ECFH Navy Blues' handsome appointments lies a tone monster crafted in the Martin tradition. Premium solid tonewoods are featured throughout. The top is European spruce, revered for its rich, powerful tone. Scalloped 1/4" top braces contribute crispness and balance. The back and sides are crafted from East Indian rosewood, which provides both strongprojection and roundness to the tonal palette. The modified V-shaped neck measures a comfortable 1 3/4" at the nut. Carved from solid genuine mahogany, the neck features Martin's diamond volute at the base of the headstock. The nut and compensated saddle are made from genuine bone to assure impressive string-to-string definition. This guitar comes with a special Geib vintage style hardshell case. Limited to no more than 181 specialinstruments.
Welcome to the second edition of Resonance. Ever wondered where the acoustic guitar had it's beginnings? We're going to try and satisfy some of your curiosity in this issue. Tracing the history of the acoustic guitar is difficult, as it has many roots. The modern acoustic guitar is a direct descendent of classical guitars, which were made hundreds of years ago.
We will also examine some of the woods used to make acoustic top plates. There are several varieties used, but Sitka spruce is by far the most prominent. Happy playing!
Enjoy the issue, Joe Gavin.
The history of the acoustic guitar is difficult to trace, as it has many roots. The modern acoustic guitar is a direct descendant of the classical guitar which has a long and rich history dating back hundreds of years. Though it's hard to say exactly where guitars originated, historians generally trace guitars to medieval times.
The Muslim Moorish culture brought guitar-like instruments into Spain. These were smaller than modern guitars and had only two or three strings. The Spanish expanded on the Moors' design and created the Guitarra Latina. Guitars made their way across Europe to Italy during the Renaissance Period, though they weren't as popular as other concert instruments.
It was during the Baroque Era that the guitar began taking shape. Baroque guitars had five courses (five doubled strings or sometimes four double plus one single) and a fretted fingerboard. Around 1850 in Spain, guitar maker Antonio Torres increased the size of the guitar's body, altered it's proportions, and introduced the revolutionary "fan" top bracing pattern. His design so greatly improved the volume, tone and projection of the instrument it became the accepted standard. His design remains essentially unchanged and unchallenged to this day.
Around that same time German immigrants to the USA - among them Christian Fredrich Martin - had begun making guitars with X-braced tops. Between 1842 and 1843, C. F. Martin created the earliest X-braced guitar ever documented, supporting Martin's longstanding claim as the inventor of X-bracing, a primary innovation in the evolution of the modern American guitar. Steel strings first became widely available around 1900. They offered the promise of much louder guitars, but the increased tension was too much for the Torres-style fan-braced top. Though Martin made a few steel string guitars on special order as early as 1900, it wasn't until the 1920s that they built it's first regular model designed for steel strings. This guitar became known as the OM-28. It proved so popular that other makers began to copy it. In 1931 Martin introduced the Dreadnought guitar, which became the most popular and copied guitar design in the world.
The popularity of the guitar is staggering. Millions are sold globally each year and the list of builders only continues to grow. There are more great guitars out there to choose from than ever before. It's certainly a great time in history for the acoustic guitar and those who love the sound of vibrating strings. The future looks bright indeed.
Sitka Spruce (Picea Sitchensis)
Acoustic guitar soundboards play an important role in determining its characteristic sound. The soundboard is critical in determining the overall tone and projection qualities of the instrument. One might even say that the top is the heart of an acoustic guitar. While there are alternative materials that can satisfy the structural requirements, no other material can quite match the acoustical properties of wood. While there are different species of wood used for acoustic guitar soundboards, Sitka spruce is the standard. Sitka spruce is named for Sitka Island (now known as Baranof Island) in southeast Alaska where the species was discovered by Europeans in 1832. Sitka grows in a narrow strip along the north Pacific coast from latitude 61 degrees N. in south-central Alaska to 39 degrees N. in northern California. Sitka spruce is also known as coast spruce, tideland spruce, and yellow spruce. Sitka produces a high yield from it's characteristically large-diameter logs. Quartersawn Sitka is quite stiff along and across the grain. This high stiffness, combined with the relatively light weight characteristics of most softwoods, makes for a high velocity of sound. Sitka displays a strong fundamental-to-overtone ratio yielding a powerful and direct tone that can be played forcefully while retaining its clarity. Sitka is an excellent choice for guitarists whose playing style demands a wide dynamic response. If your playing style is especially light, you want to explore other top woods before settling on Sitka. Of course the real magic happens when you pick up a guitar and play it. Feel the vibrations against your chest and hear the sound of resonating Sitka for yourself. Seeing, feeling and hearing is believing.
Hawaiian Koa (Acacia Koa)
There's no doubt that koa is one of the most beautiful woods being used on acoustic guitars today. Koa is a fairly dense tropical hardwood which shares some of the same sonic properties as mahogany. Koa has a very strong, focused midrange response with some extra top-end brightness. Koa guitars have a sweet reward for those who spend time playing them - the more it's played and has a chance to open up, the more its midrange overtones add a sense of warmth and sweetness to its voice. Koa's initial brightness can be softened by fingerstylists, who play with the pads of their fingers.
Acacia Koa is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, a major contributing factor to the high price koa guitars command. Another factor is that many forest areas where the largest koa trees grow have been logged out. Most of the koa used today comes largely from dead or dying trees or farms on private lands. One of the fastest growing trees of Hawaii, koa is capable of reaching 6-9 m (20-30 ft) in just five years on a good site. Koa grows from 1,000 to over 7,000 feet above sea level and thrives in the 2,500 - 6,000 foot range. Interestingly, this is the range where many cattle ranches were established 100 - 150 years ago. Thousands of acres of native koa forests were destroyed by the introduction of cattle. In areas where cattle are present, koa regeneration is almost completely suppressed. However, if the cattle are removed koa trees are among the few native Hawaiian plants able to germinate in grassland and as such, koa can be instrumental in restoring native forest.
The Koa guitar you see in the pictures from this article were taken at our Lakeland store, and are just one example of the beautiful figure that koa can display. But don't take my word for it, stop by one of our stores, or go to a dealer near you to see and hear this fabulous wood for yourself. [Note: the guitar pictured above has since found a home.]
Thanks for taking the time to check out Resonance, the latest addition to our monthly newsletter. We've always had a deep respect for fine instruments and the people who build them, and hope to increase awareness and foster love for the craft through this publication.
My love for acoustic guitar began over 35 years ago and has continued to grow ever since. Join me in future publications, as we explore the world of acoustic guitars: the woods, the builders and the music.
Enjoy the issue, Joe Gavin
2014 Taylor 800 Series Guitars
We're very pleased to say we've enjoyed a long, rewarding relationship with Taylor Guitars. Each year Taylor offers new wood combinations with the release of their Spring and Fall Limiteds. Taylor has also offered some new body shapes over the past few years with the introduction of the Grand Symphony and Grand Orchestra guitar. This year promises something truly special: a completely reconceived 800 series. There isn't sufficient space in this publication to cover all of the new features, but to quote Taylor:
"Nearly every material component of Taylor's Rosewood/Spruce 800 Series was reconceived in our quest to enhance the tone."
Learn all about the new Taylor 800 Series Guitars at taylorguitars.com or in the current volume of Wood & Steel Magazine. You can also play these new models yourself at the Taylor Road Show, which will be at our Lakeland location on Tuesday, March 18th, at 7:00 pm. [Note: this Roadshow has already passed. Check back with us on our Local Events page to keep up with the latest Roadshows and other events]
C.F. Martin makes great guitars, legendary in fact. No other guitar company can boast such a long and innovative contribution to the industry as C.F. Martin. I'm happy to announce that we will have a couple, very special, limited edition Martin Guitars later this year. One is the CS-OOS-14; a beautiful, small bodied guitar with Honduras Rosewood back and sides, and a torrefied Swiss Spruce top. Martin is limiting the production of this instrument to only 113 guitars.
The Martin OM-ECHF Navy Blues is the third in a series of collaborations with Eric Clapton and Hiroshi Fujiwara. This model incorporates the longer 25.4" scale for added string tension and tonal projection. The neck and body are lacquered and polished with a striking dark navy coloration. The back and sides are made from East Indian rosewood and a European spruce top.