It's All About the Sound

I've been teaching guitar lessons at a guitar shop for about a month now and it's been a great experience. Teaching students really tries your patience, but it's also very rewarding to see them learn and figure things out.

But this post isn't about teaching, it's about the guitar. I play a Yamaha FG-332-1 acoustic guitar in the lessons I'm currently teaching. It's a wonderful sounding guitar and it was my dad's before. It has a nice full, round sound and the action is a bit high, but I play bass normally, so the action isn't really that high to me. The shop where I teach guitar sells Chinese made guitars and I won't tell you how much they are, but let's just say that they're less than big name brand guitars. A LOT less. And the sound quality of the guitars? Let's just say that they're worth the price that the shop owner pays for them, NOT the cost that he sells them (which is almost 10 times what he pays for them).

What really gets me is that the shop owner (let's call him B) makes a big deal about how good the guitars sound and that the guitars are made of solid wood. My guitar, on the other hand, B said was made form plywood. This bothered me, so I looked up the Yamaha FG-332-1 on the the Internet and it is NOT made of plywood. Rather, it is made of laminated wood, which means that the exterior wood that one sees is only a thin layer of wood that is glued to the body, which is made of a cheaper type of wood. The guitar is solid on the inside, but the outside is only a thin aesthetic veil. Plywood is multiple layers of wood glued and pressed together. So I think B had his terminology mixed up.

In B's mind, "plywood" guitars are inferior to solid guitars, but he could plainly hear my guitar sounded really good. So what gives? Well, it's obvious that there's more to a guitar than whether it's solid or laminated. There are lots of other factors to consider in making a guitar sound good, including the bracing design, quality of the woods used, and age of the wood.

But in the end, it's all about the SOUND of a guitar. The guitars that B sells in his store are fine for beginners who haven't yet developed an ear for hearing good guitar tone, but anyone who has developed somewhat of an ear can plainly hear the differences between a decent guitar and a guitar not worth the wood it's made of.

Of course, this emphasis on sound can be taken too far. There was a guy in the shop who was looking at the guitars and I was talking to him about taking lessons because he was a beginner. He didn't want to start lessons until he had a guitar that sounded great and he knew the guitars in B's shop weren't worth buying. The guy was looking for perfection. But what did he expect? Did he think he'd learn quicker if he had a sweet sounding guitar? Did he think that his wrong notes and badly tuned strings would somehow sound better if his guitar had perfect tone?

A professional musician can make even a cheap instrument sound good, while a beginner can make even the best sounding instrument sound terrible. Realistically, musicians have to balance their skills with their instrument. But in the end, don't judge an instrument from what it's made of (I've heard a cardboard bass sound fantastic). To put it simply, the only thing that matters is the sound.

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