Guitar Voicing: Different Strokes for Different Folks? – [1/2]

August, 2014

I was recently in a conversation with a client during which he asked whether I voice my guitars differently depending on whether they are OM models, or Modified Dreadnoughts, or Jumbos, or 00s, or whether I make accommodations within a given model depending on whether it will be played in standard or open tuning. It’s not a bad question, and it’s a topic that’s come up more than once. The assumption seems to be that something has to be done differently because these guitars are different sizes and shapes and uses, and will of course have different sounds. How could one recipe voicing approach possibly work for all of them?

My short answer is no, I don’t have different voicing tricks or techniques for my various guitar models. Not really. There may be nuances and difference of emphasis here and there, of course, but the procedures are basically the same in all cases: to progressively and systematically lighten the structure so that the voice of the guitar stops being choked by too much wood, mass, and stiffness and begins to open up. This is, in fact, no more nor less than every serious guitar maker’s challenge.

Chances are high that every luthier you will ever have a conversation with will give you his own perfectly-good-sounding reasons for whatever he does to his guitars’ woods in order to tease the best sounds out of them. These accounts will undoubtedly surprise you with their variety. And some of them are certain to be on the right track. Nevertheless, I do NOT believe that the chief task of these luthiers is to apply this or that particular recipe procedure to get “this kind” of sound out of one model guitar and “that kind” of sound out of another. The various guitar models and types, together with their individual factors of size, depth, wood selection, stringing, etc. set most of the tonal possibilities for what such a soundbox will be capable of. The luthier’s task is, simply, to get any soundbox to fully release its tonal potential. Period. Just as a cook cannot make any food taste better than what it can be, a soundbox of a given size and volume cannot do better than its best. Short of that end result one simply achieves… well… something less than that.