Some guitar makers have begun using spalted maple for guitar sides and backs, Taylor Guitars in particular (and some boutique makers), and the results are visually stunning. I cannot attest to the sound as I’ve never played a guitar made of this wood. I’m not sure why but it got me to thinking about the relative importance of perfection in the wood of an acoustic guitar. After all, spalted maple is essentially rotting wood – these are our friend’s very words – and I had to wonder about the merits of using it in guitars, regardless of its undeniable beauty. Then a few hours later I happened to come across an online listing for a 1950s vintage Martin 00-18 with a large crack down the face, which according to the owner “in no way affects the tone.” Sorry, but I have trouble with that statement.
My mode of operation when searching for used guitars to offer for sale is to find recent, high quality instruments in as close to perfect condition as they can be. There is a simple, pragmatic reason for this. Although there are thousands of experienced guitarists out there who have no problem spending thousands of dollars for a “vintage” guitar that shows plenty of battle scars, most of the people I sell to would much rather have something in excellent condition cosmetically and with the best possible sound.
There are long running debates on the guitar forums about whether or not structural flaws, cracks in particular, affect the sound. Fans of vintage guitars will almost always claim they do not, especially if the cracks are “stabilized” by a guitar repairman by using tiny diamond shaped splits glued to the inside of the guitar over the crack. This keeps the crack from enlarging, most of the time anyway. But my feeling is this. Although cracks on the sides and back probably don’t affect the sound, ones in the top probably do to a greater or lesser extent. To my mind it’s only logical. The more evenly the vibration of the string can be transmitted to the top, unimpeded by any gaps or flaws, the better the resonance and sustain will be. I will grant that perhaps this is an exaggeration of the affect of cracks, or just plain wrong. I’m sure you can learn more about this debate with a simple internet search.
I suspect there is another issue in play with me however: pure cosmetics. I have always felt that a flawless guitar top is a thing of great beauty. Just my own hang up, folks, and I totally respect those who feel vintage guitars with plenty of playing mojo look like they have secret stories to tell and are in fact pretty darn cool. In fact, some brand new electric guitars like the Fender “Road Worn” series are made to look like they’ve spent their lives on stages in smoky bar rooms, travelling from town to town – on purpose, by way of dings and rubbed off finishes!
I am not the guy who will buy one of those guitars. If I carelessly put a tiny ding in one of my guitars I feel like kicking myself. From that point on I have real trouble ignoring it’s there, especially if it happens to be in an area I touch when I’m playing, like the back or side of the neck. OCD much, Gene??!
There are vintage guitars that have plenty of cracks, gouges, finish rubs, scratches and more and some of them sound fantastic. I just can’t help but wonder how much BETTER they would have sounded without these things!
Well, a fan of vintage guitars would probably say, without all that mojo, which proves the guitar has been “ridden hard and put away wet” would it sound that good at all???
I honestly have no idea!
Peace & good music,