Probably need to link this to the GOGT (Great Ongoing Guitar Thread) but it might warrant its own dialogue.
I have been stressed and swamped at work lately - no headroom at all for mental Doper breaks of significant size. But I have been working hard, stuff is happening, so there is a momentary lull - so I actually have a bit of headroom to geek out on guitars. Yay.
So, while all generalizations collapse under scrutiny, after pondering this for a while, I have come to some conclusions:
[li]Acoustic and Electric guitar players approach questions of tone in surprisingly similar ways[/li][li]That the body wood choice of an acoustic corresponds roughly to the amp choice for an electric guitar[/li][li]Both choices have a set of options that fall along a similar tone spectrum, from clean to crunchy[/li][li]Both share similar on-line geekery debates and snake oil gibberish and blind adherence vs. actually listening[/li][/ul]
Okay, lemme ‘splain:
[li]The choice of body wood for an acoustic is similar to the choice of amp for an electric guitar. I suppose this isn’t all that surprising – the body of an acoustic is its “speaker cabinet” (with the top functioning as the speaker). [/li][li]Acoustics – There two “traditional” wood choices – simply defined by Martin’s infamous model-numbering system: 18 for Mahogany – D-18, 000-18, etc.; and 28 for Rosewood – D-28, etc. (the further-up, more blingy models for Martin all had Rosewood; some lower models were Mahogany, and had Mahogany, not Spruce tops).[/li][li]The rule-of-thumb major difference between the two body woods had to do with the clarity of the sound – Rosewood tends to be crisper, clearer, with a ring in the chords as they fade out. You have to drive a Rosewood guitar pretty hard to get some distorted rumble into the tone. Mahogany tends to “break up” more quickly – the basic tone is warmer, with more pronounced midrange – but if you strum/pick a mahogany guitar hard, you get this “mahogany rumble” – driving the guitar hard, and the guitar handling it with a bit of a roar. (note: this doesn’t take the basic vs. premium pricing typically seen for mahogany vs. rosewood into account. That is more due to scarcity and the prettiness of RW’s grain supporting the branding of it as a premium wood. Most experienced players put pricing to one side when considering their tone-wood needs. In Bluegrass, mahogany is a lead guitarist’s instrument and RW is the rhythm players tool - that natural ring/reverb translates to lusher backing chords. Carry on.)[/li][li]That spectrum – from clean with a bit of ring/reverb to an overdriven, warm tone that responds well when pushed – that’s pretty much electric amp speak. 60’s Fender “blackface” amps own that clean-with-reverb surf sound, and have a nice break up around 6-7 on the Volume knob, but never really crunch hard (without pedals in front of the chain). Marshall-type circuits, which emerged from the earlier Fender Tweed circuits, respond well to overdrive.[/li][li]In both cases, with acoustic woods and amp makes and models, most of the other variants can also map to the spectrum. Maple is further out past Rosewood with a bright-but-dry/no-ring tone; Mesa/Boogie amps’ Rectifiers are out past Marshall with more notched distortion imposed on the tone. Again, this is a total over-generalization that would break down under scrutiny, but the concept is there. [/li][li]All of this is wrapped up in a bunch of gray areas, obscured by marketing and hype, and then snowed-over with online gibberish. But when you cut through the crap, the bottom line is that guitars/amps respond along a clean-to-overdriven spectrum and there are some basic rules of thumb about where guitars/amps lie along that spectrum. Each player needs to decide: a) if they give a crap about / need to understand this spectrum (many/most don’t as long as their basic music-making needs are met); b) what type of guitar/amp they want – where along the spectrum; and c) figure out how close they are to their ideal and adjust from there. [/li][li]That last one is the hardest, because all of this stuff is “rules of thumb” or even just plan hype. Some Rosewood guitars sound great as overdriven, rumbly acoustics; some Fender amps have great, crunchy balls if you stick the right pedal in between them and the guitar. And other factors such as appearance, portability/ruggedness, personal biases, etc., further cloud the issue. So you have to triangulate between what you think you want and what you are actually hearing – I don’t know about you, but this is harder than it looks.[/li][/ul]
So – is this coherent, or the ravings of a geekery-deprived guitar nut? Either way, if you made it this far, thanks for your patience. I feel better.