Perfect Guitar Tone

Guitars have been made from rocks, metal, and numerous types of endangered species, all in the search of finding the perfect tone or sound. First Act showcased a bamboo guitar, complete with a fully bamboo guitar neck just to try and get people away from the rare woods. Plywood, plastic, and wood-composites have even found their way into the manufacturing of guitars and basses. Each of these claim to have the perfect sound.

For the purposes of brevity, this will only cover solid-body electric guitar wood, so no information on bamboo acoustic guitars, or the like, will be discussed. Wood is the predominant material for guitars and basses, and it would be easy to do a search for a tone wood chart, but there are so many different woods it would be a bit overwhelming.  No one type of tree is used for guitar lumber. There are some basic principals to answer any tone wood question:

  • First, any wood which is physically softer (basswood) than another piece, will have a warmer/darker sound. Conversely, any wood which is physically harder (ebony) than another piece, will be brighter/ clearer.
  • Second, from where on the tree and how it is cut, will impact the tone.
  • Third is how oily (wenge) or dry (maple) the wood is will also affect the tone.

If that is mildly confusing, let us examine violin tone quality. Why violin? Because the best instruments in the world were made by Stradivarius, and maybe what he did for violins could be used on guitars. His violins were generally made from spruce, an option you do not see on many electric guitars. Recently, some researchers examined his violins in a CT scanner and discovered that the more dense the wood, even from the same tree, the more it sounded like a Stradivarius. Wood resonance is the key for a great tone!

For the electric guitar, how much wood resonance is detected in the pickups, the cable, and the amp? None. Wood is not magnetic. Guitar pickups detect a magnetic field disrupted by the strings. This was never a guitar wood guide. It is all evidence for the true influences on the tone of the electric guitar. You may be confused, but being completely honest, wood has no impact on a solid body instrument that uses magnetic pickups.

Here are some things that do have an impact on guitar tone:

  • Nut Material
  • Scale length
  • String gauge and core size
  • Bridge mass
  • Potentiometers
  • Pickups
  • Your ear

A simple test to see if you really notice tonal differences of certain materials is to play an open note on a guitar with a plastic nut, then fret any fret of the same string. The fret is metal, the nut is plastic so it should sound a bit different. You don’t need to solve a guitar sudoku to get great tone, just understand what you like and buy quality.

You dirty pedophile

I recently read a comment where someone said that if you ogle a 17 year old girl, you are a pedophile. Does this count if you are 18 (in the US), or do you have to be over a certain age? When I was in my teens, the teen girls looked pretty hot, but so did the ladies in their 20’s and 30’s. Now that I am in my 30’s, did any of that change?

As a child, I reasoned that fat people would marry fat people, black people would marry black people, and the like. As I grew older, the qualification for race disappeared, as did the body type. Enter into my teens. There were pretty girls, but the best looking girls (according to me and all the guys around my age) were those who were developed the most. Did age matter to me? Well I knew I had a better chance gaining the attention of a girl who was closer to my age, but if I could work up the courage for an older girl, I would go for it! Really age did not matter, I was just looking for a better developed girl.

It is a very primal urge, that I think, no man out grows. Wives and girlfriends everywhere smack their man when he scopes out another female. Since no one comes with their age printed on their face, I don’t think it is intentional pedophilia. I think we are all “programmed” to desire young attractive people. Look at all the pop-stars and actors around  then guess how many are over 35. However, should it be an obvious child, that is just SICK!

I have daughters. This whole thing is rather distressing. I know that when they are fully matured, regardless of their age, every straight man is going to look. I do not want them wearing bikinis, especially now. There is no reason a child should look sexy–EVER! When they get older I know it will be an uphill battle, but I just want to keep them safe.

Lets over complicate things

It seems that we have a desire to make things complicated in order to justify our status. Things sure seem complicated when we don’t understand what is going on, but the person who knows what is going on, is perfectly at ease. Our tasks and choices in life also need the justification and validation of being difficult or confusing, but are they?

If you are hunting for Easter eggs with a bunch of people, and you don’t get as many as the next kid, there is a higher chance of saying that your eggs were “surrounded by ants, were hidden better, and you didn’t want those other eggs because they were easier to find.” When you are at the doctors office, the practitioner will probably use official sounding words, and say you have minor ecchymosis.  The field of science is notorious about using weird words, but those weird words are really just old words from old languages. Find any animal’s scientific name, or any meteorological term, and enter it here.

Nothing is that complicated when you are moderately educated in the subject. Some people would like you to think and believe they are brilliant, so they will do their best to make things complicated and difficult to understand. My favourite is the meaningless adage. “The way forward, is sometimes the way backwards. If the blind can see, the deaf can hear.” If you can’t explain what you are talking about, it is probably nonsense, or you have difficulty explaining things.

The only complicated things should be a long process or a collection of simple things put together in a complicated arrangement. Take Beethoven’s 5th Symphony for example. This is not so complicated that you can’t hum the opening melody, and if you wanted to, the other instruments are not too difficult to hum as well. Some of the solos might not be that easy, but in general, it is the collection of different simple things which makes the piece so complicated.

A basic education and knowledge of different subjects will aid you in so many ways. There is no need to be a professional, unless it is a career. Understanding several simple things will always make you sound smart, so never stop learning. Nothing has to be terribly complicated.

The New Female Thor!

With the movie industry reinventing all the old movies and running out of books to ruin, it is no surprise that the comic book industry is finally faltering. Many characters have been reinvented to make them more “palatable” in the name of diversity, but it seems like it would be a bad business deal, in light of the recent Avengers films, to make Thor a female. Now little boys are going to miss the mighty son of Odin, and girls are going to be short on eye candy. Not to mention that a female Thor will be considered a “girls toy” by boys, and girls wont be able to dress her or brush her hair.

The whole change seems like a bad idea, and not because I am a huge fan-boy of the original, but because the comic is based on Norse mythology. I know that Thor doesn’t team up with Iron Man and Hawkeye in any of the lore, but I see the Marvel comics as more like an extension of the myth. If they had any creativity, they could reinvent the Valkyrie. That would be an awesome new female character! She could be more like Red Sonja.

I really enjoyed reading those comics. Red Sonja was a female version of Conan the Barbarian, but could interact, compete, and tease him, plus had a really cool story. No making Conan a girl required. Making the Valkyrie a more prominent character can also mean expanding the world of Marvel and give Thor something he can’t have. Thor is an easily recognized name, but introducing reinventing a character to be better or equal to him, looks cooler, and has the nobility that everyone respects, is not something I guess they are going to have.

Is there a feminist inferiority complex?

I actually feel bad for women. I look at team sports and see the empty seats surrounding them, and then the guys play the same game and pack the place. Unless it is women’s volleyball, especially with those cute shorts or bikinis. As soon as the men’s team takes the stage though, the mood changes from cute and light hearted, to aggressive and competitive. The men are obviously more enjoyable to watch because of their higher energy, but does that make the women bad?

In the business world we always have the argument that women get paid less for doing the same job. Sometimes this is completely true! There are jerks and you shouldn’t expect a shortage anytime soon,  but often times, women have to take off work and miss promotions for family reasons. Men are subject to these same rules, but it is just more common for the mother to take the family as a priority over work.

The whole thing is dancing around the “anything you can do, I can do better” song. It reminds me of my child hood when my little brother would compete with me. I knew I could do better, but he was determined to have a try at it. The only reason I would ever compete with him was because I knew I would win.

Why can’t women be themselves and do the things that they are good at doing? I don’t mean washing dishes and ironing, lots of women are really terrible at that. I can’t think of anything that a woman does, other than birth, which sets me in awe. I wish I could think of more, but I think all the glory that is a woman, has been lost in their fruitless competition with men. There is nothing wrong with being a woman, embrace it and repave that hidden road.

The best instrument cable in the world!

Everyone wants the best of the best, even if you can’t afford it. Is it Mogami, Canare, Monster, LiveWire, Planet Waves, or some generic thing you find in an alley? The answer is simple and rather dumb: the one that works the best for you is the greatest cable. What you should ask instead is, “what makes a great cable, and what would work for me?” If you are impatient and just want a name to go buy, then skip to the end and you can see my personal favourite. For the rest who want to make an informed decision, continue on…

What is a guitar cable? Typical Guitar Cable

A guitar cable is a length of wire, which is shielded and protected, that conveys an electrical signal from one end to the other with phone plugs on each end, just like in the picture. There are four main parts of importance:

  • Phone plug/ connector
  • Core wire
  • Shielding
  • Insulation/Cover

Before we get into the depth of these, lets talk about materials. These cables are made of metal and plastic rubber. The order of conductivity in metal (that is how well it transmits electricity) from best to fair is, Silver, Copper, Gold, Nickel, and Aluminium. There are others, but this list is pertaining to common metals in guitar cables. Plastic is an insulator, which means that electrical signals do not easily pass through it. PVC, Polypropylene, Vinyl, Polyethylene, and Rubber are also insulators and have different qualities. The exterior of most cables are usually made of PVC.

Phone Plug

Typical Guitar Plug

The typical guitar connector is a relic of the days when phones used switchboards and operators.

It was a job that women usually did until they were replaced by robots. There are different types of phone plugs, but the type that is used in instruments and speaker cabinets is the 1/4″ TS (Tip Sleeve) phone plug. You will notice that the tip is insulated from the sleeve by a piece of plastic or rubber, and that there are no other bands on it. If you look at the plug for your headphones or ear-buds, you will see an extra band. That is for stereo only! Do not use it on guitar or bass or it might short, maybe. Some of these are at right angles, but as long as it is a TS connector, phone plug, guitar plug of 1/4″ in diameter, it will work. Most connectors are made of nickel even though it is not quite as conductive. Nickel has excellent resistance to corrosion and will withstand all the sliding that goes on when plugging in your gear. Like Nickel, gold has excellent resistance to corrosion and has great conductive properties, but it normally doesn’t survive all the friction from sliding in and out of receptacles. After the signal travels through the gold, it will still have to go through the nickel to get to the cable. Only one company that I am aware of uses copper tips in their plugs, and while they are great, copper does corrode and oxidize (rust), but it is not difficult or impossible to clean. As far as silver and aluminum are concerned, I have not run across a plug made from these materials. Be wary of cryogenic treated plugs and strange and fancy alloys. These do not always work the way they are advertised, or the cryogenic treatment was done wrong. Cryogenic treatments are good for strengthening the metal, and there is some evidence that it will help resist corrosion and with plating some metals.

Cable

Mogami Cable

Most cables are are made in similar ways. This example of a quality Mogami cable, diagrams the insides quite well. The center wires are what conduct the signal and the copper shielding protects the signal from EMI and RFI.

The Core

Before we get into all that, lets start at the center. This is usually made of copper in differing qualities and gauges. The larger the gauge, the more of a signal can flow easily, but there is a limit. If you remember our list of metals you would see that silver would be best as the core of the cable. This is cost prohibitive  but there are some tutorials on making cables from gold and silver. Oxygen free copper is good because it is more pure and will resist corrosion better. Some manufactures will stick what looks like a strand of fishing line or dental floss down the middle for added strength, it won’t degrade anything. Cable capacitance is how much signal is going to be put through the conductor before it builds up too much and comes out in pulses, sort of. Measured as pF/ft, lower is usually better, and this is what the expensive cables brag about.

Shielding

The best cables are useless without proper shielding. This is kind of a complicated subject and it is best explained here. What you want is a cable that is shielded from EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) and RFI (Radio Frequency Interference). The efficacy of the shielding is measured in db (decibels) where the higher the db, the better. Most companies will not divulge this information though. Materials used for this are mainly copper, but nickel wire and aluminum wraps are sometimes used. Conductive foam and rubber can also be used to protect the signal. The shielding also acts as a ground for the phone plug

Protective Cover and Insulation

The outside of the cable is often ignored. This is the part that protects it from scrapes and physical damage, along with noise that can get introduced from bumping and dragging. There is also insulation and protection between the conducting core wire and the shielding. While  PVC and polypropylene are common, Nylon mesh and cotton weaves are also used to protect against bumps and to cushion impact. Fabric has a nice feel and can perform better than plastics when it comes to impact.

The Results?

A good cable with nickel plugs can give you a warmer more vintage sound, adding gold plating will open up the sound a bit, and copper will really translate well and sound very open. The best cable at transmitting a signal is going to be one from Lava Cables, called the Ultramafic. It is silver plated copper wire, with a low capacitance and a silver core plug. For a second place, I would choose their Blue Demon cable with the copper core plug from G&H, and third would be any other company that specs out well. Remember that many companies will spend more money marketing their wares than building quality stuff, and that some features are really unnecessary and more of a gimmick, like spark plug connectors. Choose wisely, and rock on!