Does Time Change Tone???

Rockmark

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I've recently been pulling out some of my guitars (PRS) for basic string changes etc. that are now 15-25 years old. That's since I got them new. I've now gone through about 8 in the past week. I could swear they all are sounding better than I remember. So I started thinking about old wood, internal resins changing/crystalizing over the years. Or is 25 years too short a time to make any difference. And maybe the stories of older instruments' tone improving over the years makes sense. I'm definitely far from a wood expert. I wondered what others' experiences in this have been.
 

LSchefman

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The five-ish year point is when I first notice a difference with an electric guitar. Could be any number of things, including wishful thinking on my part, but I think it's real.

A good acoustic guitar seems to open up very noticeably after maybe a couple of years. Afterward, the differences between old and new seem to continue at a slower pace.

Anyway, yeah, I'd have to agree with the basic premise that the sound of a guitar changes with age.

I've heard Paul Smith say he doesn't agree, at least regarding PRS electric guitars.
 

CandidPicker

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Yes. '63 Strats didn't always sound like '63 Strats. That is why the Silver Sky was created, so we wouldn't need wait 40+ years before Silver Sky's would sound good.

An acoustic is the same way. They make a product nowadays that effectively causes the acoustic body to "open" like a vintage instrument has done so throughout the years. It's a vibration-inducing mechanism, though I don't recall the product name.
 

Tone-y

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Assuming that your amps haven't changed (even if they are the same amps, do you have the same valves etc, then there's speakers wearing in, component drift etc etc).

Pickups and electronics change over time. The strength of the magnets (depending on your pickup magnet composition) reduces. it's possible your pots could be reading a bit different too.

Even if the wood used in a guitar is thoroughly dried before use you still have all the adhesives that will age.

All in all there is a lot of small things that will change over time
 

CVS

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I've recently been pulling out some of my guitars (PRS) for basic string changes etc. that are now 15-25 years old. That's since I got them new. I've now gone through about 8 in the past week. I could swear they all are sounding better than I remember. So I started thinking about old wood, internal resins changing/crystalizing over the years. Or is 25 years too short a time to make any difference. And maybe the stories of older instruments' tone improving over the years makes sense. I'm definitely far from a wood expert. I wondered what others' experiences in this have been.
I just played my oldest PRS (a Hollowbody I - purchased in 2008 new) Saturday night at a small outdoor party. I think it has mellowed a bit and not because the strings I have on it are dated, which I just changed. (PS - I hate changing strings) Now, if I can get the ringing in my ears to stop, maybe we can elimate one big variable in the tone equation . Have a good Memorial Day.
 

LSchefman

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The biggest change most of us will experience with our guitars is likely related to the transducers through which we hear them, our ears.
It's certainly possible.

But if your hearing declines, would your brain interpret hearing less amplitude at various frequencies as an improvement in tone? I tend to doubt they would in most cases.

I've noticed differences between acoustic guitars as they've aged in my recordings of the same instrument, same mic, same string brands and gauges, over time. If in one day you're listening to two recordings made the same way years apart, hearing how the instrument's tone has changed is a pretty good indicator that the change is real.
 

WA Paul

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I think it has to do with how a guitar ages will lead to the crystallizing of the resins in the wood, which PRS does in the beginning compared to more traditional guitar building methods. That might be why Paul doesn’t believe tone will change/improve over time.

Juha Ruokangas has an interesting article about this on their site, though it was about a large study of ‘baking’ (thermally treating) woods made a good piece of tonewood even better.

https://ruokangas.com/specifications/thermally-aged-tonewood/

Main takeaway (direct quotefrom the article)

“This is what happens​

1) Stability improves
2) ability to absorb moisture decreases
3) cell walls harden
4) resins crystallize (and partly vapourize)
5) rigidity (bend strength) increases
6) pores clean up
7) sound velocity increases
8) colour deepens
9) weight drops

The process doesn’t change bad wood into good wood, but it does make the good stuff even better. The bottom line is this: Thermal ageing changes wood in the same way as decades of natural ageing does, period.

In other words – when done right, thermal ageing doesn’t do anything unnatural to the wood.”
 

LSchefman

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I think it has to do with how a guitar ages will lead to the crystallizing of the resins in the wood, which PRS does in the beginning compared to more traditional guitar building methods. That might be why Paul doesn’t believe tone will change/improve over time.

Juha Ruokangas has an interesting article about this on their site, though it was about a large study of ‘baking’ (thermally treating) woods made a good piece of tonewood even better.

https://ruokangas.com/specifications/thermally-aged-tonewood/

Main takeaway (direct quotefrom the article)

“This is what happens​

1) Stability improves
2) ability to absorb moisture decreases
3) cell walls harden
4) resins crystallize (and partly vapourize)
5) rigidity (bend strength) increases
6) pores clean up
7) sound velocity increases
8) colour deepens
9) weight drops

The process doesn’t change bad wood into good wood, but it does make the good stuff even better. The bottom line is this: Thermal ageing changes wood in the same way as decades of natural ageing does, period.

In other words – when done right, thermal ageing doesn’t do anything unnatural to the wood.”
That was a truly interesting article. Also, I didn't realize that there are different methods being used to create this thermally treated wood.

But it does help to explain, even as the untreated wood ages, what's happening with respect to the pores running through the wood itself, and might explain why many players think older wooden instruments sound better.

One additional factor is, as someone pointed out, the glues themselves aging, and I think how various finishes age and affect the aging of the wood would be an interesting topic for study.
 

Mike J.

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Just a fun story from my past I'll throw at you all. Kinda relates to the topic at hand.

In 1979 I played bass in a newly formed band where one of the guitars played a 1970 Les Paul A few months later he told me he also had a 1959 Les Paul (!!!!!!) but he didn't want to take a chance with it in the clubs we played. I asked him if '59 LP's lived up to the hype I was hearing and he said I'll show you tomorrow at practice.

The next day he plugged his '70 LP into his '59 Bassman amp and as usual, it kicked. Guitar, cord and amp. That was him. Took out the '59 LP, plugged it in, didn't change anything on the amp and ......"whoa! !!!! You've got to be kidding me!!"

If forced to describe in '59 in one word only, I'd have to say it was "bigger." It was by far fuller and more detailed. Even the higher notes hit you in the chest.

Combined material aging? PAF's? Construction methods? Secret mojo? All the mentioned? I don't know, but I know what I heard.
 

Daryl Jones

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I will agree with the hearing mention. I swear on a podium I used to sound way better...to my own ears at least.
Funny sure, but no joke, it's real. I should look into electronic aids for my auditory weakness now, but I just can't quite go there. Yet. Hearing aids up here are more than another real good guitar fer Gawd sake...I got my priorities straight...really I do.:p
 

WA Paul

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That was a truly interesting article. Also, I didn't realize that there are different methods being used to create this thermally treated wood.

But it does help to explain, even as the untreated wood ages, what's happening with respect to the pores running through the wood itself, and might explain why many players think older wooden instruments sound better.

One additional factor is, as someone pointed out, the glues themselves aging, and I think how various finishes age and affect the aging of the wood would be an interesting topic for study.
I found it interesting that Juha uses a much lower temperature than other builders do for a thermal process. If I still had the means, I’d try one his guitars for more empirival research ;)

I believe finish has a noticeable impact on tone. I’m in the camp that everything matters.
 

CVS

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I found it interesting that Juha uses a much lower temperature than other builders do for a thermal process. If I still had the means, I’d try one his guitars for more empirival research ;)

I believe finish has a noticeable impact on tone. I’m in the camp that everything matters.
Especially true when the finish starts flaking off????
 

LSchefman

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I found it interesting that Juha uses a much lower temperature than other builders do for a thermal process. If I still had the means, I’d try one his guitars for more empirival research ;)

I believe finish has a noticeable impact on tone. I’m in the camp that everything matters.
If memory serves, one of our fellow members (who's also a fantastic player and super-good guy) has one or two of the Ruokangas guitars, and swears by his. I hope if he reads this he'll chime in on the thread. He's also got some very swanky PRSes. I think he's brand-agnostic; if it sounds/feels good, he's into it, regardless of the label on the headstock.

I agree with you about the finish affecting tone. I felt that the original DGT sounded more vintage from the moment I picked up my first one, but I wasn't sure.

PRS made me a true believer with the nitro on my PS guitars. The current Core models have a similar vibe.

Especially true when the finish starts flaking off????
My experience with both a '60s Gibson owned since new, and that over the past 50 years has developed a checked finish, and my recent PRSes (no checking going on 9 years with one of them, 8 with another) is that there's a nitro vibe that comes through regardless of whether the finish is checked.

Whether the guitar gets better once the finish checks is hard for me to evaluate. That'd be another interesting study.
 

WA Paul

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If memory serves, one of our fellow members (who's also a fantastic player and super-good guy) has one or two of the Ruokangas guitars, and swears by his. I hope if he reads this he'll chime in on the thread. He's also got some very swanky PRSes. I think he's brand-agnostic; if it sounds/feels good, he's into it, regardless of the label on the headstock.

I agree with you about the finish affecting tone. I felt that the original DGT sounded more vintage from the moment I picked up my first one, but I wasn't sure.

PRS made me a true believer with the nitro on my PS guitars. The current Core models have a similar vibe.


My experience with both a '60s Gibson owned since new, and that over the past 50 years has developed a checked finish, and my recent PRSes (no checking going on 9 years with one of them, 8 with another) is that there's a nitro vibe that comes through regardless of whether the finish is checked.

Whether the guitar gets better once the finish checks is hard for me to evaluate. That'd be another interesting study.
I’ve read Kingsley’s posts over on TGP :)

Totally agree with PRS HG Nitro versus their prior finishes.
 

LSchefman

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I’ve read Kingsley’s posts over on TGP :)

Totally agree with PRS HG Nitro versus their prior finishes.
Yeah, he loves them. Kingsley is a great guy, with good ears, and my gosh, have you heard his sweet jazz fusion record? It's very, very good.

I wonder how he's doing? I used to see him around more often. I'm going to give him a shout.
 

dogrocketp

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I’ve been terribly curious about torrified wood. My #1 on the left in my avatar, arrived to me with plastic parts heat melted and unusable. I also noticed that the neck was darker than my other maple neck guitars. My half assed theory is that it got half baked repeatedly In somebody’s hot car. This somehow made it sound very different from the guitar on the right, a NOS made 4 months or so after #1.
A month ago I got an SE Custom 24 with a “roasted” maple neck and board. I used it outside a couple of weeks ago in the 95 degree heat. It’s pretty humid here in the DMV, and I wanted to see if the neck moved and how it held tune under really bad conditions. The bass player had tuning issues. The other guitar player uses a magic mahogany neck SE Singlecut. He tuned every set, and I’m the guy who bends notes and works the trem. I do believe that torrifaction makes a difference on maple based on my very limited experience.
 
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