[Menvi-discuss] Guitars - Difference In Tone?
data at papermusic.org
Mon Dec 26 13:33:19 PST 2011
This post began as a simple response to Annabelle's request for
information on the differences in sound between the nylon string and steel
string guitars. Over the course of the morning, it's turned into a
mini-thesis. So, here we go!
All of this assumes that the guitar player is right-handed. No slight
(of hand) is intended toward the left-handed.
I found this link on the Internet:
In this YouTube video, the instructor (an Estonian guitar professor)
spells out some of the major differences between the two types of guitar. He
starts by finger picking the nylon, then strumming it, switches to the
steel-string strumming then finger picking, and then back to the nylon again
at the end. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between a strummed
nylon and a strummed steel, but finger picking immediately reveals many
The video has words scrolling across the screen while he plays, so
here's the transcript (he starts with visual and structural differences and
then talks about acoustic differences). [My notes are in brackets.]:
"Acoustic versus classical guitar: What's the difference?"
Classical headstock has slots, Tuning pegs are vertical to the head. [Note:
By "vertical", he means "perpendicular".]
Acoustic has plain headstock, Tuning pegs are parallel to the head.
Classical nut width is 52 millimeters, String spacing may be different.
Acoustic's nut is 43 millimeters, String spacing is fixed.
Classical tuners have faster "transmission".
Acoustic's machines are more sensitive and "slower".
Classical strings have plain end, They are attached to the bridge with a
Acoustic's strings have ball end, the balls are fixed by plastic needles.
[Note: These "needles" are also called "pins" or "bridge-pins".]
Classical fingerboard has no fret dots (cheap guitars may have).
Acoustic's fretboard has fret dots at third, fifth, seventh, ninth, and
twelfth fret. [Note: Though intended for sighted people, it's helpful to
know that classical guitars often have little fret dots inlayed on the top
of the fret board above the thumb. On steel string guitars, the fret markers
are on the fretboard itself, under the strings, and are usually made of
mother-of-pearl inlays. All of them are single pips except the twelfth fret,
which has two pips to indicate the octave.]
A knob to fix your strap: mostly acoustic guitars are played with a strap.
[Note: It is generally considered "proper" technique that nylon-strings be
played while seated, one foot raised on a foot-stand. The "waist" of the
guitar is set upon the raised thigh, lifting the fretboard at an angle. This
does condone better technique, but the Spanish guitar is nylon-string and I
play it with a special strap that does not need modifications to the
instrument. It has a little plastic hook that attaches to the bottom of the
sound hole. The strap then wraps underneath the guitar's "waist", over my
right shoulder and behind my neck to my left shoulder. It's hard to explain
and sometimes even harder to figure out the first few times. But now I can
hardly play without it, it's that awesome!]
Classical has nylon strings, Sound is produced by fingers. [Note: Again,
I've seen Spanish style playing with and without a plectrum. That's the
music geek term for "pick". Can you say "plectrum" five times real fast?
And, what's the plural of "plectrum", "plectri"?]
Classical has a soft tone, Even good instruments are not very loud.
Sustain is short, Even good classical guitar doesn't have a long sound.
String action is high, in higher positions the strings are far from the
Classical has a percussive sound, the attack of the sound is specific.
[Note: By "specific" he's talking about the timbre of the tone. There are
not as many harmonic overtones as with a steel-string guitar. Nylon-strings
transmit more of the fundamental.]
Acoustic has metal strings, Tension of strings can be two times tougher than
classical. [Note: String "toughness" can be relaxed by using a narrower
gauge string-set, but this is at the expense of acoustic fullness of sound,
and also the ability of the instrument to stay in tune. Using a very narrow
gauge string-set may require the use of a locking nut, which also affects
acoustics. Narrow gauge strings require a softer touch, because pressing
down too hard on the string will pull it sharp.]
Hard tension gives more sustain, Even cheap guitar like this sounds longer
than good classical.
Sound is produced with a pick, Normally the pick is used but you can play
with fingers too.
Music style: classical plays folk, bossa, jazz, classical, early music,
flamenco, latin, etc. Acoustic plays blues, folk, rock, jazz, accompanies
songs, is used in bands. [Note: These are the "proper", classic styles, but
mixture and fusion can provide very nice results. I play my nylon-string as
a slap-bass sometimes.]
Origin: classical type is much older than the acoustic but both keep
changing all the time.
Makers: 100% professional players use hand made classicals but most of the
acoustic pros use mass production. [Note: This depends on what you mean by
Popularity: the interest towards classical is 1% of all guitar business so
it has generally marginal importance but is popular in certain areas. [Note:
Now I think this guy is just guessing. But he's got a PhD, so what do I
Name: the classical guitar is also acoustic by construction so some call it
the Spanish guitar.
See more at www.bestguitarmethod.com and www.guitarschool.ee
Other Notable Styles:
Here's a steel-body resonator guitar with steel strings, played by the
legendary Bo Carter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mc6QQ0teOxo
Picking styles differ and they definitely affect the timbre of the
instrument. Finger picking styles include picking with fingernails, with the
"pads" (without fingernails), with artificial fingernails or fingerpicks,
and hammering with your fingers, a pick, dulcimer hammers, or whatever else
you can find around the house with which to abuse your instrument.
Many strumming styles can be achieved with or without a pick.
Flatpicking is kind of a cross between strumming and picking, and uses a
plectrum to strum chords while still picking out individual melodic voicings
within the chord (for example, bluegrass). There's also mute strumming and
picking, where the meat of the hand is placed at the "quick of the string"
next to the bridge while playing; this gives the instrument a much more
In any case, picks tend to bring out the higher harmonics at the expense
of the fundamental.
A fun technique now called "beat boxing" uses the body of the instrument
as a drum. This is not totally a new thing, but has its roots in flamenco
guitar playing (and many other ethnic styles). These days, this technique
has really started to take off.
The two-handed "tapping" style was first made popular by the wonderfully
talented and almost forgotten jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan (first Hollywood
appearance: the movie "Blind Date", 1987, with Bruce Willis and Kim
Basinger). Mr. Jordan is now actively involved in music therapy programs.
Here he is on YouTube, playing "Eleanor Rigby":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5IcWcinULk (Notice his use of
martellato--"malleting"--to produce kind of a pitched cowbell sound.)
Jeff Healy, a fabulous guitarist and vocalist, plays his guitar flat on
his lap. He frets the chords with the five fingers on the left hand while
flat picking with the right. Blinded by retinoblastoma in infancy, this
style allows him more flexibility and tactile response from the strings and
frets, with the added benefit of five-finger chords. Here's a YouTube link
to his cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps":
Alternately, many guitarists--me included--use the oft-scorned technique
of "hooking the thumb" over the top of the fret board to fret the lowest
string. (See "thumb plucking".)
And then there's the use of alternate string tunings, 12-string guitars,
pedal steel guitars, and playing with metallic or glass slides. But, that
opens up a whole new ball of wax and I'll leave it at that. But, here's Leo
Kottke flatpickinging the 12-string with a slide:
I hope this helps.
Music consultation and transcription services.
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