Guitar Tone Tips: Body Weight and Tone
There’s a lot of hubbub out there about light guitars, to the extent that — with many players today at least — the lighter the guitar, the more desirable it is, so much so that weight is almost the main consideration for some.
Les Paul-style guitars such as the Vintage V100 are heavier than Strats (for instance) which contributes to the meatier Les Paul tone.
[originally by Dave Hunter, Gibson.com] There is often something to this, in that many guitars on the lighter side of average for their model do exhibit excellent resonance and musicality. On the other hand, an equal number of guitars on the heavier side of that bell curve also sound equally outstanding, if perhaps a little different from their lighter siblings, even those that came off the assembly line on the same day. Ultimately, I think asking “do light guitars sound best?” is a trick question, and the answer is “yes,” and “no.” To determine what makes the most tonally pleasing electric guitar you need to assess a lot more than weight, and many of those factors are intangible.
Aside from the fact that a lighter guitar might be more comfortable to play for extended periods of time, especially for anyone with a bad back, part of the preconception that lighter guitars sound better obviously comes from the fact that many guitars manufactured in the “golden era” of the 1950s and early ’60s weighed less than the same models made in the late ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
Regarding the raw wood/weight/tone equation here, this has more to do with the fact that great makers like Gibson and Fender were turning out their instruments in lower numbers in the early days, using readily available supplies of well-seasoned wood. As production rose from the hundreds to the tens of thousands, manufacturers needed to get what wood they could, which often meant the use of heavier, younger, and less scrupulously selected timber. You could therefore phrase the above question more succinctly as: “What sounds better, a lighter guitar made carefully with well-seasoned wood, or a heavier guitar made with inferior wood?” We don’t even need to answer that one, do we?
Eliminating the “bad wood” part of the issue — which reputable makers have done again in recent years by going out of their way to select the best woods they can afford for their respective guitars’ price points — there do tend to be some consistent sonic characteristics of lighter and heavier guitars, but there’s another caveat here: wood is an organic material, and therefore somewhat intangible in its raw form, and often there’s no telling a good piece of tone wood from a poor one until you have cut and routed it and made it into a guitar.
That said — and all else being equal (which, of course, it never is) — lighter guitars will tend to sound more open, percussive, and somewhat scooped in the mids, with more bell-like highs. Heavier guitars will tend to have a thicker midrange, chunkier lows, and more eviscerating highs. These perceptions might result from the lighter body absorbing more string vibration and, therefore, translating it into resonance within the wood itself, while the heavier guitar body doesn’t get moving as much from the vibrational energy presented to it by the strings, so the strings themselves retain more of the motion. Then again, it might all be largely down to the aforementioned intangibles once again.
Years of assessment might eventually tell you that lighter or heavier Les Pauls, SGs or Telecasters are “right” for you, but ultimately only personal experience with each individual instrument you approach will determine whether it works for you sonically. There are no absolutes — and at the end of the day, that’s a good thing. After all, we want to play the things, don’t we?
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