Purchasing & Care For Acoustic Guitar/Bass AKA Romy, Larry, Mo & Me

In my mind, this subject was supposed to be short. After thinking about some of the situations I have encountered with the three mentioned individuals and others, the longer and more detailed this “rambling” became.

RomyRomy – I was working with Miss Romy, who was leading worship at McLean Bible in Vienna, VA, when her guitar, according to the sound engineer, began to have volume issues. This problem was caused by a weak 9-volt battery. Her Guild concert bodied guitar has an internal pickup but not a preamp system. The elusive battery and battery holder were nestled in the body near the inner neck joint, which unfortunately means, you have to loosen or remove the strings to get to the battery. For this style of battery box, I would suggest replacing the battery every 4 months or so, depending upon usage or try to schedule it with string changes. For additional tone modification and flexibility, I would also look into D.I./EQ boxes by Fishman and L.R. Baggs.

 

LarryLarry – There is not much to say about any of Larry’s guitars in general. However, Larry has a different acoustic for just about every situation he may (or may not) encounter! Larry’s main guitar is a well-loved Breedlove that used to have a satin cedar top. Sweating during outdoor summer gigs put a lot of extra wear and damage to finish of the satin top, so Larry self covered it with polyurethane. It is not a pretty job, but it works. Since Larry rarely plays his acoustic as an acoustic, the sound was not greatly affected by this act of kindness. For other situations, Larry has a lesser quality Ibanez dreadnought for practicing in the garage. He recently purchased, 2 Carvin AC, thin body acoustic electrics. The Carvin’s are perfect for acoustic situations using a full band. The more electric feel also makes for easier play while standing for extended periods. Another plus for Larry’s arsenal is having a BOSE Tone Match Mixer at his disposal. Being able to digitally modify your signal can make things a lot easier, so you can do things like play your electric feel Carvin while dialing up a digital simulation of a Martin dreadnaught. Nice!!

Mo – Ahhh….then there was Mo’s guitar (Morrigan Condo @ www.sweetmorrigan.com): a lovely Martin 00 series with a factory installed pickup and input jack. As with Romy’s guitar, there were no issues before the show, just during. LOL! Since Mo is a fairly aggressive strummer, the long inner piece of the input jack began to rock back and forth, causing signal contact shortage. Again, like Romy’s guitar, you have to loosen the strings to get to the electronics. On stage, there were no proper tools or workbench, so I loosened the strings and attempted to tighten the input jack by hand. Attempt #2, I tried tightening it with a pair of regular pliers. Did I mention that Mo is a fairly hard strummer? So even after the adjustments, the inner pin still moved and caused shorting. The 3rd failed attempt was to place a drop of Elmer’s glue on the jack to hold the input jack (which also doubles as the strap button) with masking tape. Pretty? No, but it worked for about 3 songs. At that point, we ditched the input jack, although Mo continued to use it for her Boss TU-2 tuner, and went with a Shure SM57 on a gooseneck mic stand.  Guitar = 4. Mo and Ace = 0.

Purchasing an Acoustic or Acoustic Electric guitar or bass:

This obviously depends upon your physical needs and tonality desired. Physical Needs: Concert size, Dreadnaught, Deep Bowl, Shallow Bowl, etc, etc. Tonality: If you are seeking bright and crisp, try Maple Back and sides. Warmer tones? Try Rosewood back and sides. Looking for smooth mid-range and even volume, try Mahogany back and sides. Check the tops to further pick your tonality: bright tones, try Maple. The often used Spruce has a very even tone. My personal favorite is the Cedar top on Larry’s Breed Love. I owned a Michael Kelly bass that featured a Cedar top as well. It is slightly more fragile but I love the sound of Cedar.

There are so many wood combination options available now, it would take too much time for me to try and gather every drop of information. SOLID pieces sound and project so much better than many laminated versions. Thinner bodies project less volume while thicker bodies project more volume. My personal Acoustic Electric Bass, is a Samick, Greg Bennett AB-CE11, which has Solid Quilted Maple back, sides and top. It also features a Maple Neck with Rosewood fingerboard. Yes, it is bright sounding! I try to dial it down using warmer, old strings but there is never a situation where it gets lost in the mix when it’s amplified. It has a fairly small body, only about 4″ deep. Maple/Maple/Maple, so not much volume acoustically but it does the job. I would still like something even smaller, like a Rob Allen, Carvin AC50 or a Godin A5.

What you buy should depend upon your needs and what you are willing to put into the upkeep of an acoustic. I purchased a condo because I did not want all the upkeep of owning a house. Acoustics require more upkeep than electrics because their insides are bare, unfinished wood: the outer protection of lacquer, polyurethane and other types of protectors do not exist. If you are planning to purchase one, new or used, here are some things you should look for:

Make sure the top is flat: a wavy top is a sign that the instrument needs moisture. It also shows that the instrument has been kept in an uneven temperature environment. If you live in a location that has several dry and low humidity days or dry winters, etc, you should invest in an In Case or Sound Hole humidifier. A sure sign of dryness is a cracked top. If you notice spliting on the top or sides, your instrument needs moisture and a repairman. Tops do not mend themselves back together; they need to be butterflied and glued. Another sign of dryness; If your acoustic or electric has issues with fret edges that pertrude. Pertruding fret edges need to be filed to the level of the shrunken wood.  Follow the humidifier manufacturer’s instructions. Note: having too much water is just as bad as not having enough. A sign of too much moisture would be the top expanding into small arches. You especially want to avoid excess moisture and water running around on the inside of an acoustic with electronics. As with other electronics, water is not a friend. In both under and over moistured cases, make sure the bridge is glued securely to the body. If you can wedge a business card under the bridge, you may want to pass on that particular instrument.

You should also pay close attention to the neck positioning of: older instruments, poorly kept instruments or inexpensively made instruments. If the action is high, it can be 1 or 2 issues: saddle height or the neck pitching into the guitar. The strings should always flow into a straight line. If the neck is pitching into the body, the action becomes high because the string tension is pulling the headstock up in the air. For older instruments of value, extremely high value, sentimental value (depending upon the type of glue used and the abilities if your repair person), the neck can be removed and reset at the proper angle. For lower cost instruments, the price of a reset will probably exceed or come very close to the cost of the instrument so you may want to forego one with a pitched neck angle.

Buzzing frets or sitar type tones may mean the neck is pitching backwards. Sometimes a quick fix would be to raise the saddle and adjust the truss rod to compensate for back angle. In some cases, the upper register frets can be filed down. For extreme cases, the same rule applies when it comes to repairing via neck reset, so look at the value of instrument versus the cost of the repair. Either way, if these issues are associated with the guitar or bass you desire, but it is NOT a great sounding USA made Martin, USA Guild, or Gibson, which is underpriced and can be repaired for a fraction of its cost – WALK AWAY!!!

If you know you are a horrible guitar owner, or that you will be playing a lot of varied environments, such as, outdoor gigs, playing on boats, tiki bars etc, you may want to consider an Ovation, Rainsong or one of the Martin guitars with synthetic bodies or body parts. Of course purist say, “They don’t sound natural, blah…blah…” Well, they don’t sound like natural acoustic guitars because they are NOT natural wood bodied guitars. How hard is that?? I have never smelled a silk rose expecting it to smell like a natural rose. Hellooo!

Other things to consider: sound, tonality and visual impact. In short, how do you want to sound or look? Warm and cozy? Strong, impacting, and punchy? Crisp and clean? Does how the instrument sound matter more to you versus playability or looks? Very, very rarely is the cool looking, quilt or flame or Koa or “anything” topped acoustic guitar or bass the best sounding of the bunch. Remember, some of the better tone woods are not pretty; Alder, Mahogany, Spruce, Cedar, Maple and Basswood are pretty plain looking pieces of wood. As I mentioned earlier, my Samick AB-CE11, Greg Bennett, Acoustic Electric Bass, isn’t on the top of anyone’s tonal listing. However, with its AAA, amber colored, Quilted Maple top, Ivory body binding and Florentine Cutaway, it is a looker and people appreciate its beauty over its tonality – and that’s just as important to me.

Alan Ace Cooper
11/25/2011

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