"Sensitivity" - the under-rated virtue

Discussion in 'V.C.'s Parlor' started by duceditor, Jul 16, 2020.

  1. duceditor

    duceditor Squier-Axpert

    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    Yes, "sensitivity." In guitars that is, not people.

    Frankly few guitars have it -- including most of mine. And in most circumstances I at least never miss it. But sometimes, just sometimes, it is THE thing.

    As to not missing it, others may be more aware of it than I am. I've read, for instance, posts by folks that have put a Bigby on their Tele and found that a great instrument was ruined by its presence. Once removed its quality sings to them again.

    Frankly I've shrugged my shoulders at such. I've played guitars with Bigsbys all my life and basically only have seen good in them.

    But then again, what was the difference between my 1980 Gibson ES and the truly lovely Epi Sheraton that thoroughly pleased me until I got that ES? I at the time (and since) have said that the Epi was "wooden" (meaning stiff and unfeeling) in comparison to the old Gibbie. -Indeed so much so that I no longer took pleasure in it and thus sold it.

    Maybe the word "sensitivity" isn't the best choice. Maybe it should be "liveness" or "responsiveness."

    Now, at least judging by my own experience, none of this matters if you're riding the gain in a big way. What I'm talking about is an acoustic property (that yes, does come thru the amplifier). It is both a subtle (but real) change in the sound according to small changes in what your hands (both of them on the most sensitive guitars) are doing, and a feel that is transferred back to you through not just your hands, but also where your body and the guitar touch.

    Not to gross anyone out, but years ago when I was studying with the late, great, Lenny Frank, he told me that his favorite way to play was naked.

    Lenny was a 'jazzer' who preferred to play in a sitting position and his main axe was one of John D'Angelico's original "New Yorker" models.

    Lenny said that every input into the guitar came back to him in feelings through any part of the guitar he was touching.

    I back then -- a teen rocker -- just nodded my head out of genuine respect. But in truth back then I had no real idea of what he spoke. The feelings in my body when I played came from the girls in the audience, not my instrument.

    But of late I've been thinking about Lenny's words -- brought to mind by (of all things!) the time am spending playing my Black Holiday -- be it plugged in or otherwise.

    Yes, it speaks to me. Thru BOTH my hands. It reflect back the smallest changes there. And as I discover this before now largely hitherto unappreciated quality of the instrument it is a daily thrill.

    Yes, it was always there. But the way i customarily play -- loud, punchy and with added gain -- hid it. Buried it, really.

    I did before notice how the Black Holiday differed greatly from the White Holiday -- even when both only had their basically identical bridge PUP alone on. -That the BH felt "live" and the WH did not.

    The reason was obvious. That superb trem unit bolted to the face of the WH was, for all its quality, snuffing out the vibes being passed thru, and then back into the strings, of the guitar's face.

    But playing the guitars as I have been of late, whilst working on a solo blues original ("I Went Down to the River"), has made this difference stand out as never before.

    Picking differences of course show even with a gain-driven amp. Indeed the thing that makes the best amps stand out is when a player finds that sweet spot that allows the guitar to bloom, and that 'bloom' to be controlled by the pick. (If you do it you'll know what I'm talking about. If you don't well one day perhaps you will!)

    But for a guitar to be equally sensitive to the left and the right hand -- and for that to be as true when it is not plugged in -- when it is the guitar itself that is so responding -- well that is truly something special.

    My Black Holiday now sits before me constantly. I pick it up every chance I get even if it is for just a minute or two, just to again experience it.

    Okay, and now the really funny part. Lenny got that feeling from a hand built D'Angelico. You wanna talk "tone wood"? I'm getting it from a guitar that I paid $350 for that has a plastic face!!!!

    Yes, really!

    It just talks. (Even with my clothes on.)

    Last edited: Jul 16, 2020
  2. Shaytan

    Shaytan Squier-Nut

    Apr 10, 2018
    Lisbon, Portugal
    Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Don! Perhaps I'm in a similar position as you were when you first heard those words of Lenny - I quite don't get the feeling you're referring to, but I understand the level of skill it may require for a musician to be able to deeply express oneself through their instrument and be able to put their soul into the playing.

    Hopefully my life will continue to allow me to dedicate myself to the guitar and music and so that I just might one day, too, think back of these words of yours and realise "oh, so now I do get it!". :)
  3. radiotech

    radiotech Dr. Squier

    Apr 23, 2014

    Good description, and funny, because in the orchestral world, Bloom is more like BOOM, especially for cello, and bass. It’s great when your instrument has it, but it becomes something you have to control so you don’t forte when you’re supposed to piano... hence the sound post in such instruments which you have to get to the spot that gets the top vibrating the most consistently, not the loudest. This is the reason professionals have multiple instruments, not as a backup, but a set differently Soundpost (north/neck for midrange, south for richer bass). The Basses we had in high school were set for midrange, so you wouldn’t boom to loud in a piece, but when playing jazz, the old time players had it south.

    There were no viola players senior year in HS, and even though I wasn’t in orchestra (just jazz band), I was recruited to play in the Xmas concert that year, most of the songs were pluck songs, and I just couldn’t get enough boom from the two uprights we had. I remember the director telling me it was too much trouble getting the “something-post” adjusted (I wasn’t listening too well when he was griping about it), so I asked if I could play it on my electric. Problem solved.

    Over that Xmas break, my boss (a former fill-in organist for Count Basie’s traveling orchestra) took us out for dinner, after work, we went to his house. We went down to his studio, and he played a few songs, I saw a viola on its side, and asked if I could play it... what a different experience from the school violas. He told me it was a cheapo, but it was loud, and BOOMY, and it had significant bloom (the first time I had really experienced it). I was amazed at the physical responsiveness of the instrument, and couldn’t help but to lean against it while playing it, I started playing chick Corea‘s arrangement of Chameleon, and I found myself having to actively mute the end of the high B-flat, and D-flat of the bass part, because it would bloom into following low G, and C notes otherwise.

    I didn’t even think about it for years, until I got my first Squier ‘51, which had a thin body, but was fairly heavy (8lbs total), it vibrated nicely, almost as much as my Yamaha APX5A, and when I discovered the bloom level on my amp settings, that became the volume I played when no one was home (not too loud, but probably annoying if you were on the same floor).

    Alas, my Black Holiday was not as resonant as yours, or even as resonant/sensitive as my current vibration winner, my Squier Bullet Strat (still has the stock small block w/three springs trem, floating), that one is hard to put down when random jamming. I sold the Black Holiday, it just wasn’t as productive tone-wise for me as the White Holiday is. Other honorable mention Bloom/physical feed back electric guitars are: ‘14 Squier ‘51 (not as much as my ‘04), Sawtooth Tele (Sycamore body), Conrad (matsumoku) late ‘60’s Bass, and Hofner Viola Bass.

    My Martin DX1AE, and Seagull 12-er have the best physical feedback of... being Either of non-traditional materials (Martin, only the top, and bracing is real wood, satin finish top), or finishes (Seagull is
    Walnut sides, spruce top, with an almost invisible satin finish, no binding).
    I notice both amplified have a feedback/bloom spot that is fantastic to open, or close a song with using a chord utilizing all the strings.

    Now, I do have three electrics that have a fantastic bloom sweet spot, but are physically not very responsive: MIM Strat, BT MIM Tele, and G&L Fallout. They have a more consistently reproducible bloom as compared to the other electrics (which are more sensitive acoustically to feedback from the amp).
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2020
  4. duceditor

    duceditor Squier-Axpert

    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    Reading you words naturally raised self doubt. (Oh, and btw -- thanks for that info about the sound post. My dad played upright bass and yet that was something I did not know!) Anyhow, I decided to test it out with several back-to-back playings.

    First up was the White Holiday. Absolutely no comparison withe the Black for acoustic resonance or sensitivity to playing.

    Then I took my King of the Solid Bodies -- my rarely now played (because of its weight) late `80s Gibson Les Paul and found the same thing.

    All wonderful guitars mind you. And in a hard-driven rock session this difference would be no biggie -- maybe not even hearable. But real it is.

    I then used my ears to try to track down the why and where of it. And what I found was rather interesting.

    Putting the ear close to the guitar full articulation comes from just around the bridge, but the amazing articulation emanates from about mid way between the PUPs -- the narrow waist of the instrument. Further up the body towards the neck it is no more resonant than a typical solid body.

    Over all it is amazingly loud. It really is a semi-hollow body, that is not just the company's ad hype.

    Okay... was I "brave" enough for the ultimate test?


    I did a back-to-back with the guitar that is supposed to be the leader in the live, resonant, pack -- the Gibson ES -- my 1980 Gibson ES-Artist.

    "ES" of course stands for "electric spanish." It has a solid mahogany block surrounded by hollow "wings" with f holes. And doing that comparison, well kind of blew my mind.

    There was no comparison in resonance or even just plain volume. Played unamplified the Black Holiday just blew the ES away.

    Amplified they are very different. The ES having humbuckers and the Holiday have single coil VistaTones which have been compared to a P90 on steroids.

    So it is not my imagination.

    Okay then, is my BH exceptional?

    That does happen. Sometimes for no reason ever really understood one guitar will just be different -- better -- than its sisters. But that said (and possibly so) there are two things that are actually "different" about my Black Holiday from others -- in one case possibly from any other.

    The first is a mod I made myself. I replaced the rosewood bridge/saddle upper piece with a adjustable brass type. As here:

    Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 11.08.52 AM.png

    The goal there was to add articulation and at th same time allow for string-to-string intonation adjustment. I knew right off I'd succeeded. It did both.

    The 2nd difference is the rarer one -- but if/why it should so effect the acoustic sensitivity of the instrument is beyond me. That is the replacement of the entire standard neck with one of the hand-made prototypes created when the guitar was in its design stage -- and then its custom installation and setup by the then head of Supro's entire guitar department.

    It prototype neck looks and feels basically the same as the standard one, except that the fretwork shows a level of care not generally found on production guitars and the wood was obviously chosen for the perfection of its color and grain.

    Okay, plus the Logo is positioned differently -- centered -- than it was on the final production models.

    Supro Black Holiday - Prototype Headstock.jpg

    Again, could that explain the sound? Its superb articulation and overall loudness?

    Maybe some of the builder guys here can answer that. I cannot. I can only observe and appreciate. :)

    Last edited: Jul 16, 2020
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  5. radiotech

    radiotech Dr. Squier

    Apr 23, 2014
    All it matters is that you recognize the magic… Not necessarily how it got there!

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  6. RegularJim

    RegularJim Squier-Nut

    Dec 30, 2017
    Illiconsin, Wisinois
    Maybe that's where the expression "Rock out with your ___ out" comes from.
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