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  1. #1
    DyzaBoyzologist That90'sGuy's Avatar
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    Default What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    I was wondering what makes vintage Fenders so desireable. I was talking with a guy much like gearjoneser (he can go on and on about stories of when he was working with pro musicians in CA). This guy seems to know his stuff.

    He told one of the main things that make the guitar is the finish. He told me that nitrocellulose (I think that's the name/spelling) was stopped being made quite a while ago and that allows the alder on the vintage strats to really ring. He also told me that things like the plastic type finishes and the sticky type finishes on necks can rob a guitar of approximately 40% of the guitars tonal frequency and clarity. Apparently, from what he's telling me Fender's custom shop used to still offer those finishes, except now they use an almost acrylic based version that doesn't sound as good as the original.

    He's an amazing musician, a great guy to talk shop with, and I'm inclined to believe every word he says. Any opinions?
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    Flushologist Scott_F's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    I'm not sure you can put a percetnt value of tone loss, but it makes a good story.

    Gibson still shoots their guitars with nitro as does Heritage and many other smaller makers. With the mass production of most Fenders, and I'm guessing the environmental laws in CA, they had to go away from nitro and just shoot poly.

    The word out there is that nitro allows the wood to breathe. Doesn't trap the wood if that makes sense.

    For me, it's all about the smell. Nitro just smells like a guitar is supposed to.


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    Super Toneologist Tom M's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    So if I sand off/down the finish on my Tele, it'll sound better?

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    DyzaBoyzologist That90'sGuy's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    Tom, I'm kinda wondering the same thing.

    Scott, actually he did mention something about nitro being illegal in CA (not the most environmentally friendly I guess). I think you're probably very right about that.

    I thought it was interesting nonetheless. I'm sure the aged wood and pickups wouldn't hurt for making those vintage guitars stand out either
    Quote Originally Posted by kevlar3000 View Post
    I learned a long time ago that the only thing that mattered regarding tone was what my ears thought.
    Quote Originally Posted by Zerberus View Post
    Better is often the enemy of good
    Quote Originally Posted by ginormous View Post
    Covers feed the body, originals feed the soul.

  5. #5
    Gear Ho Gearjoneser's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    I tend to agree with what he says. Also, vintage saddles may not be everyone's favorite, but they do create that sound that is 'the strat sound.' I'm starting to really favor guitars with a very thin finish, or even no finish, for the same reasons that guy pointed out. Another point is that the smaller vintage frets allow more contact between the wood and the string, giving vintage strats a more woody neck sound. Personally, I've always preferred medium jumbo frets, since it facilitates better bends, but lately have found the fretwire that's between vintage and medium jumbo to be my favorite. It's the size that's on Grosh guitars. Another point that's arguable is the tuning pegs. Some people prefer high mass tuners like Sperzels thinking it adds sustain, but I'm convinced that vintage tuners, namely Kluson, allow the neck to resonate better, thus giving the guitar a more 'alive' tone. Also, aged or properly dried body wood dramatically rings better than budget guitars with uncured wood.
    These are some of the points I've noticed after owning a good handfull of strats.
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    Toneologist 59paul's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    Very Valid points, GJ. I'm mainly a Les Paul guy from way back, and I'm in no way a Strat expert, but I have a '64 Strat that I dearly love. I also have an '84, a few from the '90's, and a newer Highway 1. Just trusting my ears and my hands, the '64 and the Highway 1 are my favorites. The lighter finish and vintage style bridge on the Highway 1 Blow the '84 and the American Standards away !!!!! I also agree with you 100% on the Kluson tuners.
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    GuitarArtologist kmcguitars's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gearjoneser
    I Also, aged or properly dried body wood dramatically rings better than budget guitars with uncured wood.
    These are some of the points I've noticed after owning a good handfull of strats.
    I've notice that too ! A Old piece of wood that's dried out Just seem to
    resonate a certain way ? I don't know the Physices of it. But it seems
    to lose it's density and the notes ring out acousticly better? That may
    be where the Laqucer theory has creedance? Take 2 guitars paint one
    in Nitro the other in Poly, I honestly can't hear a differance. BUT !
    30 years from now I'd bet the Nitro would sound better?

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    Toneologist 59paul's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    KMC, I'll bet you're Right !!!! ........
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    Toneologist gordon_39422's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    IMHO, I think the celluloe vs. poly finish has more merit than we give credit. When shopping of quality accoustics, people are quick to advise against laminated top guitars. The mass produced finishes of electric guitrs today is not far from this elementary theory. The poly finish prohibits the wood from aging and developing character. Sure, a mistreated cellulose guitar will sound like crap as it ages. But, a pampered poly finish guitar will still be a pampered poly finish guitar. With no room to mature, you have essentially purchased a laminated electric guitar. My 1970 Gibson had been fairly taken care of, so it has a dry quality to it. However, it sounds so much better than it did just 14 years ago when I inherited it. Now that I have introduced proper moisture levels to the guitar, it seems to be slowly reviving its natural ability to make beautiful tones.

    I doubt my 2003 American Deluxe Strat will sound much different in 14 years.....
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    Volcano Fireologist Jonny R's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    Wonder what Stradivari finished his instruments with. They seem to have aged well.

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    Ultimate Tone Slacker Fresh_Start's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jonny R
    Wonder what Stradivari finished his instruments with. They seem to have aged well.
    If you want to have fun, you can start an endless debate on this subject over at the Musical Instrument Makers Forum. Seems no one really knows exactly what Stradavarius used - french polish (hand rubbed shellac with pumice to fill the grain) is part of the equation, but there was some form of oil based varnish too IIRC. The problem is that over the centuries, the "experts" think that some of the finish gradually evaportated!

    I can tell you that if you put a traditional violin finish on an electric guitar and handled it the way most of us do, it would look battered and bruised PDQ It's not waterproof, let alone alcohol proof - not that I would ever let an alcoholic beverage get near my guitars!!!

    Thin and breathable seem to be the best qualities for a finish tone-wise, but there's a tradeoff with durability. Personally, I'm not sure how much it matters for a solid body electric, but as soon as you add sound chambers I'm sure the finish starts to make a bigger difference.

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    Gear Ho Gearjoneser's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    Yeah 59Paul, the Klusons seem to be where it's at with 'neck tone'. The guys that can't keep them in tune are the one's that don't have the intonation dialed in. One of the main things Ted McCarty did with the PRS guitars was to revert back to Kluson type tuners and steeper headstock angle. He was the President of Gibson throughout their glory days. He's no dummy, and his ideas have been followed closely by ALL guitar companies. The guitars I own that I gravitate toward are always the one's with thin finish or satin oil finishes. Having a thick finish that seals off the wood just kills the tone of the wood. It's something I didn't used to pay attention to, but do now.
    Quote Originally Posted by Boogie Bill View Post
    I've got 60 guitars...but 49 trumpets is just...INSANITY! WTF!

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    Toneologist 59paul's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    GJ, I hear ya, Bro. Couldn't agree more......
    Last edited by 59paul; 06-22-2004 at 12:31 AM.
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    Gear Ho Gearjoneser's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    I just got a guitar that 'just has it' in every way. It's a California Custom Schecter Traditional Tele, which was handmade by the early Schecter Custom Shop. It's very similar to a vintage Fender, but has Am Std type saddles and tapped/hot Tele pickups.
    It's oil finished Southern Swamp Ash with unfinished hard rock maple neck/rosewood. It also has Kluson tuners on it. I can't describe it, but the wood resonates better than almost any tele I've picked up. I handed it to an experienced vintage Tele player, and the first thing he said was "wow, this thing sounds like an old one" before he even plugged it in. I guess that tells you why the old ones were superior. Dry resonant wood, quality neck wood, vintage tuners, and tight construction.
    Quote Originally Posted by Boogie Bill View Post
    I've got 60 guitars...but 49 trumpets is just...INSANITY! WTF!

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    Tone Member StrangeDay's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    Wow. This is a very interesting post, guys!! Especially for us not so experienced players. Awesome.

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    Frito's Better Half beandip's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    You know, I really think its ALLLLLLL MOJO. I mean, c'mon, you pickup a standard mexi, and it feels like a standard mexi, you pick up a beat to hell 55, and you just feel the mojo run through your hands into your heart and that first bluesy bend just comes screaming out, and you know you've got something.
    This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections. - St. Augustine of Hippo

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    18 watts of Mayhemologist JumpMarine's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    This was a great thread, thanks guys!
    '06 Gibson R8, '94 Gibson LP Jr Special, Fender CS Dirty Dozen Strat, Fender Hotrod '52 Tele, /13 FTR37, Kemper, DrZ EMS, DrZ Plus, Various pedals

  18. #18
    Toneologist Norman_T's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    Money - particularly for those idiotic enough to pay the thousands that people want for some of them - my rant over

    But as a lot people have said the wood, the pups, the way that things have aged, the lack of finish on the body etc. Many of todays guitars are going to be the guitars for the future and what do you think they would be like in 20-30 years time? I guess people will be drooling over them and saying they did not make them like they used to.

    I have to ask the question what constitues a vintage guitar - is it 10,15. 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 years old? because people tend to just come out with various different meanings and try to sell some guitars that are 10 years old as vintage.

  19. #19
    Lewguitar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    I think vintage Fender Strats and Teles sound good because they've had lots and lots of music played through them and just because something happens to the wood when the guitar gets to be over 20 years old. What, I don't know!

    But I do know that back around 1972 I thought ALL NEW FENDERS were GARBAGE. I still don't like the way they play with thier skinny necks and three bolt neck pocket, and some of them still weigh a ton...but I have to admit that some of the lighter weight CBS guitars sound fantastic 30 years later.

    They DID NOT sound fantastic when they were new.

    Lew

  20. #20
    Ultimate Tone Slacker mrfjones's Avatar
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    Default Re: What makes vintage Fenders sound so good?

    from playing a few old ones and owning a lot of new guitars it really is about the wood and how it ages even with a solid body. If it is coated in so much junk that the wood can't breath and age then it will never sound like it is old or vintage. The guitar will always sound new. I personally like the feel of a nitro finish but if it lets the wood age better then i am glad i have it on some of my guitars.

    The older guitars i have played all sound great and the only real difference, other than the finish, were a few nicks and scratches.

    GJ i think you may be right about the kluson style tuners. They don't add much mass but let the neck wood vibrate the way it should. I think the aluminum tail pieces for LPs do the same thing as the tuners do, but there is some balance between the added metal pieces being too light or too heavy. I am sure we can come up with more factors that make vintage guitars more desireable.

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