Voicing and tuning are important elements of great tone. A great guitar has great tone, great playability, and great craftsmanship in that order. Fancy wood, a high gloss finish, and lots of Abalone inlay are visually beautiful but have nothing to do with making a great sounding guitar.
What is voicing and tuning? In a nutshell, voicing is the process of building a guitar using carefully made decisions and techniques with the goal of shaping the tone in a specific direction. Tuning relates to the fundamental resonances and purity of the tone.
There are as many theories about how to voice a guitar as there are builders, it seems. Some try to achieve it through scalloping the braces or sanding the Spruce top to a special flexibility. Many insist that it is the species of wood that makes all the difference. Others experiment with different bracing materials and patterns. Many luthiers tap on Spruce plates as they carve the braces, listening for the type of ring and sustain that they feel will give the right sound to the completed guitar. These ideas all have their place, but many of them are arbitrary and others don’t hold up in real life. We’ve all heard guitars of the same brand, made of the same species of wood, that sound very different from each other.
I’ve had more than one hand builder tell me that mystery is part of the process and each build is somewhat like a roll of the dice. I strongly disagree with these types of statements. By carefully selecting tops with specific material properties and tuning the top and back during the building process, guitars with consistent balance and clarity are produced. And consistency is key, not only because customers want to know that their guitar will sound great but also because consistency demonstrates that the luthier is voicing with repeatable skill and not just getting lucky every once in a while!
For those players who want the very best in tone and know it when they hear it, owning an individually voiced and tuned instrument is essential. There is no substitute for the skilled human hand. As the late Bill Collings said, a truly great guitar must be crafted by human hands; something mass produced by robots and CNC machines is just a guitar-shaped object. Dogwood guitars are known for their clarity, balance, and projection, with warm bass and fat chimey trebles. And that’s why I say… “Old School Tone, Down to the Bone!”