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H-150 Weights- an obsession?


MartyGrass
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Is the mahogany on an 8 lb guitar the same wood as one on an 11 lb guitar?  The densities are dissimilar obviously, so are they even the same sort of guitar?

I'll stir up some controversy.  The first is the question as to why mahogany was used for the Gibson then Heritage solid bodies.  Mahogany was an established tonewood for acoustic instruments, which makes sense.  But why use it as a large slab for a body?  I can't answer that fully but at least in part it had to do with furniture manufacturing, which was a big industry in Michigan in the last century.  Mahogany was plentiful, relatively cheap, durable, and didn't fragment and splinter much when shaped.  Those who argue that it was chosen for tone have to consider that there is really no history of Gibson experimenting much with other woods with the exception of the maple cap.  Korina is fairly similar to mahogany in properties and never was a serious contender to displace mahogany as the default building material.  http://legacy.gibson.com/News-Lifestyle/Features/en-us/korinawoodmakesgreatguitar.aspx

Gibson mahogany tended to be lighter in the 1950s.  I don't know why that worked out that way.  It could be the abundance of old growth, longer drying, harvesting from different regions, decreased shipping costs, or company preference for other reasons.  As time went on, the weight tended to increase.  Weight relief was a solution in part.  Even in light guitars, like the Tele and the PRS SE 245, weight relief gained traction.  

The early Heritage H-150s often were about 10 lbs.  Some claimed that extra heft enhanced sustain and created "tone monsters".  That term obviously means different things to different people.  The original concept of the LP was a maple cap presumably to give high density for brightness and sustain when placed on the current source of mahogany that was lower density back then.  More recently commercial mahogany is available with density similar to maple.  That raises the question as to whether the maple cap is now more of a tradition or for appearance.

https://www.easycalculation.com/other/wood-density-chart.php

One thing for sure is that lighter mahogany weighs less!  It is easier on the shoulders and backs.

Curiously, the LP Customs and some of the H-157s had no maple cap but had solid finishes.  That suggests the maple cap was at least in part for appearance.

I am very familiar with the book Beauty of the Burst and the extensive discussions on wood harmonics and choices.  Even if those discussions were true, there is less relevance today because the signal chain is very different in the 21st century.

Consider Fender for a moment.  They used and use lighter wood and have an overall lighter guitar.  Some say their popularity is due to a lower cost, which there is clearly merit to that.  But it doesn't explain why Gibson couldn't compete with Fender with the Melody Maker and Les Paul Jr. back in the 1960s.  Further, it can't account for the widespread use of Fenders among professionals, including in the fields of blues and rock. Here is a clip of Fender and Heritage.  I personally like the sound of the Heritage better.  But look at the audience.  Is there a single disappointed face when Frankie plays the Fender?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFtdEkG_OoI

Can the wood be too light?  I was warned not to buy a G&L made of empress (paulownia) because of the low density and potential for screws to strip out.  I got it anyway.  It is very light, under 7 lbs.  It has good sustain and seems durable.  No regrets.  

To summarize, solid body guitar players tend to like less heft to their guitars, which is understandable.  They draw the line in many cases against weight relief but embrace low density to achieve lightness.  Contrary to this summation is that thin necks are not uniformly embraced, so the added weight of a heavier neck is acceptable.  Finally, the infinite possibilities of the signal chain won't offset the loss of "tone" in a guitar of improper density.

As I have discussions with engineers about the history of the structuring of electric guitars, it takes little time for them to ask enough questions to reach the conclusion that the tonequest is beyond physics and math and enters into the realm of aspirations, symbolisms, and intuitive beliefs.  It is in this realm where passion stirs.

On a personal note, I have H-150/157s ranging from less than 8.5 lbs up to over 11 lbs.  All of them are excellent.  It is a buyer's market for the heavier guitars.  The market does change.  Consider that Gibson couldn't sell LPs at the beginning.  Those same instruments are going for huge sums now.  The original PAFs were literally taken to the dump in large numbers in the 1960s to make room for the latest and greatest pickups.  Back when I would do three hour gigs, quite a while ago, I used a weight relieved guitar, a semi-hollow.  No one would have ever thought that was bad guitar despite its overall low density.  That would never entered the realm of possibility of discussion.  That was a different time.

I apologize if any of this content is unsettling.  I try to reflect the overlap of practical industry and marketing decisions at Gibson, and by consequence Heritage, with those instrument designers who did pursue tone as well as other aesthetics.  The result wasn't the epitome of elegance (note the acrylic fretboard inlays), but was an excellent instrument that was reachable in cost to a large enough to be financially viable.  Even with these compromises there were some failures among the many successes.

 

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Although this was quite unsettling to me, I enjoyed the dissertation very much! Weight makes no difference to me. Some of mine are lighter, some are heavier. I cannot tell any difference in tone or sound. 

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I'm still waiting for the blindfold test on various LP/150 weights. 

What happens after the isolated individual comparisons, if we apply the same test in the context of a band? 

Who among us can "hear" the differences in an ounce, or even a pound?

Or is it all really about aging backs and wish fulfillment? I DO prefer playing my 8.5 lb H150 over the 9.7 lb one. (I tell myself its a P-90 thing.)

Even old wheezy Jerry Garcia played his 13.5 lb guitar up to the end. It was the sound he liked.

Or maybe that's what did him in? :)

 

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Once upon a time I was insistent that NONE of my Les Paul style guitars be weight relieved and looked down my nose upon all of those Les Pauls which were weight relieved through the technique known as "chambering". Many years later I learned that every single Les Paul ever built (including every one I ever owned) was in fact weight relieved through one process or another, be it Swiss Cheese holes or modern day chambering.  Sometimes in life you realize that everything you know is bullstuff and you have to start your learning all over again.

Today I understand...
* the water content of a particular billet of wood when the guitar is built has a lot to do with the final weight of the guitar,
* that you can reduce the weight of a piece of wood by causing the water to be purged from the wood and have the sap crystalized more rapidly in order to enhance the tone of the instrument,
* that some trees grow faster/slower than others and as such some trees are denser/heavier than others, even of the same species,
* that although chambering does affect the tone of the guitar, it isn't necessarilly bad, it is just different,
* that the WEIGHT of a guitar, in and of itself doesn't really have anything to do with the the musical functionality of the guitar. Something else is responsible for that monster tone you are digging.

 

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I like the feel of LP type guitars, but because of age and biomechanical issues, I prefer light weight instruments. I was very happy to find the 150 I did over the last week.

 

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While I so much enjoy speculation on this topic, wisdom tells me to be suspect as to the motives and findings of engineers some 70 years ago as their memories and stories differ over the years.  Most likely 99% of HOC members have zero experience BUILDING G type guitars.  Legend is protypes were assembled in various thickness of mahogany and maple to balance sustain and brightness or sweetness. 

What I absolutely remember is from 2013 is a discussion with Marv and Jim on my 147 build.  They started building LPs 5 years after the prototypes, but they combined to over 100 years experience building LP style.

The 147 is a little smaller and thinner than a 150.   I wanted a maple cap.  My 137 is korina which according to Forum Lore, brings out the sparkle from P90. Since my 147 was to have a P90 bridge pickup I wanted a korina body which (I was told) is also lighter the mahogany. Marv lead me to one to their lumber storage rooms and we/he picked out their lightest korina board and sawed off a slice for the body and presented me with a piece/sample.

Marv and Jim asked me how thick I wanted the korina? Both said the thicker instrument would be better (sustain?) I agreed with "thicker" as both founders were know to have disagreements on several aspects of "sound". They never mentioned how thick the maple should be or the carve.

Some 5 months latter I picked up my tuxedo staple 147.  

I miss those days and suspect a lot of HOC members do as well. 

 

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I look at it this way: every guitar is different. I don't really have deep enough knowledge of wood to be able to discern what actually causes the difference in tone or sustain. I do know this: when I bought my '14 Trad Pro II, I had them bring out all 4 they had in stock. It took me 3 hours to decide which one was coming home with me. They all should have been identical, but I eliminated one in a few minutes. A scale was the farthest from the deciding factor.

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44 minutes ago, Spectrum13 said:

While I so much enjoy speculation on this topic, wisdom tells me to be suspect as to the motives and findings of engineers some 70 years ago as their memories and stories differ over the years.  Most likely 99% of HOC members have zero experience BUILDING G type guitars.  Legend is protypes were assembled in various thickness of mahogany and maple to balance sustain and brightness or sweetness. 

What I absolutely remember is from 2013 is a discussion with Marv and Jim on my 147 build.  They started building LPs 5 years after the prototypes, but they combined to over 100 years experience building LP style.

The 147 is a little smaller and thinner than a 150.   I wanted a maple cap.  My 137 is korina which according to Forum Lore, brings out the sparkle from P90. Since my 147 was to have a P90 bridge pickup I wanted a korina body which (I was told) is also lighter the mahogany. Marv lead me to one to their lumber storage rooms and we/he picked out their lightest korina board and sawed off a slice for the body and presented me with a piece/sample.

Marv and Jim asked me how thick I wanted the korina? Both said the thicker instrument would be better (sustain?) I agreed with "thicker" as both founders were know to have disagreements on several aspects of "sound". They never mentioned how thick the maple should be or the carve.

Some 5 months latter I picked up my tuxedo staple 147.  

I miss those days and suspect a lot of HOC members do as well. 

 

I definitely miss those days. I could make the trip to the factory in 1.5 hours and went there many times to pick out wood for my customers guitars and my guitars many times. It definitely was a special time for me and I know many others. 

I can't get an order filled these days. Definitely Disappointed

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Excellent comments about guitar weight and guitar building in this thread! 

However, for me it's also an emotional connection to a new guitar.  Yes, if the weight is too much for my aging, surgically mended shoulders, that guitar is not coming home with me.  I made that mistake with a drop dead gorgeous Gibson LP Custom that weighed almost 12 lbs.  Never again!! 

Nowadays if a guitar is 9.5 lbs or less I'll consider it...as long as I like the tone and build quality.  Only then will I plug it in and wait for that special sensation, that emotional connection I get from some guitars.  Typically those come home with me and remain for many years.   

Edited by Gitfiddler
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As far as LP style guitars are concerned, I stick with those under 9.5 lbs. Nerve issues in my shoulder and neck make playing anything heavier for an extended period of time too much of a pain. With that being said, most all the best sounding LP style guitars that I’ve owned have been the heavier ones. Just can’t swing em’ anymore.

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My thoughts from the time around the 1980's were that there was a perception that heavier guitars gave longer sustain.

At the time Gibson and Fender both seemed to have lost their way a little,hence Fender having the very heavily weighted 

tremolo on the Elite Strats for example to get the "Gibson" sustain,whilst Gibson were looking at the Fender market with 

their Victory models.I suppose the lesson should be "Stick to what you know,and do it well"!

I dont have a Gibson Victory,but I do have two Elite Stratocasters which I really like apart from the appalling tremolo design.

The morel there is to get an Elite Telecaster !!

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Let us not forget the veneered, plywood guitars...

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7 hours ago, Spectrum13 said:

The 147 is a little smaller and thinner than a 150

So is  a 140 and a 147 like what a 150 is to a 157? A picture is worth a thousand questions....

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I'm of the opinion that wood is the only thing that affects the tone.   The amp, pickup, scale length, strings and pick used have very little to do with the overall tone.

4 hours ago, pressure said:

Mahogany is great for furniture and table legs. Spruce, Maple and Ebony are musical instrument woods. As for fingerboards, more wood less shell.

My Melancon is made with really light Louisiana swamp ash and a maple neck.   It resonates really well.

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19 minutes ago, TalismanRich said:

I'm of the opinion that wood is the only thing that affects the tone.   The amp, pickup, scale length, strings and pick used have very little to do with the overall tone.

My Melancon is made with really light Louisiana swamp ash and a maple neck.   It resonates really well.

How about the tone knob?

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Long before there was a HOC, I went through a Brentston-esque phase of buying and selling guitars. And I mean a lot of guitars (hence Brentston-esque). I bought a shit ton few (hi, hon!) keyboards with just the profits I made flipping guitars. When one of our younger sons was still in a crib, my wife was complaining to me she couldn't manage to put the mattress down lower and said son was able to climb out of his gayly painted prison. She eventually realized the issue wasn't the construction of the crib, but the guitar cases I had hidden under it (and forgotten about) that were preventing the desired operation from succeeding. This led to a less-than-fun discussion, but I digress.

Across all of those guitars that passed through my hands, not once did I ever think, "boy, this thing sure is heavy!" or "wow, this sounds fantastic for how light it is!" The ones I gelled with (I suppose some might say "bonded with") stuck around. The ones that didn't, well, I flipped them to fund other guitars (and keyboards and fun stuff). There are a few guitars I moved on that I wish I had back (<cough>Tonesucker(tm)</cough>) and a few that I foolishly moved out that I did get back (most famously, a Hamer Studio FM wrap-tail that...well, never mind, long story). At no time, however, did weight alone ever figure in to the calculus. 

I am sometimes amused when I read posts--here and elsewhere--of people saying "I absolutely will not consider a guitar that weighs more than <x> pounds!"  What if it was the sonic equivalent of the second coming of <insert your own personal messiah here>?  You wouldn't at least ponder the possibility? What if it also had a neck to die for? Still no? Fretwork that was sublime? Not worth considering, eh? An oddity in the wiring that allowed you to get exactly *that* tone you hear in your head? Nope, weighs too much, hard pass, I guess. 

The way I view it, any particular guitar should be evaluated as the sum total of the parts (or metrics), not on any one factor alone. But, well, that's me. And I'm a little odd. So, there's that.

 

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I find there are sweet spots for Les Paul weight that generally give consistently good repeatable results. I like them to be in the high eights to the low nines. I find the ones with the real low weights don't have the midrange I like, and the ones in the high nines and higher don't have the resonance I like. But I think a lot of the discernable sonic differences in the wood are masked when using potted pickups, which to me, dulls the upper high end resonance that I listen specifically for. So before I unload a guitar, I try it with a known set of good unpotted pickups! I've owned more Les Pauls than most people, and for two years I did a lot of guitar repairs with many being Les Pauls, and I took notes with each guitar I owned and/or played. One thing I don't believe is that that in modern times there were good wood years. 2007 was supposed to one of those years, and I owned three Les Pauls from 2007 that were some of the worst sounding Historic LPs that I've heard.  A lot of people thought it was heresy when Gibson (and now Heritage, with the Custom Cores) went to using Fiji sourced Mahogany. They thought an LP that didn't use Honduran Mahogany couldn't sound as good. Well I stopped buying LPs because the three I have now a perfect for me, and two of them a Fiji Mahogany. If I was to buy an LP now, I would balance the tone with weight I can shoulder, and call it good. 

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A buddy's father owned a '59 Les Paul.  Even when I was 17 years old and in good shape I thought it was terribly heavy.  It felt hard too.  Solid!  I remember that day also because my buddy was trying to be a big shot and gave me a condom.  I used it on his girlfriend the next week... but that is another story. 

When I got my black 150 in '90 it was just as heavy as the '59.  It was just as hard and solid.  I popped my skull many times taking it off or putting it on.  It hurt my back playing it.  I sold it and a Fender twin because they were too heavy to take around or play.  Of all the Heritage guitars I have owned or played since they were all very nice guitars but the old black 150 didn't need an amp to sustain.  Marv told my dealer they built two of them so Roy Clark could choose one.  I didn't believe it until about a year later when I saw Roy playing an identical guitar as mine on Hee Haw.  Later, in person, Marv told me that Roy had set it on a dresser in a hotel and it fell and cracked the headstock. 

That was one heavy guitar.  We called it. "The Piano." 

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