How would you describe the sound of a guitar?

The sound of a musical instrument is generally referred to as its “tone.” Among many definitions, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that tone is: “sound quality” and “accent or inflection expressive of an emotion.” In the recent issue of Acoustic Guitar Magazine, “New Gear” columnist Scott Nygaard uses the words “warmth,” “sparkle” and “chang” to convey his impressions of the tone quality of a new Collings dreadnaught-size, steel-string acoustic guitar. In a previous post, I used the words “searing” and “soulful” to try to describe the sound of Albert King’s guitar playing.

Late the other afternoon as my wife and I were beginning to prepare our dinner, I put on a 1992 CD by a prominent Jazz Fusion electric guitarist. Before the second piece had finished, I found that the electronic, effects-laden sound of the guitar had gotten to be rather annoying.

When I came back into the kitchen, my wife asked why I’d changed the music.

I told her that I liked the clear, round sound of the guitars better on this one.

She smiled. “Round?”

“I know,” I replied. “But yes, round. The sound of each note is round and clear, like a teardrop or a falling drop of rain.”

“Hmmm,” she pondered.

I continued: “It’s not easy to do. It’s like trying to describe a color. How would you describe the sound of a guitar?”

P.S.: the second CD was “Conversations In Swing Guitar” from 1999 with Duke Robillard and Herb Ellis. Highly recommended.


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2 Responses to How would you describe the sound of a guitar?

  1. Tom Savage says:

    That is an interesting question to ponder, especially considering not only the differences in electric vs acoustic, but also the sizes, age, types of wood, strings…you get my point. Oh, and then there’s National Steel, which brings in yet another dimension.

    I’ve always thought of guitar sounds ranging from “fat” to “crisp”. Could be due to my affinity for all things bbq pork. 🙂

    This question brings to mind a time in Miami, when I was taking that course with the Albert brothers. If you remember, they were recording Steven Stills “Manassas” album at the time. On one of the tracks, Steven was looking for a specific type of sound that was in his head, for the drums. When asked to describe it, he said that it was a “dumpling” sound. I can only assume it was what he supposed a dumpling hitting a drum would sound like. Go figure….

  2. Layne Case says:

    It always amazes me what true musician “hear”. While I’ve never studied music, do not play any instrument proficiently, my love for the sound of the guitar comes from the years in high school when I sang with my best friend, Mike! There are many reasons why this is such a fond memory for me…but with limited space and not to bore you, the most important is I always loved the deep, rich, clear, harmonies that each strum created. What does it sound like? I don’t know but it sure does soothe my soul! Thank you for this very interesting journey, Mr. Sinclair. You are truly an amazingly gifted man whom I have been honored to sing with and love to listen to!

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