A heavy stringed instrument can be burdensome not only for young beginners but also for people with smaller body frames and aging players with weakening backs. Because of this, guitarists researching how to make a guitar body lighter have seen an increase in numbers.
However, there are many theories stating that the size and mass of a guitar can affect the sound quality of the instrument, making musicians more apprehensive when it comes to subjecting their ax to drastic weight-reduction remedies.
The debate whether guitars with heavier or larger bodies sound better than lighter and smaller ones is understandable, since we have always relied on acoustic stringed instruments’ bodies and sound boxes in amplifying string vibration.
It is important to note that the weight of the guitar does not necessarily equate with its size as there are smaller guitars with heavier wood, and vice-versa. The topic of sound quality’s correlation with the guitar’s body size, is an intriguing subject that has sparked countless experimentations aimed to prove facts and bust myths.
Wood and guitar weight
A large portion of a guitar’s weight is dependent on the type of wood used, especially for the body, since it makes up most of the instrument’s overall build. Basswood is one of the lightest among the commonly-used guitar woods, clocking in at around 300-600 kg/m3. Meanwhile, walnut belongs to the heavier category, coming in at 650-700 kg/m3, not a long shot for Maple’s 550-700 kg/m3.
Do lighter guitars sound better?
In the past, slide guitar god Derek Trucks once caused a little controversy among guitar influencers when he claimed that lighter guitars seem to sound better than heavier ones.
Trucks, founder of The Derek Trucks Band and a member of The Allman Brothers, stated in an interview that if you see at least four or five Les Pauls even before playing them, you’ll know that the lightest one is the best sounding of them all. Some guitar YouTubers conducted their own tests and confirmed that Trucks was right in his assumption.
Several luthiers explained that lighter guitars are more resonant because heavy wood resists vibrations, which is a result of having a compact molecular composition that prevents sound from moving around freely. Guitar builders believe that lighter weight resonant wood can positively impact the tonal characteristics of a stringed instrument, citing increased midrange and sustain as some of the upsides of using less dense material.
On the other hand, guitar personality Darrell Braun disproved claims that wood mass can influence a guitar’s sustain by sawing off various parts of a stratocaster and recording their sound each time a section is removed. Braun showed on his channel that cannibalizing the poor instrument only made the guitar body lighter, but didn’t affect the sustain on succeeding takes.
An acoustic guitar’s body size can be a significant aspect in how it amplifies sound, but in electric instruments, the pickups and the preamps play more crucial tasks in shaping loudness and tone.
Why lighten a guitar body?
Choosing light weight wood to produce better tonal quality is a decision that guitar makers can benefit from, but not so much for musicians who already own a finished instrument. But there are more practical reasons why one would attempt to reduce the mass of their instrument and physical comfort is one of them.
The body type of every guitar player differs from one another and since a lot of guitars are mass produced, there is always a chance that one of them might be perfect for a big guy, but could be too crushing for a little girl. Age plays a part as well, since back problems are a normal drawback for older people and they can easily be exacerbated by activities such as prolonged practice sessions.
Guitar playing should be a safe and healthy activity that is devoid of injuries and pain. Minor back aches caused by carrying a heavy guitar for hours, can turn into a more serious issue if not addressed with urgency.
How to lighten a guitar body
The most effective weight relief method that luthiers use is creating holes in the body of a guitar using a drill press. The drill press is a mainstay in every guitar builder’s workshop and it can accurately punch holes into guitar wood.
For this procedure, craftsmen would bore large circular holes into a guitar’s body, all lined-up in a regular pattern to maximize the available space. A significant amount of weight will be reduced after doing this unique technique, which should only be employed if you are willing to have your instrument punctured.
If you are an aspiring luthier who needs to try this in your workshop, practicing on spare slabs of wood would save you a lot of valuable resources. Creating stencils and patterns for the holes is also a very efficient way to go about this approach.
Do not attempt to make a guitar body lighter without the proper tools, not only will you be wasting your effort and time, you could also harm yourself. Moreover, this process should be done only with all the wirings and other parts removed, with all of the focus centered on the guitar’s body.
Some have also suggested totally sanding the guitar to remove the lacquer and paint to take off a noticeable amount of weight. Replacing hardware can help as well, although you might opt for cheaper materials and replace chrome parts with plastic or wood.
How to alleviate back pain caused by heavy guitars
While not everyone has the time or resources to visit a custom shop and have a luthier perform some weight relief measures, there are simple ways to reduce back pain caused by that hulking six strings.
- Observe proper posture
The most immediate thing that you can do is to fix your posture and make sure that you are not slouching because that would be detrimental to your spinal column as well as your shoulders, neck, and other joints. When playing the guitar, make sure that you are sitting or standing up straight with shoulders relaxed to avoid any unnecessary strain.
- Strengthen your body
Exercises and workouts that are intended for strengthening back muscles can also go a long way in helping musicians deal with various back problems. Whether you are a guitar player or a drummer, a few reps with a medicine ball or a pair of dumbbells can prepare your back for any strenuous activity that it may undergo.
- Buy a new strap
Last but not the least, buy yourself a better strap, one that is well-padded and sufficiently sized to provide you more comfort, especially when jam sessions extend way beyond the usual limit. Follow these practices and you might not need to worry anymore about drilling a bunch of golf ball-sized holes to make your guitar body lighter.