• Adam Chan

This guitar sounds majestic! It means…

Preceding from my blog article of “This guitar sounds majestic! What is that?” I have pointed out that when we try to describe what sounds in words, at best we are using metaphors to bring across one’s experiences in listening and interpreting of audio stimuli.

My purpose isn’t to suggest casting away how we would naturally describe sounds. It is also not a deterministic push for us to disregard our feelings when we interpret sounds. My intend is to clear some metaphoric smokes away to increase clarity in interpreting sounds. In hope to provide a logical approach to sort out the real deals from those seductive metaphorical terms.


Let’s try to figure out the good and bad sounds we hear. Due to the consistent anatomy and operations of our human ears, we would converge at some points to agree with what are good sounds and what are bad. For example a classical tune and a baby wailing. Would the classical tune gets your vote? (There will always be those outliers seeking to differentiate themselves from the masses… let them be)


Coherently we all recognised the well-known 12 tones from A to G as musical notes. A collection of tones constructed by sequencing these 12 notes in harmony is likely to be regarded as music but if they are not, we would quickly relegate it to the class of noise.


Understandably we can’t narrowly treat sound as only subjective. Invariably we should not take interpretation of sound as purely scientific either. It isn’t a Us & Them face-off. For anyone to enjoy sound harmony as music, our ears need to detect and our brains need to interpret.


To make things digestible, we set the context of discerning good sounds to our ears in listening to string instruments. Let’s take a 6-string guitar for discussion. The six strings are of varying gauges (diameter). Thicker gauged strings would generate lower frequencies tone, a.k.a. bass notes. In general, these six strings covered a range of low-mid-high notes.


The human ears and body would sense the bass notes first, the high notes would cut through the rest and hit our ears next. Following that would be the mid-notes and the overtones would wrap things up.


When the strings are played in unison, our ears get to hear whatever audio frequencies the instrument is capable of producing. Instead of naming the tones we heard using fanciful terms of metaphors to impress, we could calibrate ourselves to detect the bass, high, mid and overtone notes for their presence or absence.


Not just audibility, sense the intensity of the notes you have heard as well. Are the notes clear? Can you hear the low, high, mids and overtones distinctively?


Based on what your ears could hear, you can now interpret the collection of tones as good or not, totally in accordance to your preferences, in simple terms, like or don’t like.


Regardless the outcome between like or don’t like, if one has given time and made efforts in listening to those notes prior to casting judgments, I would say the sound giving device has been given a fair shot in presenting to the listener’s ears. The rest is up to the listeners’ preferences.


It is totally different from one who asserts, "I like the (certain brand name) sound!"


In this manner of listening and appreciating sounds, we can apply this manner to any sound giving devices, be it a violin, contra bass, Chinese Gu-Zhen, Pe-Par, Indian Sitar, even percussion instruments.


Good sounds are good not because the ways they are named or described, they are simply good.


Hope you find it useful to help you in listening to your next dream guitar!

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