acous•tic blue•print•ing: The process of refining an instrument for most
efficient operation with minimal noise, sweetest tone, and most open feel
Acoustic blueprinting is a tonal adjustment process that moves beyond traditional methods, such as moving the sound post on bowed strings, altering bridges, and checking for proper fit and adhesion. It isn’t brace shaving and primarily involves removal of tiny amounts of wood, although mandolin and archtop guitar bridges receive larger modifications. The physical approach systematically approaches the overall resonance of the neck/fingerboard (for violin family), the response of individual pieces of the body (e.g., ribs, braces, and plates), the bridge (very important), the way the top and back resonate, and the sound hole edges. The process integrates procedures and techniques from many workers, some well known, some not so well known. The effects include reducing noise, evening up response and balance, increasing response speed, sweetening tone, and increasing sustain. Overall increases in tone quality and carrying power are consistent and repeatable.
The work concentrates on the interior of the instrument and on the bridge using scrapers and other tools. The actual amount of wood removed is usually minor, although some guitars may benefit from more extensive reworking. The key is to get all the parts of the instrument working together, rather than to make the instrument work differently than it already wants to. The process takes several iterations. Turnaround times are generally less than two weeks.
Our general approach is to first get the setup and basic construction elements worked out, then adjust the balance and projection of the instrument. The violin provides a good outline of the general approach:
- Set the B0 bending pitch to match the instrument’s body. This isn’t feasible on mandolins and guitars.
- Make minor adjustments to the ribs, linings, blocks, bass bar (or tone bars, or braces) to make each piece of wood resonate cleanly.
- Work out irregular areas of the top and back, that is, areas that are bright or dull compared to that tapped pitch generally found across the plate.
- Adjust the bridge for clarity, balance, and projection. This isn't as feasible on guitars, but some things can be done.
- Adjust tone by working “cross-over” areas of the top. This isn't as applicable to guitars, but a bit can be done.
- Adjust brilliance by slightly lightening appropriate areas of the top.
- Finally adjust the evenness of response around F holes or other ports.
This whole process gets repeated, partially or completely, several times. Each step tends to influence the previous ones just a little. The results are generally quite clear. Less energy goes into noise, non-musical sound. More energy goes into the sound that the instrument is designed to produce. There’s greater clarity and sweetness. Volume often appears to increase, although that may simply be a redirection of energy away from noise and into useful areas. The greater efficiency shows up in more consistent and faster response. None of this work will make a bad component or ineffectively designed and build instrument into a masterpiece. The work can only reveal what’s concealed in a particular instrument.
Mandovoodoo? We started marketing this process for mandolins, but began with violins. Guitars came last. Ask about other instruments. We've done ukuleles, citterns, and a range of other strings, as well as bows and fishing rods.