Are we attaching excess importance to individual factors affecting tone? If personal preference and individual tastes can be considered, I'd say the answer is yes. The truth is that many factors affect the sound coming from an instrument, and... who's to say which ones are most important? Before I ramble on, I'd just like to repeat the question from Lynyrd Skynyrd's "One More From The Road" album:
"What is that you all'd like to hear?"
The vibrational frequencies incident at the guitar's pickups are a product of many factors. The most important of which would be the string's length, tension, construction, material (eg. metal, plastic, gut, etc), followed by the resonant frequencies (ie. vibration and damping) occurring at both points of attachment.
An in depth discussion of the factors affecting each component would require hundreds of pages. However, a basic overview of some of the factors involved might grant us new insight. To understand these factors more clearly, let's break them down individually:
String Properties: These include:
- String construction - eg wound, solid, coated, etc.
- Material - eg. steel, nylon, gut
- Length & Tension - self explanatory.
- Mass - the ratio of the mass of the string to the mass of objects that it's attached to.
Frets: the mass, dimensions, properties and material used at this point of contact all affect the string's freedom to vibrate, as well as it's ability to sustain said vibration. eg. harder materials are less likely to absorb vibrational energy, and are therefore less likely to damp the string. ie. hard metal (or granite) frets would allow for greater sustain than rubber frets.
Additionally, fret dimensions play a role too. Fret height affects the string's angle of incident upon the fret (which affects the quality of contact and resultant vibration), as well as the finger strength necessary to adequately hold the string against the fingerboard. As far as fret width goes? Suffice it to say that "it is a factor".
Before we move on, it's important to remember that it's not only about pitch, volume and sustain. It's also about timbre. The interaction between the string and the fret influences more than pitch and volume. It affects the quality/color of the sound produced. eg. There are many different shades of blue (they're all blue, but they're all different)
Wood Properties: The physical properties of the fingerboard material along with the physical properties of the neck and the individual's finger (soft, callused, strong, weak) holding the string down all play a role in damping the string and affect it's ability to sustain at the point of contact (ie. fret).
Physical Connections: Quality and type of physical connections at points of contact all play a role in the. Below are a some of the physical connections affecting the sounds that reach our ears from a guitar. All of which are influenced by many outside factors, which I have no intention of addressing here.
- String to fret
- Fret to fingerboard
- Fingerboard to neck
- Neck to body
- String to Bridge
- Bridge to body
- String to nut
- Nut to body
- String to tuning machine
- Tuning machine to head
Neck - wood species, shape, mass, and connection to the body all play a role, BUT.... Ask yourself this. How much does a tuning fork vibrate after you grab the vibrating part with your hand? For that matter, how much does a drum cymbal vibrate after you grab it with your hand? Hmm? How much does a guitar neck vibrate after you grab it with your hand. Perhaps the fret material and quality of it's points of physical contact have more to do with tone and sustain than we realize.
In closing? It's all about personal preference and individual tastes.
"What is it that you all'd like to hear?"
~ from Lynyrd Skynyrd's "One More From the Road" (introduction to "Freebird"