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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
You can try a dozen guitars at your local music store and be able to identify exactly what it is that you like about their individual sound.
You can see any part of the tonal spectrum, from extreme definition that will make your fingers bleed, to extreme sustain that will keep you from picking chords because of the excessive blending that will make you sound like mush.

Because of the many guitars I have tried over more than 30 years, I am aware of the need for some sharing of practical experience.
Being too poor to raid the local music store, it took at least 2 years for me to get my first electric, a severely abused '65 mustang that was missing a horn.
The frets were so worn, I had to use a file, a sharpening stone, and finally some very fine sandpaper to adequately shape them.
The fingerboard was so worn that I had to scallop them in order to grip and bend strings, well before I first heard of it.
I would later give that guitar away to a friend that needed it, one of many I would give away or lend over the years.

I then had a friend that lent me his generic strat for a few years, little did I realize that its tone was actually pretty good, yet when I was 18, I was using a Fender CBS lefty Strat that even with a set of .008's was unbearably painful when you tried to play for more than 5 minutes at a time. Its a good thing that my buddy flew in and took it home.

It would be 9 years before I would buy my first new guitar.
It was a SuperStrat with all sorts of features, yet the sound wasn't that good, ...I gave it away.

It took an entire morning to find my next guitar, there were more than a dozen in stock, the third one I tried was an 80's LP Studio.
By this time I learned to play it unplugged, clean, w/effects, and finally overdriven.
I set it aside for the final round.
In spite of numerous designs and brands, the only two guitars just happened to be Les Pauls, the last one a black custom.

Being used to the comfort and versatility of the Strat, the tone of that LP studio was what made me buy it.
Exceptional to the point that over more than 20 years, I haven't found a guitar that can equal it, so, I'll put up with the weight and the discomfort while sitting, the tone is what they hear, its worth it.

That Les Paul has enough sustain to where fingerpicking chords is a challenge, yet it has enough definition to cut through, a decent balance.
This is where the customer has to know what he/she wants, something that only comes with experience.

What do you look for in a guitar?
The strings should feel slightly rubbery in the way they yield and produce sound without making you try to squeeze the notes out of it.
If you can pick a note at the first fret and slide it past the 12th fret without going dead, so far so good.
If you can get harmonics at the 3d fret, still pretty good.
If you feel comfortable with the feel of the strings, good, if you don't,- toss it, playing for more than five minutes will turn into torture before you know it.
An acceptable guitar will do all of that without hurting your fingers no matter how long you play it.

Wood vs hardware.
My Strats lead pickups are overwound, you would expect them to squeal close to the speaker, yet, its the Les Paul that sounds like it wants to devour you, you have to keep this one away from the speakers.
This is with a stock Gibson in the bridge, and a PAF 200Mvolt design in the neck for clear tone.

How do you account for the feedback and killer tone?
Its not the hardware, its the sound of that particular hunk of wood.
Testing for notes that slide or produce harmonics, you can do that unplugged.
If you account for the desirable sound qualities without plugging in, the important factor can't be the hardware.
It shouldn't surprise you that tonal wood that produces plenty of sustain and definition should, once amplified, can produce exceptional sound.

For the remaining skeptics, lets try the following;
Plant some piezoelectric pickups at several points of the neck and body of both a good-sounding guitar and another that eats fingertips.
Break the frequencies down to base, harmonic and sub-harmonic.
If a stiff-playing instrument doesn't sound like all the sound isn't there, don't be surprised if it turns out to be true.
It goes beyond saying that harmonics and sub-harmonic frequencies are bound to reinforce the base note, only testing would tell if that is the mechanism behind sustain and definition.
This is something that anyone that knows their way around an equalizer can do.

So, you end up with observations ranging over 30 years, a practical criteria for choosing guitars, and an achievable way to discern the origin of good guitar sound.
 
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