All you need to know about perhaps the most important part of the guitar that defines its sound. Guitar maker Paula Lazzarini -First Prize Granada International Guitar Making Competition- tells us all we need to know about it.
When we talk about Fan Bracing or Fan Struts, we are referring to
the woods, sometimes are very small pieces, that are placed under the soundboard.
Those struts that are placed underneath the soundboard
They can be of many different kind of arrangements.
And the choice that the guitar maker makes they’re made in relation to get some type
of sound, frequency, hardness,some sweetness in the sound of the guitar, etc.
But everything has a meaning why. if we would have\Nonly one type of guitar without any kind of internal bracing or any kind of fan struts layout
And we take the string out of rest, the top’s going to vibrate and it’s going to produce a sound and you’re going to hear that sound.
So why would it sound if I don’t have a fan bracing?
It sounds because when I take the string out of rest,the bridge is responsible for transmitting that energy from the string
to the guitar body, inside, it starts to generate\Na compression inside the guitar of a frequency energy.
Yes, an energy
The bridges have a force ranging between\Nabout 45 to 60 kilograms, right? of force that they are causing that are generating the strings.
There is a weight tension between 45 and 60 kilos that is transmitted through the bridge.
So, let’s say that the function of the bridge
is not only to support so many kilograms, but also to\Nhave the function of transmitting those kilos into energy.
Now, in the choice of a fan, it has to do with\Nbeing able to reinforce not only on a structural level a top,
but also to amplify. The important thing in the choice\Nof a fan is always what we want to amplify.
When I play one string and I don’t have a fan bracing
the sound will project
When we add a fan, what we’re producing,\Nis to amplify that sound and according to the placement
that I can place those pieces\Nof wood forming a fan bracing
What I’m trying to do,
what all of us guitar makers are looking for\Nto address that amplification of sound that’s occurring in the guitar.
The function of the Fan Bracing is basically,\NI focus it, on three fundamental functions.
One is a function of structure
We want to structure in some way
the top in such a way that it doesn’t collapse in a short time.
If I have a top, as I said,if I don’t have a fan struts at all
And I play it, the guitar’s gonna sound.
Yes, but it’s an instrument that’s going to collapse in a short time,
because there’s no structural function.
Now there’s a function, a second function, which is a function of amplification of that sound of the guitar
And a third function where already there the guitar maker
starts to leave his particular signature, which is to direct that amplification in a way, a way to get some kind of colours we want and a clarity of sound that we want.
If we want a kind of sound that’s brighter, warmer, if we want it to have more projection, or to be less projected…
there’s a very big possibility that\Nwe can work through the fan bracing
Fans bracing have always been made in many different ways.
We’re going to find
There are also…
We can find it spherical, semi-spherical… we can even find it with heights that are changing,
higher in a central part and that end up forming a kind of a end up forming a kind of a parenthesis.
So, they end up like this …
Some people prefer to make\Nthe struts
In about two centimetres, three centimetres…
very, very short, very thin, etcetera.
And each one will have a different function also according to the quantity.
So, we know from 1850 onwards a kind of a fan bracing, where it can go in five struts.
with the time
that kept changing and changing
Many of the guitar makers were leaving\Ntheir signature on this of adding struts
We have six of them,
We have nine…
yes , nine struts as well,
And well, everything, all those fans bracing
let’s say they’re looking for a kind of functionality. And they are always
on these three quite important principles that are fundamental at the time of the construction of the guitar and the soundboard
And we had also said mechanical,\Nin the sense of how we’re going to direct the sound. When we have a guitar top
with the grains that are all perpendicular to each other\Nvery symmetrical and next to each other
we could say that each one fulfils a function of a string.
That’s why when I hit it (the top) and I feel the sound, you hear a sustain. Oh, this top I make a little tap on it and it sustains a sound, a frequency, doesn’t it?
So, if we didn’t have a fan bracing, the instrument collapses.
We know that. But also the fan and the arrangement of the fan bracing allows us, as we said, to extend the lifetime of the life of the instrument and of the top,
but also to make it more rigid in some points, of all these, let’s say, multiple strings that we have
Making certain places stiffer
we often look in the tops
we look for flexibility and we also look for it to be\Nrigid, that it’s more difficult to move the guitar. For example,
there we find a very nice and very interesting difference, which is the difference between the classical guitar and the flamenco guitar.
What does a guitar like the flamenco guitar need?
which is a kind of sound
which leads us to the idea of the percussive sound.
It needs the percussive sound. And the classical guitar that needs a sound that grows, that has more sustain, that has a lot of colours, that has harmonics and so on.
So, according to that we also choose where to\Nto make the top more rigid and then we find ourselves with fans bracing
some of them are more like
perpendicular to the grain of the timber and fan bracings\Nwhich are more like across the grain of the wood, right?
When we look at the fan of a classical guitar, we see it in this sense, don’t we?
So it’s a wooden pieces arrangement is in an opening fan arrangement
And what do we manage to do with that?
It’s to stiffen the grain transversely. And in a\Nflamenco guitar, that would not generate the percussive effect that the guitar needs.
We need it to be a very fast sound response guitar.
We don’t want it to have a huge sustain because it’s going to get out of hand of what the flamenco style demands.
So there we have two very clear universes\Nto see how the fan bracing works.
It doesn’t matter how many.. just whether I put a fan bracing of five struts, six, seven, eight, nine …
whether I do it lattice, whether I do it just
traditional fan bracing-shaped…
That’s a second step we can say
The important thing here is that when we choose a fan, it’s because we want to make it more rigid transversely a top that’s going to generate a lot of movement simultaneously.
So, from that place, we’re looking for volume, we’re looking for the sustain, the colours… we can find a lot of things, but it’s important to clarify an idea.
There is no fan that is the best fan,\N”the successful one” …
The kind of fan bracings changes as there are a lot of\Nnumber of people making guitars
It changes because we are also constantly…\Nwe are constantly coming across a piece of wood that is different.
So, if I have a wood that doesn’t need as much stiffness
possibly the fan bracing changes slightly, the struts heights change slightly, the struts thicknesses may change, the amount of thicknesses may change, the number of bars may change as well.
We can’t lock ourselves into an idea that in order to obtain
a certain sound.
I must build with a certain fan bracing.
That would really be the wrong idea. As it is also, in my opinion, is to believe that a symmetrical fan bracing changes
excessively the instrument in relation to an asymmetrical fan bracing.
in reality they are both looking for what to improve
with respect to the guitar top.
So, there are tops that we even need to leave different thicknesses.
There are tops that we need to leave a rather standard thickness.
not less than 2.2-2.3 millimeters
There are tops that allow us to leave thinner thicknesses
and therefore a different fan bracing is used.
I always use a phrase\NI heard once from a teacher who said:
“he who masters the force, masters the sound” and after many years I have been understanding what it means about the force and the sound.
The first studies that studied\Nthe movements of guitar tops
the measuring instruments used were seismographs,the ones that measure earthquakes, and basically what’s happening to a guitar top is a small earthquake.
And on a classical guitar, that quake, it lasts\Nas long as the production of the sound lasts… and so on and so forth.
So from there we have to know how to locate that…
resistance we put on it
It’s not just that I put a wood
and I stick it and I’m generating a nodal point.
No, those ideas…
I don’t think it’s that way.
It seems to me that what we need to understand is\Nwhat we’re looking is to make a classical guitar top more or less rigid,
what kind of stiffness we want to find in the moment of playing.
of playing the guitar.
Sometimes there’s this idea that people can get\Nconfused that the guitar is hard to play and then all of a sudden another it’s very easy to play
Others tell you it’s a guitar very easy to play
even that it has a soft sound
There’s an interesting difference there than when the instrument is
easy to play or hard
it is not a question of whether the strings has too much tension, etc.
It’s just how much energy does that guitar need to generate this micro-oscillation, in other words, how much energy it takes from my right hand to move the top.
And when we’re looking to move the top,
we are moving
the top, the fan struts, the harmonic bars…that\Ncomes into play on a classical guitar,
especially the back, the sides, the neck…\NOn a classical guitar…
absolutely everything vibrates
So, there is a very important difference\Ndifference between what would be
an easy to play guitar,
that we’re talking about soft tops that need
less amount of energy, they’re less demanding
it’s not that you have to be careful,
it just needs less energy
And all of a sudden we (the guitar makers) are also doing tops that need more energy. Because we get a guitarist
who wants to work
the right hand, and wants to work on a different music repertoire.
he wants to work on the sound of the guitar, and for that he needs and he wants a guitar that needs more energy to move it to make that guitar sound.
And then we can place it in another way
the arrangement of the fan bracing.
It is also very interesting
the placement of the harmonic bars.\NFrom 1850 onwards
other harmonic bars were removed. When the fan bracing system did not exist,
or it was very incipient,
it was used to place two, three,\Nup to four whole harmonic crossbars on tops.
And now from Torres
that was getting smaller in quantity, and normally in a\Nguitar we find ourselves with only two harmonic crossbars, one that’s located between the 17th or 18th fret.
18 let’s say, and one that is below where the rosette ends, at the waist, the least wide part of the guitar body.
Let’s say that would be
from then on all the guitars have those two bars.
Also new guitars started to appear\Nthat guitar makers left their signature, where other harmonic bars appear.
can also be
transverse ones. Some make them more diagonal, the typical case,
is Ramírez, or it may be Fleta\Nwho places a third harmonic bar,
and they are not always parallel, but\Nhas a certain inclination.
Generally this inclination goes to the side of the trebles.
Because if we make the treble side with more wood bars concentration, we know that we’re going to have instruments that have a little bit more projection.
Even the speed of the attack is going to come into play as well,
of that sound output.
And there we also find the…
when the famous asymmetrical fans bracing begin. Where not everything is the same height not everything has the same height, the same amount of wood…
but you start to play with the measurements of the height\N, also of the thickness of each
component of the fan bracing.
You know what’s a weird thing?
Because it’s asymmetrical and symmetrical at the same time.
My fan bracing is strange.
My fan bracing is asymmetrical,
and symmetrical at the same time, because in its asymmetry\Nthere is also a symmetry.
I basically start from a kind of a template,
from a design idea of a large body instrument
I don’t know,
life led me to the fact that
I’m very attracted to the sound
of the French school , possibly a lot of the time it’s called like that because of the amount of or the arrangement of the fan bracing
But many of these instruments, even though they\Nstarted out as symmetrical fans,
in their development fullness, at the moment where the fan bracing was already
the one that closed the idea that this guitar works.\NThat the guitar maker continues to make it repeatedly,
always the same. At that moment they end up being asymmetrical fans bracing.
So I start my personal fan
from an asymmetric fan.
Looking for basses using light material, because\Nwe know that if I put less wood in the bass part of the guitar. I’m going to have less weight there.
and then I’m going to make it easier for the\Nopening up the sound of the bass
that the sixth, the fourth string…
have a little more projection.
But also, as some other luthiers say,\Nwe always have to know what we choose, because when we can gain from one place, we also lose from another place.
So that’s where the fan bracing says, well, if I win\Nin bass, how much do I gain or how much do I lose in trebles?
The fan bracing whether it’s symmetrical
or asymmetrical is always in this\Ncontradiction in this double path.
So my fan has this asymmetry where it concentrates a lot of force in the central area of the top.
Then I’ve got some smaller bars…
My fan is seven struts
and number two. They’re thinner, smaller
And I put at the ends sides a symmetry. Because the highest point of the bars is not in the middle of the bridge.
It’s closer to the waist
So that my guitar
has a sound that identifies me,
that represents me,
always look for a guitar that has a\Ndepth in the bass and that projects well.
I like the treble not to have a\Nstrident in character, I want a clear and present treble, but that it’s not the main sound that’s out there
I mean, I like it to be able to do an overall harmonics presence
So, for that, I need a top that\Ncan also give a resistance when playing
I needed a top that’s more like a hard top.
I like them because it generates,
it gives a lot of different colours.
A lot of colour.
let’s say, the central part of the guitar
it’s the part where I concentrate a lot of energy, a lot of material, energy and a good amount of material, of wood…
So that’s where I locate the asymmetry basically.
it’s not just distributed\Nin the area below the bridge.
Cedar tops, red cedar tops and spruce tops
are very different not only in their, shall we say, biological nature.
But when we look at the tops,\Nthe flexibility is different
Each one has a sustain that changes\Nquite a lot and a characteristic sound
spruce tops are stiffer tops and they have a composition that allows them to be brighter instruments.
They’re generally very bright tops, and you have to work on them, in my point of view, with a fan that doesn’t give them too much rigidity.
When I work on spruce tops
It’s not the same fan bracing that I use when\NI make a cedar top.
On the cedar I’m constantly looking for where I want to make it more rigid and directing some sounds. On the spruce tops,
if I were to repeat\Nthe same fan bracing as on a cedar top,
it would be a harder instrument to take it out of rest,
to move the top.
And it would also have a sound\Nthat I don’t like
An overly bright sound. It would be a more metallic sound.
So, in that case (spruce) the fan bracing\Nends up being a simpler fan.
a fan bracing of six struts
I also include, at the end of the fan bracing, in a V-shape,
two very small struts
I’m looking for thicknesses that aren’t thick ones
I’m looking for thicknesses that are like two millimetres.
What’s important, whether it’s a spruce top or a cedar top, is to look for the structural function.
not only where we make it more rigid\Ntransversely, but also
improve the durability of the top
And well, a lot of guitar makers have always\Nused the reinforcement under the bridge.
Others instead were changing with a bar
In my case, I place a reinforcement, but it’s away from the bridge.
That idea is to avoid deformation.\NThe strings, over the years, the guitars deform in this way.
So, if we structurally reinforce the part that’s behind the bridge, what we would be doing is to lengthen in time that deformation
That would apply what we were saying about\Nthe reinforcement that makes the fan bracing. The different functions that it has. The spruce top in this case is also important to reinforce it.
It’s not that, because it’s a different top\Nthan the red cedar, remove that reinforcement.
I also like to reinforce\Nto keep it from warping over time.
“Sorry” I talk to guitars, (haha) sometimes…
The construction that we\Nnormally place from Torres onwards, and so..
we’re very used to seeing on guitars\Na curvature at the back, which is a curve that it makes in this direction and it also makes in this direction
in the case of the back and in the case of the top, we also find that there is a curve in the guitar, in this direction and in this direction. In many makers we’re going to find that as well in this direction.
In the old guitar we always had\Nthe concept of a flat top and the back is also flat.
Harmonic bars were also placed,\Nbut they were always placed flat, on the back and the top.
The guitar we know today is a guitar that has this curve
we call it “bombatura” (curvature).
There are, of course, guitar makers who prefer and like to work with a very good marked curve.
two millimetres, one millimetre, one and a half millimetre curve.
It can also be a little bit more
And the back also with a lot of curve.
I remember some years ago
in the magazine Orfeo, an article published\Nabout tops, fans bracing, struts, etc.
They mentioned in an article
a scientific article about a series of guitars
they had studied, about volume, sustain…
of sound, and so on.
It was modified according to this amount of curve\Nthat was given in the tops
and in this scientific publication, they had measured tops curvatures with two millimetres, one millimetre, one and a half millimetres…
there was a measurement range.
And the conclusion of the article is that
it’s not necessarily with the curvature that it produces\Nor generates a better sound, better sustain,
better sound quality
No, it’s not necessarily the curvature\Nthat comes into play in that process.
I remember when I saw it
I was even happy…
because my guitar is not, it’s not a guitar with\Nan excess of curvature.
I like to work the tops with a natural curvature.
Which, for example, if this would be\Na top, a guitar top
when we start to work on them, sometimes they naturally want to go to a place to the outside or to the inside.
And for example, according to that movement, I choose\Nwhere the wood fibers tells me it wants to go.
if it wants to in this case, move towards…\NI’m going to select this place as the outside
this part the internal one.
Because naturally, the composition of the wood\Nof the fibre is telling me, it’s demonstrating to me empirically that it’s going to go to this place.
So, naturally, it’s in my best interest to work the top\Ndirectly in this position and not the other way around.
And that makes it possible for me to
even at the moment of assembling\Nthe fan bracing, I can choose also with that fan bracing
how much curvature I’m going to give to the top.
I don’t work with excessive curvature.
not necessarily so that the sound is well projected
you no need to exaggerate with curvature. With\Na natural curvature of the top itself the instrument should work. And even the bridges…
there are many ways of gluing the bridges,\Nof making the bridge, and so on.
But I like it very much, we all (guitar makers) like the fact that the bridge copies the curvature of the top, but I prefer to bend them with heat.
I’m looking to copy that curve
With the same tool as us
we bend the sides.
I copy the curve, folding, bending, till I cannot see light between so then the bridge can be adapted to the top.
The bridge has to copy the same curve, whether it’s this way or that way, it has to copy the same curve in this direction or in this direction, it has to copy the shape the top has.
Another one of the concepts that I like to\Nwork a lot on my guitar
is the Back
There’s a large part of the overall construction\Nof the guitar where the main sound
is all located in the top, top sound, top, top and top.
No, I really like to give attention to the back as well.
It’s not just a simple part that you make a thickness,
you put bars on it, and that’s it.
In fact it depends on the hardness of the wood I’m working on,
I can possibly change the thicknesses of the wood.
if it is excessively stiff,
I’m probably going to work on a lower thickness,\Nso that I can have a better flexibility.
With some kind of woods like the rosewoods backs, if it’s cedar top or spruce top, I’m going to leave it at 1.9 or even up to 2.2 mm.
So I can change the thickness range of the top.
So I could also change the number of harmonic bars that I place.
Normally I like to place three harmonic bars
But I go back to the argument from when we were looking for that amplification of sound through the struts in the tops.
For me, the backs are also very important
The function of the back,
when we play, everybody realises that it moves, that it comes into play, it absorbs a a part of the energy from the frequencies that are inside the box.
Another times pulls them out…
So, in the back I like to have\Na pitch, usually a little bit high.
Not a back that just absorbs frequencies.
And that’s why it’s often the case that instead of three bars you can place four bars in the background
Or find some way where I can work on the of the back,
so that together can work on the compression of the guitar,\Nof the sound, of the air that’s inside the soundboard.
and unlike, for example, other types of construction\Nwhere the back or the sides are blocked,
in the classical guitar the back is fundamental in the production of the sound.
In my conception of construction. As the sides, the top, etcetera.
It’s very important that it participates in that\Nmoment of compression of sound energy.
It’s very important that it’s a back that can quickly recover the energy
and can spread it again.
From my point of view
the response of the back is fundamental, because\Nin the traditional guitar.
There’s a conjunction between the top and the back.
There needs to be. Because they’re working together
It’s not just a membrane that we have to concentrate on.
We have to concentrate on the idea of a piston,\Non the idea of a compression that’s being generated.
On tops we know where to look, where to amplify, where to amplify the sound of the top but we don’t have to forget to also amplify the sound that we find in the back.
Because that’s going to add
more colours, more colours in the bass, more colours in the treble.
Really, it’s going to help us\Na lot to the colours on the harmonics.
That is to say
The back, I attach a lot of importance to it.
I can’t say if it’s a percentage of 50% back and 50% top,\Nbut almost yes.