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A Guitar Makerīs Note on the Construction of 10-string Guitars
by Sebastian Stenzel

Anyone who ever started playing 10-string guitar has had to accept that in addition to mastering the actual creation of sound, there is a problem to solve that doesn't exist in this dimension on a 6-string guitar: the dampening of unwanted resonances. These resonances from the additional strings confront the luthier with a contradiction that is in my opinion the most salient point in the construction of 10-string guitars: if the guitar has too much sustain, the player will be busy dampening rather than playing the guitar. If there is too little sustain, the guitar will be very stiff, lacking capacity of modulation, and - while functioning well with chords - sound rather boring when monophonic lines are played. The challenge for the guitar maker is to find the best compromise between these two poles.
Among the hundreds of guitars that I have scrutinized during the last fifteen years, there have been a few 10-string guitars, and even fewer really good ten-strings. It is my habit to take measurements of all interesting guitars that come into my workshop, and by comparing the data of different 10-string guitars, I've quickly understood that there is a common misunderstanding among guitar makers about the construction of 10-string guitars. Due to the very little energy available to create a guitar sound (compared e.g. to the violin, where the bow allows a continues input of energy) the guitar is constructed close to the limits of static stability. This situation is aggravated by adding four more strings, thereby increasing the string tension on this fragile structure by approximately 60%. This seems to frighten many luthier, who strengthen their soundboard in what they think is an equal measure, assuming a directly proportional relationship of soundboard thickness and static stability. In reality, the moment of inertia relevant to the profile of a body depends on the thickness to the third power. Simply put, every tenth of a millimeter in thickness increases the static stability considerably. As a result of this misconception, many ten-strings have been build too much on the safe side. The sensitivity of the luthier to find the right point of balance when making the soundboard is challenged just a little more than when building a "normal" guitar.
Back to the problem of resonances: first, it has to be said that they are unavoidable, even in six-string guitars. In fact, the phenomena of resonance is the basic principle of amplification of all acoustic instruments. It is an essential aspect of the art of lutherie to spread the resonance-peaks so evenly that they do not detract from the desired tone. What was said before concerning the string tension also holds true for the resonances: the situation is simply aggravated. The same details of construction used in six-string guitars to spread resonances evenly will work in a ten-string guitar too, because the tuning is similar, and so are the basic dimensions of the guitar body. Technically, a ten-string guitar is not so different from a six-string as one is easily led to think, but it will accentuate any faults and weaknesses of a construction.



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