Talking Guitar with The North American Guitar in London
July 15, 2015
Timbre - if a tree falls, what sound does it make?
I'm often asked, "What Tone are you trying to achieve with your guitars?"
I usually reply with the common luthier answer, "I build guitars to produce piano-like bass, clear sparkling treble, and balance through the midrange." This seems to be a satisfactory answer for most and is an honest statement but I'm not sure this addresses the real question.
I think the real question may be, "What Timbreare you trying to achieve?"
Allow me to explain.
"Tone" does refer to the balance of frequencies present in a sound, however,
"Timbre" (ˈtambər/) refers to the characteristic of this sound. In music this is what allows us to distinguish one instrument from another. It is the difference between a guitar and a piano playing the same note. Listen to examples of the same note played on different instruments below.
Timbre is a combination of many factors. It includes tone but also aspects of its envelope: attack, decay, sustain, and the number and strength of harmonics.
Outside of music, timbre is what allows us to recognize a friends voice on the phone and distinguish it from, say, a tree falling in the forrest.