Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - Christmas Gift Guitars for Beginners: Stainless Frets and Torrified Wood?

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Christmas Gift Guitars for Beginners: Stainless Frets and Torrified Wood?

  This time of year I usually get calls about "can you recommend a guitar to me for a beginner?" (even before people sign up for lessons....  hmmm). 

(note: I have not been paid by this company or received any recompense for this review...)

 My previous go-to answer was to look for the Monoprice stratocaster copy,   They still seem to be one of the best deals, although in the past year or so models from EART seem to have stepped up - I'd say try to get one of these for $188:

EART Strat

 It's effectively a fully professional guitar, but also has 2 very notable features previously not found on a guitar in this sub-$200 price range, in that it has polished stainless steel frets and a "roasted"/torrified neck and body.

 The stainless steel frets, for the average player, will effectively hold their polish and not wear out.  In the Old Days not only did we not have stainless steel frets, on sub-$500 guitars the frets were made out of a cheap, soft alloy that started to wear with very little playing.  This wear affects the playability of the guitar over the period of years.  With stainless frets effectively the guitar should play the same for the life of the instrument.

 Which brings me to the second part, the "roasted or "torrified" neck and body.   I previously couldn't make the statement "it should play the same for the life of the instrument", because wood tends to do things in different environments when it gets cold/warm, or exposed to humidity/dry air.  "Roasted" means the wood has literally been baked in an oven for a period of time, at a very specific temperature.  This does 2 very good things:

1) removes moisture from the wood;

2) "caramelizes" the lignin, which is to say effectively makes the resin act as epoxy, it becomes harder/stiffer.

 The first thing is good because it means it is much less likely to want to warp or change it's dimensionallity due to temperature/climate conditions.  Wood is not a perfect material, and guitar necks have been known to warp when furnaces are used in the winter, or A/C in the summer creates strange moist-to-dry situations.  This is due to the wood expelling and taking up moisture.  

 When torrified, not only is there no water to want to evaporate out of the wood, the caramelization acts as a sealant that keeps it from wanting to absorb moisture.  

  Which is a good thing, but an even better thing IMO is that because it makes it stiffer, it SOUNDS significantly better.   Without a doubt, I am of the opinion the the reason *some* old guitars are so prized for their sound is due to the fact that after 30+ years, if the neck hasn't warped it's due to both the having successfully dried out AND the caramelization process starting naturally.

 Roasting/torrification does both in one go.  I claim the "vintage guitar" sound, and the seemingly random variability of older guitars sounding better or worse than another, is mostly down to how naturally the wood has dried out.  Roasted necks will create a nicer sound, and also a louder, more reactive sound.   

 These two things, stainless steel frets and roasted wood, I think are the most important inventions in guitar in the past 50 years.  That you can get both on a guitar that's less than $200 is incredible.  The rest of the guitar, pickups, bridge and tuners are also very high quality, as is the quality of the nut.  Effectively in every respect a professional guitar for less than I paid for my first Hondo guitar in 1984 that was lower quality in every respect!  


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