From a Luthier‘s Notes: “Sustain, or the metaphysical position of
the classical guitar in organology”
Under this rather monstrous title, I would like to share some thoughts I have about one of the most important aspects of sound which we commonly call ”sustain“. Other than acousticians, a guitarist or lute player talking about ”sustain“ usually refers to the duration of a played note, while in acoustics, the term „sustain“ refers to the part of
the note where the amplitude is rather stable before it decays – a part which by definition doesn’t exist in any plucked sound. Or does it?
Let me quote Julian Bream:
„I think there is something fascinating about plucked sound. The plucked instruments, most of them, if not all, come from the east, and perhaps it has to do with eastern mysticism and religious experience, but plucked sound has a remarkable quality, because the actual pluck is the apex of the sound, and thereafter it dies. And if you are playing a phrase of, say, six or seven notes, you’re dealing really with six or seven births and six or seven deaths. We hate death and we don’t know how to deal with it. So, in fact, we sustain our lives as long as possible. The excitement is also in the spaces
between the notes. And therein lies the perk of plucked sound.“1 Another, more prosaic, way to describe plucked sound would be to say it is a percussive sound with a clearly audible pitch. Generally, when we look at musical instruments… read more