I want a TOUGH guitar!
April 28, 2012 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I need an acoustic guitar to incorporate into an art installation. It'll be played roughly (by machines!), rest at an odd angle for years in conditions of unknown temperature and humidity, and be tuned only occasionally. What guitar should I get that won't crack, warp, or otherwise disintegrate under this treatment? Durability is more important than beauty or tone quality. I'm sure an electric guitar would be tougher, but I'd like to stay acoustic if possible.

Bonus points if it's a model I can pick up at (ugh) Guitar Center, and not too odd or strangely shaped, so it could be replaced with a similar model in the future if necessary.
posted by moonmilk to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go to GC, and get their bottom of the line Mitchell dreadnaught acoustic. If it is inside, odds are you wont have any issues about cracking or warping. Mitchell's are OK. They will last and serve your purpose well.

Also. Be nicer to guitars.
posted by timsteil at 11:46 AM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I promise to be nice to other guitars, but this one, I'm afraid, must suffer.
posted by moonmilk at 11:49 AM on April 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah, IMO there's no such thing as a ruggedly "durable" acoustic guitar. They are delicate by design. Get any old cheapie. You could pay more for a nice guitar that has better tuners and is more likely to stay in tune, but if it's going to be bashed about by robots, there's no need to put much money into it. As long as it is in a climate-controlled environment, I wouldn't worry about cracking, warping, or other damage due to exposure. If you would like to avoid GC, go on Craigslist and I'm sure you can find something cheap w/o having to give your money to our corporate guitar overlords.
posted by puritycontrol at 12:24 PM on April 28, 2012

As long as it is in a climate-controlled environment, I wouldn't worry about cracking, warping, or other damage due to exposure.

This is probably the most important point - if the humidity is stable year-round, it should do fine. I'd probably avoid the very cheap (<> And yes, be nice to guitars. Unless you're building a robo-Jimi Hendrix that is going to light it on fire, that would be pretty cool.
posted by jhs at 12:40 PM on April 28, 2012

Hmmm - above comment used to also say "avoid the very cheap (less than $200) due to concerns regarding quality of both materials and manufacturing. Consider Ovation, most (all?) have plastic backs that I'd assume are more durable than wood. I haven't been in a GC in a while, but they used to carry them".
posted by jhs at 12:44 PM on April 28, 2012

One tip is that new guitar strings tend to go out of tune more quickly than ones that have had a chance to stretch out a bit. So, if you want to keep things in tune, make sure to break the strings in a bit before leaving the guitar to the robots.
posted by maxim0512 at 12:49 PM on April 28, 2012

A camping guitar might be a little more rugged.
posted by goggie at 12:56 PM on April 28, 2012

Any thoughts on laminate vs solid top?
posted by moonmilk at 2:02 PM on April 28, 2012

I have the perfect guitar for you. Esteban makes a bunch of guitars that are pressboard laminated with some sort of acrylic/plastic. These things have mediocre sound quality (as you'd expect), but they are neigh upon indestructable. My partner has one, I've banged in on stuff, dropped it, stuffed it in a metal-roofed shed in the middle of summer, you name it, not a scratch. They look nice, too.

The specific one my partner has is the "American Legacy" model, but I'm pretty sure they're all pressboard and laminate.
posted by zug at 2:14 PM on April 28, 2012

Absolutely laminate. It's much more durable and less affected by humidity changes. Better guitars are built from solid wood for its acoustic properties, not because solid wood is more durable or easier to care for.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:13 PM on April 28, 2012

Somewhere I've seen a musician playing an actual steel (or at least, made out of some shiny metal) -bodied acoustic guitar. Seems like that's what you need -- a classic acoustic, but with the body (if not the neck also) machined or cast from metal or plastic. Maybe even fiberglass?
posted by Rash at 3:24 PM on April 28, 2012

Honestly I'd just go to some pawn shops in town or Music Go Round and pick whatever older guitar I could find for under $50 that's in decent shape. If it's a steel string make sure it has a truss rod.
posted by 6550 at 5:02 PM on April 28, 2012

I don't know what your price range is, but you might be better off going with an Ovation. They have a composite body and are much less likely to crack than wood.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:12 PM on April 28, 2012

RainSong makes composite guitars that should hold up well. Might be pricy, tho.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:52 PM on April 28, 2012

I would avoid a camping guitar, or at least that particular model linked to. A friend of mine bought one because it was cute, and it sounded pretty bad, more like a drunk ukelele than a guitar. There was zero bass in that thing.

I agree with the people above - I think you'd be in good shape with a laminate guitar, ovation (plastic body) guitar or if you want to spend some money, a fiberglass one (that's probably the order of their stability).

Wood is going to change shape. As long as it stays indoors in a normal environment it won't go out too horribly, but my guitars go out of tune if they just sit around not even being played. If you have an abusive robo-musician beating on it in a constantly changing environment I wouldn't count on anything staying in tune for any amount of time.

It sounds like the poor instrument is going to go a while between tunings. You are already robotizing it - why not automatically tune it? Gibson auto-tuning guitar. I'm sure something like that isn't super-difficult to rig up.
posted by amcm at 10:46 AM on April 29, 2012

After looking at auto-tuning systems for a little while they all seem very fancy and expensive. I'm thinking something like your robot plucks the low E, then a cheapo digital tuner tells a geared-down little motor for the low E either 'too flat' or 'too sharp,' the motor turns a little, robot plucks again, and this could repeat until the tuner says the low E is good. then it moves to A, and so on, and when it's finished it does all 6 again until it makes it through with all strings checking OK. Not as pretty as the Gibson system, but the logic is simple enough and the components would cost less than an upgrade to a fiberglass guitar. Just a thought. Good luck!
posted by amcm at 11:06 AM on April 29, 2012

you could find a steel bodied resonator guitar for fairly cheap.


that thing will be much better suited for your needs than a traditional acoustic guitar. They play just like acoustic guitars so you won't have to adjust the robots to play it.
posted by tylerfulltilt at 1:15 PM on April 29, 2012

Thanks for all your excellent advice! It's probably true that any cheap used guitar that's survived for a decade would do just fine. However, I've ordered a brass body resonator guitar, because (1) it has no arch to the strings, which makes things easier for clumsy robot fingers; (2) it's supposed to be particularly loud, and (3) IT ALREADY LOOKS LIKE A FREAKIN' ROBOT. Sold!

I'll post an update here when the thing has been borged.
posted by moonmilk at 5:03 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love the idea of having it tune itself, but that's probably more complex than I want to get into. I will probably have it test the tuning now and then, though, and call for human help if the strings get too far out of tune.
posted by moonmilk at 5:06 PM on April 29, 2012

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