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THE 171/172 PROJECT – Part 1

Over the last few years I have been doing research into acoustic guitar resonance, as I’ve reported elsewhere in this blog (see Guitar resonance and soundhole geometry sections).

The research was prompted by an article published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society in 2015 called The evolution of air resonance power efficiency in the violin and its ancestors

This paper traces and explains the physics behind the evolution of violin family soundhole over 8 centuries leading up to the classical f-hole design we’re familiar with.

I wondered whether the same principles could be used to improve to the modern flat top steel string guitar, so I decided to find out experimentally.

The report of what I found is in the Guitar resonance and soundhole geometry sections on this site.

The conclusion I reached is that, as the Royal Society paper suggested, acoustic instruments with long thin soundholes radiate more effectively than traditional round soundholes. The critical factor is the ratio of the soundhole perimeter to its area – the P:A ratio. My research showed significant benefits where the P:A ratio is larger than 0.1m-1 as shown in the diagram below. 

The purple data point shows the total radiative power of a 50mm diameter round soundhole compared to a set of different P:A ratio soundslots.

Diagram 1: Radiative power of high P:A sounslots compared to a traditional round soundhole

It’s clear that above a P:A ratio 0f 0.1 the high P:A slots strongly outperform the traditional round soundhole.

From now on, I’ll refer to high P:A holes as soundslots.

My experiments also showed that the area of a soundhole is important for good projection, something as a guitar builder I had wondered about for a while. As with a lot of acoustic guitar lore, there are many opinions but not much real data.

Diagram 2: Radiative power of different sized round soundholes

The data shows that the total radiative power of a soundhole increases more or less linearly with the soundhole radius. Bass (purple) and treble (red) response doesn’t vary that much over the frequency range 82 to 1,000Hz, so the increase with area is due to much stronger response in the mid-frequency range (green) as the soundhole size increases. 

Larger soundholes are better than smaller ones, it seems, at least until the hole begins to encroach too much on the live area of the soundboard. It would be interesting to know at what point that happens.

But if the area of a soundslot is to be equivalent to a 50mm diameter round hole, the slot needs to be divided in two to be fitted into the top bout of a guitar.

It may be possible to decrease the area of the soundslots in future as the actual performance becomes known, but it made sense to start out with a standard size.

The next picture shows the design I came up with on the right:

Diagram 3: The design of guitars 171 and 172, showing the traditional round soundhole in 171 compared to the soundslots of 172

The experimental data below shows the performance of the double slot design compared with two typically-sized round soundholes (radius 41 and 50mm):

Diagram 4: Total radiative power of high P:A double slot (DSLOT1) compared to two different sizes of round soundhole.

My experiments predict that the double soundslot design will show an increase in radiative power over the 50mm round soundhole of about 80%. This is a rather startling result, but echoes the findings of the Royal Society paper.

Getting into more detail, the diagram below shows that a double soundslot (DSLOT1) strongly outperforms the round soundholes in the 165-330Hz (note E3 to E4) range.

Diagram 5: Performance across 4 octave bands of double soundslot (red) compared to traditional round soundholes (green and blue)

Is the double soundslot design a new idea? Yes and no.

Archtop jazz guitars were built with f-holes before magnetic pickups were available so they would be loud enough to play with swing orchestras. The soundboards of these instruments were usually carved out of a thick wood blank, like a violin top plate, and the f-holes were placed in the same position as a violin relative to the bridge.

The timbre of the archtops was different to the accepted steel-string sound of Martin and Gibson acoustics. The violin family is different to the guitar in that instruments are bowed, giving a steady high-energy input that can sustain a note for as long as the stick-slip action of the bow can be maintained. 

Guitars, on the other hand, are plucked instruments with varying but always small ability to sustain an audible note. The archtop jazz guitars needed a rapid, chopped playing style to keep up the volume they needed to be heard over the top of an orchestra. That’s a very different thing to what is needed for the parlour environment in which flat top guitars are usually used.

And the f-hole design isn’t a very suitable arrangement for a flat top guitar with a thin soundboard, because it interferes with the bracing needed to resist string tension. Like the violin family, the carved arched soundboard took much of the string tension load without the need for much extra bracing.

More importantly, f-holes would also change the vibrational modes of the guitar’s lower bout because they rely on the soundboard being firmly connected to the sides of the soundbox. The entire lower bout of a flat top guitar is crucial for the instrument to produce the timbre expected from a modern guitar, and to shift enough air to produce a reasonable volume of sound.

The rationale for the double soundslot flat top design is to increase the responsiveness of the acoustic guitar in its commonly-used context: either as a purely acoustic instrument, or with the use of a microphone in concert.

It seems there would be little benefit to the soundslot design for use with a built-in pickup, but that remains to be seen.


Having gathered the experimental data, the obvious next step is to make a guitar with a high P:A ratio soundhole, both to confirm the experimental result and find out what the effect of the soundhole geometry will have on the guitar’s overall sound. A control instrument with the traditional round soundhole but otherwise identical would also be necessary as a comparison.

The building of two identical-as-possible guitars, one with a round soundhole and one with soundslots is what I am calling the 171/172 Project, referring to the serial numbers of the two guitars to be built.

The two instruments need to have the same area of soundhole. The round hole is 45mm in radius, giving it an area of 6,362mm2, so the high P:A slot has to have the same area. A length of 425mm and a width of 15mm achieves this, but is quite hard to fit into the guitar top without compromising the lower bout tonally and structurally.

The solution was to fit two slots around the edge of the upper bout on either side of the neck. 

This should be structurally sound, and has an extra advantage. The normal reinforcement that goes in around a centrally-placed round soundhole tends to deaden the response of the upper bout. With two slots placed at the edge, there is greater potential for the upper bout to remain live over a greater area than with the round hole. What effect this will have tonally is difficult to predict – which is one reason for building the instrument to find out.

This picture shows the design I arrived at for the soundslot geometry for instrument 172:

Diagram 6: 172 soundboard showing carbon-balsa-carbon lattice bracing and soundslots

Diagram 7: 171 soundboard showing carbon-balsa-carbon lattice bracing and round soundhole

I decided the two test instruments would be nylon sting neoclassical guitars. 

Not having any great attachment to traditional design and build, I decided to incorporate some other features in the two guitars:

  • Using a truss rod in the neck for adjustment of playability and better sustain
  • The use of a crude form of side mass-loading (in this case, a 6mm layer of bamboo lining the side of the soundbox (see Gore Contemporary Acoustic Guitar Design and Build Vol 1,
  • Using a steel-string style headboard and tuners rather than the classical pierced style (which I find a pain to build and use)
  • Using a carbon fibre and balsa laminate for the top bracing, in the form of a lattice rather than the traditional fan bracing

Once the two guitars are complete, I will be investigating their resonance characteristics by tap testing to measure differences is projecting power and timbre.

Timbre, of course, is the more important of the two. How the vibrational modes of the soundboard will form with the new design is unpredictable, particularly with the free edges to the slots in the upper bout. 

Guitar resonance and soundhole theory – Part 14: GUITAR SOUNDBOARD VIBRATIONAL MODES


Because a guitar soundboard is fixed along its edges and has a characteristic waisted shape with a large lower bout, there are only a certain number of ways in which it is free to vibrate. These are called “top modes”, and they are the same in every flat top guitar. Together they produce the sound we recognize as “guitar”[1].


First, some definitions. An object vibrating in a complex way, such as a guitar string, will show points of maximum movement, interspersed with stationary points.

In the case of a guitar string, the fixed point at each end is always a node, but an elastic string can support a number of different modes of vibration. Here is a diagram of the first four possible modes for a guitar string:

This diagram comes from:

Points of maximum displacement from the string’s rest position (a straight line, of course) – are called antinodes. In the top diagram you can see four antinodes.

Points of no movement are called nodes. In the top diagram the string mode has five nodes.

The bottom picture shows the simplest, or fundamental mode with an node at each end and one antinode in the centre.

The number of antinodes is called the harmonic number n, so here we see n = 1, 2, 3, and 4.

A string has many higher modes available to it when plucked, but the higher the harmonic number the shorter-lived they are. This is why the attack when you pluck a string is vibrant and complex. As the string rings over time, the higher modes die out one by one, eventually leaving the fundamental by itself.


Flat top guitar soundboards also show an unvarying pattern in the ways that they are able to vibrate.

The diagrams in this section give a basic idea of how the soundboard of a guitar responds when it resonates at particular frequencies. The + sign indicates the maximum possible upwards deflection from the normal flat surface, and a – sign is a maximum downward deflection.[2]

The dotted line each diagram is the node, the points that stay fixed during the vibration.

What’s important to realise is that all guitars with a flat, relatively thin soundboard show these modes. The main reason why different guitars sound different from each other (different timbre) is that while they all support these same modes they do it to different degrees.

As you look at the diagrams below, you can see how the soundboard bracing can have a huge effect on the guitar’s response.


The monopole is the simplest vibrational mode, and is associated with the the coupled air-cavity resonance frequency at around 150Hz. The top (and often the back) surface acts like a bellows forcing air in and out of the soundhole. [3]

The top monopole (one antinode), which is the lowest frequency “breathing” mode

It is possible to get a guitar soundbox to blow out a candle by placing the soundhole next to the flame and tapping the bridge firmly. This produces a puff of air that can blow the flame out.


The cross dipole is a response to higher driving frequencies than the monopole, typically around 300Hz. There are two antinodes (hence “dipole”), and as one is moving up the other is moving down.

The cross dipole (two antinode) mode: each side of the lower bout vibrates separately and out of phase[4]


The long dipole mode is typically found at about 400Hz. Again, there are two opposite-phase antinodes

The long dipole mode, where the two antinodes vibrate out of phase


The cross tripole mode is typically found at around 450Hz.

The cross tripole mode, the centre pole out of phase with the two outer ones

These simple diagrams represent only the briefest overview of the top modes, and there a further resonances at higher frequencies with as many as 8 antinodes.

But as for a string, the more complex the mode the shorter-lived it is. One reason a bowed instrument sounds different to a plucked one is that a bow provides a continuous supply of energy to the soundboard, and that tends to prolong the higher modes. The violin’s timbre is more complex than the guitar’s.


Notice in the diagrams above, the area of the soundboard near the soundhole is pretty inactive. No guitar is as simple as these diagrams, but the top bout area doesn’t contribute a great deal to the guitar’s sound because it is usually heavily braced to withstand the force on the neck trying to make the guitar fold into two.

One potential advantage of the double sound slot geometry is that it may free up more of the upper bout to contribute to the guitar’s sound.


If you look into this on line, you may come across diagrams showing different and more complex modes derived from Chladni plates. These are metal plates set vibrating by using a violin bow.

The patterns you see from Chladni plates will be different from the ones I’ve just shown simply because a Chladni plate has free edges, whereas a guitar soundboard is connected to the rest of the soundbox all around its edge.


[1]Different guitars have different timbres largely because each instrument has its own particular balance between the top modes produced, both in strength and frequency. The differences are mainly due to the top bracing system used, the mass of the soundboard, its stiffness – and, as we have now seen, by the soundhole geometry.

In my opinion, the material used for the back and sides has only a subtle effect on the sound produced by a guitar, compared with the properties of the soundboard. Many would disagree, and I am happy to concede that others may have a better ear than mine.

[2]These points of maximum displacement from rest in either direction are called “antinodes”.

[3] In fact there are three separate frequencies associated with this mode, as explained by Gore and Gilet (Contemporary Acoustic Guitar Design, P1-82). The reason behind this is beyond a simple description of top modes.

[4]Two oscillators moving in step are “in phase”; if moving in the opposite sense they are “out of phase”. These differences are measured by “phase angle” where a complete cycle of vibration is 360 degrees, half a cycle is 180 degrees, and so on.

Guitar resonance and soundhole geometry – Part 13: YOUR CAR AS A HELMHOLTZ RESONATOR


Here are some results from measurements I made of HR in a friend’s car. First we got the HR going at around 80kph by winding down a rear window. I recorded the resonance, which we could feel as an unpleasant buffeting in our ears – the low frequency pressure variations driven by the passing turbulent airstream outside the window.

I then waited by the side of the road as my friend drove past a couple of times with the resonance going, and again recorded the sound of the car passing.

Analysing the inside signal gave a frequency of 15.5Hz. Analysing the signal from the side of the road showed a signal of the same frequency, even though it wasn’t audible to me at the time.

Helmholtz resonance from inside and outside a car

The Helmholtz signal shows as a spike at 15.5Hz in both lines. From outside the car the spike is about 15 to 20dB (up to 100 times) stronger than the background noise of the car engine and tyres. 

I was surprised that the HR was detectable at a considerable distance from outside the car, and for a while I expected to find the same for a guitar soundhole. Of course, if you’ve read my report you’ll know I found the opposite.

[I surmise that for the car, the intensity of the HR driving impulse – the turbulent airflow blowing forcefully over the open window – is proportionally much greater than for a guitar soundhole. Whether this is true or not I don’t know.

Guitar resonance and soundhole geometry – Part 12: EVALUATION OF THE PERFORMANCE OF THE ACOUSTIC HOOD


This graph shows the recorded far field signal from a soundhole with (blue) and without (red) the hood in place:

The effect of the acoustic hood on recorded response from a 45.4mm radius round soundhole

Without the hood in place there are strong resonances at 170Hz, 461Hz, and 494Hz (2.00m, 0.74m, and 0.69m wavelengths). These are present for all four holes tested without the hood, and correspond to dimensions in the room close to the apparatus, indicating that they are most likely room standing wave resonances. The hood is quite effective at suppressing these.

Guitar resonance and soundhole geometry – Part 11: THE ACOUSTIC UNITS USED IN THE EXPERIMENT AND WHY


Most people are familiar with the unit decibel (dB), which is commonly used to describe environmental sound levels.

The dB scale ranges from 0 (the softest sound that most human ears can pick up) to 130dB (the sound level so loud the it causes pain rather than the accurate perception of a sound).

Everyday examples of dB levels are: 30-40dB in a library; 70-80dB traffic on a busy road; 110-120dB pneumatic drill. For correct use in acoustics, the application of the scale is complex because it has to take into account the fact that the human ear responds differently to different frequencies, as well of other technical factors. This corrected scale is called the dB(A) scale.

However, the important thing to know about the dB unit is that the scale is not linear, but logarithmic. What this means is that a sound at 100dB pushes energy into your ear at not twice the rate of a 50dB source, but 100,000 times (x105). 

You might think that 100dB would be twice as loud as 50dB, but in fact a sound twice as loud as 50dB measures at about 53dB.

This isn’t done to be difficult. It’s because the range of human hearing is so great that a linear scale just can’t easily encompass the numbers when expressed as the rate at which energy hitting your ear.

Without going into any more details, here are some examples to think through:

  • plus 3dB means approximately a doubling of the sound intensity
  • 60dB is ten times the intensity of 50dB
  • 70dB is one hundred times more intense than 50dB
  • 30dB is one hundredth of the intensity of 50dB
  • 47dB is half the intensity of 50dB

One effect of this is that you can’t add or subtract dB as if they’re familiar numbers (50dB plus 50dB is roughly 53dB). For this and other reasons you’ll see that I express my results in power terms – that is the amount of energy falling onto the eardrum every second. The unit is Watts/square metre (W/m2), and the symbol is I.

I also do this because during my analysis of raw data I subtract closed box response from the signal I get from the microphone, and I need to use a non-logarithmic scale.

To give you and idea of how this works, here are some examples of dB readings converted to Intensity:

  • 0dB is I0or 1 x 10-12 W/m2(0.000000000001 W/m2)
  • 3dB is about 2 x 10-12W/m2
  • 10dB is 1 x 10-11W/m2
  • 50dB is 1 x 10-7W/m2
  • 100dB is 1 x 10-2W/m2

Here is a more complete set of conversions:

β (dB)I (W/m2)

I also think that unless you are really familiar with how the dB scale works, looking at measurement results that use them can be quite misleading – what looks like a small dip of 3dB actually represents a halving of the sound intensity, for example.

This discussion isn’t central to understanding my results, but as a reader you might be expecting to see the dB scale being used.

There is one final complication that you need to be aware of. I am very careful to present my data and conclusions in terms of RELATIVEresponse. I have only measured how the various aircavity/soundhole combinations respond relative to the response of no soundhole at all – a closed box. 

You can only use my numbers to compare, not to predict the actual response of a real guitar soundhole.

In addition, Audacityrecords sound levels on a minus scale. Most digital recording apps do the same, because in recording quality sound such as music it is important to avoid clipping – distortion introduced by a signal that is too intense for the software to handle. Using 0dB on a recording as the maximum level possible helps to identify and control clipping.

It also complicates dealing with data in my experiments. Because I must work in Intensity (W/m2), you can probably see that in the real world 0dB is the lowest sound a human can detect, and anything in the subzero range is rather meaningless.

Guitar resonance and soundhole geometry – Part 10: EXPERIMENTAL EQUIPMENT USED



  • 60sec chirp signal generated using Audacity 2.0.5 (Generate/chirp)
  • Cavity response recorded using Audacity 2.0.5
  • Frequency spectrum of response produced by Audacity Fast Fourier Transform (Analyse/Plot spectrum)


  • Chirp signal played from Classic iPod connected by audio cable to Digitech stereo 18W rms amplifier
  • CW2190 4” shielded woofer (70Hz-7kHz response) speaker injects signal into cavity


  • Cavity response was recorded by Samson Meteor digital condenser microphone

Guitar resonance and soundhole geometry – Part 9: EXPERIMENTAL VALIDATION


How well do the results from a rigid cavity compare with a real guitar soundbox?


Unlike the experimental rigid cavity used for the measurements reported in this series of posts, real guitar bodies have elastic – springy – top and back plates. This raises the question of whether the resonant properties of a real soundbox equate with my experimental results. If not, the lessons from the experiment have far less practical use to the guitar designer and builder.

The two degrees of freedom (2DOF) model developed by Gore and Gilet[1] treats the soundbox as three coupled resonators: the top plate, the air-cavity, and the back plate.[2](see Part 1)

Each of these three oscillators has its own elasticity and mass, with the air-cavity providing the coupling between the top and the back. The experiment shows us that the air-cavity response can be varied by changing the size and geometry of the soundhole because the Helmholtz resonance will vary with the size of the hole.

Because the air-cavity acts as the connecting spring between the top and back, changing the soundhole geometry will change the resonant characteristics of the guitar soundbody as a whole. The same applies to the braces reinforcing to top and back plates, opening up the possibility of tuning the resonant response of the instrument, with each one of the three affecting both of the others.

One of the complexities of coupling a number of resonators together is that each one affects the resonant frequency of the others. The resonant peaks tend to “repel” each other, so that the initial resonant peaks move further apart when two resonators are coupled.

This will also be true for the three coupled resonators pictured in the 3DOF model.

You can see this effect by comparing the spectral response of a guitar with the soundhole open (ie, a coupled response) and with it closed (uncoupled).

Figure 1: Response of guitar soundbox with soundhole open and closed (coupled and uncoupled)

The red line peak at a bit below 180Hz shows the response of the guitar top in isolation from the air-cavity which is constrained from vibrating by the closed soundhole.

The blue line shows how the top and the air-cavity respond when they are coupled together. The most obvious feature is the strong peak at around 95Hz, which is the main air-cavity response that cannot be present when the soundhole is blocked.

The peaks on the spectrum that are present in both coupled and uncoupled states, such as the one at just less than 180Hz, are soundboard responses that are not dependent on coupling for their existence.[3]

The rigid experimental cavity deliberately damped out any vibration in the top and back plates, isolating the air-cavity as the single uncoupled resonator. This means that the results from the experiment will be different from those found from a real guitar simply because coupling is not present.

Keeping that in mind, the question to consider is the extent to which the rigid cavity data can be used to help in the design and building of a real guitar. 

It’s unlikely that the resonant character of a real guitar will coincide exactly with the rigid cavity, so the answer to the question is likely to be found in ecognizable patterns rather than any matching of numerical values.

Here is a summary of the results from the rigid cavity experiment relating to round soundholes:

  1. Round soundholes radiate most strongly in the band from 100 to 600Hz, and hardly at all in the higher frequencies
  2. The greater the area of a round soundhole, the more effective it is at radiating sound – the relationship between radiative power and area is linear
  3. The greater the radius, the better the sound radiation becomes in Octave 3 (165 to 330Hz), central to the scale range of the guitar
  4. The Helmholtz resonance varies with soundhole radius, suggesting that the air-cavity coupling can be varied by changing the soundhole size

So these are the points that now need to be verified for a real guitar. For the purpose of instrument design, Point 4 is perhaps the most important because it has most bearing on using soundhole size to control the coupled resonance of the instrument. It is only the Helmholtz resonance that changes in frequency as the soundhole changes size.

We know that the response of the real soundbox will be more complex than the rigid cavity because the top and back plates will be free to add their resonant frequency series to the total response.


The experiment to validate the rigid cavity findings is based on the assumption that if there is a good degree of agreement between the behavior of the rigid cavity and a real soundbox for round soundholes, then the further findings about high P:A soundslots will also hold.[4]

With this in mind, the experiment required removing the neck of an old guitar and exciting the soundbox with a chirp signal in the same way the rigid cavity experiment was done. However the duration of the chirp was increased to 90s to allow time for each resonance to start and build its strength.

The rigid box was excited by putting the signal in through a speaker mounted in the top plate. To keep the real soundboard in place and free to vibrate – the whole purpose of the experiment – an input port was cut in the side of the lower bout and the speaker attached there. 

Figure 2: Live cavity input port

Figure 3: Live cavity speaker input

The resonant response was measured in the same way by a microphone above the soundhole at a height of 80cm, and again just above the hole to pick up the Helmholtz resonance.

Figure 4: Live cavity experiment setup (one side of acoustic hood removed for clarity) 

A square hole to receive the drop-in soundholes was cut into the soundboard upper bout and its edges reinforced. This allowed quick changeover of the holes between runs.

Figure 5: Drop-in soundhole

As with the rigid cavity, the response of each box/hole combination was recorded three times and averaged.

And, as with the rigid cavity procedure, the baseline for comparison was provided by testing the soundbox with the soundhole blocked. The baseline data provided two pieces of information:

  1. a measurement of the sound travelling directly from the driving speaker to the microphone without mediation through the soundbox
  2. a measure of the uncoupled response of the top and back plates

The first of these can be subtracted from each live result quite simply. 

The second is less simple since the effect of coupling the top and back by opening the hole changes the frequency of their resonant peaks slightly. This is an added complication over the rigid box experiment in which there were no coupling issues. 

The results that follow lend support to the validity of transferring conclusions from the rigid cavity to a live cavity.

The first plot shows again the response of round soundholes in the rigid cavity:

Figure 6: Response of round soundholes in rigid cavity

The next plot shows the reponse of the same round holes when placed in the live cavity:

Figure 7: Response of round soundholes in live cavity

The first impression is that there is a big difference between rigid and live.

The rigid cavity response is, rather surprisingly to me at first, richer than that from the live cavity[5]. Thinking it over, another way of saying “less rich” is “more selective”. The live cavity is better at selecting out frequencies, which I think is exactly what it should be doing in order to sound like a guitar.

There are also these similarities between the two cavities:

  • a band of resonances between 100 and 300Hz
  • a second band of responses between 350 and 550Hz

One feature showing in the live cavity data is a small response from 100 to 130Hz, which seems to be the Helmholtz resonance. The following graph shows this in greater detail:

Figure 8: Low frequency response of round soundholes in live cavity


You may remember from Part 2 that the modified Helmholtz equation derived by Gore to predict the Helmholtz resonance frequency of a guitar soundbox is:

where R is the soundhole radius, S the soundhole area, V the cavity volume and α is a factor derived from experimental data for a particular guitar shape. For a Dreadnought Gore and Gilet measure αas 1.63. 

This modified equation equation predicts the following values for fH:

Figure 9: Helmholtz resonant frequency prediction plotted on live cavity response

The predictions do not match the measured values particularly well – if they did, for example the green vertical dotted line should coincide with the green R54.9 peak.

This result is of some interest, but does not really support the validity of the rigid cavity experiment.


Although the HR figures are inconclusive, measurements of total radiated power show a strong similarity between the rigid and the live cavities. Although the numbers differ [7], the linear relationship between soundhole area and relative radiated power is strong in each case.

Figure 10: Relative radiated power for round soundholes – rigid cavity

Figure 11: Relative radiated power for round soundholes – live cavity

Both cavities show a high-correlation linear relationship between radiative power and soundhole area. This strongly suggests equivalence between the rigid and the live cavities.

A second validity test compares the frequency distribution for each hole for the rigid and live cavities.

Figure 12: Rigid cavity round soundhole response by octave – % of total for each hole

Figure 13: Live cavity round soundhole response by octave – % of total for each hole

The radiative power graphs by percentage are by no means identical. The rigid cavity bass response (purple bars) seems generally better than the live cavity, but the live cavity outperforms the rigid one in the 82-165Hz range.

However, in general the pattern shown in the response for each soundhole is similar between the rigid cavity and the live cavity:

  • the 50-82Hz response decreases as the soundhole gets bigger
  • the 82-165Hz response increases across the range, though not as consistently for the live cavity
  • the 165-330Hz response stays roughly the same across the range.

This suggests that the rigid cavity responses are a reasonable match with the live cavity ones, adding support to the validity of the experiment, for all its technical limitations.


  • Any significant variation between the results for the rigid cavity and the live cavity would suggest that the rigid cavity results bore no relation to a real guitar, invalidating the experiment entirely. The lessons from the rigid cavity experiments would then be of no practical use for guitar makers, who deal in live resonant cavities. 
  • As it is, the results show that the responses of the two cavities share similarities, enough to conclude that it is reasonable to assume the rigid cavity results can be applied to live cavities in broad terms at least.


[1]Contemporary Acoustic Guitar Designfrom 2-10 to 2-23

[2]The reality is more complicated again, because the sides need to be factored in as a connection between the top and back separate from the connection provided by the air-cavity. Massive side panels or bolt-in weights can have a positive effect on guitar response as Gore and Gilet show (Contemporary Acoustic GuitarDesign2-28), but that is beyond the scope of this experiment.

[3]Notice that the frequency of each of these peaks shifts slightly after coupling, showing the “repulsion effect”.

[4]The reason for this assumption is a purely practical one: to avoid building a series of soundboxes. The same soundbox was used with “drop-in” round soundholes as used for the rigid box. It was impractical to modify the test soundbox in such a way that it would be possible to drop in slots without drastically reducing the live area of the soundboard. The expense of making purpose-built soundboxes matching the properties of a real guitar ruled out testing slots at this stage.

[5]I had expected to see a stronger signal from the soundboard with the live cavity, since freeing the soundboard is the major difference between the rigid and live cavities. I expected the soundboard signal to show a set of resonant peaks associated with the different vibrational modes (see Appendix 8). The signal may be there, but it would take a much higher level of analysis to reveal it.

[6] This equation predicts that the Helmholtz resonance fHwill change in the following ways:

  1. increase as the speed of sound increases
  2. increase as the soundhole gets larger
  3. decrease as the soundbox volume gets larger
  4. decrease as the α factor gets larger

[7]The live cavity used was a little larger than the rigid cavity because of the availability of an old guitar soundbox, so it would be unlikely for the actual numbers to agree – the nature of the relationship is the important thing for making a judgement about equivalence between the two.

Guitar resonance and soundhole geometry – Part 8: HIGH P:A SOUNDSLOT DESIGN PRINCIPLES


This is the eighth in a series of nine posts summarising the results of an experiment I carried out during 2017 and 2018 to try to increase my understanding of resonance in acoustic guitars, and in particular how the design of soundholes could be improved.

Here is a summary of my findings so far:

  • If using round soundholes, the larger the area of the hole the better it is at radiating sound produced inside the soundbox, which represents about 30% of the total sound generated by a guitar.
  • Helmholtz resonance can be detected in the signal coming from a soundhole, but only very close to it. The significance of Helmholtz resonance in forming the bass response of an instrument is its function as an important coupling between the other main resonators – the soundboard and the back/sides system.
  • There is a strong relationship between the radiative performance of a soundhole of given area and the ratio of its perimeter to its area (P:A ratio). If this ratio is greater than 0.1 there is a very marked increase in radiation from a soundbox. A high P:A ratio can be achieved by longer, narrower apertures called soundslots. The classic f-hole in violin family instruments is an example.
  • The finding is supported by the 2015 Royal Society paper The evolution of air resonance power efficiency in the violin and its ancestors (see Part 1)

A soundslot of equal area to a 50mm soundhole must be quite long to have a reasonably high perimeter : area ratio – for example an 18mm wide slot must be 436mm long. The only practical way to achieve this without badly compromising the strength and resonant characteristics of the soundboard is to make two slots instead of one. We’re back to the violin approach, or looking to the archtop jazz guitar of the twenties and thirties, made to play with big bands before electric pickups became available.

However, placing the f-holes in the lower bout as in the violin or jazz guitar is not the only approach possible, and is not even desirable in a flat top guitar. Putting the slots around the edge of the upper bout has the advantage of leaving the lower bout unpierced so it can resonate in the same way as a standard guitar. In addition, removing the round hole with reinforced edges from the middle of the upper bout should free that area up to vibrate as well.

If true, would that be a good thing? Normally the guitar soundboard vibrates as a plate with fixed edges, producing a defined set of vibrational modes that make a guitar sound like a guitar. The extra live area in the top bout defined by the slots will effectively have free edges, introducing an unknown element into the mix.[1]

So the upper bout two-slot system introduces a new element: half of the soundboard now has free edges. Without building such an instrument, it’s hard to predict what this will mean. If the upper bout becomes live, then the soundboard will become effectively larger and therefore produce more sound – a good thing for several reasons. However, the free edge of the new live area will cause a change in how the whole soundboard responds. Will it still sound like a guitar?

There’s only one way to find out, of course. The question for now is whether changing to slots is worthwhile at all in terms of better efficiency.


The graph below shows how two round soundholes compare with the two-slot geometry, one having the same area (R41.1) having the same total area as the slots, and one a “standard 50mm radius soundhole).

Figure 1: Performance of double slot geometry compared to two round soundholes

The double slot DSLOT1 is very clearly superior to the round hole of equal area (in green) and the “standard” size 50mm soundhole (in blue).

The next graph shows how the total radiated power compares:

Figure 2: Comparison of total radiated power from 50 to 1,000Hz

Keep in mind that these are as always in this paper comparative results only, and the actual figures on the y-axis show the differences only, and are not absolute values.

Here is the same result expressed as a percentage, with the “standard” round soundhole with 50mm radius pegged at 100%

Figure 3: Comparative performance of double slot geometry compared to standard round soundhole

The main point is how much more efficient the two-slot geometry is – an 80% improvement over the standard soundhole even with 70% of the area (7885mm2compared to 5542mm2for the double slot). Unfortunately a double slot with equal area is not really achievable.

But are there any differences in how the two geometries select out the frequencies that they radiate? 

The graph below breaks down the response into octave bands. The bands are:

282 – 165STRING 6 FRET 0 TO12
3165 – 330STRING 4 FRET 2 TO 14
4330 – 660STRING1 FRET 0 TO 12
5660 – 1319STRING 1 ABOVE FRET 12

Figure 4: Comparison of octave band response between round soundholes and double slot

The main features are:

  • There is little to choose between the three geometries at low frequencies
  • The two-slot geometry performs by far the most strongly in Octave 3 (165 to 330Hz)
  • None of the three perform well in the highest frequency band, although the double slot marginally outperforms the round holes


  • There is strong evidence that soundslots outperform round soundholes of the same area by a significant margin, and not just at air-cavity resonance frequencies
  • The P:A ratio needs to be above 0.1 for this to be so
  • It is likely that applying this approach to a guitar will result in an overall higher projected volume of sound, possibly by up to 80% of the total 30% soundhole projection
  • The overall effect on a guitar’s timbre is hard to predict because of the different vibrational modes available to the soundboard due to some free edges


[1]Differences in timbre between instruments are largely caused by different top bracing systems and different qualities in the soundwood used for the top plate. These variables result in different weightings between the defined set of vibrational modes. In my opinion, the material used for the sides and back of a soundbox has very little influence on timbre, popular opinion notwithstanding

Guitar resonance and soundhole geometry – Part 7: HIGH PERIMETER TO AREA RATIO (P:A) SOUNDSLOTS


This is the seventh in a series of nine posts summarising the results of an experiment I carried out during 2017 and 2018 to try to increase my understanding of resonance in acoustic guitars, and in particular how the design of soundholes could be improved.

So far this series, Parts 1 to 6 have looked into the function of soundholes in general and the performance of the traditional round guitar soundhole. 

Part 5 shows how Helmholtz resonance is detectable in the response of my rigidly-confined airbody, excited by a signal from the loudspeaker sited in the lower bout. 

For this parlour-sized cavity the Helmholtz resonant frequency was at around 150Hz, and varied with soundhole size as theory predicts. The measured values coincide quite closely with predictions made using the equation provided by Gore & Gilet (Contemporary Acoustic Guitar – Design 2-14)

The strongest low frequency resonant response of an airbody is the Helmholtz mode, pictured as a plug of air in the region of the soundhole pushed and pulled back and forth as the airbody inside the soundbox expands and contracts at its fundamental resonant frequency

The most important experimental findings so far have been:

  • Blocking off the soundhole of a guitar reduces the emission of sound by about 30% depending on the instrument (the other 70% is direct transmission of sound to the listener by the soundboard vibration)
  • The larger a soundhole is the better it is at emitting soundwaves, and the more complex the tone it can produce – it has better acoustic conductance
  • Helmholtz resonance is not detectable except very close to the soundhole, so does not directly contribute to the sound of the guitar
  • The oscillating airflow associated with Helmholtz resonance is strongest at the edge of a soundhole and weakest in the centre (the edge effect)

My interpretation of these results is:

  • While the Helmholtz resonant response can only be detected very close to the soundhole, the three spring model indicates that the airbody in a soundbox acts as an elastic connection between the top and back panels. Helmholtz resonance, although not audible, therefore plays an important role in shaping the overall sound qualities of the instrument (loudness, timbre)
  • Much of the sound coming from the soundhole is produced by complex processes inside the soundbox from soundwaves pumped into the box by the vibrating soundboard
  • These internal processes include standing wave resonances, reflection, interference, and diffraction as the sound finds its way out through the soundhole

From Part 7 onwards, the emphasis shifts from round soundholes and detecting Helmholtz resonance to a direct comparison between round soundholes and soundslots.

The question now becomes: will a longer skinnier soundslot (high perimeter : area ratio) be a more efficient radiator than a shorter fatter one, as the Royal Society paper (see Part 1) asserts?

My experiments have shown that with Helmholtz resonance there is indeed higher activity at the edges of a soundhole than in the centre. The Royal Society paper links this to their finding in violins that the overall efficiency of slots (f-holes) is greater than round holes because they have a greater length of edge (perimeter) for their area and thus more scope for the edge effect to come into play.

In order to see if the same effect measured in violins happens in guitars as well, I repeated the original soundhole resonance experiment using a set of rectangular soundslots, all with the same area but with increasing perimeter to area (P:A) ratio – that is, longer and narrower.

These all had the same area as a round 45.4mm (R45.4) radius soundhole for comparison. [1]


The soundslots used in the experiment were the following sizes:

SLOT 3 (RECTANGLE)150 x 436450 0.0598
SLOT 4 (RECTANGLE)170 x 3864600.0644
SLOT 5 (RECTANGLE)190 x 3464600.0693
SLOT 6 (RECTANGLE)210 x 3165100.0740
SLOT 6A (RECTANGLE)250 x 2665000.0849
SLOT 6B (FLAT C SHAPE) 300 x 21.765100.0959
SLOT 7 (FLAT C SHAPE)341 x 1964110.1122
SLOT 8 (FLAT C SHAPE)386 x 1765620.1228
DOUBLE SLOT 1 (SHALLOW S)[380 x 1764600.1263
 MEAN AREA:6480 +/- 1.2% 

The error margin of +/- 1.2% in the slot areas could be improved, but is reasonable for drawing general conclusions.

The flat C shape for slots 6B to 8 was made to fit across the upper bout of the Parlour size cavity. Each of these C shapes added a curved end to a straight slot.

The S shape for double slot 1 fits around the curve of the upper bout edges and is inset by 15mm from the edge of the cavity.

The graph below shows the overall response of the slots. Again, there was little activity above 1,500Hz, so this shows the plot from 0 to 1,000Hz.

Figure 1: Response of soundslots 

The overall form of this graph is similar to that for round soundholes (see Figure 2below), with a strong response between 150 and 300Hz and a scattering of low-order high frequency responses. [2]

Figure 2: Response of round soundholes – note the overall similarity to Figure 1

Both holes and slots each follow the same spectral pattern no matter their size. For both, greater hole area allows stronger radiated power.

From the data represented in Figure 1, the overall strength of the sound emission from each slot can be calculated. 

(Remember that all data is relative to the closed soundbox, so is unfortunately not an absolute measure that can be used to calculate the performance of holes or slots from scratch.)

Figure 3 belowshows how the radiative power of the slots varies with increasing perimeter to area.

Figure 3: Soundslot relative radiated power by P:A ratio

Figure 4presents the same data, showing how the slots compare to the round soundhole (radius 45.4mm, purple data point):

There is clearly a relationship between the radiating power of a soundslot and its P:A ratio. A linear regression fit gives an R2value of 0.953 – a good result.

Figure 4: Comparison of round soundhole to soundslots of the same area by P:A ratio

Figure 5 below gives a clearer view of the total relative radiated power of the slots.

It’s clear that below a P:A ratio of 0.08 the slots have little advantage over the round hole. However as P:A becomes greater than 0.1 there is a large increase in sound conductivity as found in the Royal Society paper.

Figure 5: Comparison of radiated power 50 to 1,000Hz for soundslots[3]

The high P:A ratio slots 7 and 8 show an improvement in conductivity of 60% over the equivalent round hole (R45.4).

But what about the quality of sound produced by the slots? Dividing the radiated power into octave bands shows a consistent increase in power in the Octave 3 band (165 to 330Hz). Most of the increase in power of the high P:A slots is in this octave covering most of the guitar’s range.

Figure 6: Soundslot radiated power by octave. P:A ratio increases from left to right.

Here is the same data expressed as a percentage of total radiation for each slot, again broken down by octave frequency band:

 Figure 7: Soundslot radiated power by octave band as a percentage of total power

This shows a decrease in bass response as the P:A ratio increases, the difference being made up by a similar increase in the higher octave band (covering the notes E5to C6– guitar string 1 is E4).


  • This data provides good support for the assertion in the Royal Society paper that a soundhole with a long perimeter for its area will be a more efficient overall radiator that one with a lower P:A ratio, and not just for air-cavity resonance
  • Higher P:A ratios show a decrease in bass response and an increase in treble response
  • To provide a worthwhile advantage over a round soundhole, the P:A ratio should be greater than 0.1


[1]It turns out that fitting soundslots onto the Parlour sized soundboard without compromising strength means a restriction in their total area to this smaller sized equivalent round hole size

[2]Note also the 430Hz peak in Figure 1, which I suggested in Part 6 is a standing wave resonance set up along the 380cm length of the cavity.

[3]Slot6B was slightly under size

Guitar resonance and soundhole geometry – Part 6: THE SOURCE OF SOUND FROM A GUITAR SOUNDHOLE


This is the sixth in a series of nine posts summarising the results of an experiment I carried out during 2017 and 2018 to try to increase my understanding of resonance in acoustic guitars, and in particular how the design of soundholes could be improved.

This section focuses on completing the description of the sound projected by a round guitar soundhole. We discovered that the Helmholtz resonance signal could only be detected very close to the soundhole.

In Part 5 we confirmed the presence of Helmholtz resonance in the sound projected from the air cavity of a guitar, but found it is not radiated at all strongly.

HR has a large influence on the sound of a guitar, but not because anybody can hear it directly. This is a subtle point with consequences not intuitively easy to grasp.

We know now that changing the size of a soundhole produces small changes in the frequency of the guitar air-cavity’s HR. The importance of this is that it is the air-cavity that forms the main connection between the soundboard and the back of the guitar (see Part 1for the “three spring” model). 

Without an air-cavity, or with the soundhole blocked, there is no connection and the side/back and soundboard can vibrate in isolation at their own natural frequencies.

Add in the air-cavity by unblocking the soundhole, and now we have not two isolated resonators but three connected ones. [1]

So the importance of knowing about HR and its connection to soundhole size is that it offers a way of tuning the soundbox resonances. In practice a guitar maker can shift soundbox resonances off scale note frequencies if necessary by modifying the soundhole. [2]

Gore and Gilet describe tweaking the response of a guitar (Contemporary Acoustic Guitar 2-15) suffering from this flaw by subtle changes to, among other things, the soundhole size. Changing the air-cavity resonance can alter the coupled top and back resonances enough to move peaks off scale notes.

In this experiment I have not been concerned with questions of impedance [3]or the effect of coupling oscillators together, or top vibrational modes. In fact, I have designed the experiment to eliminate these complications as far as possible. Consequently my results have nothing to say about this aspect of soundhole size.


Figure 1: Partial spectrum of the far-field sound from the rigid guitar air cavity

The broad spectrum sound picked up by the far-field microphone of course originates from the chirp signal fed into the cavity by the loudspeaker.

We now know that we can’t detect the “sloshing in and out” Helmholtz response this far from the soundhole, so what in fact are we looking at in this spectrum?

What gets picked up by the microphone comes via two pathways:

PATHWAY 1:by a direct pathway from the loudspeaker to the microphone without passing through the cavity; and

PATHWAY 2:through the cavity and out of the soundhole to the microphone

Pathway 1is of no interest in the experiment, and is removed from the data by subtracting the closed soundhole signal from every subsequent soundhole spectrum.

Pathway 2is the important one. What happens inside the cavity is very complex, but two broad processes – both mediated by the soundhole – can be distinguished from each other:

  • resonances set up inside the cavity which show as frequency peaks in the spectrum; and
  • complex reflection, interference and diffraction processes (call them RID) that do not owe anything to resonance, which show up as the broadband background in the spectrum for each soundhole.

The resonance processes are very complicated, but for a rigid cavity are in principle not hard to picture – all are variations on a theme of waves reflecting between surfaces and interfering with each other to set up standing waves[4]of a frequency determined by the path-length allowed by the cavity walls (known to acousticians as “room modes”) [5].

Figure 2: Standing wave resonances between reflecting plates (room modes)

The waves you see here are the result of a sound wave of frequency f reflecting backwards and forward between the two walls. The formation of standing waves is too complex to go into here, but there is some good video material available on YouTube that will explain. The main point is that you can see the distance between the walls selects out particular frequencies at which standing waves form.

One requirement for a simple standing-wave resonance to happen is that there be reflecting surfaces parallel to each other and square to the line of travel of the soundwave. Like the resonances in a guitar string, the closed ended air resonances have a node at each reflecting surface.

Due to the curved shape of a guitar body, this limits the number of such resonances that are likely. One strong suspect, though, would be the two ends of the cavity, parallel to each other and 39cm apart.

A quick calculation [6], treating this pathway as a closed-ended pipe, gives a standing wave resonance (n = 1) at about 440Hz.

Figure 3: Actual resonances in the rigid-walled guitar soundbox

Figure 3above does show a strong peak at 430Hz, which supports (but by no means proves) this idea.

Interestingly, this peak is visible in all the experimental runs done with this cavity. Some more experimental work is needed to try and pin down where all the peaks in Figure 3originate.

Keep in mind that these kinds of processes (including those discussed below) only account for about 30% of the sound put out by a real guitar. The rest comes from air being moved by the vibration of primarily the soundboard, but also the sides and back of the soundbox. Those processes aren’t part of these experiments.


Due to their complexity, the RID processes are near impossible to visualize. In cases where no particular frequency is singled out for resonance in the cavity, the signals fed in bounce off the cavity walls, travel through each other, and eventually find their way out through the soundhole. 

The best I can offer to help visualize this is “evidence” derived from a virtual ripple tank, but this only gives solutions in 2 dimensions rather than 3, and only at one frequency at a time. It does however give some insight into what is happening inside a guitar soundbox when soundwaves travel through it without triggering any resonances.

The virtual ripple tank calculates the progress of soundwaves injected into a simulated guitar soundbox by a source representing the vibration of the bridge in a real guitar. It will only do this for one frequency at a time, so the real picture will be enormously more complex than the images here show.

The first picture shows the simulated soundbox with a soundhole in it:

Figure 4: The virtual ripple tank cavity (a 2d section through a 3d soundbox)

The next picture shows the progress of a soundwave with a wavelength about the size of the box’s depth, just after it has been projected downwards into the cavity by the bridge area of the soundboard vibrating up and down in response to the strings. Red and green represent pressure crests and troughs in the wave.

Figure 5: The soundwave enters the cavity from the bridge area, as it would in a real instrument

In the picture above the first crest (in red) is just beginning to reflect off the back of the box.

The next picture is a little time later after the wave has “explored” the confines of the cavity, bouncing back and forth, and is beginning to find its way out of the soundhole.

Figure 6: The soundwave begins to find its way out of the soundhole after “exploring” the cavity

The picture above shows what happens after the complex set of reflection, interference, and diffraction[7]processes have stabilized into a pattern. The sound coming from the soundhole is about the same wavelength as the original signal, but does not emerge strongly or coherently at this low a frequency.

The next picture shows a higher frequency, shorter wavelength signal being fed in. In this case, two complete wavelengths fit into the vertical box dimension.

Figure 7: A higher frequency wave is injected into the soundbox by the movement of the soundboard and begins its exploration of the cavity

After some time the complex wave interactions again form the stable pattern shown below:

Figure 8: The higher frequency wave sets up a stable pattern after it exits through the soundhole

The final example shows the pattern set up by a high frequency wave.[8]

The radiated sound is much more coherent than for the longer wavelength in the first example.

Figure 9: High frequency wave pattern[9]

In a real guitar, of course, there would be many frequencies entering the cavity simultaneously rather than just one, making for a mind-bendingly complicated and constantly shifting pattern inside the cavity and emerging from the soundhole.

Though very limited, this approach does shed some light on the question of where soundhole radiation comes from[10]. It is the end result of a complex series of interactions within the soundbox in which soundwaves of many different frequencies, generated by vibration of the soundboard, reflect off surfaces, interfere with each other and finally escape out of the soundhole. Some of these frequencies produce resonances inside the air-cavity as well.


  • In Part 5we identified the presence of Helmholtz resonance in the response of a guitar soundbox, and found that in itself it contributes very little to the sound you hear coming from a guitar. However, it is important because the resonance acts as the “spring” connecting the vibrating soundboard to the rest of the soundbox
  • We then asked where the sound coming from a soundhole that we do hear originates. While not giving an entirely satisfactory answer, it seems that internal processes of reflection, interference, and diffraction of the soundwaves pumped intothe box by the vibrating soundboard produce most of the sound we actually can hear.
  • A point worth noting is that, as you can see clearly in Figure9, diffraction produces complex interference fringes in the sound coming from a guitar soundhole, implying that your position in front of a guitar will determine to some extent how you hear it. In the “dark” fringes the volume will be reduced at that frequency, for example.


[1]Coupling two resonators like this with a third produces a rather strange effect. In isolation the first resonator might have a natural frequency of 100Hz, and the second 120Hz. Couple them together and these frequencies “repel” each other: resonator 1 might now be at something like 98Hz, and the second at 122Hz. The theory behind this is complicated so I won’t address it here.

[2]Gore and Gilet (Contemporary Acoustic Guitar,2-15)) have a sophisticated analysis of this question. Their research shows that one requirement for a guitar to respond consistently across the spectrum is that no major body resonance should occur at the same frequency as any note of the musical scale. The reason is that if a body resonance occurs on the note A2110Hz, for example, the energy of the string plucked to play A2will flow rapidly out of the string because of the low impedance of the guitar body at this frequency. The result will be a loud, short, thunk of a response rather than a sustained note.

[3]Impedance is the measure of how easily energy can make its way through the interface between two different media.

[4]The Helmholtz resonance as we have seen is a special case where the whole air-cavity “sloshes” in and out of the cavity through the soundhole.

[5]This comes from the website

[6]Using the equation  where c is the speed of sound and L is the cavity length

[7]Note how the sound emerging from the soundhole spreads out like a fan – this wave process is called “diffraction” and partially accounts for the way a guitar can be heard from other angles than straight in front of the soundhole. Going back to the Royal Society paper, it also helps explain why the low frequency sound from a violin is described as “monopolar”, as it is similar to how a wave would travel outwards from a point source.

[8]Unfortunately the Virtual Rippletanksoftware doesn’t allow for realistic frequency calculations for real soundwaves. For example, the first wave in this series had a wavelength equal to the box depth, which in a real guitar would be about 0.09m. 

A real soundwave travelling at 340m/s would have a frequency of 3,800Hz – not a realistic figure as we have seen from the experimental evidence that shows the action takes place at between 100 and 600Hz. The software unfortunately doesn’t allow one to choose a longer wavelength than this.

[9]Notice in the column directly underneath the bridge there is a standing wave set up, shown by the regular pattern of the crests and troughs. In a real guitar cavity the resonant frequency would be about 1900Hz.

[10]Remember that soundhole radiation represents only about 30% of the sound coming from a guitar. The rest is made up of soundwaves generated by the complex vibrations in the soundboard.