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Side Soundports

There’s a Hole in the Bucket

by Cyndy Burton

A Discussion of Sideports, with Contributions from Kenny Hill, Alan Carruth, Roger Thurman, John Monteleone, Mike Doolin, and Robert Ruck
previously published in American Lutherie #91, 2007

See also, “Sidewaysby John Monteleone
“Herr Helmholtz’ Tube” by Mike Doolin
“Three Holes are Better than One” Robert Ruck

Just in case we become too self-satisfied with our “discovery” of ports, Alain Bieber, in his article on lyra guitars (AL#88, p. 16), points us to the Neapolitan Gennaro Fabricatore’s ported lyras from the early 1800s. (Alain ported his own contemporary lyra guitar, too.) So we know prominent makers were putting holes in the sides of their instruments in the late 1700s, early 1800s. Many of us are also aware of Carleen Hutchins’ groundwork in the early 1980s. Her “Le Greyère” violin, with sixty-five sideports, has provided a wealth of data about violin resonances since it was made in 1982. She donated the violin to the National Music Museum in 2002. See some great photos of Le Greyère and a list of publications reporting on that research at collections.nmmusd.org/Archives/NewViolinFamily/Hutchinscheeseviolin.html.

People are sensitive about putting holes in things. Many guitarists — perhaps more classical guitarists than others — find the ports some sort of denigration, a violation of the sanctity of the guitar’s perfect form. In all fairness, we’ve met with very strong feelings on both sides of the port issue. Luckily, our customer was very open to the idea. He’s not a concertizing musician, but he’s a serious player, and occasionally he plays publicly for special events. We wanted to try ports for him because he has a hearing loss, and we thought ports would be a great way for him to hear himself better. At that time, Robert Ruck had made about a hundred ported guitars, so we figured he had worked out the kinks. He kindly advised us on size, location, and so on. We followed his lead. The result is a wonderful instrument that the owner truly appreciates. We love the feedback — the monitor effect for the player — and when we tested it in a small auditorium with an overflowing audience, we could not discern any loss of projection or quality of sound. But was it louder? Our evidence was very meager and inconclusive. Many makers are adamant that it’s louder with the ports open for both the player and the audience.

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